2017 Reading Challenge

Popsugar reading Challenge Book #27

With such a broad prompt, nearly any genre could fit the bill. I was pretty excited about the possibilities with this one and waited to see what mom chose.

A book set during wart time –  Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford. 

The world is on the cusp of World War I and those working in office in England at the start only have a hint of what is to come. Christopher Teitjen is one of the last Torries and has a station within the statistics department and a wife he hates and who has recently left him for a brief period on vacation with another man.

I’d like to tell you all more about the plot, but the truth is I got 100 pages in and hated it so much I stopped reading. My mom made it about 50 pages. Maybe less.

The book is lengthy to the point of being drudgery.  The descriptors are overly indulgent and the characters are mere facades. Apparently there is an entire series on TV following the book and I can only hope it is more interesting than the book.


2017 Reading Challenge, Uncategorized

Popsugar Reading Challenge Book #26

Halfway done and nearly on track to finish the entire challenge by year’s end. This one was on me and I knew I wanted to grab a biography. Which one was not as clear, but I found one that seemed to fit the bill. My mom was not so enthusiastic at first, but ended up really enjoying it.

A book with a character’s name in the title: American Legend: The real life adventures of David Crockett by Buddy Levy

David Crockett grew into a legend, but first he was a man.  A man who loved the wide open spaces that the newly formed America had to offer. A man who lived for hunting, travel and the odd military battle. His life was not without its misfortunes, however much of his life was due to this own errors in judgement and inability to manage his own accounts. He lived a life in constant debt even after spending multiple terms in Congress and becoming a well known author.

His need for constant motion, his hunt for fortune and land, and his need to pay off debt eventually led him to Texas and the Alamo. Many people only remember the legends that surrounded the best known frontiersman, but he led a life that brought him out of the woods and into celebrity.

As a biography goes, this one was both informative and very entertaining. I didn’t know a whole lot about the frontiersman prior to reading this book and was pleasantly surprised by what I found. The author presents David Crockett in the raw, without glossing over the negative nor dwelling on it. By the end of the biography, I felt like I had a sense of the man as a whole with all his positive and negative attributes presented for inspection.

I really enjoy a biography that includes letters or other form of personal correspondence from the person as I feel it gives you a real sense of the person and this one did not disappoint in that regard either. There are several passages from letters or speeches that David Crockett gave and many more quotes from his peers of the time.

The novel reads quickly as well without too much time spent belaboring any one point in his life which ranges from his early childhood to his death at the Alamo. The author also tries to give motivation behind Crockett’s decisions, which while it is mostly conjecture, flows well with the narrative of his life.


2017 Reading Challenge

Popsugar Reading Challenge Book #25

The broader prompts have been much more interesting during this challenge and this one was no exception. I really need to ask my mom what her selection process is as I believe it is very different than mine.

A book written by an author from a country you have never visited – The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Oscar de Leon is a Dominican American living in New York with his mother and sister. His father had run out years before never to return and his mother is an ever present dictator in the family. Oscar himself is an outcast: obese, nerdy before it was hip, and longing for love and sex. He spends his time worrying that he will die a virgin and casts detailed love fantasies on every girl he chances to meet when he is not feverishly writing fantasy and sci-fi novels in his room. When his heart gets broken time and again he falls into a deep depression.

The novel follows the life of Oscar from childhood to early adulthood as he seeks to find his place in the world and to find love. Along the way, the reader is introduced to his family history, one that is filled with bad choices and violence. Will Oscar be able to break the family curse or will he succumb to it himself?

The novel takes place spanning a time from the early 1970s through the mid 1990s and introduces the reader to the de Leon family both in their origins in the Dominican Republic as well as in the US. The family believes in an old curse which they have named Fuku and which began with his grandfather in the times of the Trujillo dictatorship. 

While the novel is about Oscar, it is mostly written from a hidden narrator’s point of view except for a chapter from his sister, Lola. It is revealed half way through that the narrator is his sister’s boyfriend, Yunior who is writing the novel to make amends to the family for the wrongs he feels he has committed in his friendship with Oscar. 

The book is compelling although difficult to read with the randomly thrown in words and phrases in Spanish. In addition, the author uses multiple modern science fiction/pop culture references to move the story along. He frequently quotes Lord of the Rings, The Matrix and various superheroes as well as some more obscure characters that I was unfamiliar with. 

The characters themselves are well defined and rounded with full glimpses into their personalities and motivations. The chapters that go back into the family past help to enlighten the reader on how each character became who they were. 

I’m not well schooled on Dominican customs and traditions, so I can only go on what the author has served up in regards to the behaviors of those in the novel. Part of me felt a little betrayed by the author. As if he was leading me to believe unfavorable stereotypes and generalizations as truth. My own background offers nothing to counter what he writes, but it would be interesting to speak with someone of that cultural background to get their take on how the culture is being portrayed. 

The overall theme is about past curses and what we can do to break them. Oscar suffers depression and has no family help to solve his issues and break out of his cycles of self harm. In the end, Oscar is his own worst enemy and causes his downfall which mimics, a little too closely, part of his mother’s past. 

In the end, while I do not know how Oscar’s life could be called wondrous, the book is captivating and well worth the read. 



2017 Reading Challenge

Popsugar Reading Challenge Book #24

The order got a little messed up I think. We were supposed to read the red spine before the wilderness, but that one became available first. It really doesn’t matter in the end, but it did give me two picks in a row. 

A book that you loved as a child: The Giver

The world is black and white and sheltered.  Boys and girls line up at a pivotal age to be assigned their future: custodian, breeder, teacher. It has been this way as far back as nearly anyone can remember. Everyone is safe. Everyone is happy. 

The group of children currently awaiting their assignments seem no different than any previous group. Each one is called up, given their assignment and go to hug their family. Except one child is skipped over. The crowd tries to ignore it, but it is impossible. What went wrong?

At the very end of the ceremony the boy is called up on stage. He has a very special assignment. He has been chosen to become the next keeper of memories. He will work along side the current one as he slowly has the memories of the old world transferred to him. 

What he doesn’t realize is that there was once color in the world. And laughter. And cold snow. There were once wars and fires and sickness. As he becomes more and more burdened with the memories of his society he begins to wonder what it would be like to release them all. 

I first read this book in 5th grade around the time it was published. I was immediately intrigued. A world without color? Without hope and fear? What would that be like? How could one person shoulder the burden of all those memories?

Re reading the book was like a walk down memory lane. I could still picture the first time I read it. Did it stand the test of time? I believe so. The boom is t too clear of why they live that way or why there are people out there living a perfectly normal life. Is this is only group like this? Why did they decide to hide? How did they do it?

The ending is also extremely open ended. It almost seemed like a sequel would come, but it never did. I believe the book is slated to be a movie or already has. I don’t keep up with that so I am not sure. Either way you should read it. It won’t take long to get through it. 


2017 Reading Challenge

Popsugar Reading Challenge Book #23

My turn was up and the topic was very broad. When I returned the last book I lingered in the library and perused the shelves looking for a good fit.

A book with a red spine: Cambodia Noir by Nick Seeley

Cambodia’ is a place where people go to get lost and never be found. Will has been living there for nine years getting lost in drugs and alcohol trying to kill his past and working as a photographer for a local newspaper.

His life has been a well oiled machine of working just enough to keep his job during the day and spending his nights getting lost in his addictions. That is until June Saito arrives in Cambodia as an intern for the paper. Will is out of town on a trip to acquire more drugs when June arrives and is put up in his apartment. Everyone views her as an up and coming journalist. Someone not afraid to get into the nitty gritty details of a story. June leaves on assignment one day and never returns. Most people believe she jumped ship and got lost or ended up as yet another American casualty, but when her sister flies in from the US with money to spend to find her, Will finds himself hired. He quickly becomes entangled in a spider web of deceit, drugs, murder and his own past.

The book is set in modern times and the author paints a picture of Cambodia that I fear is true while hoping it is not. Drugs, alcohol and sex addiction/trafficking are abundant throughout giving the book a gritty feel.

The prose themselves are written in a fast and sharp manner with short, quickly firing sentences. To me, it makes the book feel choppy and disconnected, but it also moves the story along quickly and keeps the reader’s attention.

Every character in the book is unlikable. Addiction extortion, bribery, murder. As the book progresses the main characters become caught in a downward spiral but not in an endearing and hopeless way. Instead I found myself hoping they would meet an end commiserate with the misery they have caused others.

The author tries hard to lead the reader down a certain path, but the twists and turns he throws in make no sense with the overall theme and the ending, wile a surprise, is so disconnected from the rest of the book as the leave me questioning why I even bothered. I’ll admit to not having seen it coming, but then looking back it made no sense at all.

Likewise, there are many scenes within the novel, that had it been a movie would have fallen into the gratuitous sex/violence category and made no impact on the theme or overall story line. Once scene in particular has Will paid to take photographs of a politician’s son having sex with a man in a hotel room. While Will is watching, both men are brutally murdered with a machete. It serves no real purpose in the story and could have easily been omitted.

I would not recommend this book. The end was not worth the effort of reading. 1/5

2017 Reading Challenge

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge Book #22

We have gotten a little out of order depending on which book becomes available first and the winner this time went to my mom with her next pick. I really enjoy the prompts that leave a lot of room to enjoy a book that suits your tastes. 

A book set in the wilderness: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

It is 1920 and Mable and Jack have been handed a heavy blow: their first child is still born and the grief that washes over them is complete. Being around family and watching their nieces and nephews run around is like a dagger to their heart. When Mabel reads an advertisement for cheap land in Alaska, she urges Jack to sell his stake in the family farm and move. 

They find themselves in a wilderness that fights back against their attempts at taming it and every attempt to create a homestead only reminds them that they are 50 years old and without a child to help them. 

Then, during the first snow of their second winter, right when Mabel thinks it would be better to drown herself in the icy river, a spark springs between the two and they build a snow girl complete with Mable’s red mittens and scarf. 

The next day they are visited by a young girl in the woods wearing the mittens and scarf with icy blue eyes and skin that does not melt the snow. Storms fly around with her anger, she throws handfuls of snowflakes in the air and she leaves every spring to only return again with the next snow fall. 

The burning question remains to them: is she a real orphan girl or a snow child brought to life by their longing and love? 

When Mabel remembers a Russian fairy tale book depicting this very thing, she reads through her old copy with bated breath and a sickening heart. 

The story dances with the fantastical: do snow sprites exist or is this just an extraordinary young girl who has learned to survive in a land that is hostile? By juxtaposing human needs and drama, like the death of a very real human father, with images of unearthly occurences, she dances over deep snow barely leaving a foot print and never sinking even when everyone else falters even in snowshoes, the author paints a picture that allows the reader to believe what they wish. 

This novel left me feeling a little haunted. So many gruesome scenes of hunting and trapping animals played along with the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness left me both reeling and in awe. In truth, by the end I wanted nothing more than to pack up and head north to tempt my fate as a homesteader in the Alaskan frontier. 

The theme of love lost, dreams abandoned but never fully forgotten and the desperate need for a future are hard, real and leave the reader feeling exposed. The truth behind the snow child is never fully revealed giving the reader an easy explanation for either scenario. 

I highly recommend this book to all. 


2017 Reading Challenge

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge Book #21

This will be a super short review. The next prompt was back to the mother and followed on the tail of two really good reads.

A book from a non human perspective: White Bone by Barbara Gowdy

I’ll be upfront: I only made it through the first 50 or so pages. Then I gave up, so I really can’t give a full synopsis. Here is what I gathered:

Mud was born under extreme circumstances to the M elephant herd. Her mother was bit by a poisonous snake during labor and fell on top of Mud in her death. The other elephants in the herd attempted to free Mud from under her mother’s body, but were unable to do so and abandoned her to her fate. She managed to not only survive, but escape as well and was adopted by another herd, the S herd.

Her early years were marked by the worst drought to hit Africa in 65 years along with the presence of humans intent on slaughter. Rumors begin to fly of a safe place where humans aide the animal instead of hunt them.

That is the farthest I got, but my mom actually finished it and informed my that the book only goes downhill from there.

The book is told from the elephant’s perspective and as such is an interesting concept. As a general rule, I avoid all animal books since they historically all end poorly and from what I gathered, this one is no exception.

What was so wrong with it?

In my opinion, any book written in a way that not only requires a 3 page glossary of made up terms to start, but also at least one very lengthy footnote per page to explain made up concepts, is just written poorly. I get the creativity in the book, but the author made up so much stuff that it was impossible to keep up. Having to take a pause to read a paragraph long foot note to explain the concept of the Great She Elephant and their theory on the afterlife is cumbersome and detracts from fully engrossing yourself into the narrative and this occurred on every single page for the first 50 I made it through. By the end of that, I was so tired of reading things that made no sense that I cashed it all in and stopped.

I’m not sure what her full intent of the novel was. I’d guess it was about the cruelty of humans and the ivory trade, but due to the overly intricate invented elephant society, that was completely lost. In fact, she made the characters so unlikable in personality and the narrative a constant onslaught of misery that I found myself not really caring if they managed to survive or not.

0/5 from me for this book.



2017 Reading Challenge

Popsugar Reading Challenge Book# 20

This next prompt was for a genre I had never even heard of. I happened to be at the library dropping off my last book and decided to ask the librarian what it was and for a good recommendation. As it turned it, this genre was the young lady’s favorite and she gave me a good suggestion for my first foray into it.

A steampunk novel: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Ezekiel Wilkes is a 15 year old boy with questions. Questions his mother, Briar Wilkes, refuses to answer. They live in the Outskirts, a muddy and poverty stricken shamble of houses bordering a two mile high, seamless wall that was built to contain a toxic yellow gas that rots everything it touches including human flesh. Zeke believes that inside that wall are his answers and one morning he slips through a sewer drain and enters what was once the bustling and wealthy city of Seattle, Washington in search of his mother’s old house.

When his mother finds him missing, she needs to find a way into the city to get him back and will stop at nothing to do so.

What follows next is an adventure involving zombies, desperate souls trying to hold onto their crumbling past, power hungry men taking advantage where they can, and the struggles of a mother trying to save her son from a past she is trying to hide.

Going into this prompt, I was a bit worried. The description I was told of the genre, victorian era sci fi, wasn’t all that appealing, however, once the book got going I found myself deeply interested and not wanting to put it back down.

The time period is the mid 1800s and I found it really interesting that the author explains herself in the back of the book because she veered from accurate history to make her plot make sense. In this version, Seattle is bustling due to the influx of Klondike gold and many future buildings and streets are already in place. I found this odd since the entire book relies on the suspension of reality: the premise is based on a toxic gas leaking from the earth that turns people into zombies. Not being familiar with the genre, I am uncertain as to if it in general follows as closely to the real world as a rule.

While the book at first glance is about fighting zombies and opportunistic, power hungry men, at closer inspection the themes that run through it are much deeper.

 When the wall went up some people decided to stay behind and turned the rotting city back into their home. They built tunnels to avoid the zombies, found a way to make beer out of the toxic gas and learned how to both filter the air and make sealed off clean rooms. The life they lead is far from perfect, but as they put it it is a life of freedom. It brings to light the ideas of home and what makes a good life. 

The other major theme is that of protection. Briar has strived to protect her son from their mutual past, but in doing so she sent him off in search of answers in the one place she didn’t want to him go. In begs the reader to ask how far one should go to shield others from a past you couldn’t control. 

The characters themselves are likable and realistic and the more you learn the more you want to know about each one. The ending is left open which is my least favorite, but I suppose it leaves room for interpretation. 

It was a really good book and makes me want to add this genre to my list of favorites. 



2017 Reading Challenge

Popsugar Reading Challenge Book #19

My turn again and I was not excited about the prompt, but that is what this challenge is all about: going outside the comfort zone.

A book with career advice: It’s Only Too Late if You Don’t Start Now by Barbara Sher

Apparently life is supposed to come to a screeching halt at 40. Surprised? So was I. I hope she is wrong. I am 35 now and feel like the world is still endless and full of potential. According to the author, I won’t feel that way in 5 years.

The author breaks the book into two sections: how you got to the point of this mid life crisis and what to do now.

I will fully admit that while I started the book reading it thoroughly by mid point it turned into skimming. It was boring, it didn’t align at all with my own experiences and I found it hard to relate to.

Basically the author feels that it is perfectly acceptable to feel that way when you turn 40 and not only is it acceptable, but it is necessary. After 40  you become a brand new person with new goals, new beliefs and new perspective. That person is much more like the person you were when you were a kid and you can once again return to your true self.

Maybe my opinion will be different once I am 40, but my mother, who is 57, felt the same as me and didn’t connect with the book either.


2017 Reading Challenge

Popsugar Reading Challenge: Book #18

I think I am a little scarred by this one. This was my mom’s last pick of her two to get caught up and it was…mind blowing I think is the best description. I’m still trying to wrap my head around all the implications of the novel and I doubt I’ll ever fully grasp it all. Specially since the prompt was so innocent.

A book about food: Delicious Foods by James Hannaham

Eddie, Darlene, Scotty. Three main characters in a book so profound that your head will be left reeling upon completion.

The book begins with Eddie, a young man in his teens, driving as fast as he can in a stolen car, without hands. How he came to be missing both his hands is not revealed at this point and who he is running from is equally well obscured. All the reader knows in the beginning is that Eddie is running towards St. Cloud, MN and his estranged Aunt who he hopes will be his salvation.

The book then jumps back in time to introduce Eddie’s mother, Darlene, who enters the novel making one bad decision after another. She meets her husband when she steals him from a sorority sister, gets run off the college campus and follows him on his idealistic and naive dreams of being a small town African American activist in the racist south.

When her husband is brutally murdered for his speaking out against the white politicians in his small town, Scotty enters the picture and remains the voice of Darlene throughout the remainder of the novel. Scotty is Darlene’s method of escaping the brutality of her recent past and she loses her mind and body to it: crack cocaine.

Bad decisions begin to pile up and eventually lead Darlene to being fooled into entering a minibus and signing a contract to work on a farm: Delicious Foods. Once she arrives she finds out that the contract is really her enslavement, that those who run the farm are vicious and cruel and that there is no escaping. However, being paid with cocaine isn’t so bad after all and Darlene begins to wonder if she really wants to leave.

From the very first pages, this novel is haunting and difficult to read yet also difficult to put down. It is an expose on destructive behaviors, how the hopeless manage to survive and modern day slavery and exploitation. I was never able to fully glean what era the book was set in: post Vietnam War, but pre-modern age. Somewhere in the 70s and early 80s, I believe.

Darlene as a character is hard to sympathize with. The loss of her husband turns her from her son and onto the streets as a prostitute looking for any way to earn enough money to get more cocaine. Her treatment of her son borders abusive, but is more neglectful than anything. Some deep part of her knows that her actions, her addiction, is wrong and that she has gone far astray of the path both she and her beloved husband wanted for her, however she is unable to turn back onto it.

Eddie is only 6 years old in the early part of the book and has to grow up fast. He never fully understands what the death of his father means and he has no good adult in his life to teach him. His mother is lost to cocaine, his aunt turns her back on them both as punishment to Darlene, and even his neighbors find him more trouble than they care to deal with. When he finds his way to Delicious Foods, he finds his own form of salvation although it comes at a great cost.

This book will remain with you once you have finished it. I will warn you that there is foul language, violence and sex throughout. If it had a rating, it would be R. The text can be hard to follow when written from the cocaine’s voice and made the flow hesitant and hard to grasp although this was likely intentional and showed the fragmented brain of those under the spell of the drug.