2015 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge · 2015 Pop Sugar Book Challenge · Book Reviews · Random Thoughts

Thoughts on 2015 Reading Challenges

I think I was a little too hopeful in attempting to complete two challenges in one year. However, that being said, I really liked doing the challenges. I didn’t finish them, but I had fun. I have never done a reading challenge before and it really helped me expand my reading selections. It also helped me read some books that I had been intending to read but never got around to reading. The only thing I didn’t like about the challenges was that I found books that I normally would have just picked up and read, but since they didn’t fit on my challenge list anywhere I placed them aside for later. I think in 2016 I’m only going to do one challenge so that I can read these books as well. Also, for some of the challenges, I just could not find a book I liked for it at all. Therefore, there were certain challenges I just decided not to complete because I was not going to force myself to read something I didn’t enjoy or even like.

Top Five Books I Read for the Challenges:

Books I read that I ended up not liking:

  1. When the Wind Blows by James Patterson
  2. Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories by Sandra Cisneros
  3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  4. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
  5. Jane Slayre by Charlotte Brontë and Sherri Browning Erwin

Book I was surprised by:

  1. However Long the Night by Aimee Molloy
  2. The Hobbit: Graphic Novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, Adapted by Charles Dixon and Sean Deming, Illustrated by David Wenzel
  3. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  4. The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling
  5. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
  6. The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James
  7. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
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2015 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge · 2015 Pop Sugar Book Challenge · Book Reviews

The Hobbit: Graphic Novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, Adapted by Charles Dixon with Sean Deming, Illustrated by David Wenzel

This was the first graphic novel I’ve ever read so I’d like to talk about that first. I was very impressed with the artwork. I was glad to have bought an actual copy  of the novel instead of the Kindle version because the artwork was so good. The characters were neat to see and the different clothes and colors were fun. I had a little trouble with the text bubbles, non-spoken text I mean, which changed color depending on the colors of the artwork. I liked the font as well since it was easy to read. What I had issues with was I either followed the pictures or the words. I would find myself reading and then having to go back and look at the pictures because I had ignored them when I focused on the text. Also, I felt there were sections of the book missing. Not parts that mattered to the main story line, but the details you get of the background and feelings and extra happenings that you get from reading a book. Overall I didn’t mind the graphic novel at all, but I don’t think I’ll read a lot of them unless I am looking for a different way to read a familiar story or some really interesting or good artwork.

Now for the story. Like I mentioned, because I read it as a graphic novel, I feel there were details and other things I missed. However, the overall story was pretty interesting. I’ve tried to read The Hobbit several time, but I always seem to get bored. This method of reading it allowed me to get through the whole book and not be bored. It has actually produced some interest in me to read the actual book. The story line was interesting in that you got to see what a homebody was like on his first adventure – his fears, hopes, homesickness, and why he was helping everyone. You cheered for the dwarves as they tried to reclaim their land. You worried about the dragon and got to see the battle that helps when greed rules lives. The story moved along well and there was plenty of action to be had. I can see how it would draw a lot of people, especially men, to the story line. Bilbo is a very relateable character and the other characters were sketched out well.

I think this is a great book and that graphic novels, for others I suspect, is a fabulous and interesting way to read a book and appreciate art. The story was appropriate for all ages that can follow it, probably about 10 and up I’d say on the lower end. If you have someone that young, I would definitely start with this graphic novel as a way to get them involved in the book and interested in reading the full book. If you want to try out a graphic novel, this is a great one to start with as it follows a familiar story and has great art work.

My rating:

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2015 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge · 2015 Pop Sugar Book Challenge · Book Reviews

All Through the Night: A Troubleshooters Christmas by Suzanne Brockmann

 

I actually love this book. This is probably the seventh or eighth time I’ve read it. When I saw I needed to do a book about an LGTB character for my Book Riot challenger I had no clue what to do. For some reason I completely forgot about the Troubleshooters series with a character I love being gay. I luckily remembered it the other day driving to work. I chose to do the book that covers his wedding to his partner (it’ll also count for my book set during Christmas for my Pop Sugar challenge).

Jules Cassidy is a high-level FBI field operative that has planned a strong role in the majority of the Troubleshooters series. He is a fascinating and awesome character. There were several of the books I read just because he was in it. His partner is Robin Chadwick, an actor, recovering alcoholic, and a gay man who came out of the closet in a very big way. The two have had a really rocky relationship, actually no relationship – just a lot of wishful thinking and sex, over the course of I think three or four books. They actually share an ex – Adam Wyndahm. They decide to get married and this book covers the proposal, prep, and ceremony.

Suzanne Brockmann actually does a fantastic job of winding three or more story lines together. There is the main story line – the men getting married, but there are actually two or three secondary story lines that occur. There is a reporter who crashes the engagement party and falls in love with their assistant Dolphina. There story line plays a major role as the reporter is cover the story of the wedding. Third, Adam starts causing trouble with his idea he is being stalked and they are after him and Robin. The three story lines intermix and intertwine effortlessly. There is drama, stress, and emotional upheaval all through the book. Adding to the mess is the President rsvping to the wedding. As Jules and Robin know a lot of Navy SEALS, counterterrorist experts, and have friends in the terrorism field, there are some issues with the President attending the wedding. The final icing on the cake is the renovations the house is under, with people often getting accidentally locked in rooms due to faulty doorknobs.

I think my favorite thing about Suzanne Brockmann’s writing is her phrasing. Some of the way she phrases things is hilarious and I often find myself laughing at how she decides to describe different characters and events. It’s not street slang or anything like that, just crazy good phrasing. Like I mentioned before as well, she intertwines multiple story lines in an effortless way that keeps you engaged throughout the entire book. I didn’t give this book a five only because I’ve read her other works and I know she does a lot more complex, involved stories. This one is an in-between book with a relatively short story and a focused story line. I would recommend reading the other books before this one. You do not get a lot of the jokes or references if you haven’t read the other books first.

My rating:

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2015 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge · Book Reviews

The Swindler (El Buscón) by Francisco de Quevedo

 

This book took the picaresque writing style to heart and is a great example of the style. The goal of picaresque is a story is where the main character gets by on his or her wits, primarily through cons, theft, and deceit. Those elements are layered all throughout this book. The main character gets drawn in to the world through necessity, but develops an affinity for the lies, tricks, and cons. His pursuit of a lifestyle draws him deeper into the world as his cons work, fail, work, and fail. You do get to see that a life of crime is no party.

The book follows Pablos from a young age. It is broken into two parts. The first part follows him as he is sent to school by his parents. He becomes a servant for a wealthy friend and follows him through different schools, facing hunger and poverty regularly.  He gets a letter from his uncle about his parents being arrested and he returns home to collect his inheritance and decide to go to Madrid in order to distance himself from his relations. On his way, he meets a con man who introduces him to a life of thievery and cons.

Start book two. The con man welcomes him into his band of cheats. They all instruct him on different ways to con, lie, and deceive. He learns to rig dice and card games, beg and not be recognized, have dinner with others and never have to pay, and ‘collect’ items to re-sell for profit. After the band is arrested, Pablos bribes a guard and gets out. He remakes himself as a gentleman. He woos a wealthy woman but is eventually found out. He is forced to flee Madrid. He eventually marries and the move to the New World to start anew.

It is rather fascinating how he manages to get through life. You get to read about his different cons and those going on around him. You learn a lot about the thief world of the middle ages and how a person got drawn into it. You don’t particularly get to know Pablos very well, but you empathize with him somewhat. There are points you cheer for him to succeed and other times you get annoyed with the cons he runs. How he gets into trouble, gets out of it, or manages to flee is interesting to read. However, the book is rather dry. There is not a lot of action or drama. It is rather like reading a biography. Readers of today I think would find it somewhat boring. The content is somewhat interesting, but you really need to want to read it in order to finish it.

My rating:

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2015 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge · Book Reviews

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter #3) by J. K. Rowling

 

This was definitely my favorite of the Harry Potter series so far. There was an emotional depth to this book I had been missing in the first two. It is the darkest of them so far, but not too dark. I was actually thoroughly captivated and engrossed the whole time I was reading.

The story follows Harry, Ron, and Hermione during their third year at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. After the crazy two first years filled with trouble from multiple angles, Harry is looking forward to an uneventful year. An escaped prisoner is known to be heading for Hogwarts and Harry in particular. The terrifying Azkaban prison guards, Dementors, are roaming the school grounds and have a few terrifying encounters with Harry. Hagrid and his animals get in trouble after he takes over as instructor for the Care of Magical Creatures class. Professor is harsher on the students than usual and there are mysterious happenings in the castle – sightings of the prisoners and strange behavior from the new professor. When Harry, Ron, and Hermione finally piece together the true story behind the escaped prisoner and the death of Harry’s parents, their world is turned upside down. With the help of Dumbledore, they break several wizarding rules in order to make things right.

You really get a view into the characters and their emotional growth in this book. You get a feeling of closeness with the three friends and particularly Harry since the book is told from his point of view. The growth of the characters is seen in their behavior and actions. You start seeing the kind of people they will be turning into later (not that I actually know what they will be like, I haven’t watch those movies or read those books). The history supplied in this book really helps with where the story line is going. You learn more about Harry’s parents and get an idea of the atmosphere of the time when they died. The are two new important characters introduced in this book and you definitely get to know them quite well. I’m not going to explain much of that because I don’t want to give anything away, but their characters are well developed, their integration into Harry’s life is seamless, and their own personal stories solid.

The structure of the story, the development of the storyline and plot for this book are impeccable. I loved the way the story unfolded. You were pulled in to story and held in its twisting, turning, and surprising grip. The pursuit of the truth is a solid theme of this book, along with friendship, loyalty, and bravery. There are also some more elements of sneakiness and mischief as the boys grow into teenagers. Also, you see Hermione start to feel the hormones as she tries to be true to herself and grow in her friendships. She struggles a lot which is good to see in a way as it gives a good image of what it is really like for a girl growing up and trying to be herself. I think it is a great book for tweens and teens to read. There is a lot of action, but the hidden themes I mention are strong and good for children to learn. I thoroughly enjoyed it and there wasn’t anything in there I wouldn’t let a child of mine read. Well done!

My rating:

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2015 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge · Book Reviews

Seriously Mum, What’s an Alpaca? by Alan Parks

 

I found this book for free through the Kindle store one day and it sounded amusing. I am really glad I picked it up. It is a refreshing story of a couple in their mid-years, maybe 40s or 50s, I’m not really sure, giving up their current life and relocating somewhere else to pursue a dream.

Alan and Lorna Park lived in England, but when Lorna began to experience health issues and could not continue work as a dance teacher, Alan suggested they pack up, move to Spain, and raise alpacas. They had fallen in love with the alpacas at the local park and felt they would be happy living in the country raising and breeding the animals, and there was a good bit of money to be had in the business as well. They went for it – and here is there story. It is full of hilarious humor and terrible heartache as you listen to Alan describe the first five years in their endeavor. The animals make guest appearances with little written notes at the end of a few chapters. You meet the interesting individuals they meet as they search for a home, learn about alpacas from another breeder, and meet their new neighbors. The antics and events are completely real and believable. It doesn’t feel forced or exaggerated. You feel for Lorna and Alan and the animals at their farm. You can sympathize and laugh at their predicaments, celebrations, and random happenings. I was very much amused by the animal count at the beginning of the different chapters. Through Alan you could feel their passion and love for all the animals and why they chose to do what they did. You learn a lot about country living, solar power, Spanish farmers, Spain, and particularly alpacas. The writing is smooth and it is an easy read. Since the couple is British, the references to distances, heights, and weights use the metric system, which is a little difficult for American readers. Some of their lingo is a little different too, but it’s fairly easy to understand.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. It is a great story about taking that leap of faith and pursuing a dream. It will definitely not go as planned. It will not be pretty or easy. There will be things you hadn’t even thought of which will make you rethink your decision. But at the end of the day, you stay. Why? Because you are finally happy.

My rating:

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2015 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge · Book Reviews

The Cat Who Said Cheese (Cat Who…#18) by Lilian Jackson Braun

I used to read this series when I was in high school. It is actually a quite wholesome and non-violent mystery series. I mean, there are violent crimes, but you never get the gruesome details, only the emotional fall out. The stories are based around Jim Qwilleran and his two Siamese cats Koko and Yum Yum. Qwill is a retired crime reported from the city who moved to the small town of Pickaxe in rural Moose County after inheriting a large fortune. Most of the fortune he put into a fund that is administrated by a board of directors who see to its use in helping Moose County and its residents. Now Qwill tends to get mixed up in solving the local crimes with the help of Koko, the uncommonly intelligent cat. The two of them unofficially help solve most of the more important cases in the county. Thus, the series unfolds in a description of the multiple cases they help work on and the unusual antics the town residents and the cats get up to.

In this particular story, there is a mystery woman called Anoosh whose hotel room gets blown up, luckily without her in it. Following this are two other deaths that no one can seem to figure out, one a murder and the other a death resulting from multiple bee stings. Qwill investigates all of them, quietly of course, and meets a host of interesting characters. You follow him as he untangles the crisscrossing of information from witnesses, friends, and Koko. In the background are the interactions and normal happenings of the small county and town. Qwill gets suckered into being a judge in a contest and a bachelor for auction at a fundraiser. You get to visit with the cast of colorful characters that make up the town and invade each book, such as Qwill’s lady friend Polly, the local sheriff, the manager of the local newspaper, and Qwill’s unofficial sidekick and helper, a nice elderly lady with a hilarious personality.

I love these stories as there is little swearing, violence, or smut. Like I said before, it is a wholesome read, appropriate for nearly every age. The story line is full of twists and turns and makes for good reading. The antics of the residents as spice to the small town life and interest to the story. There are a couple story lines that follow through several books which keeps you reading as well. Even though a story about a retired writer might seem boring, these are anything but. I started with this particular book way back in middle school and read the rest of the series from there. I am glad I again started with this book. It is a good example of the writing and characters that Mrs. Braun uses in her writing. I encourage everyone to try at least one of her books.

My rating:

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