The 2016 Reading Challenge Begins

I write every November. Without fail, I write at least 50,000 words in the month of November. And the rest of the year, I do write a handful of blog entries (at 101 Achievements, not so much here), and I do some freelance contract writing on the side. But that’s it. November, some blog entries, some contract assignments and… that’s all I’ve got.

And that’s fine, for someone who doesn’t have in her heart that maybe someday she wants to be a writer. For someone who wants to make a go of this full-time, the occasional blog post or month of feverishly adding to word count isn’t enough. So 2016 is going to be different. I have promised myself this: 2016 is going to be a year that I take a better approach to working on creative pursuits. This, obviously, means working on writing, but it also means other creative pursuits, like cooking and dancing and reading.

I’ve been a member of Goodreads for a few years now, although I don’t always keep up with updating it. Each new year, they send you a little note that’s like, ‘Hey you, why not decide on a reading goal for the year!’ So this year, I did. I decided (quite arbitrarily) on 40 books. I’m not the fastest reader, but I thought that was manageable.

A couple of days later, a friend of mine posted on Facebook about a reading challenge she had embarked upon. Curious, I looked at the list, and what do you know, it’s 40 different books.

So here it is: the forty types of books I will read in 2016.

I have a very real tendency to read only the same types of books (mostly supernatural YA books), and I am optimistic that this will get me out of my comfort zone. I’ll be using this blog to talk about what I’ve read. I’m 2.5 books in so far, which is technically ‘behind’ schedule, but I always catch up on reading over vacation, which is coming up at the end of next month.

First up was A Book Written By A Celebrity. For Christmas in 2015, I got this book by Betty White, as well as Rue McClanahan’s autobiography (because I have a kind of serious Golden Girls addiction). While I wouldn’t really count this for the autobiography category, it definitely fits ‘written by a celebrity.’

I really loved If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won’t). It’s not a full account of Betty White’s life, but more like little bits of advice and interesting anecdotes from the adventures of her first 89 years. Betty White is SO sweet and positive and full of energy. Her attitude really reminds me of her Golden Girls character, Rose Nylund (although clearly the smarter, more sensible edition of Rose). Betty White holds true to her values, and she approaches things with such good spirits.

Of course, she won me over with her discussions on her work with animal rescue. She donates a lot of time and money to animal causes, and she’s a girl after my own heart in that way.

But I think the chapter that spoke the most to me was about her decision to remain childfree. As a childfree 30something, I get comments all the time, discouraging my choice. They range from the standard, ‘oh you’ll change your mind!’ all the way to ‘well that’s not fair to your husband that you refuse to have kids’ (nevermind the fact that he doesn’t want them either). It wears you down sometimes, feeling like you have to always be on the defensive when the question ‘do you have kids’ comes up.

Betty White addresses this so succinctly: “Barbara Walters once asked me if I had ever desired to have a child. The answer is, I never did think about it.”

Just: boom. mic drop. didn’t think about it. let’s move on.

She goes on to discuss what an individual choice it is for every woman, to decide whether or not to have kids, but she never apologizes. She’s not defensive. She’s just like, ‘hey, I’m 89 (the book was written in 2011), I never had kids, I’m happy with my decision, and if you want them, fine, but if you don’t, fine also, you do you, and you might mean childfree.’ I have a LOT of respect for someone who can put it so simply and matter-of-fact-ly.

And also, the next time I get a comment from a nebby person, I can be like, ‘Me and Betty White! We just love our dogs!’ So thanks, girl, for helping a fellow childfree broad out.

Overall rating: 5 of 5 stars. Enjoyed the book start to finish. It was an easy read, but you can take your time through it, really enjoying all the stories. Betty speaks from the heart, and I loved every minute of it.

Book #2 will not receive as positive a review, unfortunately. My second book was my Book With A Blue Cover, Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella.

Let me start by saying that I will read pretty much any book that Sophie Kinsella puts out. She’s hilarious. I feel like, across my reading experience, British authors tend to do Chick Lit a lot better than American authors do, but this book feels kind of flat for me. (Some mild spoilers ahead, most of which you can get from reading the back of the book.)

The premise is this: Lottie, a 30something who’s just itching to get married and start a family, breaks up with her longtime boyfriend after an embarrassing non-proposal at a restaurant. In her usual style of ‘unfortunate decisions’ (a term her sister Fliss has coined to explain the bad choices Lottie makes immediately after a breakup), she hooks up with her first love, Ben, a man she hasn’t seen since the summer they spent together in Greece 15 years earlier. Both of them having recently been through crises (Ben has just lost his father and been forced to take over the family business, despite any experience in doing so), they decide to get married and go back to the place where they met and fell in love.

What follows is a series of awful decisions by most of the characters. Yes, it’s got some hilarious moments, but they are overshadowed by the cringe-worthy ones. The ending ties up neatly, but not in the way I started out hoping that it would. Honestly, I just felt like there was something missing, which is not something I often feel after finishing a Sophie Kinsella novel.

Overall rating: 3 of 5 stars. Still funny, but I was kind of disappointed with the characters’ behaviors in a few scenes. And the ending just didn’t quite work for me. In the middle of the book, I felt a very clear emotion of, ‘this is how I would be happy to see this end up,’ and it just didn’t end that way. While the ending made sense by the time it happened, and characters’ actions in the chapters leading up to the climax reinforced *why* it had to end that way, I was just kind of underwhelmed.

All 40 can’t be great! And besides, this is probably the first Sophie Kinsella book I’ve been this disappointed with, so it’s not like I’m going to give up on her as an author.

I’m about halfway through book #3 right now, which is Logan’s Run. This fits into a couple of the categories, so we’ll see where I end up counting it. Loving it so far though.


2 down, 38 to go.

An Ambitious Undertaking: Now with More Orphans!

So, a few days ago, I was reading Buzzfeed, as one is wont to do for hours at a time entirely on accident. I’m sure it started with something like, ’42 Dogs Who Are Having the Best Ice Cream Sandwich Ever!’ and spiraled into ’17 Horses in Unflattering Hats!’ and before I knew it, I was reading the ‘Definitive Ranking of All 131 Baby-Sitters Club Cover Outfits. This was, quite possibly, the most majestic list ever made on Buzzfeed (and that says a lot, coming from a broad like me who falls into a Buzzfeed hole at least once a week).

But it got me thinking.

I need a literary or creative project to keep me motivated alongside working on my own personal writing. My husband, over the past two years, participated in this challenge called #NerdBery, where he read every single Newbery winner in chronological order. While he complained a lot through the 1920s, he otherwise seemed to enjoy the event. And I kind of have this addiction to reading Full House Reviewed, which is exactly what it sounds like, every episode of Full House watched and reviewed in chronological order.

And then, this definitive ranking of all outfits of all Baby-Sitters Club books?

So I did what any ambitious nerd girl with a desire to embark upon a project that’s probably bigger than she needs would do: I took to social media for advice.

If I was going to read an entire series of books that were popular in our youth (and this is, indeed, what I was setting out to do), which one should I choose? In the end, I narrowed it down to these options:

Baby-Sitters Club
Boxcar Children
Sweet Valley High
Encyclopedia Brown
Saddle Club

Encyclopedia Brown was a little on the short end, and Saddle Club I just threw in there because, OMG I love horses. But the real decision came down to the top four on that list. The debate got a little heated, but in the end, we threw out Goosebumps

(mostly because all of my posts would be like this, and also because I greatly feared that books I thought were goofy as a pre-teen would be terrifying to me in my 30s.)

Apparently, there is someone else out there reading and reviewing the Baby-Sitters Club series. And I just didn’t think I had the patience to read Sweet Valley High, because, although I’ve never read any of them, I presume it must be like 140 typewritten volumes of the movie Clueless.

And also, it seems my friends are really emotionally invested in the idea of me reading the entire Boxcar Children series.

My friend William even went so far as to find me a checklist of all 133 books, in order.

Lucy's Ready to Read
And Lucy offered to help me read.

And then it turns out that the first twelve volumes were on super sale at Amazon…

So, I made myself this fine-looking notebook (I couldn’t find a 1980s-style Lisa Frank notebook, so I made this one myself with dog stickers), and starting this week, I will be embarking upon the journey of reading all 133 original edition Boxcar Children books, and blogging about it here.

I haven’t come up with a definitive format or timeline yet. I think I’m going to see how the first 2 or 3 volumes go and then take it from there. It’s been a looooooong time since I read these books, but I can promise you that I will bring you the finest in survival skills that I learn, and also, that you will have to deal with me complaining a LOT about how my life is not as good as those of the Boxcar Children when I get to that volume where they move into the houseboat.

So, check back as the week goes on to see my progress. I hope these are just as wonderful as I remember them, but also with maybe some bad fashion mistakes like I’m sure the Baby-Sitters Club would have delivered.

Christmas Came Early!

Oh yes, that’s right, days before my favorite holiday of the year, Christmas arrived on my doorstep.

A few weeks ago, I randomly stumbled onto a Tweet mentioning a blog doing a YA book giveaway. Since I’m always looking for new YA books to read, and especially since that little train-time pledge to be more dilligent about posting here and reviewing books I read, I checked out the blog and entered the giveaway.

And I won!!!!

(I am totally the type of girl who NEVER wins anything, so this was extra exciting.)

The giveaway was from the lovely ladies at Short and Sweet Reviews, a review blog that specializes in concise-but-informative book reviews (which I find great in my time-strapped life).

I got five books in my first shipment, four that I had picked out of a list that Coranne emailed to me, and a fifth that was a surprise, based on what my other selections were.

Even Lucy was excited for this special delivery (she’s more interested in how books smell than what they’re about, but I appreciate her enthusiasm anyway).

A day or two later, a sixth book arrived, and I am now fully set with reading material for quite a few weeks! I’ve already read one book out of this package (Various Positions by Martha Schabas), which I loved and will be reviewing here shortly.

In the meantime, I invite you to check out Short and Sweet Reviews – they’re doing all sorts of giveaways right now, so you could be the next one to receive a stack of books in the mail! Thanks again, ladies!!

That In-Between Time

So… It’s the end of December… which means that it’s been a month since I’ve done any serious writing (and we can hardly refer to this year’s NaNoWriMo debacle as ‘serious’), and also a month since I’ve sent any queries, and furthermore, it is about another month before I plan to send any future queries because… I guess you’re not supposed to.

This means I am doing something I absolutely suck at, and that is BEING PATIENT.

For the record, I am like, 283849283 times better at being patient than my husband, but, in the event that you do not know my husband, let me just inform you that this is not saying much.

So right now I am SUCKING at being patient, and I am flopping around the house and listening to pretty much nonstop U2 and Cure albums while catching up on reading all the YA novels my family bought me for Christmas (thanks guys!) and *kind of* savoring the fact that the longer I put off sending out my next query letter, the longer I have before my next rejection.

Errr. Wait a minute. I didn’t mean that last bit. Send me all the rejection letters you have, agents. What does not kill me only makes me retreat into a hole and consider waitressing stronger, and besides, I shall need all of those letters for my fabulous rejection letter dress, which I am planning to make floor-length with loads of gratuitous drapey-ness.

So, read I shall, and obsessively reflect on how I know just what Bono feels in “Stay (Faraway So Close!),” I shall do far more than I probably should (seriously, if you aren’t listening to that song about 6 times a day, you’re probably not making your roommates as sad as I’m making my husband missing out).

Right now, I’m part of the way through all of the following:

Forever by Maggie Stiefvater
Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
The Scorpio Races also by Maggie Stiefvater
and some weird self-help book called You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay which is making me want to run away and live in the woods and hug things

So maybe I’ll do a review of one or more of these. I’m stretching out Beautiful Chaos because I came into the series late and powered through the first two books in about a week because I was so wrapped up, and I find myself not wanting this to ever, ever end (which is also the same reason I haven’t read the fourth book in the Pellinor series by Alison Croggon, despite having it in my posession for the better part of a year). Forever, on the other hand, is also a third book, the conclusion to the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy, and I’m just ready for that story to end, so that’s probably first to finish on this list.

Also in the pipeline are the Hunger Games books (got the full set for Christmas), and a poetry compilation from Anne Sexton (the poet who killed herself on my birthday and was the inspiration for my favorite Dave Matthews Band song). So yeah. I’ll fill the waiting days with books and reviews. And I’ll probably write about the Chili Peppers again. Maybe twice.

Happy holidays, merry Christmas, and a very happy new year to everyone! And may we all find the next step we’re searching for in 2012.