Tag Archives: women writers

Living My Best Life: The Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon Wrap-Up

Well, that was a fantastic day, readers!

It’s the first day after the Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon and I am still feeling the afterglow.  I mean, I am a solid reader, with a capital R.  I tend to read at a minimum 2-3 books a week.  But even I was delighted and overwhelmed in the best ways possible about how fun it was to push everything aside to concentrate on the goal of reading as much as I could in 24 hours.

Here are my results:

  • Five books completed
  • Three physical books (one was a galley/ARC, and one was a library book), and two ebooks
  • A mix of genres:
    • One graphic novel
    • One African fiction
    • One thriller
    • One noir translated from Japanese
    • One gay YA romance
  • 943 pages finished
  • 17 hours completed before passing out cold
My Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon Experience
My Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon Experience

 

Things that I discovered-

  • I already read a lot, but a challenge put me into “beast mode”/hyper drive.
  • I love, love, love getting a reflexology session while I read.  It may be the most decadent luxury I can image (that is still productive). It was worth every single penny, and more.
  • Audiobooks aren’t good for readathons because they are so slow compared to how fast I can read.
  • I don’t like rules.  Even the ones I make myself.  I had a whole group of books that I thought I would limit myself to for the challenge.  HA! Nope.  I added the Anne Frank in at the last minute and didn’t feel bad for a moment about it.
The list of books that I am going to draw from in the 24 hour Dewey's Readathon.
The list of books that I am going to draw from in the 24 hour Dewey’s Readathon.

 

Here were the books I read:

The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine by Alexander McCall Smith.

This is the 16th book in the endlessly charming No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books, set in Botswana.  Mma Precious Ramotswe is the owner of the first detective agency run by a woman in the southern African nation.  She is aptly served by her extremely efficient secretary, Mma Makutsi, who is apt to remind people that she graduated secretarial school with 97% grades. They are very funny together as they solve cozy crimes.

What I love most about the series is the tiny glimpses into southern African life as it brings back the most poignant of memories from when I was raised in the area as a little girl.  Small references will create floods of memories, so these books are an exceptional joy to me.  (And I enjoyed the HBO version of the stories.  The casting was fantastic, as was the set.) So while the characters are wonderfully drawn, the setting has an equal weight in the story.

My husband had to ask me what I was reading because I would frequently let out a giggle or HA! while reading the story.

Good for: I would recommend this book to anyone who likes cozy mysteries, who wants to get a glimpse into daily life in Botswana, or anyone who likes humorous palate cleansers in their reading mix.

Anne Frank: the Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon.

I am of the mind that we cannot understand this story too deeply and that the multitude of formats (autobiography, play, movie, graphic novel, etc.) only helps us get to the heart of this tragedy.  Last year, my husband and I went to Amsterdam and one of our key moments was the tour of the Anne Frank House.  It affected us profoundly, as I noted in the previous post.

This graphic novel was wonderfully done.  I found the backstory of her maternal and paternal families and the political backdrop context very helpful to understanding the results and how it impacted the family.  And see the previous post for the surprise I found in the book.

Good for: anyone who wants a new way of approaching the Anne Frank story, history buffs, families that want a way to engage their middle grade and above kids into the story.

The Grown Up by Gillian Flynn

Few people are unaware of the name Gillian Flynn from her NYT bestseller and the subsequent movie for Gone Girl.  She has a gift for the fast paced and interesting thriller.  I wanted to take a completely different course for the read after the Anne Frank book, and thought this would be a good choice.  Plus it’s a novella so it would be a quick read.

This story was engaging from the very moment it opens- bawdy and seedy that let me know immediately this was no middle-grade book! We were back in the land of adults and all their foibles in search of solving the mysteries of what the fates held in store for them.   This had allusions to some of the eerie books of the past- The Woman in White by Wilke Collins, as an example. It was thrilling and perfect to get my blood racing.  If I had to do it again, I would have put it later in the readathon as I was starting to fade.

Good for: anyone who liked Girl Gone, fans of the spooky Victorian novel set up, those who like con artist themes, fans of noir

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

After getting my blood pressure up with The Grown Up, this book pushed the boundaries of how far my heart could expand before bursting.  It’s such a great example of how the YA genre being published today is rich, diverse and engaging.  Simon is a 17-year-old who is struggling to determine when and how he should come out to his friends and family.  He is involved in an email relationship with a boy who goes to his school, but they are anonymous to each other out of fear of public ridicule for being gay and also that the other will reject them.  But when they email, using secret email addresses, they can be honest and share the same struggles that they are having. Through these emails, they fall in love.  But because it’s a YA, things are never that uncomplicated, so there are the trials and tribulations as expected in a bildungsroman.

Good for: someone looking for a great gay romance story, anyone who likes YA or wants to see it done very well, those who love a good bildungsroman (as I do).

The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura

This was the last book I completed.  I could have just stopped after this one, and been perfectly happy with such a strong collection of books for my first readathon, but I pressed on anyway (unsuccessfully).

This was a stark, cold, distant Japanese noir telling of a young man who finds a gun.  The fact that it is next to a body of a dead man is of no concern to him.  The gun becomes his passion and obsession.  I won’t spoil anything except to say that I found this book similar in style to The Stranger by Albert Camus with it’s bleak, emotionless telling.  I thought it was fantastic and will probably read it again.

Good for: those who love the noir genre, readers of existentialism, anyone who likes Japanese novels in translation


Ultimately this was one of the most fun days I have had in a long time, and I cannot wait to do it again.  I may even try to get a small group of friends together for a weekend retreat to do something similar!

Thanks to the generous and amazing people who cheerleaded us through the hours, hosting mini-challenges and tweeted encouragement our way as we progressed through it all.  It was an absolute delight and a great way for me to bust through my TBR pile.

January Reading Wrap Up ( a little over a month late…)

The covers of the books I read in January.
The covers of the books I read in January.
I wasn’t sure I would be able to top 2015 for all the quality reading I was able to do in the year, but clearly this year is shaping up nicely.

I had wanted to do a wrap-up but waited until I was sure that I was going to be able to sustain the pace.  Since February was as strong a reading month as January, I feel ok about sharing the progress I have made.

Let’s get to the books!

I started the year off on a beach vacation with my family, with the first day of 2016 spent poolside with nothing to do, and nowhere to go.  It was an ideal way to kick off the new year for a reader.  I wanted to start off with something that I thought I would surely enjoy and something that I could read quickly.  So that book was 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff.  I already did a book review about that book, so I won’t say more about it here.  Suffice it to say, it is a book lover’s dream read.

In order of completion, here is what I read in January, and the corresponding task it served in the 2016 Read Harder Challenge.

A woman is repeatedly reborn in England during the time of the WW2 to the same family, remembering only allusions to her previous lives, like shadows. With subtle details changing, we see how her life could be very different. The literary fiction book has themes of how much of life is fate and how much is up to chance, what stays permanent and what is fleeting, among other concepts. The construction of the story is so smart without being too smug or self-congratulatory about how she has managed to take this extremely complex concept of reincarnation/rebirth and make it work.  The book is over 500 pages long, so it served the task of ‘read a book over 500 pages long’. The characters are wonderfully drawn.  I actually missed them when it was over.

Good for: those who like historical and literary books, readers interested in WW2, anyone who wants a new take on the trope of repeating lives, someone who wants an engaging long book that has surprisingly twists and turns without being a thriller.

I don’t think I have enjoyed a series as much as I love the Outlander volumes.  I find the characters so interesting and the ways that Diana Gabaldon is able to weave historical fiction, time travel and romantic adventure all into one book (or 8 books, so far) is a feat.  I think Jamie Fraser is one of the best romantic characters in modern literature, and Claire is more than his equal.

Good for readers: who like strong women characters, adventure readers, historical fiction fans, those interested a fictionalized visit to the American Revolution, fans of Scotsmen, and those who want to find a good series that maintains as it progresses

I was drawn to this book because it has appeared on some of the Best of 2015 lists and due to the subject matter- the wife of Frederick Engels, also known as the co-parent of Communism along with Karl Marx.  It fulfilled the Read Harder task of reading a book of “historical fiction before 1900“.

The women in the lives of these infamous men are the focus, and you get a glimpse behind the scenes in a different way.  I really liked Lizzie (aka Mrs. Engels) and her spirit, doubts and struggles. I especially loved her struggle to befriend and stay friends with the Marx family. They were interesting and compelling characters to read about. I especially liked how the author just dropped you in the story and if you wanted the backstory of the people named, you could Google it, but it wasn’t necessary or done in a way that was pedantic. You could read it like any other book, or stop to research and glean insights about Marx and Engels if you wanted.

Good for: those who like historical and literary books, readers interested in fictionalized accounts of the wives of political figures, anyone interested in the imagined inner workings of the Engels and Marx households.

This book has appeared on the NYT best seller list for almost all of 2015 and it fulfilled the category of a ‘book to be made into a movie‘ for the Read Harder challenge.  A bonus is that it has been in my Kindle for a while so that’s also a win for the Read Your Own Damn Books challenge.

It’s a thriller, so I won’t spoil anything but will leave you with this nugget- that shame unconfessed leads to more shameful behavior.

Good for: fans of thrillers, people who like complex women, those who likes mysteries

When one of your favorite and trusted bookstores has a shelf talker, which sings the praises of a book, and there are great quotes from authors on the cover, you just shut up and buy the book.

The narrative follows two kids as they grow up, separated in adulthood only to have the brother turned against his will into a vampire. Then the story introduces and follows the complex structure of vampire gangs in London in the 1800s.

Good for: vampire fans who want a new take on the trope, those who love dark Victorian England settings, gothic and books with steampunk elements

This is an ongoing series of the brilliant but socially introverted archeologist/ mother, Ruth Galloway.  In this installment, Ruth is pulled into a mystery when a body is found in a field, having been apparently buried alive in a plane. The usual cast of characters are included, which makes it a fun read.

Good for: mystery series fans, people who like smart but imperfect women characters, those looking for a good palate cleanser

These were the starting point in a manga series I have wanted to read for a very long time.  I found them in my local library and grabbed them happily.  The series has 8 volumes. It is a deep while fun study of the story of the Buddha.

From the Amazon blurb:

The series which began in September 1972 and ended in December 1983, is one of Tezuka’s last epic and greatest manga works. Buddha received the 2004 and 2005 Eisner Award(referred to as the Comics Industry’s equivalent of the Oscar Awards).

I was really impressed with the pacing and depth of the story.  He takes his time to distil the complex story into beautiful, simple yet profound art and storytelling.

Good for: manga fans, Buddhists and those interested in the philosophy, those interested in new interpretations of old Indian mythology

I picked this because it’s a classic that I hated when I first read, but I wanted to revisit it as it was recommended by Patti Smith in M Train.  There was a retelling of this story published last year, The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud that I want to read, also. And, bonus- this fulfilled the task of reading a “book set in the Middle East“.

With the experience that a decade (or two) will give you, I did appreciate this book differently.  But I also spent more time trying to decipher and understand what Camus was trying to impart to the reader.  With the contextual background of the horrors of WW2 in the forefront of Camus’ thinking when he wrote this, I can now see how stark and pointless life could seem and why he would choose to tell this story in the manner with which he did.

Good for: someone who wants to read a classic, those who like close reading, anyone who likes intellectually challenging books

This is also one that stood out so much for me that I did a special review of it, so please see that write up for the details.  (Bottom line- It was simply lovely.)

I heard about this author based on a conversation I had about my love of The Sparrow and Dune. I may have also mentioned that I wanted to read more women science fiction authors, which led her to recommend N.K. Jemisin and Ursula Guin. When I saw a category on the Book Riot Read Harder challenge 2016 to read ‘the first book in a series, written by a person of color‘, I knew that was my impetus to move her work up in my TBR pile.

In this story, there are two cultures that live near each other but are very different. One believes that a society should kill its members who are corrupt (physically and morally), as well as those who are old and infirm. It can be done with magic to allow the victim a lovely and peaceful transition to the dreamland, as it is done in sleep. The people who do this are Gatherers. The other culture is more secular and they believe in rules and order achieved without magic.
The story is of an acolyte who is paired with the most renowned Gatherer and they are assigned to kill an ambassador from the other community. What they don’t know is that she has uncovered corruption in their midst and that their “peaceful” leaders are making plans for war. They join forces when he is compelled by her story and gives her a stay of execution in order to verify it.
The themes in the novel are the corrupting influences on people that come in all forms, the dangers of blind faith, what constitutes a humane death, and the redemptive power of love.
Good for: someone who likes sci-fi with a bit of political intrigue, one who wants a story that feels familiar but is completely new, who want to read women sci-fi authors, someone who likes mysticism and/or ethical quandaries in their stories.

I needed a book for the Read Harder Challenge task of ‘read a horror book‘. I was determined to do the one task that made me most nervous early in the year so I didn’t end up in a panic in December like I did for 2015. I saw this recommended in the Goodreads forum and then on Twitter I saw that Rincey Reads was sharing her progress. She responded to a tweet that I sent asking her if it was terrifying because basically, I’m a big baby. She said this might be perfect for me. She was right.

This is a fantasy story of a group of orphaned kids who are taken in by an old man and the main character we follow is a young woman named Carolyn. The old man (called Father) assigns each child a specialty field of study in “the library” and trains them in brutal and terrible ways. The book begins with Father being lost and the now young people have to discover what happened to him, mostly out of fear.

The style  of the novel is fantasy/horror and while there were plenty of squeamish (fairly gruesome) moments, I wasn’t on the edge of my seat nor was I particularly scared. I think it’s because the fantasy elements provided a nice foil and created some emotional distance for me to be taken along with the plot and not have my psyche scarred.

Good for: someone who is looking for a thriller of a different kind, who want a new type of fantasy book to try, someone who gets scared easily but wants to fulfill the read harder challenge.

Confession time- I picked this audiobook up because I loved the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens so much, that I wanted more time with it.  (And now I am laughing out loud.)

I really was hoping that the book would go much deeper into the backstory of the characters.  But unfortunately, it was almost a screenplay of the movie so I didn’t glean any new insights or tidbits. But it was still fun.

Good for: Star Wars fans

After the last book which was a horror story, I needed a guaranteed cozy feel book. This was recommended by people saying that it was like 84, Charing Cross Road so I knew I was in good hands.

This is a story of a pen pal relationship between an older woman in Iowa and a young Swedish bookseller. Sara, the Swedish girl comes to visit Amy in her small town of Broken Wheel, Iowa only to discover that Amy has died. So Sara proceeds to spend her few months vacation in a depressed town of people whom she only knew about from Amy’s letters.

Sara is a great main character. She is both tentative and assertive in small ways. And you see her coming out of her shell and growing as the story progresses. Amy you see in retrospect, only in her letters, which also details the dramas and stories of the town’s people.  The style is a bit ‘Lifetime movie’ in book form, and would be too sappy without the literary references. Ultimately, it wrapped up a little too neatly for my tastes.  I’ll stick with the acerbic New York wit of 84, Charing Cross Road.

So that’s how I spent my January of the year.  Not too shabby, if I say so myself.

Book Review: 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

I really wanted to start 2016 off by reading a really good book.  But it’s hard to know if the one in your hands is going to deliver on the hopes and promises.  It’s always a gamble, but sometimes you win the jackpot with a book.  And that is how I felt with this lovely, thin tome.

Let me get the first jarring bit out-of-the-way: it’s an epistolary novel.  If you are like me, that can turn you off more than entice you into the book.  I think it’s very hard to do something like this without it feeling gimmicky.  I am happy to say, once I got adjusted to the style, it made more sense and became a fun part of the book, not a distraction.

This is a witty, charming, and utterly delightful story of a correspondence between a bookshop in London and a single New Yorker, on the hunt for inexpensive but clean books from 1949 through 1969.  Her voice is clear and authentic.  She is a bit wry and has a brusque but generous personality that jumps off the page.  I smiled on page  3 and quite literally laughed out loud on page 5.  The shop owner’s voice is a fantastic counterpoint with his staid, and buttoned-up propriety in his correspondence.  And just as you are following these two people and their communiques, then new characters write letters and get introduced to the fold as the employees of this charming book shop in London.

What I loved in this little book was the intimate look back to a different era, and the ways people communicated and reached out to each other.  The caring shared among these people was palpable.  And the resounding themes that you are left with were of friendship, kindness, generosity, and the passage of time.

For this book review, I highly recommend this book for people who:

  • like post WW2 novels
  • want a cozy and life-affirming read
  • for book lovers
  • for people who love character driven stories

Have you read it?  If so, what did you think?  Please let your comments below.

84, Charing Cross Road Book Cover 84, Charing Cross Road
Helene Hanff
Literary Fiction
Penguin Books
1970
Paperback
97
http://amzn.to/1ZuSvNA

It all began with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. As Helene's sarcastic and witty letters are responded to by the stodgy and proper Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road, a relationship blossoms into a warm and charming long-distance friendship lasting many years.