Reading Challenges for 2016

Books

Each year I like to challenge myself with reading books. The past few years have felt less like a challenge and more like a goal I knew I could easily reach. My first year completing was 2013, and I set my goal to 30 books, and ended up reading 36. The following two years I set the challenge to 50 books and read a total of 52 books for the year. This year, 2016, I’d like to really challenge myself, and so I’m setting my goal to 65 books for the year – and I’d like half of those books to be audiobooks.

You may think that sounds a bit strange, purposely listening to audiobooks rather than choosing to read the books, however I think it’s a great goal for myself. These days I spend a lot of my spare time knitting and while I’m good at knitting, and reading, I’m not (yet) good at doing both at the same time. There are actually people who can do that, read and knit at once, but I am (so far) not one of them. I’d like to be able to fill that spare time with audiobooks.

Where to get these audiobooks was my next decision. There’s Audible which is one of the largest suppliers, but I’m not sure if I want to dedicate $14/m to a subscription or just pay as I go. I believe the $14/m only gets you a single book a month, and that’s certainly not going to be enough for me. Audiobooks are typically more expensive than regular books though there are free versions out there. The problem with free versions is you never know if the reader is going to be someone you can tolerate, and depending on the software you use it’s very easy to lose your place. I’ve signed up for kindle unlimited to test out the audio narration whispersync feature, I’m hoping it may be a good alternative to someone like me who doesn’t mind spending money on books or subscriptions, but who has a limited budget.

Have you set up a reading challenge for yourself this year or do you prefer to just take books as they come? Let me know in comments!

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Books and resolutions for 2016

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Where does the time go?

To say I’ve neglected this site over the year would be an understatement. I had every intention of keeping up with my reviews, but it just didn’t happen. Work, life, everything seemed to have gotten in the way. I did manage to read quite a few books for 2015, completing my goal of 50, but I want to make a resolution to post more often in 2016. I know I can do it if I just set aside some time each week. I love books in all of their forms and it was important to me to be able to share that love in my little corner of the internet. I suppose on some levels I have been discouraged, I see so many larger sites receiving books to review and I know I can’t compete. I don’t like to spoil books for others so my reviews are lacking a lot of details. Perhaps I should focus more on those details and not so much on keeping things spoiler free.

I’m not sure what my goal will be yet when it comes to writing here, but I’m hoping that at least bi-weekly will be something I can manage. Even if it’s not a book I have finished reading, but rather a generic article about the subject. Most of the writing here isn’t for anyone in particular but is for my own pleasure, but I do want to have at least something to show for it.

Here’s to a new year. What did I read in 2015? You can find the list below, in the order that I’ve read them (newest read books are at the top of the list)

  1. Mark of the Mage, by R.K. Ryals
  2. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
  3. The Tenth Insight: Holding the Vision, by James Redfield
  4. The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
  5. Bear, by Marian Engel
  6. The Ghost Bride, by Yangsze Choo
  7. Inkspell, by Cornelia Funke
  8. Moth and Spark, by Anne Leonard
  9. Richard Hittleman’s Yoga: 28 Day Exercise Plan, by Richard Hittleman
  10. The Martian, by Andy Weir
  11. Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
  12. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
  13. The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
  14. Three Souls, by Janie Chang
  15. Loving, by Henry Green
  16. Uprooted, by Naomi Novik
  17. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer
  18. Chestnut Street, by Maeve Binchy
  19. Fool’s Quest, by Robin Hobb
  20. The Shock of the Fall, by Nathan Filer
  21. Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
  22. The Man in the Iron Mask, by Alexandre Dumas
  23. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
  24. Knight’s Shadow, by Sebastien de Castell
  25. Taking Charge of your Fertility, by Toni Weschler
  26. Ru, by Kim Thuy
  27. Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen
  28. The Summoner, by Gail Z. Martin
  29. The Black Prism, by Brent Weeks
  30. Beau Geste, by P.C. Wren
  31. Prince of Fools, by Mark Lawrence
  32. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
  33. Killashandra, by Anne McCaffrey
  34. When I found You, by Catherine Ryan Hyde
  35. The Celestine Prophecy, by James Redfield
  36. At the Water’s Edge, by Sara Gruen
  37. Throne of Darkness, by Douglas Nicholas
  38. Longbourn, by Jo Baker
  39. The Pirate’s Bed, by Nicola Winstanley
  40. A Blight of Mages, by Karen Miller
  41. The Highest Number in the World, by Roy MacGregor
  42. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce
  43. The Scandal of Father Brown, by G.K. Chesterton
  44. The Harem Midwife, by Roberta Rich
  45. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
  46. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
  47. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
  48. A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin
  49. Fool’s Assassin, by Robin Hobb
  50. Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery
  51. Dreamer’s Pool, by Juliet Marillier

What is next on my to-read list? I haven’t quite decided. I think I’d like to write a few reviews of some of my 2015 choices that I’ve neglected to write about and then we’ll just have to see where I end up. Some books surprised me a great deal, and were nothing like what I expected. I want to be able to share those thoughts with everyone. Happy reading – here’s to 2016!

Review: Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

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I read this book back in February and am only getting around to finishing up my review now. Bad, I know. I wanted to like it. I wanted to love it. I read reviews and saw people promoting it everywhere. Thing is, I’m just not a fan of the genre. The book begins with the end of the world. The georgia flu kills 99% of the population and changes everything about the world as we know it. The book swaps between the past and present, Kirsten (present) is touring the wasteland with a group of musicians and actors, bringing entertainment to scattered settlements, and Arthur Leander (past) is playing a part in King Lear on stage in Toronto. Well, he is at least until he has a heart attack and dies on stage.

The book’s main motto is “survival is insufficient” – a tattooed immortalized line from Star Trek. Of course the book has a prophet, there has to be some turmoil besides the survival of mankind. The characters are detailed and driven, and that was the one redeeming fact I found. Despite the fact that it was well written, detailed, colourful and depicted humanism in a very frank and lovely way – I just couldn’t get into this book. No matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t captivated by the story. I do not think this is at all the fault of the author, but some books we find interesting and others we simply don’t.

Longbourn – by Jo Baker

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I picked up this book not quite sure what I was expecting. It tells the story of the servant’s point of view of “Pride and Prejudice” and I suppose I was looking for a book that actually emulated Jane Austen’s writing style. On that level, Longbourn failed to deliver. I found the story incredibly dull and boring, the author spends a lot of time going into minute detail about things that just don’t matter (like foliage) and I kept waiting for something to happen or improve or get better – only it never did.

The book is incredibly dark and sad, and the servants assume their lives are an endless misery. To quote someone else’s review, “it starts out bleak, it continues dire, and it crosses the finish line with a vague “so that turned out okay, I guess.“”. The writing itself was well done if you can look past the fact that the narrative is all over the place. It gets confusing but that’s not a deal breaker for me.

It wasn’t the book I was hoping it would be, and that’s a shame. I just didn’t enjoy it.

2/5 stars

 

The Pirate’s Bed – by Nocola Winstanley

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I won a copy of this book from a blog contest that was hosted a few months back, and I’ve been horrible about posting it, I know. After reading the Children’s hockey book I had high hopes that unfortunately fell flat where this story was concerned.

First thing that came to mind is that this book is way too advanced for the age group. I get that it’s important for kids to learn and they should be expanding their vocabulary, but for a picture book bed time story it just went too far over the top. Words like raucous. Unencumbered. Sensible. Words that I don’t even want to read at 34 before I go to bed let alone read to a small child (and then of course have to explain what those words mean to the child). The pictures were alright, and the story was OK but it all felt quite overshadowed by the vocabulary.

The story is about the bed and how it gets separated from the pirate. The bed complains about stinky pirate feet, but by the end all it wants is those smelly feet back. Eventually the bed washes ashore and gets restored and presented to a young pirate loving boy. It is a short sweet tale with a happy ending. The artwork wasn’t really my style but it was bright and colourful which should appeal to a good selection of readers even if it wasn’t for me.

3/5 stars

 

At the Water’s Edge – by Sara Gruen

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The year is 1942, and Maddie and Ellis Hyde are out enjoying themselves at a New Year’s Eve party. Unfortunately neither one conducts themselves very well, and somehow through a weird series of incidents, they end up being financially cut off from their family, and headed to Scotland in the middle of a war to prove that the Loch Ness monster is a thing.

What?

Maddie and Ellis (married) are friends with Hank (who is also very wealthy) and all three head to Scotland on a ship in the middle of a war. Of course that’s not how we’re introduced to the book. First we learn of a mysterious woman who has just found out that her husband was killed, and their child has just died, and she is heartbroken so she kills herself by drowning in the lake that the Loch Ness monster lives in. If you think this book is a story about the Loch Ness monster, you would be incorrect. While this is the main theme played up in the beginning of the book, it becomes the background story and then resurfaces again near the end. Instead this book is about spoiled adults who treat each other poorly, and secret romances where in the end it’s all tied up neatly in a ‘too good to be true’ formula. Ellis is entitled, rude, and just plain mean. He treats Maddie poorly throughout the entire book and there’s never a redeeming quality about him in any chapter. He’s constantly drunk and making snide remarks about social standings. The reader is very obviously supposed to dislike him, but it comes across as being a bit too much. Especially near the end of the book where he completely loses it in a number of ways that I just couldn’t believe. Hank starts off as being exactly like Ellis, but then as we reach the end of the book we feel like we should forgive him because he has seen the error of his ways. I also didn’t quite believe this. Finally there’s Maddie, who is treated poorly but never stands up for herself, even though she talks about doing it often. She follows along to Scotland, begs her Dad for help, has her world fall apart, falls in love with another man while still being married, excuses her unfaithful behaviour by the reasoning that her own husband is horrid (which he is, but is that a reason to cheat?), has her father die, and yet still manages to ‘win it all’ by the end.

Honestly the best part of this book was the story of the widower, and we weren’t given enough information at all about his circumstances or enough details about the Lock Ness. Instead it just seemed like a cheap attempt at pulling at heartstrings (which worked) until everything all worked out at the last possible second. It’s too easy to feel happy about this outcome when the main character experiences nothing but hardship throughout the entire book (whether it is because of her own doing or otherwise).

An easy read and probably a good one for a lazy Sunday afternoon, but not highly recommended.

3 / 5 stars.

 

A Blight of Mages – by Karen Miller

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Wow. It had been so long since I had a good fantasy book pull me in the way A Blight of Mages did.  I wasn’t even expecting it, which was the best part. I had the book in my to-read pile for quite some time, having read other books by Karen Miller (the Innocent Mage, the Awakened Mage, etc) and had just sort of forgotten about it. I’m incredibly glad that I finally got around to reading this one. Things started out a little slow for my liking. You’re introduced to Barl, who is an opinionated woman working at a job she doesn’t want to be in. She wants more out of life, as do we all. You learn about the relationship with her brother and the problems she has gotten into in the past. She is a low-born mage, and she isn’t allowed to progress the way she’d like, the way she knows she deserves. She wants to attend the mage college in Elvado, the capital city of Dorana, but she is denied. She is frustrated by this, and acts out a bit like a spoiled brat.

Things drag on for a bit until through a series of events, Barl meets Morgan. Morgan is broken, and Barl is his redemption. His first love is dead, his father is dying and begging for an heir. From here things get incredibly intense, and they move fast. Barl and Morgan fall in love. They start working together, creating together. It’s fast paced, and it’s passionate. The outside world becomes a blur as they wrap themselves up within each other and their project.

As a reader it was easy for me to become wrapped up in their affections as well. It was easy to miss the signs that not all was right. Suddenly faced with the realization that things are very wrong, it was like a splash of cold water to the face. I couldn’t believe it, I had been that wrapped up in the story. The book can get quite violent, but I felt that within the story it worked and it wasn’t out of place.

The book does a fantastic job at pulling at your emotions. Starting with indifference towards the characters, becoming wrapped up in their romance and happiness and then sudden horror and shock and sadness when the pieces finally slide together by the end.

Highly recommended.

5 / 5 stars