Thursday, December 30, 2021

2021 Reading Challenge Wrap-Up

How are you guys doing? I hope the tail end of 2021 is treating you well. I am wrapping up my reading for the year and wanted to post my final choices for the Bookish Jay and Reading Mermaid Challenge. I had a great year for reading. Of course there were some duds, but there were some books that took my breath away. I rate my reads pretty simply * = you can skip it, ** = might be worth the time, *** = please read it. To save some time if you aren't interested in reading my thoughts on each book, my absolute favorites this year were: October Country, Dandelion Wine, Local Girls, Virgin Suicides, Dune, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Starve Acre, and Trevor Noah. Once I finish Strange & Norrell it will probably be there too. 

 1. It’s the end of the world as we know it…—an apocalyptic tome, dystopian nightmare, or something set in/about the year 2020.

The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer is the second in the House of Scorpion series. I read the first book several years ago when I was a middle school teacher. It was one of the books in our library. This second book picks up in a post-apocalyptic North America where there are no longer traditional countries but instead the border between Mexico and the US is broken up into drug countries. Cloning is a typical endeavor to increase life span (harvesting and replacing broken down organs) and the environment is shot to hell (of course). I enjoyed being back in this world where one boy is trying to make a positive difference. It can be trite and cheesy and childish at times but it is a kid's book. Strangely enough. **

2. Choose a book from an independent book store.
Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides was picked up at an independent used bookstore here in Orlando. I read it lightening fast. It was a gripping, through distressing tale of a clutch of sisters desperately trying to grow up in 70's middle- America suburbia, though ultimately failing. I went on to watch the film. ***

3. Reclaim her name— choose from a multitude of titles which feature generic pronouns; “girl”, “woman”, “wife”, “lady”, or “she” in the title, and discover the true story of the character. Or, select from the sponsored list by the Women’s Prize for Fiction of 25 authors who used male pseudonyms to publish.
The Local Girls by Alice Hoffman is a collection of short stories that revolve around a young woman as she grows. Various view points from family and friends are portrayed, and how their lives entwine with hers. I adore Hoffman's work and this is a wonderful collection. ***

4. Shelf control—pick up a dusty, neglected book that’s already sitting unread on your shelf.
The Grave Keepers by Elizabeth Byrne was a strange tale of how in an alternate time people spend a great deal of time in their future grave, contemplating and reflecting, tending to their long-term home for when they die. This young adult book follows a family of "grave keepers" who live in a cemetery and help others with their plots and graves. They live on the fringes of society and the two daughters struggle to find belonging. **

5. Big Book Energy😉—level up with an 750+ page.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke definitely fits the big book energy goal at 846 pages. I began this book in July but put it down after about 100 or so pages. I realized it was a LONG haul feat. I wanted to save it for my last book of the year. So here I am at the end of December and I am now 300 pages in and enjoying it very much. I think this one will bridge over into 2022, but that is quite alright. I am loving the story. It reads like a gothic Victorian fantasy. Tactile characters, vivid settings, lyrical yet humorous writing, and plenty of footnotes for diving deep into the cannon. I look forward to getting back to it. I can tell it is a full three stars already. ***

6. Bright lights, big city—get lost in a Metropolis, real or fictional.
Winterfolk by Janel Kolby is a young adult story about a homeless teen girl and how she navigates her coming of age in Seattle with an absentee father and an over protective male friend. It made for a quick, heartfelt read. **

7. Small town vibes— find yourself in a cozy village setting, where everybody knows your name.
The Rattled Bones by S.M. Parker had better cover art than content for my money. A tale of a young lady who is battling grief over her father's death and whether to keep up his fishing territory in small-town Maine or go to college. She is haunted by local spirits who demand to have their injustices brought to light. It is a promising story-line but not well executed. The characters are flat and the story drags. *

8. Don’t you, forget about me— relive the 80s, whether it was your glory days or decade of excess, choose a throwback book from that time, either set in the 80’s or published in the 80’s.
Bluebeard's Egg by Margaret Atwood was published in 1983 and it does have a sharp and powerful vintage hue to it. Atwood is in turns witty and bleak with these tales. The short stories in this collection were more obscure and serpentine than the collection of short stories about women that I read previously (Local Girls). Still worth a gander. ***

9. Embrace your elemental—align with a fiery, earth, air or water feature in title/cover.
Baptism of Fire by Andrzej Sapkowski, and well the whole Witcher series. I enjoyed tagging alongside Geralt and Dandelion's adventures. I do feel that the books did not merge seamlessly into one epic tale. It had many starts and stops and points of view. Sometimes I was semi-lost and others happily ensconced in the tale. Overall, I recommend reading it if you are a lover of fantasy. However, I would not re-read the books. Once was good enough for me. **

10. Rule of 3—three main characters, a friendly trio, love triangle or 3 objects on the cover.
The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike was an entertaining read. It follows three women in New England who are joined by their life sorrows and magical abilities. An intriguing man moves into town and disrupts their small coven both for better and for worse. ***

11. Font geek—if an appealing typeface catches your eye, give the book a try.
Darwin's Ghosts by Rebecca Stott, I mean, would you look at those fonts? I love them. I also loved this book. It is a well researched, non-fiction approach to to the men and women who set the stage for Darwin to emerge with his theories on evolution. Growing up as a Baptist kid, Darwin was uber taboo and his ideas discredited roundly. I am so happy that I have been able, over time, to education myself about him. This book was a joy for me to read. ***

12. Book that bites—snakes, bones or teeth on the cover or the title.
The Witch's Heart by Genevieve Gornichec fit this prompt perfectly since the witch in question gave birth to a large wolf, snake and daughter, all of whom can be spied in the book art. This is the tale of the ice giant witch named Angrboda who fell in love with the Norse god Loki and bore his children: Fenrir, Jormungandr, and Hel. Their love story is bittersweet and the witch discovers much about herself. I love well written mythology tales and this is one of them. ***

13. Go to the dark side—villains, rogues, bad bois or anti-heroines--pick your reading poison.
Talulla Rising by Glen Duncan is certainly an anti-hero story about a fierce female werewolf and her struggle to save her children from a vampire clan. She is anything but nice, and is quite often very repulsive. This is the third book in a series but I read it as a stand alone and it was quite good. Very gory. Very gross. But I liked it. ***

14. Note your improvement—read up on your favorite hobby, or new interest.
The Green Witch by Arin Murphy-Hiscock was a pleasant and uplifting read about the green path. This is not a religion or spiritual journey but a way of being, living in tune with the earth and surrounding elements, creatures, and life forms. It is a simple read and can be repetitive but is a wonderful foundational book. I ended up gifting it to another who was interested in beginning witchcraft. ***

15. Book with a map.
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black was a fun young adult romp into fantasy. It was a gift from a friend and I enjoyed it so much I picked up the other two in the trilogy. It is a tale about a mortal girl and her twin who are raised by their fairy step-father who brutally murders their mother and father in the mortal world and kidnaps them along with their half-sister (who is half fae and half human). The girl grows up to love fairy and fights to fit in. It is an action packed story that should be read with the utmost suspension of reality. ***

16. Story set in, or written during the 1920s.
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury is set in the summer of 1928 and it simply took my breath away. The prose was beautiful, chilling, hilarious, and morose. This will be one I read again and again. It follows a pre-teen boy through his gamboling life with friends, hauntings, and bridging adulthood. Absolutely incredible. Please read. ***

17. Comfort read—need a feel-good story right now, who doesn’t? The cozier, the better.
Lament by Maggie Stiefvater is the first in a trilogy about a human teenage girl and the fae who are attracted to her like a magical magnet. I have not made my way to the second book but probably will at some point. This is one of my favorite author's but it is also one of her first books, so if you do read it it, don't judge her other works on it. It is a little weak. It is a young adult read. **

18. 2021 is the Year of the Ox, read a story with themes of hard work or manual labor. “Without labor, neither knowledge nor wisdom can accomplish much.”
The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley houses a tale about a medieval monk who gathers the bones and holy relics of revered dead saints and martyrs to sell to bishops and cardinals. He does work hard. But sometimes politics can be brutal one will do anything to avoid being burned on a pyre. This book is pretty funny at times. I loved reading from a fictitious point of view of some famous ancient real-life painters. ***

19. The UN declared 2021 the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables- pick a book that has a cover ripe with edible plants.
The Poison Garden by Alex Marwood was a random choice when I had some credits at ThriftBooks. It turned out to be a wild ride about a young lady who barely escapes a Welsh cult commune that she was raised within. Everyone dies except her and her siblings. The dark tale of the inner workings is still on going even after her perilous escape. **

20. Choose a book with regency couples- the art of smoldering eyes while maintaining social distancing.
Flush by Virginia Woolf is a creative pull for this prompt but once I started reading it I knew it could fit. Flush is the biographical tale of a cocker spaniel during the mid to late 1800's that is born in the country and is gifted to an ill young mistress who lives in London. They share a special love and bond that does showcase some rather strange dewy eyed looks but is all in good nature. A wonderful story from the pup's perspective. ***

21. Space Force, astronauts back on the moon and missions to Mars- read something out of this world.
Dune by Frank Herbert filled this slot nicely. I am so happy I finally got around to reading this one. A great sci-fi adventure with unique worlds, strong characters, and a twisting story line. Sometimes I do want to slap some of the characters and sometimes it did drag and get overly complicated. But overall I am happy to have read it. I will probably not read the rest in the series. I am good with the one. ***

22. Social Justice- read a book to provide more perspective.
Trevor Noah: Born A Crime by Trevor Noah was a lent to me by a friend a couple years ago. I finally got around to reading it and I am happy I did (and yes I FINALLY got around to giving it back to her). Trevor writes with humor and poignancy. His descriptions of his youth are vivid. I learned much from this book. I had very little knowledge about apartheid in South Africa. ***

23. Animated film adaptation.
This is the one prompt I did not get around to this year. I had every intention of reading my copy of Howl's Moving Castle but I simply did not get around to it. I know I will one day.

24. Cooking up something more than just food in the kitchen: a chef inspired tale.
Good Luck With That by Kristin Hannah is the story of three friends who met at fat camp as teenagers and grew into women who continued to struggle with their weight. One is a chef. It was hard to read at times given my own battles around food and weight but I pushed on. It was a decent book, a bit contrived at times and simply annoying at others, but not terrible. **

25. Poetry: Lyrical limericks, buried metaphors and big feelings. Dive right on in.
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil by J. R. R. Tolkien is a wee book of poetry and so beautifully written. He is gently lyrical and paints with sunshine and moonbeams. Some I had to read three and four times because they were so tender and deft. ***

26. Find small moments of adventure with some short stories.
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood is technically only one short story but I think it still fits. If I am at a book store and I see Atwood on the spine of something I have not read then I always pick it up. This is the short tale of Odysseus' wife, Penelope, and her point of view of the famous events of the Odyssey. It is set up like a play with the handmaids as a chorus and it reads simply but powerfully. One can never quite tell if Penelope was as honorable as she was portrayed. ***

27. Christmas in July anyone? Find a holiday centric story to read out of season.
The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley was an Easter story that I read in the fall. Granted a super creepy and gothic Easter story, but one nonetheless. This family in England goes on a pilgrimage during Lent to worship and petition God at this particular shrine and spring to "heal" a son's mental disability. It all goes tragically wrong. I quickly picked up the author's other two books (stand-alones) and have since enjoyed them as well. ***

28. Brush up on a Native American tribe or historical event involving Native Americans.
OK, so technically this is another fail in a way. I bought and began reading Blue Jacket by Allan Eckert (a story about a white man who became a chief) only to find out that this "based on a true story" was really a perpetuated lie. Hate it. So I threw it away. Instead I read Honoring Your Ancestors by Mallorie Vaudoise but since I have no Native American ancestors this obviously doesn't count either. Loved that book by the way. Highly recommend.

29. Pick a candy read, a fluff read, a junk food read. You know the kind. The guilty pleasure you can fly through in a day or two that makes you smile and reminds you that not every book has to be top shelf literature to be enjoyed.
Warm Bodies by Isaac Maron is a young adult zombie love story that was popular years ago. I never got around to it but I am glad I finally did. A zombie boy falls in love with a healthy girl and they try to fight a sinister force together. I have not read the rest of the series but I was happy with the first book. It was entertaining, engaging and silly. ***

30. Royalty reading: monarchies of the past, present or fantastical times.
The Wicked King by Holly Black was the second book in the Cruel Prince series and was a fun read as well. **

31. Thinning of the veil- tales involving ghosts, spirits or spectral phenomena.
The October Country by Ray Bradbury is a collection of spooky short stories to evoke fall, imagination and nostalgia. Gosh darn it. I am in a Bradbury obsession and I simply cannot get enough. ***

Some other books I read this year (a total of 51 books so far): Blood Bound and Iron Kissed (more fun and funny Mercy Thompson series), Celtic Magic, The Girl From the Other Side manga series, lots of David Sedaris. I plan on reading more David Sedaris and manga and witchy books in 2022. I would also like to finally read Name of the Wind which I have been sitting on for about 6 years. The Bird King. Sawkill Girls. More Atwood, Hoffman and Bradbury (of course). I recently picked up some Bradbury signed first editions from a used bookstore in Baton Rouge. Worth every penny. I would also like to read more poetry and fantasy.

How about you? What are your reading goals? What books will live on in your heart space that you read this year?


  1. You read some great stuff this year! I forgot that I have October Country on my Kindle and need to actually read it lol. My favorites this year were Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher (a lovely hug of a book about people taking care of each other), The Count of Monte Cristo, The Library of the Dead by TL Huchu (a YA in which a girl supports her family by communicating with ghosts and involved in a Dark Plot), and Andre Agassi's autobiography, Open.

    I'm rediscovering intuitive practices and witchy things so I have The Green Witch on hold at the library and am currently reading her book on grimoires. Also ordered Witchery by Juliet Diaz after hearing her interviewed on a podcast.

    Have a safe holiday and best wishes for 2022! <3

    1. Thanks! It was a great year for reading. The much needed escape was appreciated. I will look into Winter Solstice and the others. Maybe not the Agassi, as I am not much of a sports buff but it is cool to learn about what drives people.

      Nice I thought the Green Witch was an easy, relatable read. Some good guidance. Definitely good for a toe dip, refresher or introduction. Witchy things have been high on interest level for the past couple of years now. Particularly folk magic and remedies. What podcast are you listening to? I love Invoking Witchcraft with Britton and Jay. I have ordered a ton of witchy books and hope to dive into them more this year.

    2. Oh! And wishing you all the best too!!!!

  2. I read 10 Ann Cleaves novels since the summer, I see now I should try a mini reading challenge so I don't get in another rut. Spending less time on FB has been good for reading, getting up the courage to take it off my phone. I am reading a non-fiction book about the encounters between Native Americans and Europeans as the US expanded westward called After One Hundred Winters. Learning a lot, am glad to be finally educating myself about a topic that falls under racial justice.

    1. I need to pick one of hers up soon. I hear you about FB. I took it off my phone midway through the year and enjoyed it so much I went ahead and deactivated my account. Of course I miss the jewelry group and Carol's wax group and a few witchy ones I joined. But I can hopefully still get along and find new interests too. Or approach them in new ways. I would love to read that book After One Hundred Winters. I wanted to find a good Native American themed book but the one I chose was a dud.

  3. And I hope you are still on winter break and feel better soon. I'm back to working from home (office's decision) and am grateful to have the peace and quiet.

    1. Thank you so much! I actually just got out of the hospital after a three night stay just this morning. What a way to ring in the New Year. But happy I got some questions answered and can move forward and take steps in the right direction. I would LOVE to work from home at this point. Thankfully the teachers were able to today but tomorrow we go in with the kids once again. Hoping I can make the day through. Enjoy your peace and quiet. It is SO nice to work from home if it is a good fit. And I can see it working for you. I was just looking at the NY pics from Serendipity the other day. That was a lot of fun. I do have a mug or two photo I would like to send you and see if your other mug buddy might be interested. Time to make some space.

  4. Bradbury signed first editions?!!!! Major swoon!!! :D

    1. There was a whole self full of all these amazing Bradbury books!!! But they were pricy so I only picked one or two and had to call it a day. If I ever make it back to Baton Rouge I hope to go back.