The 2021 AW Reading Challenge! New Year; New Hope; New List.

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Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

Chris P

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Well, that didn't take long: Girl, Interrupted by Suzanna Kaysen. After only a 20 minute evaluation, 18-year-old Suzanna is sent away to a mental institution for a few days, which stretch into 18 months. The author gives us a run down of the various fellow patients, their trials, the staff, and other matters about what life was like in such an institution in 1968. It was honest without wallowing.

I kept having the eerie feeling that I've read this before, but none of the scenes were Ah ha! enough for me to know for sure. One scene I was expecting to happen didn't, so I must have read a similar book or story with many of the same elements. I'm sure there's a combination of the influence this book had on other books that followed, as well as influenced by those that came before.

  1. Laughing Matters: A humorous or satirical book. Nothing to see here – Kevin Wilson
  2. I spy: A book featuring spies or espionage. Need to know – Karen Cleveland Done
  3. Local hero: A book by a local author. First cosmic velocity – Zack Powers
  4. 21st Century, 21st Year, 21st Letter: A book by someone whose first or last name begins with the letter U: House of Broken Angels – Luis Alberto Urrea Done
  5. Locked up: A book taking place in a prison, mental institution or treatment center. Girl, Interrupted -- Suzanna Kaysen Done
  6. What your parents read: Any novel from the year you were born. Love in the Ruins – Walker Percy
  7. Out of this world: A book taking place in space or on another planet. Artemis – Andy Weir Done
  8. Keep up with the Joneses: A book everyone else seems to have read but you have not. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak Done
  9. Feisty feline fiesta: A book with a cat on the cover. Cat Chaser – Elmore Leonard Done
  10. Pixies and Dryads and Elves, oh my!: A high fantasy. Spinning Silver – Naomi Novik
  11. Run for the border: A book about or taking place in Central or South America. 100 years of solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez Done
  12. Vast critical acclaim: A book that has won a prestigious award. Discomfort of Evening – Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (Man Booker International award).
 
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Gatteau

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Hello all! So good to be back! I have even made some progress with my list:

1. It’s all fun and games: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo Finished 1/10
2. Laughing Matters: Animal Farm by George Orwell (or You’re Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day)
3. That old black magic: Soulless by Gail Carriger
4. Keep up with the Joneses: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
5. Succinct: Renegades by Marissa Meyer
6. I’ve met them: The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond (ALA 2016 in NOLA, briefly for a book signing) Reading
7. After the Fall: Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade
8. Out of this world: The Cold Between by Elizabeth Bonesteel
9. Freebies: Early Riser by Jasper Fforde (Christmas present from my sister, from her book club last year) Reading
10. Holy moly some authors like to use an awful lot of words: The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray by E. Latimer Finished 1/24
11. Pixies and Dryads and Elves, oh my: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (also The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold Finished 6/18)
12. How we got to where we are: A Promised Land by Barack Obama Finished 4/17

Bryony Gray was a very interesting premise: our heroine Bryony is the daughter of Dorian Gray (of The Picture of...) and seems to at least have inherited his passion for Beauty and all things Beautiful, which she channels a bit more constructively into art, painting portraits of high society ladies and gentlemen as demanded by her totally horrible aunt and uncle. Who keep her locked in the attic. Very pleasant. Things go awry when it seems her paintings are becoming sentient and sucking the life out of their respective real subjects (or just anyone nearby). I finished this one a while ago and I'm trying to remember precisely how the catastrophe progressed or what they ended up doing to stop it. There was a lot of running around London, keeping away from all the other paintings which had come to life as well, and some more trapping Bryony in rooms and forcing her to paint. I did like it more when I was reading it than it's coming across here, but it certainly had some awkwardness and disjointedness to it. It's meant for middle grade, and the style does read that way, but I think the subject matter itself would be much more intriguing and impactful if the author had gone straight for adult horror.
As a side note, this made me go back and start to read Dorian Gray itself again, which I haven't in at least ten years now, but I have always loved. I'm definitely finding some themes that the author of Bryony Gray picked up and ran with, and I think that was what I most appreciated about reading this book.

I thoroughly enjoyed A Promised Land. But damn, that man writes a lot of words! (And there's a whole 'nother volume to come!) It's a very humanizing look at becoming and then being the most powerful man in the world. So many moments where he's not sure he actually wants to continue down the path he's begun, but knows he must in order to enact the change he truly and deeply seems to believe in. He also offers a (very) detailed look into the policies and difficulties he dealt with during his administration, which gave me a lot more clarity about what was actually going on then. For instance, back when the housing crisis was a thing at the very beginning of his presidency, I didn't really understand what the whole problem was (and also didn't really care because it's not like I had a house or was even thinking about houses at the time) and I feel like I have a better grasp of it all now.
I also read Michelle's Becoming last year and loved it, too. It's so revealing and sweet - and again, so human - to see a lot of her moments from his perspective as well.

The Curse of Chalion, my sister and I have decided, can best be described as Game of Thrones but with Pride and Prejudice pacing and manners. In a good way. Cazaril is such a humble, noble and loyal man - it's hard to call him the hero, because he acts nothing like one. He literally wants nothing for himself (and is shocked when anything is offered to him), throwing every fiber of his being into protecting the lady he serves and breaking the curse that surrounds her. I was struck again and again by how tired he was trucking through his quest as the world tossed obstacle after obstacle in his way - just let the man rest! - yet never letting up, never losing sight of his goal. He is absolutely the sort of man I would want as my advisor, were I a classical princess caught up in a myriad of court intrigues. (I still intend to read Spinning Silver, but this was on another list with my sister so I went for it first and it works for the same category.)

I am nearly finished with Early Riser, and have just begun The Only Thing to Fear which is relatively short, so I think I'm basically on track. Happy reading!
 
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Chris P

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I read Dorian Gray for last year's challenge. Quite good! I had only read one or two of Wilde's short stories, and I can see why he's still popular. It was still fresh after all these years.
 

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I agree! I got to take a whole Wilde class in college (badgered my favorite professor into teaching it, actually) and it was fantastic. Really interesting expanding my horizons from just knowing Importance of Being Earnest prior to delving into his poetry, essays, shorts, plays, and of course Dorian. He really wrote well across the board, and it definitely holds up. Even now revisiting some of these things, I'm finding new revelations I completely missed back then, or that continue to speak to the current era.
Of his shorts, I always particularly liked "The Happy Prince" and "The Selfish Giant"; beautifully told and unexpectedly allegorical. I had no idea before that he wrote fairy tales.
 

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Finished only one challenge book so far -- Secret Agent: Britain's Wartime Secret Service by David Stafford. It was a history of Britain's Special Operations Executive, a WWII organization that used spycraft tactics and disinformation to fight against the Axis powers. Interesting, but dry. I actuallly found out more about the SOE after I finished the book, which was written to accompany a BBC miniseries. Like how the SOE played a role in the assassination of Nazi leader Reinhardt Heydrich. That hadn't even been mentioned at all! So not a great book, but it served as a jumping-off place for further explorations into the espionage world. I watched several good movies because of it, one about the Mossad's pursuit of Adolf Eichmann and another about the Mossad's top spy.

Am reading a book of dragon short stories now. Good so far.
 

Brightdreamer

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Am most of the way through Ashes of the Sun, by Django Wexler, first in a new epic fantasy series set in a world riddled with old magic and old tech from an almost-forgotten war between vanished races. Thus far, I'd call good-not-great; the characters are decent, if not hugely complex, and the worldbuilding has some nice tweaks that set it apart from standard epic fantasy, plus it's actively paced, but thus far nothing is leaping off the page as spectacular. Still, fairly solid and enjoyable, though I have about a hundred pages to go, so I shall see how things wrap up.

And I may end up swapping out my re-read; picked up Moon Dreams, one I read multiple times when I was a teen, but just could not get into it this time through. Far too cringey in the male-gaze description of women. Might give it one more try before giving up.

Updated List (finished 6/12):
-1 - Year of the Ox: Across the Green Grass Fields, by Seanan McGuire - FINISHED 2/6
-2 - Freebies: When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, by Nghi Vo - FINISHED 6/11
3 - The Other Side: The Girl in the Green Silk Gown, by Seanan McGuire
-4 - Out of the park on first at-bat: Raybearer, by Jordan Ifueko - STARTED 1/12, FINISHED 1/18
5 - Waxing lyrical: Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell
-6 - I’ve met them!: Ashes of the Sun, by Django Wexler - ONGOING
-7 - Out of Time: The Girl from Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig - FINISHED 5/30
8 - Dearly Departed: Paper and Fire, by Rachel Caine
-9 - Keep up with the Joneses: Caves of Steel, by Isaac Asimov - STARTED 1/8, FINISHED 1/11
-10 - Vast critical acclaim: The Forever War, by Joseph Haldeman - STARTED 6/11, FINISHED 6/14
11 - Read it again, Sam: Moon Dreams, by Brad Strickland
12 - Bits and pieces: Rise: The Complete Newsflesh Collection, by Seanan McGuire
 
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I've decided to change my "What your parents read" book from "A Scanner Darkly" to Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon."
 
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Brightdreamer

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Finished off Ashes of the Sun, by Django Wexler. Active, interesting, fast reading, not especially deep or complex but some nice ideas. It struck me as the "beach read" equivalent of epic fantasy, if that made any sense. Nothing at all wrong with that, as long as you aren't expecting more.

Updated List (finished 7/12):
-1 - Year of the Ox: Across the Green Grass Fields, by Seanan McGuire - FINISHED 2/6
-2 - Freebies: When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, by Nghi Vo - FINISHED 6/11
3 - The Other Side: The Girl in the Green Silk Gown, by Seanan McGuire
-4 - Out of the park on first at-bat: Raybearer, by Jordan Ifueko - STARTED 1/12, FINISHED 1/18
5 - Waxing lyrical: Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell
-6 - I’ve met them!: Ashes of the Sun, by Django Wexler - FINISHED 6/27
-7 - Out of Time: The Girl from Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig - FINISHED 5/30
8 - Dearly Departed: Paper and Fire, by Rachel Caine
-9 - Keep up with the Joneses: Caves of Steel, by Isaac Asimov - STARTED 1/8, FINISHED 1/11
-10 - Vast critical acclaim: The Forever War, by Joseph Haldeman - STARTED 6/11, FINISHED 6/14
11 - Read it again, Sam: Moon Dreams, by Brad Strickland
12 - Bits and pieces: Rise: The Complete Newsflesh Collection, by Seanan McGuire
 
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mrsmig

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My Succinct selection, Stephen King's Later, became available from my local library, so I bumped that ahead of other books on my list and finished it last night. King is always a fast, pace-y read, and this book is no exception, but it felt...I don't know, padded? It seemed more like a short story wearing a fat suit. His main character, Jamie, is clearly inspired by the little boy in M. Night Shymalan's The Sixth Sense, and that bugged me as well - although King, in typical brazen King fashion, references the movie right at the start, so you're aware he's aware you're aware. (There's also a completely repellent character introduced toward the book's end who appears to be modelled on one of King's least favorite people, the 45th president of These United States.)

I'm still working my way through the 2019 BA Science and Nature Writing anthology, but if I read one more piece about a species going extinct, I may burst into tears. Ghostways is still nagging at me to pick it back up, but I know it's going to be a struggle.

1. Year of the Ox. The Children's Blizzard, by Melanie Benjamin. FINISHED 1/31/21

8. Girls chase boys chase girls. Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout. FINISHED 1/11/21

10. 21st century, 21st year, 21st letter. Baba Yaga Laid An Egg, by Dubravka Ugresic. FINISHED 3/28/21

22. Tag team. Ghostways, by Robert MacFarlane and Dan Richards. CURRENTLY READING

27. Succinct. Later, by Stephen King. FINISHED 7/12/21

30. I've met them! Warlock, by Oakley Hall.

32. Verboten. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher. FINISHED 5/30/21

33. What your parents read. Dead Man's Folly, by Agatha Christie. FINISHED 3/9/21

36. Bits and pieces. Best American Science and Nature Writing 2019. CURRENTLY READING

37. Out of this world. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi. FINISHED 4/3/21

38. Freebies. Vesper Flights, by Helen MacDonald. FINISHED 2/20/21

42. LOL random. Uncle Wiggily's Story Book, by Howard Roger Garis.
 
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mrsmig

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At last, I completed the 2019 BA Science and Fiction Writing anthology. Some excellent articles in this collection, including an especially prescient piece by Ed Yong, "When the Next Plague Hits." Articles like these make me want to cry out: "He saw this coming. A bunch of other people saw this coming - people in government, people in positions of power. And yet COVID-19 still managed to catch us with our pants down. WHY???"


1. Year of the Ox. The Children's Blizzard, by Melanie Benjamin. FINISHED 1/31/21

8. Girls chase boys chase girls. Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout. FINISHED 1/11/21

10. 21st century, 21st year, 21st letter. Baba Yaga Laid An Egg, by Dubravka Ugresic. FINISHED 3/28/21

22. Tag team. Ghostways, by Robert MacFarlane and Dan Richards. CURRENTLY READING

27. Succinct. Later, by Stephen King. FINISHED 7/12/21

30. I've met them! Warlock, by Oakley Hall.

32. Verboten. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher. FINISHED 5/30/21

33. What your parents read. Dead Man's Folly, by Agatha Christie. FINISHED 3/9/21

36. Bits and pieces. Best American Science and Nature Writing 2019. FINISHED 7/16/21

37. Out of this world. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi. FINISHED 4/3/21

38. Freebies. Vesper Flights, by Helen MacDonald. FINISHED 2/20/21

42. LOL random. Uncle Wiggily's Story Book, by Howard Roger Garis.
 
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Gatteau

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I finished The Only Thing to Fear. It is an interesting YA alternate history, asking what if the Nazis won WW2? I do feel like the world was build up quite well, throwing in immersive details like oh, that changed when Churchill surrendered or they assassinated Roosevelt, and clearly placing our heroine in a lower class because she's not German. But, naturally, she's got hidden powers. I have no problem with the sort of "chosen one" trope, where someone comes out of nowhere to be THE ONE to save the day, but I would have liked to see it built up a little more in this case. She suddenly discovers this new power, and then the next day is expected to go on this huge assassination mission. I just would have liked to see a bit more development before they jumped right into the thick of it. I keep picturing some fantastic cheesy 80s training montage... If I was making the movie, that's exactly what would have happened right there.

1. It’s all fun and games: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo Finished 1/10
2. Laughing Matters: Animal Farm by George Orwell (or You’re Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day)
3. That old black magic: Soulless by Gail Carriger
4. Keep up with the Joneses: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
5. Succinct: Renegades by Marissa Meyer
6. I’ve met them: The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond (ALA 2016 in NOLA, briefly for a book signing) Finished 7/16
7. After the Fall: Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade
8. Out of this world: The Cold Between by Elizabeth Bonesteel
9. Freebies: Early Riser by Jasper Fforde (Christmas present from my sister, from her book club last year) Reading
10. Holy moly some authors like to use an awful lot of words: The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray by E. Latimer Finished 1/24
11. Pixies and Dryads and Elves, oh my: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (also The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold Finished 6/18)
12. How we got to where we are: A Promised Land by Barack Obama Finished 4/17
 
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Chris P

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I'm pretty sure my parents didn't read this, but I finished my What Your Parents Read (book from the year I was born) selection: Love in the Ruins, by Walker Percy.

Doctor Thomas More discovers that most modern mental illness, including the political upheavals of the late 1960s, are caused by an imbalance in radioactive isotopes in the respective warring groups' brains. Not only that, he has devised a meter than can measure the precise location of the brain's electrical impulses that give rise to the combative behavior. He finds he can treat the disorders through targeted electrical impulses, but with the side effect that it could release even more of the very radiation causing the disorders in the first place. Should the device fall into the wrong hands, such as those of an enterprising and unscrupulous patent troll, it could send the already teetering-on-the-edge American society into total chaos and ruin.

More of a dystopian psych thriller with sci-fi elements, many of the political and societal observations ring true to today. Dr More is, as becomes clear fairly early on, an unreliable narrator. It's mostly well executed, but that did make the narrative harder to follow; it wasn't clear what was actually happening, what was flashback, and what was delusion. It's a good example of the literature of the time, gritty and in your face like the mid-60 gonzo fiction of Hunter S Thompson, but with more story-like structure.

  1. Laughing Matters: A humorous or satirical book. Nothing to see here – Kevin Wilson
  2. I spy: A book featuring spies or espionage. Need to know – Karen Cleveland Done
  3. Local hero: A book by a local author. First cosmic velocity – Zack Powers
  4. 21st Century, 21st Year, 21st Letter: A book by someone whose first or last name begins with the letter U: House of Broken Angels – Luis Alberto Urrea Done
  5. Locked up: A book taking place in a prison, mental institution or treatment center. Girl, Interrupted -- Suzanna Kaysen Done
  6. What your parents read: Any novel from the year you were born. Love in the Ruins – Walker Percy Done
  7. Out of this world: A book taking place in space or on another planet. Artemis – Andy Weir Done
  8. Keep up with the Joneses: A book everyone else seems to have read but you have not. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak Done
  9. Feisty feline fiesta: A book with a cat on the cover. Cat Chaser – Elmore Leonard Done
  10. Pixies and Dryads and Elves, oh my!: A high fantasy. Spinning Silver – Naomi Novik
  11. Run for the border: A book about or taking place in Central or South America. 100 years of solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez Done
  12. Vast critical acclaim: A book that has won a prestigious award. Discomfort of Evening – Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (Man Booker International award).
 

mrsmig

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I finished my LOL Random selection, Uncle Wiggily's Storybook, last night. For an old book of children's tales, it was surprisingly free of ethnic slurs and overt sexism (other than the girls doing girly things while boys do boyish things, and Wiggily's maintaining that girls are "always kind"). Although a whole book of the stories grew a little wearisome, they still had a certain charm.

1. Year of the Ox. The Children's Blizzard, by Melanie Benjamin. FINISHED 1/31/21

8. Girls chase boys chase girls. Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout. FINISHED 1/11/21

10. 21st century, 21st year, 21st letter. Baba Yaga Laid An Egg, by Dubravka Ugresic. FINISHED 3/28/21

22. Tag team. Ghostways, by Robert MacFarlane and Dan Richards. CURRENTLY READING

27. Succinct. Later, by Stephen King. FINISHED 7/12/21

30. I've met them! Warlock, by Oakley Hall.

32. Verboten. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher. FINISHED 5/30/21

33. What your parents read. Dead Man's Folly, by Agatha Christie. FINISHED 3/9/21

36. Bits and pieces. Best American Science and Nature Writing 2019. FINISHED 7/16/21

37. Out of this world. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi. FINISHED 4/3/21

38. Freebies. Vesper Flights, by Helen MacDonald. FINISHED 2/20/21

42. LOL random. Uncle Wiggily's Story Book, by Howard Roger Garis. FINISHED 8/5/21

That leaves just the Oakley Hall novel and Ghostways, which I've been stalled out on for some time. I'm going to give it one more crack and see if I can come to terms with the woo-woo style; if not, I'll sub out another title.
 
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Gatteau

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Finished Early Riser. Like anything I've read by Jasper Fforde, what an odd journey this book was - in a good way! This is a world in which the winters are so harsh that all of humanity hibernates them away to survive. A small portion of the population are "over-winterers" - the people tasked with keeping things running while everyone else is asleep, and the people who either can't or won't sleep. Then there are the "nightwalkers" - basically zombies, people who had bad reactions to the drug Morphenox everyone uses to sleep. They are assumed to be brain-dead vegetables, but are still ambulatory and sometimes retain a skill or repeat phrases important to them in life, generally harmless as long as they're kept munching on candy bars.
Our protagonist, Charlie, takes a job on a whim as a Consul, part of the over-winter guard. But working in the most dangerous Sector (somewhere in Wales, I think) brings up secrets the ruling corporation would rather have kept in the dark.
One of the interesting things about the book, which I only fully realized after finishing and seeing some comments on Goodreads, is that Charlie is never specifically gendered. It's told in 1st person POV, so the use (or non-use) of pronouns goes mostly unnoticed, and most other people use the character's name, nicknames, or title. For whatever reason, I went into it assuming Charlie was male from the beginning, and nothing dissuaded me from that, but also looking back through, I can see how it could go either way, making it truly unimportant to the story, but wow, what a feat! I did see in a discussion that someone had asked the author about this at a panel, and he confirmed that it was intentionally ambiguous. Very impressive for a whole book, especially considering all the thought I've had to put into avoiding pronouns just for this review, because I got so used to thinking of Charlie as "he"...

1. It’s all fun and games: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo Finished 1/10
2. Laughing Matters: Animal Farm by George Orwell (or You’re Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day)
3. That old black magic: Soulless by Gail Carriger
4. Keep up with the Joneses: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
5. Succinct: Renegades by Marissa Meyer
6. I’ve met them: The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond (ALA 2016 in NOLA, briefly for a book signing) Finished 7/16
7. After the Fall: Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade
8. Out of this world: The Cold Between by Elizabeth Bonesteel
9. Freebies: Early Riser by Jasper Fforde (Christmas present from my sister, from her book club last year) Finished 8/8
10. Holy moly some authors like to use an awful lot of words: The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray by E. Latimer Finished 1/24
11. Pixies and Dryads and Elves, oh my: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (also The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold Finished 6/18)
12. How we got to where we are: A Promised Land by Barack Obama Finished 4/17
 
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mrsmig

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Gatteau, you've got me intrigued by Early Riser now. Putting it on my TBR list.
 
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oneblindmouse

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I finished Chance by Joseph Conrad. With a maritime theme like all his novels, this is his only one with a female protagonist: Flora de Barral, the only daughter of a ruined and widowed financier serving time in prison after his pyramid scheme collapsed. Neglected by her father, and cruelly abused by her governess, Flora is a melancholy teenager with suicidal tendencies and no self-confidence. Befriended by a motherly neighbour, Flora ends up running away with the neighbour’s brother who is a ship’s captain. Her story is narrated in fragmented form by others, all but one of whom are men, and in their attempts at understanding the motives for her behaviour, Conrad gives an array of perspectives that range from sympathy to misogyny and paints an excellent psychological portrait of anxiety, self-loathing and emotional neglect that is well ahead of his time. The story is annoyingly slow, and the multiple narrators are sometimes hard to follow, but the suspense gradually builds up to a dramatic climax.

CHALLENGE: I had to make a few changes as my father in law’s manuscript never materialised, and I came on several books that looked really interesting.

1. East meets West: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee DONE

2. Bits and pieces: A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor IN PROGRESS

3. How we got to where we are: A Very English Scandal
by John Preston DONE

4. Succinct: Chance
by Joseph Conrad DONE

5. After the fall: Ashes of the Earth
by Eliot Pattison

6. Freebies: Baudolino
by Umberto Eco

7. Year of the Ox: Burmese Days by George Orwell

8. Alma Mater Matters: The Rebel Angels
by Robertson Davies

9. Holy Moly, Some Authors Like to Use an Awful Lot of Words: The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England
by Ian Mortimer

10. Play it again Sam: The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

11. No Cliff Notes this time: Talking Heads by Alan Bennett

12. Locked up: Swirling Red Dust by Takna Jigme Sangdro
 
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oneblindmouse

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I finally finished A History of the World in 100 objects. Taking a hundred artifacts in the British Museum, its director tells the story of mankind in one of the most fascinating history books I’ve ever read. The objects themselves range from the familiar and emblematic, like an Egyptian mummy case, the Rosetta Stone, and Hokusai’s painting of The Great Wave, to the obscure, like Peruvian textile fragments or Tanzanian pot sherds. Ranging from a Hawaiian feather helmet to a central Asian jade cup, from a Welsh gold cape to a Mexican turquoise serpent, or from a Chinese bronze bell to an Australian bark shield, every object is carefully chosen to represent a historical phenomenon, be it early writing, new forms of government, the first coins or paper money, trade, religious or sexual beliefs, etc. I thought it would be rather a dry and daunting read, and set myself to reading about just one object every morning over my morning cup of tea, but soon found myself enjoying the book immensely and learning about empires I was completely ignorant of. Thoroughly recommended.



1. East meets West: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee DONE

2. Bits and pieces: A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor DONE

3. How we got to where we are: A Very English Scandal
by John Preston DONE

4. Succinct: Chance
by Joseph Conrad DONE

5. After the fall: Ashes of the Earth
by Eliot Pattison

6. Freebies: Baudolino
by Umberto Eco

7. Year of the Ox: Burmese Days by George Orwell

8. Alma Mater Matters: The Rebel Angels
by Robertson Davies

9. Holy Moly, Some Authors Like to Use an Awful Lot of Words: The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England
by Ian Mortimer

10. Play it again Sam: The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

11. No Cliff Notes this time: Talking Heads by Alan Bennett

12. Locked up: Swirling Red Dust by Takna Jigme Sangdro
 

Siri Kirpal

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Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Haven't posted for awhile on this thread, but I have been reading. This brings my total up to 17 books this year, 13 of which are challenge books.

Here are the reviews:

Run for the Border (Also Face Your Fears and Freebies—from our then-local little free library): The Mapmaker's Wife by Robert Whitaker: This is the sort of history that focusses on a little-known event and uses it to illumine its time and place. Two events, really. In 1735, a group of French scientists sailed off to South America to measure the equator in order to determine the size and shape of the earth. While there, one of the members of this party married a Peruvian noblewoman. They got separated for more than two decades, and then the wife, Madame Isabel Godin, received word that her husband was awaiting her down the Amazon. So she went. With her brothers and a couple of nephews and some servants and a slave or two. They end up stranded on a sandbar. The slave (Joaquin) went off in their surviving canoe to roust up a rescue party. All the rest of the party died before help arrived...except Isabel. She and her brothers and nephews had set out into the jungle, trying to walk to their destination. After her brothers died, Isabel, who knew Quechua, continued and ran into two indigenous couples. And so, she became the first non-indigenous person to survive a solo trek into the Amazon jungle (i.e. not by boat). She was reunited with her husband, and she set in motion all forms of freedom for Joaquin, who also survived, but had been imprisoned. Isabel became famous in her day, and a school in Riobamba (where she lived much of her life) is named for her.

Now this is a hugely inspirational story that sprawls across two continents (Europe and South America), vastly different terrains (the Andes and the Amazon), and vastly different cultures (the Enlightenment scientists, the Spanish & Portuguese colonists, and Indigenous communities). I grateful to finally read it.

It was not, however, always an easy read. For one thing, I hate reading about torture, and the author and the Mapmakers who took notes pulled no punches in describing what the Spanish and Portuguese did to the Indigenous peoples. What Isabel and her retinue endured once they were stranded also amounts to torture, and the author pulls no punches about this either.

Much of the book is about the science of cartography. Unfortunately for me, I have a problem grasping how anything mechanical works without pictures... preferably with hands on activity. The result is that some of the early scientific chapters were heavy going. But again, this book was worth the effort.

Vast Critical Acclaim: Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout: Strout used this Pulitzer Prize winning collection of short stories to investigate the backstories of secondary characters while she was writing My Name Is Lucy Barton. The writing is excellent in the spare and accessible way favored by authors of short stories set in the Midwest. Which this is. I'm not surprised it won the Pulitzer.

But it doesn't fire me with any desire to read My Name Is Lucy Barton, which I don't have and haven't read. I found some of the characters worse than loathsome. It's a good thing this is a short story collection, because I wouldn't have wasted my time reading a whole book about a woman who helps her husband rape their houseguests.

But there are moments of grace. Notably, the ending of the last story comes close to redeeming the rest of the book. Nonetheless, I'm glad it's over.

Another's Mother Tongue (German): The Book of Dreams by Nina George, translated by Simon Pare: What gorgeous, heartfelt writing! A deeply felt and conceived and executed look at where a person might be when they're in a coma. Which could have been exhaustingly dull...but isn't. The characters ring true.

Some actions don't seem plausible. When medical people are working, they usually throw you out of the room, if you're not the person they're working on. Also, this isn't the book for people who have a hard time with shifting realities, timelines and planes of consciousness.

But for someone like me, this is one of the best books I've read all year. Two days ago, I went and got as many of her other books as I could find.

Bits and Pieces: The Accidental Dictionary by Paul Anthony Jones: I started reading this book out loud to Mr. Siri, one entry at a time, late last year. It lends itself to that sort of reading. The "dictionary" entries are actually little essays about how & why some words change their meanings dramatically. Some are more interesting than others, and since the author is British, some of the meanings (and even one of the words) aren't what we'd use in American English. (The word Americans don't use is bumph, which originally meant toilet paper and now refers to trashy novels in British English.)

We enjoyed the book and would recommend it. With one caveat. Don't read it all at once. Bits and Pieces is the way to go.

Year of the Ox (Also Laughing Matters): Ten Little Herrings by L.C. Tyler: I enjoyed this sequel to The Herring Seller's Apprentice more than I did the first book. Much funnier. Think Agatha Christie performed by the Marx Brothers.

But I don't think I'll read the rest of the series. Elsie and Ethelred have each killed the other (the way authors do kill their subjects) once. It's obvious that the pattern will continue. So, I'm bowing out of reading more.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 
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Siri Kirpal

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I finally finished A History of the World in 100 objects. Taking a hundred artifacts in the British Museum, its director tells the story of mankind in one of the most fascinating history books I’ve ever read. The objects themselves range from the familiar and emblematic, like an Egyptian mummy case, the Rosetta Stone, and Hokusai’s painting of The Great Wave, to the obscure, like Peruvian textile fragments or Tanzanian pot sherds. Ranging from a Hawaiian feather helmet to a central Asian jade cup, from a Welsh gold cape to a Mexican turquoise serpent, or from a Chinese bronze bell to an Australian bark shield, every object is carefully chosen to represent a historical phenomenon, be it early writing, new forms of government, the first coins or paper money, trade, religious or sexual beliefs, etc. I thought it would be rather a dry and daunting read, and set myself to reading about just one object every morning over my morning cup of tea, but soon found myself enjoying the book immensely and learning about empires I was completely ignorant of. Thoroughly recommended.
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"-a Sikh greeting)

Sounds interesting. I may need to add it to the TBR list.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 
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mrsmig

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I've given up on my Tag team selection: Ghostways, by Robert MacFarlane and Dan Richards. I had trouble engaging with it from the beginning, and after giving it another go last night, I'm marking it DNF. I feel bad about it because I've loved everything else I've read of MacFarlane's work, but this one is just not for me. Since I've spent most of this hot summer reading about failed polar expeditions, I'm replacing it with Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition, by Owen Beattie and John Geiger, which I'll start tonight.

1. Year of the Ox. The Children's Blizzard, by Melanie Benjamin. FINISHED 1/31/21

8. Girls chase boys chase girls. Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout. FINISHED 1/11/21

10. 21st century, 21st year, 21st letter. Baba Yaga Laid An Egg, by Dubravka Ugresic. FINISHED 3/28/21

22. Tag team. Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition, by Owen Beattie and John Geiger CURRENTLY READING

27. Succinct. Later, by Stephen King. FINISHED 7/12/21

30. I've met them! Warlock, by Oakley Hall.

32. Verboten. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher. FINISHED 5/30/21

33. What your parents read. Dead Man's Folly, by Agatha Christie. FINISHED 3/9/21

36. Bits and pieces. Best American Science and Nature Writing 2019. FINISHED 7/16/21

37. Out of this world. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi. FINISHED 4/3/21

38. Freebies. Vesper Flights, by Helen MacDonald. FINISHED 2/20/21

42. LOL random. Uncle Wiggily's Story Book, by Howard Roger Garis. FINISHED 8/5/21
 
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oneblindmouse

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I finished Ashes of the Earth by Eliot Pattison. I haven’t read many dystopian or post-apocalyptic novels, but I really enjoyed it as I’m a big fan of Pattison, and enjoy the way he unravels a crime mystery. The story is set a couple of decades after a nuclear war has wiped out life as we know it in the early 21st Century, and the small settlement of Carthage is thriving with early industrial steam technology. After Jonah, the colony’s senior scientist and repository of knowledge, is murdered, Hadrian Boone, one-time teacher and co-founder of the colony but now a morose washed-out drunk and petty criminal, sets out to discover why, and uncovers a much more sinister plot. Throughout the fast-moving story, which has some very dramatic scenes near the end, many issues about a post-apocalyptic world are raised, such as the need for control and censorship versus freedom, and the role of the past in building a new future. Altogether a most enjoyable read.


1. East meets West: Pachinko
by Min Jin Lee DONE

2. Bits and pieces: A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor DONE

3. How we got to where we are: A Very English Scandal
by John Preston DONE

4. Succinct: Chance
by Joseph Conrad DONE

5. After the fall: Ashes of the Earth
by Eliot Pattison DONE

6. Freebies: Baudolino
by Umberto Eco

7. Year of the Ox: Burmese Days by George Orwell

8. Alma Mater Matters: The Rebel Angels
by Robertson Davies

9. Holy Moly, Some Authors Like to Use an Awful Lot of Words: The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England
by Ian Mortimer

10. Play it again Sam: The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

11. No Cliff Notes this time: Talking Heads by Alan Bennett

12. Locked up: Swirling Red Dust by Takna Jigme Sangdro

 
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Chris P

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Ah, it's so good to see people making progress here. Well done!

I finished my Vast Critical Acclaim title: Discomfort of Evening – Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (Man Booker International award). Twelve-year-old Jas lives on a poor dairy farm in the Netherlands. As Christmas approaches, her father informs the family they cannot afford a proper Christmas goose, and that Jas's pet rabbit will be slaughtered for the dinner. Jas prays that God spare the rabbit and take her older brother Matthies instead, and the next day Matthies falls through the ice on the lake and drowns. The family enters a spiral of mourning and despair, compounded by the family losing their entire dairy herd to foot-and-mouth disease, with Jas and her younger sister Hannah plotting their escape to "the other side," either physically getting out of the village, or metaphorically through religion or exploring their emerging sexual development.

This book is a 286-page misery fest, with no light moments and by no means a happy ending (beyond "That's the best she could hope for"). No matter how well written (minus what appear to be translation issues from the original Dutch), the misery got to me and I'm in need of something whacky to readjust. The bullying, hopelessness, animal cruelty, and sexual content were a bit too much. For the sexual content, there are no adult-child scenes, but fairly graphic descriptions of a twelve-year-old Jas discovering masturbation, and sexual experimentation between the two girls and their other brother Obbe (who's a real bastard who I'd like to clobber). Not only does reading about sex acts between children not sit right with me, this comes right on the tails of discussions here on AW what makes something erotica versus porn. In this case it's neither; despite the content being explicit, there is nothing arousing about it at all, but a reflection of the gritty hopelessness and desperation of the characters. I felt the same about Nabokov's Lolita too (I loved that book, despite the squick factor).


  1. Laughing Matters: A humorous or satirical book. Nothing to see here – Kevin Wilson
  2. I spy: A book featuring spies or espionage. Need to know – Karen Cleveland Done
  3. Local hero: A book by a local author. First cosmic velocity – Zack Powers
  4. 21st Century, 21st Year, 21st Letter: A book by someone whose first or last name begins with the letter U: House of Broken Angels – Luis Alberto Urrea Done
  5. Locked up: A book taking place in a prison, mental institution or treatment center. Girl, Interrupted -- Suzanna Kaysen Done
  6. What your parents read: Any novel from the year you were born. Love in the Ruins – Walker Percy Done
  7. Out of this world: A book taking place in space or on another planet. Artemis – Andy Weir Done
  8. Keep up with the Joneses: A book everyone else seems to have read but you have not. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak Done
  9. Feisty feline fiesta: A book with a cat on the cover. Cat Chaser – Elmore Leonard Done
  10. Pixies and Dryads and Elves, oh my!: A high fantasy. Spinning Silver – Naomi Novik
  11. Run for the border: A book about or taking place in Central or South America. 100 years of solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez Done
  12. Vast critical acclaim: A book that has won a prestigious award. Discomfort of Evening – Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (Man Booker International award). Done
 

mrsmig

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I finished my Tag Team replacement book: Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition. The first part of the book is a history of the doomed Franklin Expedition, which set off in 1845 to find the Northwest Passage and disappeared, leaving only scant clues about the final fate of its two ships and large, well-equipped crew. The second part deals with the 1980s missions to exhume three crew members who died in the early part of the expedition and were buried on Beechey Island, in order to determine their cause of death and shed a light on the fate of the rest of the expedition. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

That leaves only the Oakley Hall book. My library is supposed to have a copy so I'll pick that up the next time I'm in the area.

1. Year of the Ox. The Children's Blizzard, by Melanie Benjamin. FINISHED 1/31/21

8. Girls chase boys chase girls. Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout. FINISHED 1/11/21

10. 21st century, 21st year, 21st letter. Baba Yaga Laid An Egg, by Dubravka Ugresic. FINISHED 3/28/21

22. Tag team. Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition, by Owen Beattie and John Geiger FINISHED 8/25/21

27. Succinct. Later, by Stephen King. FINISHED 7/12/21

30. I've met them! Warlock, by Oakley Hall.

32. Verboten. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher. FINISHED 5/30/21

33. What your parents read. Dead Man's Folly, by Agatha Christie. FINISHED 3/9/21

36. Bits and pieces. Best American Science and Nature Writing 2019. FINISHED 7/16/21

37. Out of this world. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi. FINISHED 4/3/21

38. Freebies. Vesper Flights, by Helen MacDonald. FINISHED 2/20/21

42. LOL random. Uncle Wiggily's Story Book, by Howard Roger Garis. FINISHED 8/5/21
 
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mccardey

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I read a very clever short story collection last week, and I'm finding three of the stories still with me - Elizabeth Bonesteel's Survival Tactics. It's speculative fiction which I love when it's done well, and it's really done well here. You know from the first story (About Time) that you're in good hands, and though each story has a tone and characters and settings that are unique and story-specific, they're all thoroughly engaging, well-built and entirely developed.

Hearty recommendation!
 

Hanukkah sameach!

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