Friday, December 27, 2019

Bookish Jay and the Reading Mermaid: 2019 Reading Challenge Results

This year was chaotic in many ways but I will say it was a helluva year for books in my life. I visited bookstores all over the place: Grand Cayman bookstores where I got Euros for change, several amazing bookstores in Washington D.C., some cool used bookstores in Asheville, Salem and Boston and a local bookstore in downtown Ocoee, Florida.

Brattle Books in Boston was my favorite bookstore of the year with their outdoor alley of insanely cheap vintage finds, though Wicked Good Books in Salem sported a ton of cool local authors and autographed books. I also appreciated the kitschy neighborhood and colorful feel of Idle Time Books in D.C. The only not-so-great bookstore experience was Raven books in Cambridge, near Harvard. The owner was not exactly pleasant. Honestly, I simply love a good indie book store. The cats. The smells. The crammed-in aisles and aisles of worded treasures. 

I am thankful to have had the opportunities to explore so many cool book shops and hope I can keep it up in the years to come. 

The books I reviewed in the previous update are in blue. The new reviews are in green. I think I was able to get almost all the prompts this year. I didn't meet my GoodReads goal of 45 books but I came close at 38, so 84% of the way there which is a solid "B."

I use a short star system to rate the books I have read:
* = meh, save your time and skip it   ** = good, might be worth reading   *** = great, do yourself a favor and try it

1. A book set in your home state, or province for our Canadian buddies.
Beyond Risk by Connie Mann was a book I got at a multi-author meet-and-greet held through the Orange County Public Library system. She was a very nice lady but the book wasn't really for me. It was a fluffy romance but without many laughs. Granted it was a murder-mystery, who is stalking me? But I didn't get much build up or excitement. It took place near my college town of Gainesville, Florida. *

2. You saw the movie but didn’t read the book…. now read the book.
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. I adore Alice Hoffman books. I have no idea what took me so long to read this. Two sisters. Lots of magic and lots of love. Reading it in Salem was the best decision I could have ever made. Great writing. Read it. ***

3. Carpe read ‘em- a title on your TBR for 1+ years.
Burn For Me by Ilona Andrews. Now, don't get me wrong. Fluffy romance can be fun. But I do like it heavily doused with humor and thrills. Ilona does that for me. I enjoyed this series that involved female wizard bounty hunters and male wizard mercenaries. I went on to read the rest of the series too. ***

4. Flora: flower on the cover.
The Witches of New York by Ami McKay almost fit into the 1890 category. It is a Victorian novel that tells the tale of three young ladies and how they find their strength both in themselves and as a unit of friends when an evil presence tries to eliminate them. I enjoyed the writing and setting though it was a touch shallow as far as depth of story. It was a fast and easy read. **

5. Fauna: beastly book.
Nightbirds by Thomas Mattman is not a fluffy book at all. Or even a fantastical book. But rather a heart wrenching look at life in the midwest as people began to colonize North America and how their interactions among the Native Americans at that time was a poignant poisonous affair. It is based on the true event of the Dakota Uprising and written from both the settlers' and the Native Americans' points of view as best as possible. ***

6. Scandinavian setting- create your own Jolabokaflod, or Yule Book Flood.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is a deeply moving and beautifully written story. It is based on the true events surrounding the last woman in Iceland to be hanged as punishment for a crime. The author did justice to the young lady's tale. The pages turned and turned of their own volition. ***

7. Flavor- a book built around food.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver was one I was excited to spy in a thrift store. I enjoy Kingsolver's work and I knew she had her thumb on the environmental pulse so this book made sense to read from an agriculture major background. Buying local, gardening and farmer's markets have always been a joy to me but now I see that they are vital as well. An excellent read that is educating but by no means dry. Barbara's year of eating only things grown within a stone's throw from her Appalachian home is eye opening and humorous, scary and real. ***

8. Passport required… set in a country you have never been to. 
A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman is set in Sweden, a place I would love to visit one day. More than the setting itself, the man Ove is compelling, bittersweet, hilarious and heartbreaking. I cried and laughed, many times within the same chapter. It reminds me that everyone has a story and sometimes effort should be made to break down walls. ***

9. Yellow/Gold is the color of novelty, so read a yellow novel. 
The yellow novel was easy once my eyes landed on this collection of short stories at the library for sale, Vampires in the Garden by Karen Russell. I wasn't sure what to expect but these were great reads! Some were funny, morose, horrifying and others just plain weird. I liked them very much. **

10. Something witchy this way comes. Witches, man, read a witch-centered tome. 
I easily could put about a dozen books in this category but instead I read the All Souls Trilogy  by Deborah Harkness. I loved the first book, A Dicovery of Witches and reading the next two books, Shadow of Night and The Book of Life were easy to continue but perhaps not as gripping as the first. I am happy I read them. It follows an Oxford professor who tries to bury the fact that she is descended from a long line of witches in order to deny her powers and rely on reason. She encounters a magical tome one day while researching in the library and a chain of events unfolds and a vampire comes into her life. 1st book ***, 2nd and 3rd **

11. A novel that is now a Netflix series or adaptation.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint. Not sure if it technically counts as a strictly Netflix adaptation but I watched the claymation movie of this book on Netflix a year or so ago and realized I had not actually read the book. So I did. I read it all in a couple hours while on a field trip to Kennedy Space Center and loved every minute of it. Even with 9-12 year olds singing Jingle Bells at the top of their lungs in a crammed in bus. A magical yet sorrowful telling of one man's encounter with an alien that changed his life. ***

12. Shallowness: pick a book based on its spine appearance alone. 
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund made for a definite change of pace. I almost put this one in the gothic tale and then in the bildungsroman prompts but I had others I wanted to place there. A young girl grows up in a commune that disbands leaving her to fumble about in life with a laissez-faire mom and a father who is uncommunicative. She ends up taking solace among a new neighbor who moved across the lake and the neighbor's younger son. Trouble ensues and the results follow the girl the rest of her life. Well written. Disturbing at times. Sometimes disjointed. **

13. Nature Lover: non-fiction about the environment.
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. I mean, with a prompt like this, if you haven't read Silent Spring yet then it is time. And I had not. As an agriculture major there was a little push-back and derision towards this book and now I know why. It makes corporation farms and chemical companies accountable for the damage they are doing. I shake my head at all the 2-4 D and Roundup and funigicides and nematocides I had sprayed in my teens as I worked on a golf course managing turf grass. I am amazed I was even able to have kids. Now I am kind of paranoid to lose weight though and have those chemicals in my adipose cells metabolize. Ugh. Read it. I should have years ago. ***

14. How old are you now? Read a book from your birth decade. 
I kind of wanted to read a book published in 1980 on the nose as that is my birth year but I ended up reading this gem instead, The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King. I have never read a fantasy piece by Stephen King but it proved to be entertaining. It is the story of a prince wronged by the king's power-hungry magician and his battle to reclaim his throne and people. It was published in 1987. Not an epic piece but still tickled it my fancy, greatly. ***

15. A book written by an author with your same initials.
The Cat by Jean Johnson. I mean how close was that for initials? And great title. A book about 8 warlock brothers who all have a prophesy regarding their future wives and their powers climaxing into their favor to bring them out of a curse. Sounds like my kind of book right? Wrong. It was awful. *

16. Gothic read.
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe straddled the distant past relations of a present day Ivy League budding professor. The matrilineal past contained a little known Salem witch who was actually witchy. Her powers bled down the line and now the modern day professor must come to terms with it and the destruction it must be accompanied by. **

17. A retelling.
Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev was another meet-and-greet author I got to know and listen to speak. This book was written along the same plot lines of the nod in the title but reversed roles where the man was a chef trying to make ends meet with his sister who is losing her sight and the bills that come with surgery while the female counterpoint is the neurosurgeon herself and her uppity upbringing. They meet and clash and meet and clash until they finally see that the other is who they have always looked for. **

18. A guide. 
The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal and Hysteria in 1692 Salem by Stacy Schiff. A guide you say? If you ever needed or wanted someone to take you by the hand and literally guide you through every nuance and utterance that occurred to man's knowledge during the Salem witch trials then Stacy is your gal. She goes over the events with a nit lice comb and you will either be howling with the minutia or tingling with the details. I was somewhere in the middle. **

19. BINGO Free Space- pick your own.
As I previously mentioned, I am going to visit Salem and my friend Jay recommended this book for me to read to brush up on the history of the Salem witchcraft trials. This is a great non-fiction accounting of the trials in an easy to read format. In fact I finished it in about two hours. I, in turn, highly recommend it too. ***

20. A book discovered by scrolling #bookstagram.
The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden, because I had no idea that The Bear and the Nightingale was a trilogy until my friend Doreen posted about this book. I will talk more about this farther down. ***

21. Bildungsroman: a coming of age tale.
Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood is powerful. I am technically currently still reading it but I only have a few pages left. This story is built around a girl growing up with her brother and parents: an unconventional mom and an entomologist dad with a brainy but unreachable brother. The girl-child, Elaine, begins to suffer issues with bullying from her "best" friends that goes on to affect her relationships with others in her life. The play between growing into a woman in mid-century Canada into the late century and maintaining male and female relationships is painted in brilliant colors and vivid words. Atwood is a master story teller. ***

22. Turn and face the strange- an out of your comfort zone read.
House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski fits this bill. I am not one to think that much is out of my comfort zone when it comes to reading but this one made me pause, think, backtrack, fast forward, turn the book upside down and inside out before I felt semi-comfortable even digesting what I had read. It is a strange mixture of love story and Lovecraftian horror told from multiple viewpoints, all far removed (?) from each other. It was... interesting. ***

23. A last book written by your favorite author. 
Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews. At the time it was her most recent release and it was also the last of her Katie Daniels series. I ate it up like pudding. A nice ending to the witchy, shapeshifter, vampire, druid filled post apocalyptic Atlanta story that I love. ***

24. Hygge: a book for comfort.
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen read like a knock-off of Practical Magic. Sisters with magic. One afraid to love, one runs away for bad love only to be haunted by that very same man. Magical home. Magical plants. Small town shenanigans. Good for the comfort but not out of this world. **

25. A happy little accident… or a book that has a title Bob Ross would appreciate.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. Because how could Bob not appreciate that snow capped Russian mountain and forest imagery??? Simply put it is a magical Russian folkloric tale of a brave young woman coming into herself, making mistakes, loving her family and her heritage with all her heart and craving adventure despite it being forbidden to her. I fell under the spell of this story and continued to read the rest immediately following (yes, I buy all books in a series even before I know I will like them). By the end of all three books I firmly held these characters in my heart. Baba Yaga too. ***

26. A numeric title.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury was the perfect book for this one. I have been wanting to read this book for ages and what better prompt for it? I loved it. I will be reading this again one day. Not going to describe it since I am pretty sure I am one of the few people remaining who have not read this book yet. Bradbury is incredible. If you are one of the last others, please read it. ***

27. Crossover- a book written by a beloved artist, musician or figure.
The Shape of Water by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus. Though technically del Toro isn't much of a crossover (he has a ton of co-authored books) I counted it. And it was pretty good. I had not watched the movie but the book adaptation of the movie was a fast, intense read. I then watched the movie and was underwhelmed. Strange. ***

28. A tale where the main character loves to read. 
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. You might be scratching your head but hey. John The Savage loved to read his William Shakespeare. That counts right? I needed to read this book. I am not sure how I got to be 39 and had not read it. You should read it too. ***

29. 1890’s- a great Victorian vintage.
These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly. A young adult thriller set in Victorian New York. An affluent young lady's dad is murdered and she sets out to uncover "who done it" with a street rat reporter, Nellie Bly style. Formulaic and silly. *

30. Celestial object on the cover or in the title. 
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury is one I have been meaning to read and this was the perfect chance. A timeline telling of man's attempt to colonize Mars much like he has done through out history- heavy handed and bumbling. ***

I had a great year reading. Really, it was the year of the witch. I enjoyed my witchy books. They were fun and enlightening at times. Jay and I have a new challenge for 2020 coming up tomorrow for you guys! Please consider joining us!!! I must say, The Cat's Eye and The Bear and the Nightingale series were my favorites this year. What were some of yours?


  1. How you effortlessly capture all of your reads in brief succinct sentences, I'll never know, but remain in awe. I really need to wrap up my challenge in some way but tend to go on too long about my reads, cramming in all my opinions, lol. Perhaps I'll use your post as a model for my recap.
    Hoooo, it truly was one extra witchy year for you and it aligned perfectly w/your Salem trip. But these bookstore visits!<3-I too love getting lost in aisles of used books.
    F451 is so gripping and powerful, that ending will always remain with me. I will be reading more Bradbury and Atwood soon.
    As for the Bear and the Nightingale, how cool was that story?? Oh my creeping house spirits, how I adore you. Plus the dark magic, destiny, chilling dreams, religious zealotry-gripping stuff. As for the Girl in the Tower-I also read it this year and felt underwhelmed. I don't want to nitpick because so many sequels lose a bit of that first book's momentum, but I felt none of the darkness, magic and originality of Bear while reading The Girl in the Tower. The characters were there, but the story and tone were lacking. I'm sure I'll read Winter of the Witch at some point, but my feelings are lukewarm toward it. I'm happy you enjoyed Bear as much as I though, of that, I'm a big fan.
    My favorites were A Man Called Ove and The Name of the Wind.

    1. Thank you! I enjoy reading your reviews too. <3

      It really was a witchy year. I think it may continue into this year too, though. Lots of good witchy books on my shelf. I picked another Bradbury for this year, the Halloween Tree. I need to scope out some more Atwood as well. She is so powerful in her writing.

      The Bear and the Nightingale was insanely amazing. I am very tempted to leave small crusts of bread in my fireplace now. I can see how the second book was a bit less intense but it was a happy bridge to the last book, which I found pretty good. A Man Called Ove was a highlight of my year as well and I am planning on finally reading my The Name of the Wind this year. Most probably. The only thing that holds me back is that I hear there will be a third book coming in that series. I am always tempted to wait so I can read the whole story.

  2. Hi Julie!

    I know this post is from a few weeks back, but I was scrolling through and the picture of the bookstore with the white text (pre-hurricane book shopping: caught me by surprise! There's something so familiar about it and I'm sure I've been there! I don't think you said in the post what shop this is, would you mind sharing?

    1. Hello! No worries! I always enjoy getting to converse! That particular book store is in downtown Ocoee, Florida near Orlando. It is called The Book Rack. It is stuffed to the gills with used books and I love it. My oldest daughter and I went there recently and picked up a few more gems. <3 If you ever come to go there I would love to meet up.

  3. Thanks for replying, I thought that's the area this might be in! Depending on how long it's been there, I think this is where I used to go in high school around '07, '08. It's either that, or all central Florida bookshops have a definite vibe. I grew up in the Weeki Wachee area, but I haven't been back in close to a decade. Maybe it's my imagination, but I've always felt Florida bookstores, particularly used ones, have a specific feeling to them, some sort of combo of outside humidity, old books, blasting air condition, and sun streaming through the windows. I'm in NYC now and while I cherish the remaining indie bookstores (<3 The Strand), they just don't feel the same!

    1. LOL! I understand that. I loved taking my girls to Weeki Wachee. Nothing quite like an old Florida tourist trap. Plus swimming in the springs is always a pleasure when it is in the middle of summer. I love your description of Florida used bookstores. I agree. You captured the feeling. I have Haslam's Bookstore on my wishlist to visit. They are in St. Pete and touted as Florida's largest used bookstore. Dying to check it out.

      I enjoyed vising and shopping at The Strand in NYC. We saw a couple small stand alone Strand kiosks around Central Park too. I love visiting used/indie book stores where ever I travel. Hoping to visit some in Colorado this year. But yes, I will always cherish the musty old Florida ones. <3