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

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oneblindmouse

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My Local Hero selection, First Cosmic Velocity by Zach Powers, was a wonderful hidden gem! I only came across it by googling for local DC authors, it doesn't have many reviews on Amazon, so I wasn't sure that to expect. It deserves more buzz. Despite taking quite a few liberties with the history, it was well researched and well executed for the most part. Most importantly, it was some good escapist reading and tons of heart. One of the best of my challenge selections this year.

In the mid-1960s, the Soviets knew they could not safely return a spacecraft to Earth but couldn't admit so publicly, so all of the cosmonauts are twins recruited as children; one trained to go up in space and never come back and the other to be trained in official protocol, public relations, and to remain in hiding until after the mission for victory parades and to be revered as heroes for the accomplishments of their now-dead siblings. However, Leonid's twin is still up in space, several weeks after his oxygen was supposed to have run out and orbit decayed into an atmospheric fireball, and after Leonid has begun the round of very public appearances. Unaware of the ruse, Khrushchev himself wants in on the action, ordering the Chief Designer to send up the Premier's dog (and bring him back safely, of course). Every character in this book is engaging, even the bit characters, and the topics occasionally veer off into philosophical discussions that are just long enough to be interesting and stop before they get preachy. Powers plays fast and loose with the history; the first person in space is the twin of the character Nadya (not Yuri Gagarin or the first woman in space Valentina Tereshkova), he has the Nedelin Catastrophe occurring in 1964 when it was actually in 1960, and various other convenient "rearrangements" to move the story along. A nice find of a book.

  • 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 Done
  • 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
Sounds a great read!
 

oneblindmouse

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1. Verboten: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
2. Pixies and Dryads and Elves, oh my!: Wizards First Rule by Terry Goodkind - DONE
3. Face Your Fears:: Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
4. After The Fall: The Stand by Stephen King
5. What your parents read: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
6. Tag Team: Brimstone by Preston & Child - DONE
7. Out of the park on first at-bat: The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
8. Freebies: Tombland by C.J. Sansom - IN PROGRESS
9. Holy moly some authors like to use an awful lot of words: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman - DONE
10. Run for the border: House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
11.Out of this world: Dune by Frank Herbert
12. Creative nonfiction: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote - DONE

I was pretty ambitious and picked alot of books with over 500 pages this year. Still working on them, slowly but surely.
Some excellent choices IMHO. I loved Tale of Two Cities, Song of Solomon, Tombland (though it was overly long), House of Spirits, and Dune (which I plan to reread, having just seen the new film). In Cold Blood I found interesting though unpleasant, and I hated Lolita.
 
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oneblindmouse

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No Cliff Notes this Time: Talking Heads by Alan Bennett. I replaced The Salterton Trilogy by Robertson Davies as I found it deadly dull, out of date, and boring. Talking Heads, on the other hand, was utterly delightful!! (Why haven’t I read anything by Bennett before??) These 13 monologues - mostly by elderly or middle-aged women, but a couple by men - were written for the stage, TV or radio with specific actors in mind, but can still be enjoyed in written form. Each narrator describes their seemingly humdrum life, but gradually hints at regrets, grief, secrets, and disturbing undercurrents. A great deal is left unsaid, leaving the reader guessing. Some monologues are funny while others are sad, but all are dark, dealing with loneliness, isolation, betrayal, guilt (particularly about action not taken), addiction, violence, etc. This may well be the best thing I’ve read this year.
 
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Tocotin

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Okay, so I finished A Handful of Dust quite some time ago. It was stranger than the other one I read (Vile Bodies) – it went from a comedy/satire to a... satirical tragedy? Tragicomedy? I don't know. I might be done with Evelyn Waugh at this point. I feel that there's something disturbing (not in a good way) about his books; there is some dark, nasty, rotten core. They have seemingly funny characters with devil-may-care attitude, wholly committed to making fun of everyone including themselves, and of life, and everything is going great; and then suddenly a completely unnecessary piece of sh*t is thrown casually in the air in the course of the narration, a racist slur that is rarely seen in other novels of the period, for example, or an idiotic social commentary... stuff that just lies about unchallenged and stinks and makes the experience unpleasant throughout.

Now I waited and waited for Heat Source to go on sale, but it didn't, so I swapped it for The Ice House (Ледяной дом) by Ivan Lazhechnikov. I ran into it when doing research on completely unrelated stuff, thought it was interesting, found it online for free, and I'm now about 30% in. It's one of the very first historical novels in Russian language, set during the reign of Empress Anna, and it's absolutely riveting so far.

1. Year of the Ox: Miss Mackenzie by Anthony Trollope FINISHED
2. Laughing matters: A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh FINISHED
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) ---> swapped for The Ice House (Ледяной дом) by Ivan Lazhechnikov STARTED
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 FINISHED
12. Like a novel, only real: Memories of a Catholic Girlhood by Mary McCarthy FINISHED

:troll
 
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Chris P

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A Handful of Dust does indeed end up a very different book than it starts out. I agree it does have a very dark core, and now that I think about it, there is no redemption or vindication. I first read it in high school and thought it was a more serious book, and was mad as hell with how Tony ended up. This was partly because I identified with him due to something going on in my real life, and I wanted him to get some bloodthirsty revenge. I read it again many years later and could see the satire, but it was still fairly venomous.

Also, at the time I first read it, Guns n Roses' song Welcome to the Jungle was on the radio about every ten minutes, and when Tony is hallucinating from malaria in Brazil I had a mental image of him seeing Axl Rose in his hut bellowing "You know where you are? You're in the jungle, baby, you're gonna diiiiiiiiieee!" Nothing about pre-war British lit that an 80s hair band couldn't make better.
 
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Tocotin

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A Handful of Dust does indeed end up a very different book than it starts out. I agree it does have a very dark core, and now that I think about it, there is no redemption or vindication. I first read it in high school and thought it was a more serious book, and was mad as hell with how Tony ended up. This was partly because I identified with him due to something going on in my real life, and I wanted him to get some bloodthirsty revenge. I read it again many years later and could see the satire, but it was still fairly venomous.
It was. I read somewhere that Waugh wrote it when he was getting divorced or shortly after – I might be wrong, though. I really enjoyed the first half, and the best moment for me was when Tony and his friend made a drunken night tour around London, trying to get hold of Brenda. I thought it was hysterical. But the book went downhill real fast after that.
:troll
 
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Chris P

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It's December, folks! Time to start looking ahead to next year's challenge!

Any requests or ideas for new topics? I have a master list of about 125 that I will choose 50 from, and I'll make sure any suggested topics get included, or added to the master list. Fire away, either here or in a private convo.
 

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Some excellent choices IMHO. I loved Tale of Two Cities, Song of Solomon, Tombland (though it was overly long), House of Spirits, and Dune (which I plan to reread, having just seen the new film). In Cold Blood I found interesting though unpleasant, and I hated Lolita.
I'm still going to leave all of these on my TBR list, but there's no way at this point that I'm going to get through all of them.
 

Tocotin

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It's December, folks! Time to start looking ahead to next year's challenge!

Any requests or ideas for new topics? I have a master list of about 125 that I will choose 50 from, and I'll make sure any suggested topics get included, or added to the master list. Fire away, either here or in a private convo.

I have two suggestions: plays, and books that are 2nd, 3rd, etc. installments in a series (is there a word for it?).

:troll
 
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Gatteau

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I finished Renegades. Cool take on the super hero society, and the various issues that might arise therein. What does it actually mean to be a hero or a villain? Sure, some things (like killing people) are pretty unequivocally Bad, but the motivations for any action are colored by where you're standing. The story is told through those two opposing viewpoints - a girl on the "Villains" side and a boy on the "Heroes" side. They are both positive that what they are working towards is Right and Good, and they've been unfairly maligned by the other side. I liked that the layout was this sort of black and white, good and evil trope, but with the lesson that everyone really falls in the gray area in between. This is the first of a series (at least two, I think more), and the "good" boy and "bad" girl have come together but still don't know exactly who the other is, both hiding more secrets, so I am interested in reading more and seeing those secrets come out in to the open - what might they do when they discover they might actually have more in common with the other side?

I've still got a few on this list that I'm going to try and get through (mainly the shorter ones), but some may have to be pushed along to next year. I will get to you all eventually!

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 Reading
4. Keep up with the Joneses: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
5. Succinct: Renegades by Marissa Meyer Finished 11/12
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, Finished 9/14)
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 Reading (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
 

Siri Kirpal

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

I may not be able to read a whole lot next year as it looks like the cataracts have grown up enough to leave home, so both Mr. Siri and I have consults for potential surgeries.

But I am planning on putting what reading I do into the following 5 categories:

Books about Books (nonfiction or fiction, real book(s)/ms or fictional)
Books with Numbers in the Title (It's high time I read The House of the Seven Gables and a whole slew of other books)
Get on with it Already! Books
Authors Corner (two or more books by and/or about the same author)
Books to be Read Aloud (to Spouse in the evening in my case)

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

oneblindmouse

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I finished Locked up: Swirling Red Dust by Takna Jigme Sangdro. This is a heart-breaking memoir by Tibet’s longest-serving political prisoner. , Jigme, a simple schoolteacher in Lhasa who had witnessed the Chinese invasion of Lhasa in 1959, spent nearly forty years in Chinese prisons and labour camps for supporting Tibetan independence. Despite enduring unspeakable torture and suffering, his indomitable spirit and courageous intransigence towards injustice, fortified by his memory of being blessed by the Dalai Lama when they were both children, led him to become one of Tibet’s most emblematic political prisoners. He was finally released in 2002 at the age of 74, after successful lobbying by international human rights groups, and he settled in Switzerland where he died in 2020. I had the privilege of meeting him in 2005 and 2008 when he came to Madrid to testify in Spain’s National Court in the ground-breaking lawsuit about Chinese genocide in Tibet presented by CAT (Comité de Ayuda al Tíbet), the small Tibet support group with which I collaborate as a translator. His memoirs have been published in English, but I have just translated them into Spanish and the CAT is hoping to publish them shortly in Spanish.



Challenge completed:


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 DONE

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

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

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

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

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

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

Siri Kirpal

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

Oneblindmouse, I am so proud of you for doing that translation. I read the Dalai Lama's autobiography last year. It was so heartbreaking and so inspiring.

And congrats to you and everyone else who's completed this challenge in this year of continuing challenges.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 
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Chris P

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@oneblindmouse Congrats on completing! I'm sure that was quite the feat to translate Jigme's work. Working internationally, I know it's not a simple matter to translate something--just simultaneous translation of someone's comments is hard enough, being trusted with someone else's literary work is a whole other level! I don't even know another language well enough to have more than a short superficial discussion. Such an important work, too.

@Tocotin Suggestions noted. Thanks!

@Siri Kirpal I love the "Read Aloud" suggestion (I always love your ideas!). I get it that you plan to read books to Mr. Siri rather than suggesting a topic, and I think there's potential here for a category. However, other than poetry or children's books, however, I'm not sure how someone could determine a good book to read aloud. Even the Goodreads list for read aloud books for adults are more for children. Any ideas on how we can polish this idea?
 
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Siri Kirpal

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@Siri Kirpal I love the "Read Aloud" suggestion (I always love your ideas!). I get it that you plan to read books to Mr. Siri rather than suggesting a topic, and I think there's potential here for a category. However, other than poetry or children's books, however, I'm not sure how someone could determine a good book to read aloud. Even the Goodreads list for read aloud books for adults are more for children. Any ideas on how we can polish this idea?
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

I'm currently reading him a book of poetry by Hafiz, which is not exactly kids' stuff. Back when my voice was better, I read him The Secret Life of Bees, The Joy Luck Club, and lots of other similar books. For me, it could easily enough be in the Bits and Pieces category. But if you want to do it as a separate category, I'd say just pick a book that's appropriate to the person who wants to hear you read it.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 
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Chris P

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

I'm currently reading him a book of poetry by Hafiz, which is not exactly kids' stuff. Back when my voice was better, I read him The Secret Life of Bees, The Joy Luck Club, and lots of other similar books. For me, it could easily enough be in the Bits and Pieces category. But if you want to do it as a separate category, I'd say just pick a book that's appropriate to the person who wants to hear you read it.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Now there's an idea: A book someone picked for you to read to them. I don't know how many people would choose that one, but what a cool idea. You've done it again, Siri! :)
 

Chris P

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I'm looking forward to taking part in the 2022 challenge.
Lovely! If you haven't already, take a look at the first post in this thread to get an idea of this year's topics, and suggest any topics you'd like to see added. Chances are I have a similar one on the master list already, and I can make sure it's on the list for 2022 :)
 

Tocotin

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So I finished The Ice House (Ледяной дом) by Ivan Lazhechnikov, a beautifully vivid and romantic (in all possible meanings of the word) novel about the last years of the rule of the Empress Anna of Russia, and yeah, I loved it. The “ice house” of the title was a palace made entirely of ice, built in Saint Petersburg on the river Neva in 1740, as a part of the celebration of the Russian victory over the Ottoman Turkey. It was the scene of various balls and other events, and the most famous celebration held there was a wedding between the Empress’s favorite jester Avdotya Buzheninova and Prince Golitsyn, the scion of an old aristocratic family, who had angered Empress Anna by converting to Catholicism. After the wedding reception, the newlyweds were forced to spend their wedding night in the ice palace without fire and in thin clothing. The whole pageantry is described with fascinating details, although the characters in the novel aren’t the real historical personages, but rather people connected to the hero of the story, the statesman Artemy Volynsky, and the antagonist, the Duke of Courland Ernst von Biron, who was the Empress’s favorite and the more successful of the two. The main plot of the story is the deadly rivalry between Volynsky and Biron, and also the doomed love affair between Volynsky and the mysterious Moldavian princess Marioritsa – doomed for many reasons, of which the fact that Volynsky is married is not necessarily the most important.

The absolutely outrageous, flamboyant plot and characters weren’t even the most fascinating part of this book. For me, it was the setting. The oppressively hot palace interiors, the corridors and backyard entrances, the poor, dimly lit houses and shacks full of smoke, the cold and magnificent ice house surrounded by camels and elephants covered with silks and brocades, witches meeting in the dark of night, the ice-clad Neva, cemeteries and harems, streets and Romani camps, and above all, the merciless Saint Petersburg winter – there is so much color and atmosphere that the less savory side of the book can be almost forgotten. But it’s not for the faint of heart, especially the first part of the book, where the creatures of Biron’s slowly dispatch a man who had traveled to the capital to ask the Empress for protection against her favorite’s mistreatment of peasants. It is quite horrifying – I forgot how graphic and punchy old Russian novels can be.

I wasn’t all that familiar with Empress Anna’s era, and now I want to read more about the times between the reigns of Peter and Catherine the Great. I found out that many contemporaries of Lazhechnikov’s considered his portrait of Biron to be unjust (as Pushkin said, “Biron had the misfortune to be German”), and I’m going to get The Word and the Action (this is the Wiki translation of Слово и дело, which is a phrase with a deeper meaning than that), Valentin Pikul’s 4-volume novel about Volynsky and Biron’s feud. Whew. I can’t resist 18th century in Eastern Europe, I just can’t.

I'm starting The Devil in the Marshalsea. OMG I have 2 more books to go. Let's see if I can do this.

1. Year of the Ox: Miss Mackenzie by Anthony Trollope FINISHED
2. Laughing matters: A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh FINISHED
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: The Ice House (Ледяной дом) by Ivan Lazhechnikov FINISHED
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 STARTED
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 FINISHED
12. Like a novel, only real: Memories of a Catholic Girlhood by Mary McCarthy FINISHED

:troll
 
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Chris P

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Last call for topic requests! I'm working on the list now, and will post next year's challenge on Sunday morning.

Any suggestions?
 

Chris P

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I only managed 11. I wasn't overly thrilled with most of my selections, and got sidetracked with other reading and later in the year a writing project (yay!!!!), as well as moving into a house and having DIY projects that ate up prime reading time. But, I still call the year a success because I read some things I wouldn't have otherwise.

Looking at my list again, I can't believe some of them were this year! It feels like two or three challenges ago on a couple of them. The highlights for me were First Cosmic Velocity by Zach Powers and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. FCV was a total random selection that paid off in a big, fun way, and I wasn't expecting to like TBT as much as I did, since I have a knee-jerk "don't wanna like it" reaction to anything a lot of people have read and liked. I knew I was going to like 100 Years of Solitude, and it delivered.

  • 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 Done
  • 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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Elizabeth George's book Write Away