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

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


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Aug 3, 2020
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I'm amending my list slightly to include a couple other things I've been reading, because they fit in these categories too.

I picked up Amy Schumer's The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo because I've always enjoyed her stand-up and her show, and I like having a bio (specifically a comedian's bio) for bedtime reading. It's got a lot of depth. Naturally, much of it was quite funny, and she seems genuinely surprised by the amount of fame she's managed to acquire, and how she got there; but she also goes into a ton of detail about the not so fabulous parts of her life, from an abusive relationship (scary) to a father with serious medical issues (heartbreaking). All of it flows seamlessly though, in my opinion, the right balance of up and down, kinda just like... life. It sounds cheesy, but most of the book just felt like chatting with a friend about things. It took me three different borrowings from the library to finish it, mostly reading off and on before bed, so each time going back to it it was like, oh hey Amy, what's goin on?

I am also currently reading Finder and enjoying all the fantastic world-building, discovering something new on every page.

And next up, I plan to start Spinning Silver - Chris, I know you have this on your list as well!

1. It’s all fun and games: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo Finished 1/10
2. Laughing Matters: Animal Farm by George Orwell (also The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer Finished 8/15)
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 (also Finder by Suzanne Palmer, Reading)
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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Aug 3, 2008
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Tokyo, waiting for typhoons
I finished The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai (loved it), and read 5 more books from the list while AW was down.

1. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
2. Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm
3. Camilla by Frances Burney (instead of Evelina by the same author, which I intend to read later)
4. Circe by Madeline Miller
5. Memories of a Catholic Girlhood by Mary McCarthy

I loved The Haunting of Hill House – it was my first time reading Shirley Jackson, and there is something about her style that just hits the spot for me. I'm definitely going to read more of her.

I liked Memories of a Catholic Girlhood – I enjoy Mary McCarthy, although sometimes her cleverness and hyper-attention to detail can be unsettling. Camilla was fun too, much more fun than I anticipated; despite being wildly long and overly moralistic, the book has some fantastically amusing social observations and characters. It also has a sympathetic portrait of a 18t-century nerdish girl! She was my favorite character.

Zuleika Dobson was okay – it was just an overlong joke, but I liked the writing style. Circe didn't do anything for me, I'm afraid, I was tired by the misogyny and the martyr complex of the main character. I thought it was going to be about victorious Circe the devourer of men. Alas.

Now I'm reading Illidan, which is a World of Warcraft novel. Sadly, there's too many night elves so far, and no orcs. I know, it's about Illidan, who was a nelf once, so night elves are a given, but... At least gimme blood elves, I beg of you!

I also started Miss Mackenzie, but I'm reading another Trollope right now, so poor Miss Mackenzie is on hiatus. (It is lovely, by the way)

Updated list:

1. Year of the Ox: Miss Mackenzie by Anthony Trollope started
2. Laughing matters: Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
3. That old black magic: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson FINISHED
4. East meets West: The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai by Han Bangqing FINISHED
5. Another mother’s tongue: Heat Source by Kawagoe Sōichi (熱源)
6. Alma mater matters: Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm FINISHED
7. Ye olde booke shoppe: Camilla by Frances Burney FINISHED
8. Locked up: The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson
9. Freebies: The Greedy Queen: Eating with Victoria by Annie Gray
10. Face your fears: Circe by Madeline Miller FINISHED
11. Pixies and dryads and elves, oh my!: Illidan by Andrew King started
12. Like a novel, only real: Memories of a Catholic Girlhood by Mary McCarthy FINISHED

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Chris P

Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred
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Nov 4, 2009
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Another quick one for Laughing Matters: Nothing to See Here By Kevin Wilson.

Lillian, down on her luck as if that's anything new, has kept in touch with her well-to-do high school friend Madison, who is now married to an esteemed senator and presumptive next Secretary of State, and is thrilled when Madison offers her a well paying job: Watching the senator's twin ten year olds from a prior marriage for the summer. There's just one catch: the kids are prone to spontaneous combustion when agitated. Bursting into flames doesn't hurt the children, and in time they've come to not fear it and kind of enjoy it.

The comedy wasn't as much as might be assumed from the set up, and the children's condition can be a proxy for anything you might want to substitute: bipolar, autism, drug addiction, what have you and the ways prestigious families can stuff the children into an oubliette of prep schools, care facilities, or even governesses so they don't get in the way of ambition. While caring for the children, Lillian comes to terms with her own chaotic, poverty-class upbringing and a mother that similarly didn't want her around.

Although published in 2019, I get the idea this an old, old manuscript from the 1990s or early 2000s Wilson had laying around and was able to get published once he'd achieved success with other books. At one point, Lillian says "of course I knew about the internet, I just wasn't good at techy things so I never learned how to use it." (But nobody in the book seems to use it, or even mention it.) This was to explain why she took the children to the library to research famous local figures, but there is also no mention of cell phones except in one instance where she needs to be told how to use one, and awaiting the arrival of the newspaper to learn more about a plot-connected incident. Actually, had Lillian not explained why she wasn't using the internet, I probably wouldn't have noticed it.

Looks like I've only got two left!
  • Laughing Matters: A humorous or satirical book. Nothing to see here – Kevin Wilson Done
  • I spy: A book featuring spies or espionage. Need to know – Karen Cleveland Done
  • Local hero: A book by a local author. First cosmic velocity – Zack Powers
  • 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
  • Locked up: A book taking place in a prison, mental institution or treatment center. Girl, Interrupted -- Suzanna Kaysen Done
  • What your parents read: Any novel from the year you were born. Love in the Ruins – Walker Percy Done
  • Out of this world: A book taking place in space or on another planet. Artemis – Andy Weir Done
  • Keep up with the Joneses: A book everyone else seems to have read but you have not. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak Done
  • Feisty feline fiesta: A book with a cat on the cover. Cat Chaser – Elmore Leonard Done
  • Pixies and Dryads and Elves, oh my!: A high fantasy. Spinning Silver – Naomi Novik
  • Run for the border: A book about or taking place in Central or South America. 100 years of solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez Done
  • Vast critical acclaim: A book that has won a prestigious award. Discomfort of Evening – Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (Man Booker International award). Done
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The new me
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Nov 7, 2007
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I finished The Rebel Angels by Robertson Davies. Though highly recommended by my husband who is a big Davies fan, I was disappointed overall. I found the first third interesting, the second third tedious, and the ending downright disappointing. The College of St John and the Holy Ghost (known colloquially as Spook) is left a substantial bequest of books, paintings, etc. by a wealthy collector just when a former student and lecturer, now a defrocked priest, returns and causes havoc. Narrated alternately by Maria, a brilliant, beautiful (but not very believable) post-grad student struggling with her part-gypsy origins and her infatuation with her professor, and by Darcourt, a middle-aged priest who, in turn, is smitten by Maria, the book satirizes the world of academia through a host of eccentric characters bent on hiding their own secrets while uncovering those of others, and seeking fame and glory at all costs, even if that means theft or murder. Maybe I would have enjoyed the book more if I’d read it while in college or in the eighties when it was written, but I found it very dated, and I struggled with most of the professors’ dismissive views of women, though admittedly, Maria’s mother is one of the strongest characters in the book. Though unafraid to discuss sex and eschatological theories with great humour throughout the book, Davies ends with an unexpected and tame eulogy on marriage. I was underwhelmed.

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 DONE
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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Just Another Lazy Perfectionist
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Apr 22, 2012
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Finally getting back to this, though not sure I'll finish by year's end; been in a weird headspace for a while, and doing most "reading" via audiobook.

But I just started Seanan McGuire's The Girl in the Green Silk Gown, second in her Ghost Roads series. Whereas the first book was a collection of short stories that built to a larger narrative about Rose, the "Phantom Prom Queen" of urban legend, this one looks to be more of a book-length narrative. So far, so good... (And I have the third and presumed final book. Angel of the Overpass, in the TBR pile already; I hear rumors that this one ends on a cliffhanger, and so I'll want the next one on hand.)

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 - STARTED 9/5
-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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Write. Write. Writey Write Write.
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Jul 4, 2012
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I finished Oakley Hall's Warlock this afternoon, my I've met them! selection and the final book of my 2021 Challenge. I have mixed feelings about it. It's a big, fat monolith of a western, very slow to start with opening chapters that are utter Name Soup, but I stuck with it and eventually all the moving parts settled into a comprehensible order, and about midway through I was actually looking forward to reading more. Hall's prose tends toward the stately, but there are moments of utter rawness as well. If you want a big, chewy story with lots of conflicted, multi-level characters, you might enjoy it.

Chris P, thanks once again for setting up this year's Challenge. I might review the original list and see if I want to do some extra credit reading, but for now, I'm calling this done.

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. FINISHED 9/14/21

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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