Friday, December 21, 2018

Bookish Jay and the Reading Mermaid: Reading Challenge Wrap-Up

It has been a great year for reading. I met this reading challenge and my GoodReads challenge of 40 books. Previous reviews are included here. Those are the book reviews done in green. The newer books I have not reviewed yet and have read since then are in red.

*= 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.
Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy fit the bill as a classic. I found an old battered brittle copy in a used book store and began the slog. Of course it is beautifully written but perhaps a bit melodramatic. Love triangles, passion, tragedy and English moors and heath all provided a moody and verbose backdrop. There were times I skimmed and times I read deeply. It was a love-hate relationship. **

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.
Chasing the Moon by A. Lee Martinez was an impulse purchase at the library but it had such an eyebrow raising teaser I couldn't pass it up. And I am glad I didn't as it was a chuckling page turner that somehow merged aliens, gods, tears in the fabric of the universe and living a humdrum life in the city. ***

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.
Ghostly Tales and Eerie Poems of Edgar Allan Poe was a find in a vintage thrift shop in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. I loved the mixture of gothic tales, horror, poetry and tragedy. The artwork in the book is dark and antique feeling. ***

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.
The Incense Game by Laura Joh Rowland is actually several books deep into a samurai detective series set in imperial Japan. I had not realized that until after I had picked it up. Thankfully it worked as a stand alone. It was a murder mystery that read almost like an Agatha Christie novel. **

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.
The Graveyard Boy by Neil Gaiman has an electric blue cover with mournful art and very interesting artwork spread throughout the book itself. The artwork reminds me of surrealist sketches. Something always looks just slightly off. I loved the actual story where a baby is raised by ghosts in a graveyard after a baddie eliminates his whole family. He grows to a young man who will eventually emerge into the real world and confront his family's killer. ***

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.
Alexander and Tatiana by Paullina Simons carries on from The Bronze Horseman which I read a couple years ago. I found and picked up the third in the series but finally got around to getting this one, the second. I am not quite done reading it but it expands on the past and present of both of these main characters and is just as good as the first. ***

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.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck came into my hands while on vacation and I loved diving into it. An epic tale of two families and how their barriers to love and the sins they nurture follow from father to son. I am so very glad I read it. *** 

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.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern probably doesn't really fit sensual but the love story was poetic enough that I am putting it here. Magic and a deadly game combine to provide tension set within beautiful tents and lavish description. I love that the author is a BPAL fan and draws inspiration from fragrance. ***

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. ***

Other books I read this year: Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Aolnit, Wings of a Falcon and Elske by Cynthia Voigt, Dorothy Must Die and Wicked Will Rise Danielle Paige, and Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. Oh and Madly by Amy Alward.

It was a great year for reading books. I found many hidden gems at a local used bookstore and I scored some at as well as the library on the cheap. I hope you were able to join in on the fun for even just a portion of the challenge. Jay and I are already brainstorming up a new challenge for next year to be published on January 2nd. What were a few of your favorite stories this year? I am really happy I read the Kingdom series by Cynthia Voigt. I also enjoyed downing some more Stephen King and exploring Neil Gaiman. Who are some of your favorite authors?


  1. Now that I have a bookcase, all I want to do is go to new and used bookstores! Shall that be our next adventure? Inkwood Books in Tampa is supposed to be a good one. You read some awesome books this year!

    1. YESSSS! Inkwood is on my list to visit for sure. Let's make it a sister date. Did you see Watership Down is on Netflix now? I am thinking about watching it soon. <3 Love you! And I love book chat with you.

  2. Wow...that is a lot of books in one year. I am still trying to get through about 5 I picked up. I would like to read some of the above books based on your review. Like midnight in the garden of good and evil or gap creek. I watched the movie many years ago and liked it. But I was captivated by your review of Gap Creek and the hard times the women went through. I will have to check them out.

    1. Yeah! I was surprised I actually completed the challenge and then some. I was on a bit of a roll. It was a reading year for sure. I think you would LOVE Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. It is an amazing book. Plus then we could bee bop around Savannah. Gap Creek was a heart wrencher. I think it was an Oprah pick too. Hoping you can get a chance to put your feet up and get some books read next year. <3

  3. Is that a pic of the Book Bazaar? If yes, I LOVED that place when I used to live there. It was my go-to outing with my mother once a month. There was something nostalgic about that place. I can still even remember the distinct smell and the excitement over trading in books for credit.

    1. IT IS!!! I LOVE Book Bazaar too. I have never made use of the store credit and they are always shocked that I don't. "Ma'am that is a lot of books, you know you can bring them back for credit...." Nah. I will keep them. And buy more. LOL! My daughter Savanna and I love to go and browse the shelves. She picked up a ton of Archie comics last time. It does have a distinct smell. And I love it. I will miss it when we move but I will make a point to visit when we are in town. <3

  4. Hi there, book buddy:)
    Bravo to you for accomplishing our co-challenge and then some. I'm so looking forward to the next year of book chats and challenging reads, thank you for providing many recs and reviews. Now onto the books:
    Return of the Native seems awfully hefty and deep, but I've been looking into Hardy and think I'll try Far From the Madding Crowd or Jude the Obscure based on friends' recommendations, he has a unique poetic sensibility that I'm drawn to. The Bronze Horseman! I've been dying to try it, but I keep searching for the audio version and coming up empty, I'll have to try a few other online databases from other libraries to see if I can snatch it, is it gloriously sweeping and romantic?
    Watership Down is one of the greatest stories I've ever read, I love experiencing all of the adventurous elements through those rabbits' eyes. It's interesting that you see it as a creation story, while I read it as more of an allegory of human's destruction of the natural world and still others see it as a retelling of Homer's the Odyssey, but Adams has claimed over the years that there's nothing like any of that in his story. Makes it more of an inspiring read that so much can be gleaned from a simple tale about rabbits looking for a home:)
    Heck yes the Night Circus had some sensual moments between Marco and Celia, in the boat on the ocean of ink and when they give in to their long-standing passion, but I also think the circus descriptions in general could be considered sensual as the reader can almost touch and taste the descriptions of tents and bottled memories. Sensuality is often more effective when it isn't overt, especially in a fantasy story it keeps the illusion. Did you hear that Morgenstern has her long-awaited second book coming out late in 2019?
    You have read so much somewhat obscure history/fantasy-history that sounds intriguing, I should attempt that genre more often. However, based on your rec of Norse Mythology and a bookish conversation held just last night with a cousin, I plan to read that one even though it's a topic in which I wouldn't typically have interest.
    Now, as for the gas lamp cover, I'll give you that little cheat because I am allowing myself one for the next-in-a-series prompt. You are much more successful at finishing series, while I rarely go back to them, even when I enjoy them-I bought a notebook with a book series tracker in it to help me stay on top of it now.
    I got a must-read guide book for Christmas and I'm rethinking a few challenge choices, I will email you later about our 2019 challenge if I have a change in mind. I plan to get deeper into my final 2018 challenge read today, only 5 days left, no pressure:{

    1. I had so much fun!!!! I cannot thank you enough for doing this with me. Next year is going to be the biggest upheaval of my life and I will NEED a new challenge for solace and blood pressure lowering. I can't wait to get started.

      Yes! The Bronze Horseman is every bit as good as I was told it would be. Dessa Bonner actually sent it to me because she loved it so. I treasure it. I am still heartsore over the second book so I probably won't start the third one until next year. Maybe I will make a book selection about immigration?

      Thank you for backing me up on my gas lamps to candles converter. And also that The Night Circus is a sensual read. I did feel the lushness to it so it does truly fit.

      I hope I can continue to find some treasures here and there. Let me know how you like Far From the Maddening Crowd. I am eager to catch up on your blog and see all the yummy things you have been reading. <3

      Feel free to edit the challenge as you wish! We still have some time to tinker. Thank goodness.

  5. P.S. That Poe book looks extra intriguing, I have two Poe collections, but will keep my eye out for that particular illustrated version, do you have any publishing data?

    1. I fell really hard for it when I saw it. It was $21 and i rarely spend that much on a book... lemme go check it...
      Grosset and Dunlap for the Illustrated Junior Library in 1993
      ISBN 0-448-40533-4

      Even though it isn't terribly old it has that feel. I love it.