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 Pop Sugar Book Challenge, Book Reviews

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

I have a friend who absolutely LOVES Alice in Wonderland. I’ve never seen the animated movie and I’ve watched snippets of the Sy-Fy Channel’s Alice movie. So when I saw the audiobook on sale in the iTunes store, I thought “Why not?”.

Let me begin by saying the audiobook I downloaded was actually done extremely well. It was made by an acting group – the Wizard Academy Press , so each character had a different voice actor. I loved the narrator and the woman who played Alice. There was music and sound effects as well. For an audiobook, it was very engaging.

I knew it was going to be a little strange going in, but I was quite surprised by how strange. Science Fiction is usually not my thing, not that this is exactly science fiction, but neither is it fantasy. I usually like fantasy, but this book was just not my cup of tea. I do give the author credit for creating a very vivid and crazy world that created a comprehensive story line though. It was well written and to most people probably quite interesting. It did grow on me some the longer I read it, especially once Alice got out of the hallway and to the White Rabbit’s house.

The story follows Alice after she falls down a rabbit hole. She goes through many adventures and meets numerous characters. She initially meets the White Rabbit, following him down the rabbit hole. Then she meets a few animals as she is swimming in the Pool of Tears. There is also the Hatter, the March Hare, the Dormouse, and the members of the pack of cards, with the King and Queen of Hearts as their leaders. Throughout it all, Alice is constantly growing and shrinking to fit the needs of the different environments and situations she ends up in.

If I were to listen or read it again, I would probably go with the written book just to make sure. However, I’m not sure I’m likely to read it again. Like I said, it wasn’t really my version of an interesting book, just strange. Also, the majority of the time I spent criticizing Alice for being idiotic in my opinion. So like I said, not my thing, but I’m sure others really enjoy this book. I don’t think I’d really let children under probably 12 or 13 read it because there are drug references, violence, and some more advanced topics, such as a philosophical discussion on time, that are scattered throughout the book.

My rating:

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2015 Pop Sugar Book Challenge, Book Reviews

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle

 

I was actually quite surprised by this book. It was written in language on the modern end of old English. The phrasing and some of the vocabulary are old and interesting, but for the most part the language and phrasing are very common, probably intended for the general public to be able to read and understand it.

The book is also written in a series of events, I guess you could call them. They are not short stories exactly, but each chapter is its own event. The combination of all the stories and the order they are in create the story of Robin Hood – it is not one stream-lined novel. For example, one chapter is about how Robin Hood meets Little John and another is how he meets Will Scarlet. There is also a chapter on the archery match that Robin Hood participates in for the Queen. The rest are simply stories of their life in the woods and how they robbed different people. The methods they used were different for each chapter and were interesting to read about. One particularly interesting chapter was when Robin Hood and Little John challenged each other to see which would be a better day – spending one as a beggar or one as a wandering friar. Little John’s chapter followed his day as a wandering friar and the next chapter followed Robin Hood’s day as a beggar. These are the kind of stories that fill the many chaptered novel of life in Sherwood Forest.

The thing that stood out the most to me was how much Hollywood has taken this original story of Robin Hood and changed it. There is no Maid Marion in the book at all. Robin Hood (SPOILER ALERT) actually dies at the end, which is pretty much unheard of. You also see him during three different rulers – King Harry, King Henry, and King John. There is actually very little between Robin Hood and Prince John, they only really become enemies at the very end when Robin decides to leave the King’s service. It does talk a little about how much he was favored by King Henry. There were a few stories where he interacted with King Harry. And there was an animosity between Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham, but it is not a key part of the story line. Also, Robin Hood and his band are very clearly thieves and con artists, nice ones and they donated to the poor, but definitely thieves.

I’d recommend this to anyone who likes adventures stories, stories about merry old England, or likes the history of Robin Hood. It is definitely not for everyone, but the book is appropriate for almost any age. The language will annoy some people and the pieced together story line will be hard for some people to understand and follow. However, the story moves along and can be put down and picked up again easily. I’d probably read it again if I was bored and looking for something to read, but that probably won’t be for a good while.

My rating:

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2015 Pop Sugar Book Challenge, Book Reviews

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

This book written from the point of view of a seven year old, so it was a little too young for me to connect with the characters. The story follows young Laura Ingalls through about two years living on a settlement in the middle of the woods. All her highs and lows and the joys of living you only can see through a child’s eyes. You see the simple life that people lived and how the appreciated the simplest of gifts and play. There were no X-boxes, and the best gifts you got for Christmas were a new dress or doll – not both usually. It gives you a new respect for what is truly important in life.

You do learn a lot about frontier life and what it took to survive. The book covers storing food, making butter, drying fruits and vegetables, canning, and storing meats. It also discusses the different dangers surrounding the settlers, such as bears and severe weather. Also, they cover collecting sap and making syrup. The book further emphasizes how much the settlers relied on each other and how they would help each other to prepare for the cold winter months. Furthermore, you learn how the settlers had to plan each week out so that everything got done – Cleaning on Monday, butter on Tuesday, Baking on Friday, Bathing on Saturday, etc. Everything they did was for a specific purpose that would help them survive. Faith and religion are also strongly reinforced and held in high respect.

It is a great story for learning about frontier living, but it is written for much younger readers. I did enjoy the information I learned and would be interested in reading the other books in the future to learn more about frontier life. The book does help you to look at your current life in a new way and to appreciate what you have.

My rating:

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2015 Pop Sugar Book Challenge, Book Reviews

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

 

I chose to read this book because it always pops up around Halloween and I felt like reading it. Usually, I am pleasantly surprised by classics and I fall in love with them. However, it was not the case with this book. After reading it, I chose to place it in my reading challenge as “a book with bad reviews”. After I read it, I looked it up on Goodreads and Amazon and I was not surprised to find that others did not like it as well.

My biggest issue was the story line – there really wasn’t one. The story opens with Icabod Crane moving to Sleepy Hollow to teach and starting to woo a wealthy heiress. There are other suitors that are also vying for her attention. The story discusses two or three times he meets with her and ends when he is chased by the headless horseman and disappears. That’s it. That’s the whole story. There really isn’t any emotional depth to the characters, actually you don’t know much about anyone except Ichabod. The book talks a lot about how superstitious he is and how he studies the various myths and legends of ghosts and witches, thus leading to him being so utterly terrified by the headless horseman. Also, I usually love the language used in classics, but in this book it didn’t work as well. There wasn’t a large range of vocabulary and the sentences and phrases were all set up similarly which did not help the story in any way.

I do have to say that as an audiobook, the narrator, James Mio, did a phenomenal job. He added a lot of emotion to his voice and stressed different words and phrases to add emphasis, as well as drawing out different areas to create suspense. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t recommend this book, which is rare for me. For as much drama and action the narrator added, it was really dry and boring.

My rating:

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2015 Pop Sugar Book Challenge, Book Reviews

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

 

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I don’t know why, but I really loved it. It is actually quite a sad and depressing story, but it was just so beautifully written and so believable I just like it. I particularly liked the language and vocabulary used by the author. The writing is very eloquent and descriptive. Furthermore, there is a lot of character depth provided to the characters and you feel for everything they are going through.

The book is set in a Puritan settlement of colonial Boston. Mrs. Hester Prin came over from England before her husband in order to prepare a settlement place for them. In a short while she became pregnant, clearly not by her husband. She is imprisoned and her child, little Pearl, is born in her cell. The leaders of the town assign an unusual punishment for her – she must wear a letter A in scarlet on her chest at all times for the rest of her life. She refuses to utter the name of her fellow sinner, the father of her child, and chooses to serve her sentence out peacefully and alone. One the day of her public announcement of shame, her husband appears out of the woods and witnesses her guilt and sentence. He meets with her secretly and tells her she is not to disclose his identity so that he may find and seek revenge upon her lover. The day she is released, Roger Chillingworth, her secret husband, takes up residence as the town doctor. From here, the story follows Hester, Roger Chillingworth, and the Reverend Mister Dimsdale, a public, popular, and dying patient of Roger Chillingworth. You also get to see the growth of Pearl and how she is different from other children because of her behavior and outlook on life.

The story unfolds quickly and never ceases. You get to see the evil in the world, but also the restorative power of repentance. Also, it is a highly religious book, which follows a very precise religion. You may not agree with all the rules and regulations, but you get a clear picture of the world in which these characters are living and how they see themselves in it. There is much self revelation, an example of the power of guilt on a person, and the influence of anger and hatred can have on a person. It is a fabulous rendition of a specific time and way of living that many of us have forgotten. A must read for anyone who likes literature or a good psychological read.

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 Pop Sugar Book Challenge, Book Reviews

Naked in Death (In Death #1) by J. D. Robb

 

I had read another J. D. Robb book earlier this year and had picked up Naked in Death after reading the Strangers in Death. I had greatly enjoyed Strangers in Death and wanted to start the series from the beginning. I hadn’t actually got around to reading until now.

I was blown away. There’s not other way to describe it. I thought the other book was great, but this was fantastic. It was the perfect book to start a series. I opens with Lieutenant Eve Dallas being assigned to the murder investigation of a high-class, high connected licensed companion. This murder is the first in a series of similar murders, creating issues and road blocks for Eve at every step. The murders are committed by the use of firearms – something that has been banned for the past 30 years in the book. This leads to the investigation of people who both knew the woman and has a registered firearm collection. Hence she meet Roarke. Roarke is a force of nature, a billionaire businessman that radiates power and danger. Eve with her standoff, aloof attitude surprises everyone by getting involved with him – something highly unusual for her. The romantic connect causes even more tangles that Eve has to wade through and a fine line she has to walk. Roarke has her questioning multiple aspects of her life, particularly her instincts about who she can rely on.

The murders lead Eve in multiple different circles as the following murders involve different types of women. Eve meets multiple different characters and people that later help influence the case and help solve the mysteries. Her instincts guide her even when the evidence is pointing in other directions. In the end, Eve has to face part of her past as she brings justice back for the victims.

The writing of this book was fantastic. The unfolding of the story was flawless and the twists and turns it took were seamless while at the same time being surprising. I am so glad I read this. It is a great example of murder mystery and romantic suspense rolled up into one book. I look forward to reading more of the series and getting to know Eve and Roarke better. Anyone looking for a new romantic suspense or mystery series should definitely try this one out. It is somewhat graphic, but no more so than any of the police tv shows currently on television.

My rating:

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2015 Pop Sugar Book Challenge, Book Reviews

Lazarillo de Tormes

 

I actually had read this book before. I was a Spanish major in college and I had to do a report on this book for my Spanish literature class. Of course that time it was in Spanish. I greatly enjoyed reading it in English. It was actually better than I remember. I’m not saying its fantastic and I’ll read it all the time, but an occasional read may once a year of so it would be good for.

It is a surprisingly short read, only seven chapters long (about 60 pages). The story follows a boy named Lazaro de Tormes (Lazarillo is his nickname) as he writes a letter to “Your Honour” about his life before ending up being the town-crier for the church in Toledo, Spain. Each chapter covers a different master he served. The first is a rather evil blind beggar he is employed by to help move from city to city and to run errands. The second is a stingy priest who almost starves him to death. The third is a rather nice country squire who actually turns out to be more poor than Lazarillo himself. Lazarillo actually goes back to begging for the both of them to earn food and money. Next is another priest, not quite as bad as his previous matters, but does too much traveling for Lazarillo. The fifth master was another clergyman, this one a trickster who sold “Papal Indulgences” that would guarantee a place in heaven. Lazarillo leaves him as well. He ends up in Toledo working for a priest by leading a water mule around town and selling water.

Through each episode of his servitude, you hear the tricks and scams the masters played in order to get money. The majority of the time, Lazarillo is either denied food or given very little so his master can save money. You learn his struggle with hunger and poverty and feel for his pain. You seem him try to stay true to his faith and not become an evil person like his masters. He ends up as he wanted – a respectable citizen with some money and a home.

The book is written very simply. It is a very quick, easy read with simple vocabulary and sentence structures. There is not a whole lot of cultural information imparted, but you get a little bit of knowledge about the different classes and what is expected. The country squire Lazarillo serves actually shares the most about expectations and the reality of gentlemen during the time. There is also a lot of scheming in the church by the priests.

I wouldn’t recommend this to just anyone. It is definitely a book you would go looking for instead of just picking it up and reading it. It would be quite boring to a lot of people. I like it for its simplicity and its contribution to Spanish literature. If you are looking for an educational read, a small biography of hard times, this is the book for you.

My rating:

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