Monday, September 3, 2018

Bookish Jay and the Reading Mermaid: Reading Challenge Update II

Books have been a big part of life for me this year. They usually are in general, but I found that any time I travel somewhere new, they become more of a specific thing that I actively seek out rather than stumble upon. Books are my new favorite souvenirs. I did an update back in March. Looking back on them, somehow they feel like lightyears ago when I read them. Strange. Those are the book reviews done in green. The newer books I have not reviewed yet and have read since then are in orange.

*= meh           **= good          ***= please go read

1. A classic, defined loosely or found on either of these sources: Modern Library 100 Best Novels or Radcliffe's 100 Best Novels

2. Adventure awaits! Choose a rather adventurous read.
Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt- I picked this up for sale at the library years ago for a dime. I finally got around to reading it and let me tell you, that was the best way to spend a dime on the planet. I forgot I read a novel by Cynthia Voigt several years ago when Savanna was a baby (A Solitary Blue) and it fled my mind how deep she writes. This novel is that way too. It takes place in the medieval times and revolves around Gwyn, a young Innkeeper's daughter, who bucks the two choices she has in life: get married or be a spinster. This story is steeped in adventure but can also be very meaningful if one chooses to see. I loved it so much I quickly bought the other three in The Kingdom series. ***

3. The next one in a series, there is always another on to get to...
Speaking of Cynthia Voigt's amazing Kingdom series, I present The Wings of a Falcon (which has since been renamed The Tale of Oriel). I have gone on to read all the books in this series and am quite happy I did. They all loosely tie into one another, spanning generations in an ever widening landscape where"The Kingdom" almost takes on an unbelievable fairytale quality from the people who unknowingly reside around its perimeters due to the more tranquil and enjoyable way of life that is reported to occur there. There is no magic in this series. All the magic lies in the stories weaved by Cynthia. ***

4. A purple hued tome, be it lilac, lavender or deep royal purple.

5. A memoir.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King- I borrowed this from a co-worker and I am very happy I did. It was insightful reading a bit about King's past and how he approaches writing. I took away some great lessons and even taught a few to my students in the writing class I teach. If you are a Stephen King fan I recommend it. We will be headed to Maine this summer and I am thinking about visiting his hometown. ***

6. A story set in a forest or mountains, or depicting either on the cover.
Gap Creek by Robert Morgan- This story is set in the Appalachian mountains during a time when there is no electricity or running water (other than the creeks of course) and life is very much lived on the land and by the work of the hand. The story follows the life of Julie (nice name!) from the moment she leaves her own family to cleave to that of her husband's. This book is brilliant in the sense that you get a true grasp of how difficult life could be, and at times it made me squirm when she made those naive choices every young adult makes at some point and suffered the consequences. Though at times it was utterly heartbreaking, I still enjoyed it. ***

7. An epistolary novel, told in letters or journal entries.
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell- This probably isn't a true epistolary novel in the sense that it is not entirely told via letters or entries but of the two main characters, one is told solely via emails she sends to her BBF while the other character is narrated in a more traditional style. It is a humorous love story and I cackled out loud numerous times. Rainbow Rowell knows how to hit me in the heart and the funny bone. ***

8. A collection of short stories.

9. Pick up one of those neglected TBR books you have lurking about. I know you do.
Caraval by Stephanie Garber- This book was recommended to me by a Facebook friend ages and ages ago. He desperately wanted me to read it and I had heard that it was good so it was promptly put on my TBR list on GoodReads where it languished. Apparently I let it stew long enough that it turned up on deep discount at Books-A-Million where I snapped it up for less than $5. It is a maze of a YA book that chronicles two sisters and their quest to escape their abusive father and his overbearing reign by attending and participating in a circus that performs once a year. It was a fun read, although predictable at times. I did want a touch more steam between the one sister and her "guide" for the performance but maybe that comes in later books? **

10. A story set in the Middle East or Asia.

11. Be extra naughty.... no... not that kind of book (well, unless you want)... read a banned book!
The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton was my choice for this topic. A former co-worker told me how much she enjoyed this book and I felt bad I had never actually read it. It is considered a cult classic and I can see why. The raucous and often heartbreaking life of teenagers as viewed from their eyes and hearts took me on a journey to my own past. Not that I was involved in gangs or often carried weapons around with me, but just in the sheer magnitude of the teenage ability to FEEL things. I almost forgot that. ***

12. Art and literature, whether just a gorgeous cover or actual art is in the storyline.

13. A heart pounding thriller!
I admit, I read a few of those this year. Jay generously sent me several Stephen King books and I have been absorbing them as I have time to (I forgot just how verbose King was in his writing!). I have been passing them on to my sister Lindsey too and she is enjoying them now. I read The Dark Half and Needful Things which both take place in Castle Rock. I enjoyed Needful Things a touch more I think, as it had more of a creepy element with the shop keeper and how he was an evil puppet master of the darker side of the town residents' hearts. Dark Half was a good book too though, although a little more difficult for me to entirely dive into as the evil twin did not reel me in as much as the shop keeper as far as baddies go and the sheriff was more likable for me than the author. I still loved both though. ***

14. Non-fiction to tickle the brain cells.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt- Whoa. Nelly. Where has this book been all my life (other than sitting on my bookshelf for a few years...doh)? My sister and I are taking our family vacation in Savannah, GA this summer and this book is a great gateway to that mysterious and secretive southern town. Darby began reading it in preparation for our vacation and quickly told me to crack open my copy. It is the true tale of a New Yorker's love affair with the town and his experience befriending a fellow who would soon be accused of murder. I cannot wait to watch the movie. *** Side note, watched the movie and hated it. Couldn't even finish it.

15. A book from the library.
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood- Margaret never lets me down. This story follows the life of a young servant who is accused of murder but loses her memory of the event. An up and coming doctor who studies amnesia begins a relationship with Grace, trying to solve the mystery of her missing memory. I immediately watched the series on Netflix after reading the book and it was flipping amazing. It followed along perfectly and I loved it. ***

16. Historical fiction.

17. Get your microscope and pocket protector ready... a book dealing with some aspect of science.
I used to read Michael Crichton all the time from my step-dad's bookshelf. I took Savanna to a used bookstore a few months ago and we picked up Jurassic Park and Lost World for her and I grabbed a few of his myself. Terminal Man was a fast paced read about a criminal man who was subjected to a brain rewiring that intended to take his violence away. Things did not go well as one of the doctors predicted and it spins out of control. ***

18. A book with a bird, on the cover or in the plot.
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton- The tale of a young Dutch woman who is married off to a virtual stranger who is a rich merchant in Amsterdam that travels the world for the East India Trading Company. There are many mysteries that surround his household, himself and the miniaturist the young lady hired to fill her curio cabinet. Will she be able to make the house her home? I found it interesting enough to keep turning the pages but I am not sure how I felt about it in the end. **

19. A book with a child protagonist.
This is my current read and I am almost done with it. Greenglass House by Kate Milford has been sitting on Savanna's bookshelf for years. She never seems to want to read it, so I decided to put it to good use and I am glad I did. It is an upper elementary level book about an adopted Chinese boy who lives in an old house turned smugglers' inn. He has a mystery to solve with his friend around Christmas time when half a dozen people descend upon the home under false pretenses. Unless the last few chapters are duds I will enjoy this one. **

20. It's about time this one happened: a book dealing with scent, fragrance or perfume.
Coming To My Senses by Alyssa Harad is a memoir that recounts how Alyssa's life was enhanced by discovering perfume as a hobby. It was neat to read about her discovery of perfume blogs (many of which she mention that also lead me along my own path of perfume bliss). Although well written, it didn't quite strike a chord with me. *

21. Travelogue, a book taking place on a journey.
Another Michael Crichton book lands on the list with Eaters of the Dead which chronicles an Arabian man who journeys with vikings to strange lands. In the beginning he views them as uncouth barbarians but by the end of the tale his tune changes somewhat. Worth the read if mythologies interest you. **

22. Re-trying that Hemingway, Steinbeck, or John D. MacDonald authored book.

23. An epic tale.
For the epic tale I chose Bard by Morgan Llywelyn. This book follows the ancient Celtic peoples of Gaul on their voyage to seek new lands and as a result, Ireland. Here they come in contact with Tuatha De Danann. I loved this story and found it to be enthralling. ***

24. A sensual read.

25. A candle on the cover.
Ok, so not technically candles, but can two gas lamps count? The candles of the Victorian streets? Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman snapped into my hands like a magnet while I was shopping at The Strand in New York last fall. The cover alone had me picking it up while the synopsis sealed the deal. It is a darker adult version of Alice in Wonderland but taking place in modern London where the Underground houses a surreal parallel universe. ***

26. A book title that sounds like a cool name for a band.
Watership Down. Totally could be the name of a band right? Maybe too close to System Of A Down but still within reach I think. At any rate, this Richard Adams tale of a warren, or two or three, of rabbits was quite wonderful to experience. I love reading creation stories and the rabbit version along with the characters swept me into the fable whole heartedly. This also happens to be my sister Darby's favorite book. ***

27.  A book that was gifted to you.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr- A heartbreakingly beautiful story of a blind girl and a genius soldier during World War II. Their stories weave and intertwine so poignantly. All I can say is that you won't regret reading it. ***

28. A book by a debuted author.
Sea Change by S. M. Wheeler- A girl forms a bond with a kraken, and once he is captured against his will by pirates, she sets out to find and free him but she must complete various quests in order to unlock his cage. At times brutal and both heart and gut wrenching, this tale does touch upon the value of love and friendship and determining one's own identity. I found it a compelling read. *** 

29. A story based on mythology: Greek, Roman, Norse, Egyptian... any.
This book has popped up in my IG and GoodReads feeds for a while now. I ended up buying it while in Maine at an indie bookstore. Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology was built to be easy to read tales that could be read around campfires or as entertaining family ghost stories and are based off of historical poems and traditional Norse mythology. I read through this pretty fast while on vacation in Savannah. I then went on to read the Norse creation story to my students while giving a lesson on the universe. They loved it. I will be keeping this one on my bookshelf for years and years to come. ***

30. Second-hand stories, a book picked up in a thrift shop.
On a random trip to Ocala I ended up in a used bookstore where I picked up the first two in the All Souls Trilogy and Savanna picked up Holes by Louis Sachar. I had never read this book or watched the movie so Savanna and I decided to do it together. We ended up enjoying the book and then the movie too. A rough-around-the-edges teenage boy is wrongly accused of theft and then has to serve unfair time under a pecking order of boys in the hot desert sun digging holes, seemingly randomly. The holes turn out to be a hunt for treasure led by an evil warden. ***

I have seven books to go to fill in the last holes in my reading challenge. I am thinking it won't be hard to do as I tend to love reading in fall and winter, especially on chilly evenings. I ended up locating East of Eden while on vacation in Savannah and another Neil Gaiman book. I becoming quite the fan.

Finding new indie bookstores has become a new hobby too.


  1. Yay, book reviewssssss! So much goodness here but what I've learned is that you tend to read titles you've had or older titles you've found in book shops, which I love and honestly need to do more of because I've read a lot of new this year, that's actually a departure for me, but a library hazard. It's always onto the next hot read while my own books sit neglected. I have gathered a few thrifted goodies over the last few months that I truly enjoyed adding to my shelf. Anyway, it's made some interesting choices on your list. I admit, I didn't enjoy The Ocean at the end of the Lane but Norse Mythologies sounds lovely and informative. And SK verbose? Pshaw, all that detail is super meaningful and important, lol! I'm glad you liked them, I might get back to King again, but need a break, he's just so MUCH.
    Also, Watership Down might be a country jam/folk type band? Don't know but the story is near perfection to my heart, all teary thinking about the final chapter. East of Eden is a favorite of one of my dearest, smartest gentleman friends, I'm excited to see what you think. And I need to read the All Souls trilogy, because Bohemienne Life scents, duh, it sounds pretty cool. You will finish soon and surpass us all, I will be reading down to the wire, two epics are slowing me wayyy down.
    Hey, I may need to use gas lamps, it's freaking challenging to find a book with a candle that I want to read.

    1. YAY! I finally did an update!!! Six months later. Yeah. I am definitely not usually the one who it up to date on the anything new or breaking unless it is a Maggie Stiefvater book. We still had tube TVs in our home until fairly recently. And I didn't get a smart phone until it was in its 5th generation. I like cheap well loved books so thrift stores are usually my go-to. But I love reading your reviews of new books. It lets me know what to keep my eyes peeled for. I think we make a nice balance for a reading challenge. Ocean at the End of the Lane was my first Neil Gaiman book and it was ok. But I am liking his other tales more.

      Definitely an alternative folk band. It really is a beautifully crafted story. I am glad I read it. I keep looking at East of Eden to start it but it looks so fat. I need to be ready to take it on. I have a feeling it won't be a fluffy read. Yes, it is all Kyme's fault that I want to read the trilogy.

    2. Excellent point my friend, we do make a nice balance. Looking forward to next year's already<3

    3. I am so happy to hear this!! Thank you! Me too.

  2. The Outsiders is a banned book? It was required reading back when I was in high school! It remains one of my absolute favorite books to this day. It's probably the book I've read more than any other. I even argued with my English teacher about the one question on the test that was keeping me from getting 100%, and I argued so hard that not only did he change my grade but he changed that question for future tests! lol


    1. Weirdly I've never read it either though it was definitely a Big Deal book in jr high and high school. Does it count that I had a big crush on C. Thomas Howell who was in the movie? Good for you for arguing with the teacher!

    2. I was SOOOOOO disappointed when the movie came out. I mean, I was right there in the theater asap after release and probably had this look of 'WTF?!' on my face the whole time. I understand it was done in a campy '50/60s style but I was so like 'Whyyyyyyyyy?!'

      I loved Matt Dillon at the time! And I'd loved Leif Garrett earlier too. Yeah, the guys were all swoon worthy. :)


    3. I was reading up on some banned books to pick for this prompt and it kept coming up as having been banned in many schools and places due to its "ungodly" themes. I had no idea The Outsiders held a special place in your heart. Have you read it lately? What was the question on the test?

      I didn't know they made a movie about it! I will try and track it down.

    4. That's so weird that it's banned now. Shows what a pansy-assed society we've become. (But don't get me started on

      I have not read the book for many years now so I don't remember exactly what the question was, but it was something about Two-Bit and the Socs, like maybe a comment he made to/about them and what it's intention was.


    5. Yeah, I am not gonna disagree with that sentiment. I can't think of any book I would ban personally. That tends to be a slippery slope.

  3. I listened to about half of Norse Mythology on the long drive going camping this summer and really enjoyed it, especially while winding through shady redwood groves.

    Have you see Castle Rock on Hulu? It's filled with easter eggs from the Stephen King universe, but plenty engrossing even if you've never read his books. I've dipped in an out over the years, but I think The Stand is still my favorite of his.

    Where is that cool bookshop in your photos??

    1. I bet that made for a good audio book since his goal was to have it read aloud. I will have to get it so the girls can listen to it with me. Or maybe I will just read them the story.

      I have not! I don't have Hulu but I really want to watch it. I hear good things about it. I haven't read The Stand yet either. IT IS SO FAT! LOL! Kinda like Pillars of the Earth.. I have to be ready to tackle it. I will read it soon though.

      This particular book store is in Savannah, GA and is called The Book Lady and it is pretty awesome. My sister, Savanna and I loved it. I bought The Graveyard Boy here. I might have picked up one more too but it is escaping me.

  4. You watching Castle Rock at the moment, by any chance? Sheriff Pangborn makes an appearance in it. What a gruff bastard! Scott Glenn plays him (a very good choice for a tough old lawman.)

    I'm reading Christine at the moment, and I brought it with me on our trip, hoping to at least read a few chapters in the various airports we (it turns out) had no time but to sprint though, but I never managed to read more than a page and a half - the constant announcements and notifications and just my general unease at flying made for a pretty ineffectual reading environment. But ding DANG, King really is a wordy thing, isn't he? Sometimes you'd swear he was being paid by the word.

    You're doing so well with your challenge - good grief, are you ever a voracious reader. It doesn't look like you have very many themes left, but I wish you a world of wonderful discovery in each.

    1. I am not but I would love to! I believe it is on Hulu? We only have Amazon and Netflix. But hoping I can catch it at some point.

      On no. I hate that you get flying anxiety too. My husband has it and I know it has to be miserable. The repetition isn't helping? Getting you more comfortable with it? I can bet that trying to read Stephen King in an airport would be hard. He really does require some focus in order to take it all in. Hahahahah!!! Maybe he is paid by the word! Shifty turd.But I love him.

      Thanks. I think sometimes that reading is the only thing keeping me from being hugely unbearable on occasion. Thank you for your kind words. I am reading Poe short stories right now (many being re-read) and then a student suggested and loaned a book for my next one to dive into.

  5. Wow, you are powering through this challenge. My aim was to select one category a month and I have managed to do this! Currently reading Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton, for bird on cover category. Adding The Kingdom trilogy to my reading list and also Norse Mythology. I must admit I am not a huge Gaimon fan - only read one 'The Ocean at the End of the Lane' and just not for me! Happy reading!

    1. Thanks! Sometimes I am on a reading streak and this is one of them. One category a month is a great plan!! Are you enjoying Boy Swallows Universe? Sounds interesting! Ocean at the End of the Lane is my least favorite of his books so far. Norse Mythology was much better. I promise. But definitely light easy reading. It is made more for storytelling I think.