End-of-Year Reading Challenge Update

By Megan

2017’s Reading Challenge is in the books (ha – ok, maybe pun intended) – so I wanted to share the last few books I read to finish it up along with a few tips I learned about doing a “reading challenge” as well as share my goal for this new year (actual books on my list coming later).

Tips about Reading Challenges:

  1. DO try utilizing Goodreads – this website/app makes it really easy to keep track of books you’ve read/are reading/want to read. I almost always have my phone with me, so if I hear about a book or read something online, I can quickly add it to my “want to read” list – no more forgetting all those “friend recommendations.” They also set up a Reading Challenge that you can customize to any amount you want. And any book you mark as “Read” will go towards your reading goal for the year.
  2. DON’T try to assign titles to all of your reading goals – for instance, I want to read 40 books this year. But this time, I’m not going to write down 40 titles – only 25-30. I get so many recommendations throughout the year, I want to have room to fill in with new ideas.
  3. DO try to read a wide variety of genres – this is always stretching for me, but I loved the variety I got from last year’s challenge.
  4. DON’T shop for books on Amazon or Thriftbooks.com if you have no money. Enough said.

2017 Books reviewed:

Here are 10 books that I read this year that I haven’t reviewed yet – some might be good ideas for your own reading challenge lists (or your kids’ lists!). A good number were juvenile/Young Adult books because I am now a volunteer school librarian, so … it just kind of happens. 🙂

  • cgCinnamon and Gunpowder, by Eli Brown – A very fun read – great for a vacation or if you want something light with a little bit of pizazz. I’d describe this book as Pirates of the Caribbean meets MasterChef meets … something else. Anyway, I enjoyed it. Plotline on Goodreads. 3.5/5 stars
  • Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, by Chris Grabenstein – Get this for your kids, Moms (and Dads)! I somehow found this scrolling through Amazon and got it for the library. It was an instant hit with the upper-elementary kids. They fought over who’d get to check it out every week (and after one girl started crying I finally bought another copy). There are 2 sequels now too. Lots of fun, easy read, perfect for kids who love books and/or games. 5/5 stars (because it makes kids read!!)
  • The Reason for God, by Tim Keller – It’s a NYTimes bestseller but also a fantastic apologetic book that is probably the most gracious and humble rendition of an apologetic book I’ve ever read. Keller skillfully connecting points of faith with people from varying worldviews and religions. Never is he condescending or harsh. He is, however, highly intelligent and willing to answer the hard questions. 4/5 stars.
  • Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson – Somehow this English BA has never read this book. Don’t know why because it’s so short. But if you want to put a piece of classic literature on your list, DO THIS. It’s nice and short and also brings up great question about the duality of conscience, separation of good and evil, etc. 5/5 stars (because who am I to criticize R.L.S.?)
  • mbMockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine – This Juvenile/YA novel is a fabulous first-person narrative of a girl with Asperger’s Syndrome working through her grief and trying to find “closure” after a school shooting that kills several including her brother. Thought-provoking and perfect in its symbolism and reference to the classic To Kill a Mockingbird5/5 stars
  • The Making of Pride and Prejudice, by Sue Birtwhistle – Put it this way: if you love the movie (and there is ONLY one movie version of P&P worth its existence), you will LOVE this book (tons of full-color photos, Colin Firth interviews, etc.). If you don’t like the movie, well, there’s not much that can be done for you. 4.5/5 stars
  • If I’m Found, by Terri Blackstock – Sequel to If I Run, this book pretty much followed the same formula and dragged the premise on for another 280 pages. I was mildly intrigued by the first book, but I got worn out with the cliched plotlines early on. Not sure if I’ll even be finishing the trilogy (since I’m fairly certain there will be the predictable-Christian-Fiction pairing up of female protagonist and “damaged but loveable” private detective following her. Meh. 2/5 stars (Note: If I’m wrong about girl-and-boy get-together at the end of the series, I will not only read the book but I’ll mail a free book to anyone calls me on this.)
  • Paper Towns, by John Green – This is one I read that got donated to the library. I wasn’t a huge Fault in our Stars fan, but the premise of this one piqued my interest. Overall, I’d say it really is insightful into the minds of teens (and their normal responses to life) – and the creativity with the whole concept of “paper towns” and the “What happened to Margo” plotline was pretty fascinating. I was not a fan of all the “sex talk” and other language that seems to go on endlessly (at least with a few characters). But by the end, Green made some great points (and finally got rid of all the garbage talk). Might be worth a mature reader’s time. 3/5 stars
  • Echoes of Eden, by Jerram Barrs – Our bookclub all came to the same consensus about this one – Barrs does great in the first half making his point (about finding the “echoes of Eden” in literature and art); but all of his application in the second half is only fascinating if you have read/are familiar with all the books he’s referring to. So I thoroughly enjoyed it (having read ALL of them). But many others did not. Favorite part: He makes a great case for the Harry Potter books. 😉 3.5/5 stars
  • the-flinkwater-factor-9781481432528_hrThe Flinkwater Factor, by Pete Hautman – I found this book by National-Book-Award-winning author Hautman on my birthday in a little basement mystery bookstore – and it was autographed. So it was already a win there! But this is a delightful story perfect for the in-between juvenile/young adult fiction age. It’s set in a fictional town during a fictional futuristic era (where “roombas are out of date”) and uses what the author calls “sciency-fiction” to tell a funny and playful story of a young girl living in a very techy era with very techy parents and friends … and how alllll that technology is either going to ruin their lives or save them. 4/5 stars

Reading Challenge Update with a little bit of everything (by Meg)

I know. I haven’t posted an update in a while, but I promise I’ve been reading and keeping up with this challenge. In a way. I’m on track with my book count – but I do keep switching out books. I know, this is kind of cheating, but I mean, all of you people keep recommending more good stuff that I have to read. So anyway, here’s what I’ve been reading since the last updateScreen Shot 2017-09-12 at 10.42.43 PM

First off, I ended up reading a bunch of AB and Natalie’s recommendations, like …

  • Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey – Loved this. The perspective into someone struggling with dimentia coupled with a whodunnit was brilliant, IMHO.
  • Long Way Gone, by Charles Martin – With the exception of the ending** this was a powerful retelling of the Prodigal Son. I was on a bus full of teenagers on their way to camp … trying not to cry my eyes out (and hide this fact from said teens). The part where Cooper finds the map from his father is worth the entire novel.
  • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstoreby Robin Sloan –  The perfect vacation read, esp. for millenials in love with their technology … while also bringing in the love of real books.

I also finished a few that I’d mentioned in previous posts but hadn’t reviewed: Continue reading

The Secret of Spellshadow Manor, by Bella Forrest

spellI’d like to say that I’ve never succumbed to the lure of clickbait. Usually I’m a strong person on Facebook. Clickbait? That’s for simpletons. But … well, there was this kind of ad post with a cool-looking book cover for The Secret of Spellshadow Manor that said “If you loved Harry Potter, you will LOVE this new series! Get the kindle deal today only!” And unfortunately, I’m a huge HP fan, and, well, anyway it was a great kindle deal. I mean, yeah, the author is known for a ton of cranked-out vampire mysteries, but this could be her Shining Star … right? Continue reading

What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty

Review by Meg 

When I was a college freshman, I wrote a “10 year” letter to myself – to be read when I was 29. It was full of the usual stuff – who my friends were, what classes I was taking, the guy that I currently had a crush on, etc. I put it away in my keepsake box and proceeded to forget about it. Then, when I was 28, right after having my first child, I found it – and decided 9 years was good enough to wait, and re-met my 19-year-old self. By this point in my life, it was mostly funny to read, maybe mildly embarrassing (I liked THAT guy – Really? And thought I might MARRY him??). But that whole instance brings up an interesting question: Do you know what your life will be like 10 years from now?

What Alice Forgot begins with Alice waking up (with a very sore head), thinking she’s 29 years old, madly in love and about to have her first baby – only to be told that she’s actually 39, has 3 kids, and is about to get a divorce. Shealice has absolutely no memory of the last ten years of her life, and cannot imagine how on earth she got to where she is now. Continue reading

Snapshot: 3 quick reviews on 3 celebrity memoirs

By Meg
I didn’t mean to binge on celebrity memoirs the past few weeks, but as I’ve requested various ones from the library the past 3-6 months, they all became available for me AT THE SAME TIME. And of course books that you wait 6 months for cannot be renewed … so blitz through them I did. All were enjoyable to a degree, but one definitely rose above the crowd. So here are 3 really quick reviews (with star ratings)  of memoirs by Carrie Fisher, Cary Elwes, and Megyn Kelly.

PDbookThe “meh”moir:
The Princess Diarist,
by Carrie Fisher. ***

I’m always interested in people’s diaries, so reading Carrie Fisher’s actual entries in her handwriting was fascinating. But for the most part, this was the story of an older teenager with a crush on her much-older, married co-star having meaningless sex with him during the weekends of their filming of the first Star Wars movie. She admits her own immaturities; but with the excess of the vulgarities and her lack of ultimately pointing to anything beyond her memories, I came away from this read (which took less than a day to finish) just feeling kind of “meh.” I’d hoped for more. Continue reading

A Loving Life, by Paul Miller

Review by Meg
Genre: Christian Growth – 4.5 stars

couple-260899_1280Hopefully you aren’t sick of the concept/phrase/ theme of “love” yet (at the end of the week of our dearly beloved Valentine’s Day). I set this book up in my reading challenge to finish for this week, just to see what Paul Miller had to add to the love discussion.

His discussion of love may just be life changing for me.

I’m really not trying to resort to hyperbole as a means to get you to read this book – and I know I gush about a lot of books at times (I just really do love good books!). But truly, this book has done – is doing – a work in me. I’ve done several very in-depth studies on love – from I Corinthians 13 (the famous “love passage”); and I’ve read plenty of Shakespearean sonnets and E.B. Browning poetry in my time. I’m not a feelings-oriented person to begin with, so I’ve never gone for phrases like “falling in love” (or out of love). I prefer the concept that love is a choice of commitment. But A Loving Life just goes so much deeper, using the biblical story Ruth as an explanation and demonstration of genuine hesed love (translated “loving loyalty” or “steadfast love”). Continue reading

The Light of the World

Meg's reading challenge #1

By Elizabeth Alexander      Genre: poetic Memoir
Reviewed by Meg                 4.5/5 stars

“Ficre did not paint what he saw. He saw in his mind, and then he painted, and then he found the flowers that were what he painted. He painted what he wanted to continue to see. He painted how he wanted the world to look. He painted to fix something in place. And so I write to fix him in place, to pass time in his company, to make sure I remember, even though I know I will never forget.”

I didn’t realize it would be inauguration day when I reviewed this book. But the timing is perfect – because Elizabeth Alexander, the author of this memoir, was the poet laureate who recited “Praise Song for the Day” at Obama’s first inauguration 8 years ago.

img_8719As part of my personal “reading challenge” for this year, I began with a book very much out of my comfort zone of preferred literary genres – a poetic memoir, one that I serendipitously learned about in a free edition of our local newspaper. I’m thankful newspapers still review books. Now, before you just completely ignore the rest of this review, hear me out: this is not just a book of poetry, nor is it a really boring narrative of a person’s life (although if you made me try to describe the “plot” right now, you might not believe me).

Instead, what Alexander has done is capture both the sheer beauty and utter pain that was and is her grief in losing her husband, Ficre, unexpectedly several years ago – in carefully crafted prose that is both deeply insightful and wild with color and imagery. Continue reading