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 #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 #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.


2017 Reading Challenge

Popsugar Reading Challenge: Book #17

I’m not so sure this would have been my pick and I’m still unclear why it was my mom’s but it was, so I read it. It was a quick read for sure.

A Book You’ve Read Before That Always Makes You Smile:  There’s a Wocket in my Pocket by Dr. Seuss. 

So….not sure how to really write anything up about this. I’m pretty sure everyone has read Dr. Suess. This is not my favorite one of his. I’m, quite partial to the Foot Book and Oh! The Places You ‘ll Go.

A little kid, presumably by the drawings, is introducing the reader to the house he lives in and all the creatures he finds everywhere he looks and there are plenty.

At the end, spoiler alert I suppose, he mentions that nobody else may see them, but he does and chooses to believe it. Dr. Seuss, always one to expand your imagination.

Its a quick read as is all Dr. Seuss and a easy escape from reality.


2017 Reading Challenge

Popsugar Reading Challenge: Book # 16

It has been a while since I did a book review. I thought I would get a lot more read on my trip, but most of the time was spent exploring or at the conference and I couldn’t read while the kiddo slept as I usually do because we shared a hotel room and the light bothered him.

My mom had no interest in choosing a book for this prompt as it was extremely outside her comfort zone. I chose it so I would have something for the trip and then she got the next two.

Since this is also a genre I don’t typically read, I ended up just gong to the library and browsing. While they shelve their books like a typical library, alphabetical per author, they also add stickers to the spines to show the genre. I looked at the books with a UFO on the spine and picked one at random that sounded interesting.

A Book Involving a Mythical Creature: The Brothers Cabal by Jonathan Howard

Horst Cabal thought he was quite dead, and dead for good, until he was risen by a diabolical team of power hungry politicians. He was a little disappointed to find that he was no longer dead. For their part, those who brought him back were also disappointed when they soon figured out they had chosen the wrong Vampire. This one had a conscience and had no interest in being their Lord of The Dead.

Horst soon finds himself in the midst of a plot to create a state of monsters: werebeings, vampires, zombies and the like. In order to help stop this plan he brings his brother, Johannes Cabal, back from Hell, where evidently Horst had previously sent him. Johannes is a necromancer and apparently a good one at that, no longer amused by bringing brainless zombies to animation, he is looking to bring people back from the dead with body, mind and soul intact.

Together they create a team that is hopefully, for the humans on the planet anyway, capable of stopping the evil plot at hand.

First, this is apparently the second book in a series. It did stand alone enough to make the experience enjoyable, but there were several instances where I wished I had picked up the first one instead. So, please read the first one first.

I really enjoyed this book. While it was not my typical genre, it was extremely well written with a big heaping dose of satire and humor thrown in. The satire part put me in mind of my favorite series, The Disc World by Terry Pratchett, and helped the otherwise heavy text flow.

The author was obviously writing for those who were very familiar with this type of book and even mentioned in an early on footnote that reading Lovecraft would probably be a good intro to his books as well. I’m not a fan of Lovecraft, but I was still able to follow the plot and understand most of the intricacies presented.

The novel is long: over 300 pages in hard copy with closely set text and single line print. It took a while to get through. At the end though, I found myself adding the first book to my list of books to read once this challenge is over.

If you are into this type of novel or are looking to test the waters into it, I highly suggest reading the series, though again, please start at the beginning since I believe it would make a lot more sense.


2017 Reading Challenge

Popsugar Reading Challenge Book #15

This one was harder than I though it would be. I ended up just going to my local library website and performing a search with the keyword THE thinking it would bring int he most hits and restricting the search to those published this year. Then I looked through the results for something that sounded interesting and with multiple copies available.

A book published in 2017: The Girl in the Garden by Melanie Wallace

Lives merge, expand and contract when a young girl shows up in a small sea side New England town with an infant in her arms watching the man who brought her drive away to never return. Her own past is littered with heart break and enduring and has left her standing by the side of the road fearful of her present.

Mabel, who owns the rental cottages where she is dropped at, takes her in and gives her a home until they close down for the winter season. Mabel is grieving the loss of her husband by staunchly refusing to let go of his memory and effects and not letting anyone new in. Once the cottages are closed, she transfer the girl and her baby to her friend Iris, a hermit who enclosed herself into a secret garden at the passing of her own husband, although this was done out of hate and not love.

Their lives intersect with others as June and Luke settle into their new life helping Iris as best they can to take care of the grounds and then herself as she ages quicker than expected with a medical condition she won’t admit to having.

The book is a slice of life style novel that follows groups of people who are brought together and learn to heal from past scars through the arrival of June. Each chapter focuses on a different character although it is written in the third person throughout. This gives the reader a unique perspective of the same events through the lens of each character.

The writing style is easy to follow and modern day although quite a few run on sentences continued for an entire paragraph. The characters were what I consider ultra realistic: meaning they could exist and had all facets of real people but their stories were inflated and the arc of their eventual emotion recovery too swift and all inclusive.

I found the themes of trust and love to be intriguing and how the author showed the response to loss in such extremes as Mabel wearing her husband’s shoes every night to feel the imprint of his feet versus Iris who shut herself in and disowned the world. Both women locked themselves in their grief, not allowing life to move on but each did it in their own way. Each found freedom in the end, but this also differed for each.

Overall the themes are sad: loss, loneliness, abandonment, unrequited love. The story arc is beautifully written though and I found myself wishing for more pages at the end with so many open ended questions that I will never find an answer to.




2017 Reading Challenge

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge Book #14

Thankfully my mom was up next and she almost always picks a winner.

A book with a subtitle: Saving Simon: How a rescue donkey taught me the meaning of compassion by Jon Katz

Simon is living in a filthy pen made for a pig with wire mesh walls and a pallet shelter only a foot or two off the ground. One day he lays down and puts his head under it for shelter against a cold rain and can’t get back up. His owner ignores him hoping he will die and it is only the love of the farmer’s son who throws handfuls of stolen hay by his head and eventually calls animal rescue that saves his life.

Jon acquires Simon from the rescue the day after he is freed from his prison and takes on the rule of physician, therapist and owner. Jon owns 90 acres in upstate New York, writes about animals for a living and has two other donkeys. He works hard at bringing Simon back from the brink and together they tackle the world.

This novel is an easy read and took two sittings to get it done. It wasn’t as heart wrenching as I feared it would be and actually has a happy ending – all good things.

While on the outside the book is about bringing a rescue donkey in, the narrative is really about Jon’s wrestling with the conception of compassion and mercy. His questions are thought provoking.

Why is it so easy to be compassionate towards a cute animal, say a donkey, but not an ugly one like an alligator?

Why are so many people who are in the business of animal rescue so incredibly cruel to fellow humans?

Are you truly a compassionate person if you extend it only towards those you like, agree with or need?

Does the farmer, fallen on hard times and unable to feed the donkey, in as much need of compassion as the donkey himself? Should we quickly condemn him?

What is mercy? In today’s world of increasing life spans and holding on tightly, is it more merciful to just let go?

These questions come up time and again and his own answers are at times surprising. I found my self disagreeing with him on quite a few points although I enjoyed seeing things from his point of view as well.