Reading Challenge December Wrap Up

I did it! I completed my challenge!

Out of my last three books, only one of them got me anywhere in my challenge. First up was Wonder. It was a book club selection for the other book club that I’m in. I’d heard good things about it, but I wasn’t all that impressed. I did hear about the Julian chapter, so I checked that out from the library and I’m currently reading it, so we’ll see if that adds anything to the story. I felt that it was a little superficial even though it deals with a narrative that I haven’t really encountered before. I think there was a lack of depth to it.

Second, I listened to As If! It is an oral history of the making of the movie Clueless, which is one of my favorite movies ever. It was pretty neat to hear all of these cool trivia tidbits about the movie, but it did drag on a little, and the audio version wasn’t really the best medium for it.

Last, I read A Bright Red Ribbon, which may seriously be one of the worst books I’ve ever read. It was so bad, I’m sorry I wasted my time. I’m sorry it even exists. The anger has tempered over time, but it was truly terrible. I think the Amish book that was my other choice for book with a color in the title and themed around Christmas would probably have been better, and I’m on record for really not being into Christian fiction.

Anyways, I completed the challenge! I plan to do a year wrap up of all my high and low rated books this year. I thought I might do another challenge, but I won’t be as fixated on completing it. I read a lot of terrible books in the name of this challenge and life is too short to waste it on junky reading.


Review: A Bright Red Ribbon

fernmichaels_images_cover-abrightredribbonThis was seriously the most terrible book I’ve read in a long time. It was definitely worse than the “bad” book that I read for this challenge. It was really short, and that is the only positive thing that I can say about it.

Morgan (“Mo” – yes, seriously) is an adult woman who has legit waited two years without hearing so much as an “I’m alive” from her former boyfriend. She spent these two years making herself over into a supermodel, curating a wardrobe of fancy clothes and working out to make herself super hot, so that IF Keith keeps his promise to meet her at her parents’ Christmas tree, they can get engaged and live happily ever after. Just, what? No, she isn’t certain that he will actually show up. It’s been two years! Anyways, her town gets hit with a ridiculous blizzard and because she is insane, she begins driving to her parents’ house anyway. Of course, she gets stranded. She decides to walk somewhere (???) and right when she is about to collapse from frostbite and exhaustion, a dog finds her and gets her to follow him by waving a red ribbon and biting her.

So she winds up at some guy’s cottage. He is in a wheelchair, and yells at her to take a shower and not fall asleep and die of hypothermia. She falls asleep after her shower and wakes the next day. They exchange weird dialogue that’s mostly antagonistic, but somehow get drunk and end up doing it on the floor in front of a roaring fire. Neither of them have been taught how to be grown-ups apparently, because they are super awkward the next day and even though one night of passion and barbs made them head over heels, they both pretend they feel nothing.

Mo (gosh I hate that nickname) breaks it off with Keith the next day when she realizes that he is a man child. But even then, she and Marcus dance around their feelings forever. One day, Marcus shows up at her doorstep with the dog and then disappears. She tries to contact him for ages, but can’t get in touch. She has to move to accommodate having a dog, so he can’t contact her either. So then, the next Christmas, she breaks into the cottage so that the dog can go home for Christmas. (Yep…) And then Marcus shows up – but now he can walk! They exchange some more flirtatious insults, and the book ends.


1 star.

The book fulfills the book set at Christmas and the book with a color in the title requirements for the challenge.


Review: As If!

Thanks to the wonder of the internet, I found out about this book from one of the lovely people I follow on Twitter. I a9781476799087_custom-d38365a3d37179dc23f4b552ee7e1c02f02de262-s300-c15dore Clueless. It made me want to read Emma by Jane Austen, although I gave up on that several months ago. And this book mostly delivered some great stories about the creation, filming, and general pop culture relevance of Clueless. My only issue with it is that this book was only available as an audiobook from my library and it really did not translate well to this medium, which is unfortunate. It could have been great if they had used the actual voices of the people interviewed, but it was all read by one person, who tried valiantly to distinguish each person slightly in order to make it more understandable, but it was really a hard job.

The format of the book was somewhat chronological according to script-writing, the Jane Austen connection, casting, and then all the way through the filming process to the popular reception and current pop culture relevance, including a video tribute by Iggy Azalea that I had never heard of. Each section is a bunch of interview segments from the cast and crew, and other related people, and it is sewn together in a narrative.

There really isn’t much more to say about this book other than that. I really liked hearing all kinds of background information about certain scenes, locations, actors, and other things. It definitely made me want to watch the movie again!

3 stars.

This book fulfilled no requirements for the challenge.

Review: Wonder

Book-cover-Wonder-by-RJ-PalacioThis book was for my other book club. I only knew the blurb from it, but I quickly realized it was YA. YA fiction has a certain feel about it that distinguishes it from novels meant for adults. There’s a rhythm to the words, the phrasing, and some other je ne sais quoi that just makes it different, aside from just the main characters being younger.

Wonder is mostly about the first year that August, a 10 year old boy that suffers from a very rare facial abnormality, attends middle school after being home-schooled his entire life. The book changes perspectives from him a couple of times, letting us see things through his sister Via’s eyes, Justin (Via’s boyfriend), two of August’s new school friends, and a friend of Via’s that has somewhat drifted away in the past several months. The book tries to distinguish between the voices of the characters but since there are so many, it doesn’t succeed all that well. The most unique voice is Justin, since he barely uses punctuation.

The subject matter itself was interesting. Unfortunately, not a lot happens in the book. It isn’t really coming to a climax. It just details the trials over the year and peters out to a somewhat happy conclusion. The primary antagonist, Julian, pretty much disappears about halfway through the novel. He is conveniently whisked away and will not be attending that same school anymore. There is apparently a chapter from Julian’s viewpoint and I will probably read that one because when we discussed it in the book club, apparently that was the best chapter!

I feel like this book is great for YA, but kind of meh for adults. I hope that lots of kids read it and glean something from it.

4 stars

This book fulfills no requirements for the challenge.

Reading Challenge November Wrap Up

This post is a little later than normal, mostly because I completely forgot about it! Things have been so busy between Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up that even though I’ve still been reading, I have completely forgotten about this blog.

First this month, I completed Penelope, which started off terrible, got a little better, and then ended with a whimper. I honestly didn’t really get the humor. Maybe it was supposed to be satire. I’m not sure, either way – it wasn’t successful in its attempts at whatever it was. The bright pink cover caught my eye when I was following Ruby through Barnes & Noble. I’m also always somewhat drawn to things about Harvard for some reason (maybe due to Legally Blonde?) so the Harvard crest on the front was also eye-catching. I think I was expecting some light romantic comedy type stuff, and the book didn’t really deliver. Ok, let’s be real. I was expecting some form of Legally Blonde and got something completely different.

My next book was the November book club selection for my newest book club that I am not running. We read The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I hadn’t read any of her books before, but now I think I will run out and read a bunch of them. It was really, really good. And as a bonus, it took place in Paris! I decided at the very beginning of the year that Paris would be my “place I’ve always wanted to visit” box, in order to avoid just reading a book with a lovely setting and thinking, oh I’ve always wanted to visit here, since five minutes ago. And Paris is kind of my thing – I’ve always wanted to go there. I’ve made it as far as Nice. Someday!!

For the play on the challenge list, I started with a play that I love – Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. I used WhatShouldIReadNext to figure out similar plays to that one. It spit out a whole bunch of them and a lot of them seemed really interesting, but I didn’t want to buy anything and the only one of the list that was at the library was Equus. Which I’d heard of, since Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) was in a recent staging of it. It was a short read, so I guess it had that going for it.

The last book I read in November was The Girl on The Train for my upcoming book club. I really enjoyed this book. I tried really hard to give nothing away in my review because I think that it’s most effective if you know nothing. One of the many podcasts that I enjoy, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, recommended this book a few months ago and so I thought I would suggest it to the book club. I think the reactions were mixed, but I definitely feel positive about the book. Of course, it’s being made into a movie.

2 more boxes left!

Review: The Girl on the Train

I the-girl-on-the-train-coverwent into this book not knowing a thing about it, and I think that played in its favor. I wasn’t expecting any of the twists and turns, and so I was just along for the ride.

This book is from the perspective of 3 women whose lives become intertwined. Rachel is the alcoholic woman scorned, who is still hanging on to the hope that she will be reunited with her ex-husband. Megan is the neighbor that Rachel watches on her daily commute on the train, imagining the rich life that she is leading and the husband that dotes on her. Anna is the other woman, trying to pursue her own happily ever after while being pulled between the narratives surrounding each of the first two.

Without giving much away, the story builds through the variety of viewpoints and time periods to build a really interesting mystery. I did find the ebook format to be not conducive to being able to follow the timeline though. In a print book, it would be easy to flip back and see where we left off time wise with each narrator, and even to the beginning of the story. After awhile, I tried to ignore the time stamps, but there are pretty important to the way that the story is constructed. I think this would be even worse on audio. Particularly confusing is when the story jumps from the present to the past and back to the present, and I was confused about how much time had passed between the two present day chapters. Each chapter is broken into days, and those days are broken into morning and evening, or sometimes morning and afternoon, or some combination. There was a lot of going back and forth that disrupts the flow of the reading experience, as I was trying to place where I was in the timeline.

This book uses the red herring device a lot. I can see how some readers would be put off by this, but I thought it added a lot of layers to the story and they weren’t too disruptive. It was good to see the viewpoints of the same events from three sides, also.

This is a layered, complicated story that I really enjoyed. This review is purposely vague because most of the enjoyment that I got from it was the experience of peeling away those layers and building upon the story in order to get to the final reveal. The ending itself was just okay. Sometimes I can imagine a better way for the story to end, but in this instance it may be the best that it could be. The way that I thought it was going to go would have been really melodramatic and cringe-worthy, and I’m glad it didn’t go that way.

5 stars.

This book fulfills no requirements for the challenge.

Review: Equus

6a00d8341c730253ef00e54f7ebb488834-640wiPerhaps I’m a little jaded, but this play didn’t shock me like I thought it was trying to. The description of the book references a truly horrific act, but all he did was blind some horses with a hoof pick. Not that it’s just normal to do that, but I was expecting something more than that. There’s also some masturbation alluded to while riding horses, but it’s never explicit.

It was written 40 years ago, so I’m sure at the time it was incredibly shocking, but in a post-South Park world, it takes a lot more to make me think – wow, that’s too much. This play just didn’t elicit much of a reaction at all from me other than – well, that was weird. Maybe I would feel differently if I had seen it performed, but I really don’t know. I felt like I could picture it well enough. The central problem of the plot wasn’t very well defined to me. There’s a lot of man pain and religious imagery that seems like the ghost of a story but not quite it exactly.

The only time that the story feels real to me is when the psychiatrist, Dysart, reveals that even though his wife is boring and passionless and their marriage is pretty much just a case of roommate syndrome, he concedes that maybe it’s just as much his fault as hers. But Alan’s plot, about whether or not his mental instability is caused by religion or one of his parents, or just the “devil”, is pretty boring. Maybe because it’s really trope-y, or maybe because I just don’t care about Alan and his family life. Part of it can also be because I don’t relate to the religious fervor and how Alan twists the things that his mom tells him about it. It doesn’t seem believable that Alan would hear some Bible verses and get it in his head that he needs to bow down to a horse god and chant to it in his bedroom at night.

The twist at the end (if you can even call it that) was just some more “meh” to me. I find it hard to summon any kind of passion one way or the other toward this play.

2 stars.

This book fulfills the play requirement for the challenge.

Review: The Nightingale

NightingaleThis book is a long, sweeping historical drama about love, family, and war. It takes place in France during the Nazi occupation during World War II. The story goes back and forth between two estranged sisters, Isabelle and Vianne, who are dealing with feeling abandoned by their father and each other along with the increasing desolation and hopelessness of war.

Vianne watches her husband and all the men in her small village leave to fight for France. She continues to try and keep her daughter safe despite soldiers moving in and food and supplies becoming scarce. Isabelle can’t stand to watch by and do nothing, so she begins to work for underground networks and aid the resistance. The narrative jumps forward to the present day (well, 1995) life of one of the women a couple of times, although it isn’t clear which sister it is until the very end.

I wasn’t really aware of how much France had been affected by WWII and the Nazis, so this was a new angle on the war for me. I read The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult last year, which had a lot of the same historical events happening with it, although Picoult’s book has more of the Gestapo’s point of view than this book does (though still not a lot). This book deals mostly with the two sisters and how their relationship to each other changes throughout the war. There are some side plots, but family is the prominent theme in the book. Also the risks we take to protect those we love and also to believe in love at all. Isabelle falls in love with another member of the resistance, but he pretends he doesn’t feel the same in order to make it easier if one of them perishes, for example. A mother’s love for her children and the risks that she takes (or, doesn’t take) in order to ensure their safety is a recurring plot thread.

The book is depressing, and the behavior from the Nazi soldiers made me feel stabby. There’s a lot of sadness in this book, as people die, are killed, or are otherwise abused at the hands of the soldiers. It feels bleak at times. But throughout it all, there is a glimmer of hope in humanity. There are a lot of low lows in this book, but it ends on an uplifting and sweet tone. I highly recommend this book if you want to be swept up in a story about loss and love.

5 stars.

This book fulfills the book set in a place you’ve always wanted to visit requirement for the challenge.

Review: Penelope

13490638This book includes an absurdist play (Caligula) with a demented director, and it seems like perhaps the author was going for some sort of absurdist story to go with it. Penelope is a story about a freshman’s first year at Harvard University, except it doesn’t really follow most people’s idea of what that would entail. Honestly, her experience somewhat resembles mine. Not in the details, but in the broader sense.

Penelope is cautiously optimistic when she arrives at Harvard, but since she isn’t a legacy student, she really doesn’t know what is going on. It appears that most of the orientations and things are much more important than she is lead to believe by the information packages she receives. She quickly feels like she is missing out on forging new friendships. She is reluctantly embraced by some guys in her dorm, one of which is obviously attracted to her. She begins to navigate classes and dining hall experiences with unwanted advances from her TF (teaching fellow, like a grad assistant) and her neighbor. She has a chaste affair with a European gentleman. Her roommates are not into her at all.

Aside from several men trying to aggressively court her, I can understand her loneliness and anguish at not having had the college experience that I hoped for. The part that I can’t really relate to is how she reacts to it. She seems fairly oblivious until the end when she “realizes” that she is not making any inroads in these various relationships. She barely has any sort of character arc at all. The whole thing is somewhat depressing but none of the people that she meets are nice at all, and most of them are downright awful. The academic portion is pretty unrealistic too, as are the course titles, but I feel like that was an intentional choice meant to show that Harvard academics are pretentious and not really worth anything in the real world. It’s part of why I think that the absurdist play is supposed to be a reflection of the world of this book.

There really isn’t much more to say about the  book. Apparently there is a book group discussion guide and I’m really curious to look at it and see what there is even to discuss about this book. It was not what I was expecting based on the cover art – which goes to show that you really shouldn’t base a book on its cover.

3 stars.

This book fulfills the book based entirely on its cover requirement for the challenge.

Reading Challenge October Wrap Up

This month was one of my best months for reading out of the whole year! I managed to finish 5 books, and I’m well into two others.

File Oct 30, 3 31 22 PMFirst, I had Betrayed, which I mentioned in my September update that I finished just after the cut off, on October 1st. I really rushed through finishing it because I thought it was due back to the library on the 1st, but it was actually due on the 13th, so I rushed for no reason. It was a paperback, and so those sometimes are harder for me to read than ebooks, since I need to be able to hold it in two hands and there needs to be light in order to see the words. But I did finish it, and I feel bad that I didn’t like it, since it was the book that my mom loves for the challenge. But more on that in a minute.

Then I read The Heart Goes Last. My expectations were higher for this book since I’ve read several things by her before and really enjoyed them. I didn’t realize that this was the compilation of a serialized book that had been coming out in installments over the last several years until I started reading it. I recognized a few of the chapter names while reading. I worried that this might not count as a book published in 2015, but then it turns out that the final part of the book was new to this publication, so I say that it counts.

Now, here is where Betrayed comes back in. Both of the books have a heroine that is in peril (in Betrayed there is only the heroine, and in The Heart Goes Last, the action is divided between a male and a female protagonist), but the treatment of both really displays where there is writing talent and where there is not. Vicki Andrews (in Betrayed) makes a series of really bad choices that are implausible and just plain stupid. It is even more infuriating when at the beginning rails against her impulsive sister for being rash and not thinking things through. Charmaine has similar situations, but her entire character is different, so that it seems fairly reasonable that she would make the choices that she makes. She is characterized as naive and optimistic, and almost annoyingly cheerful. But after a few events, she begins to doubt her trust in her environment and the people around her. And even better, the “bad” guys in Atwood’s novel aren’t just potty-mouthed, greedy, evil monsters with no reasons. Some of the bad guys even start out with good intentions and get swept away by greed or some twisted sense of idealism. That isn’t to say that The Heart Goes Last is perfect and without problems. But none of the problems were with the mechanics of the novel.

I sped through Throw Out Fifty Things, although it was too long for its actual worth. It was about 250-300 pages, but there were a lot of “journalling” spaces, blank pages between chapters, and the font was fairly large. So it had that going for it. I need to start reading reviews before I buy or borrow any more self-help type books.

In other books that were a slog, Lady Chatterley’s Lover took me a long time, and I only kept going because I have high standards for things meeting the requirements for my challenge. Not many people know this, but few books are actually “banned”. Although, now that I think about it, I think Eleanor & Park actually was banned. And now I feel foolish for not counting that one, especially since at the time I decided it didn’t meet any requirements. Anyways, back to my point. Many, many books are “challenged”, but that is not equal at all to being banned. Whenever you see those “banned books week” displays at places where they have books, very few of them have actually been banned, and even less of them were banned by an establishment anywhere close to where you are viewing the display. I knew for sure that Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned, because I learned about the postal obscenity laws in one of my college courses. However, if any of the people in charge of banning had actually read it, they may have fallen asleep before getting to any of the more racy sections.

Lastly, was my book club selection for next month: Spook. This one I really enjoyed, partly because I like nonfiction type books like this, and second because Mary Roach has a very engaging writing style that I enjoyed. I definitely think I will be picking up more of her books. I highly recommend an interview she did with Adam Savage from Mythbusters about her work. It was highly entertaining.

It turns out that I didn’t realize that one of the books I read at the very beginning of the year actually checked off a box on the challenge – for an antonym! The Honest Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely. I didn’t write a review for this book at the time, and I can hardly remember it, but it counts!

As for what’s up next, I’m currently reading Penelope – my book based off the cover. So far it’s a little meh, but I’m hoping that it picks up. I’m also reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah for a different book club that I’ve joined. I’m almost halfway through both of them, and then after that I have to find a book set during Christmas, a book with a color in the title, and a play. And then I will be DONE. How amazing! I haven’t decided if I’m going to try find a 2016 challenge, or take the year off of crazy reading. It is pretty fun to do these challenges. It opens you up to new books and ideas, although I’ve read a lot of crappy books in the name of this challenge too. It’s really a mixed bag. We’ll see, I suppose, how burned out I feel by the New Year.

So far I have read 33 books. I have 5 more boxes left to go, but 2 of them are well on their way to being checked.