2019 Reading Challenge: 10 to Go!

I’ve hit 30 books read, with 5 1/2 months left to go in 2019. I think it’s safe to make a stretch-goal of 60 books. Especially since I’ve pre-ordered a few books by authors I love, and I *just* downloaded the Libby app (which gives me access to e-books through libraries) so I don’t need to be as choosy about which books get my dollars.

To Recap:

  1. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
  2. The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins
  3. Wildcard by Marie Lu
  4. Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne
  5. Seafire by Natalie C. Parker
  6. Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer
  7. The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donad Maass
  8. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  9. Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart
  10. The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman
  11. Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody
  12. Courting Darkness by Robin LeFevers
  13. The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
  14. The Glass Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
  15. The Master Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
  16. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
  17. “I Give You My Body…” by Diana Gabaldon
  18. Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman
  19. A Question of Holmes by Brittany Cavallaro
  20. Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusa

  21. The Firethorn Crown – Lea Doué (12 sisters become cursed to dance each night in an enchanted garden until the eldest agrees to release the cursed prince by marrying him–and forfeiting her own crown, and chance at happiness)
  22. Shatter Me – Tahereh Mafi (SO GOOD. A girl who can kill with merely a touch is kidnapped to become a weapon, but escapes with a boy she remembers from her childhood. The villain is really well written, and the language is poetic without being too flowery/overdone)
  23. The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein – Kiersten White (what if Victor Frankenstein had a playmate who tried to temper his more sociopathic tendencies?)
  24. King of Fools – Amanda Foody (the sequel to Ace of Shades)
  25. Girl, Stop Apologizing – Rachel Hollis (I thought Girl, Wash Your Face was good, but this one was even more empowering for me. Highly recommend!)
  26. Legacy of Kings – Eleanor Herman (plops Alexander the great into a fantasy world)
  27. Girls of Glass – Brianna Labuskes (A detective whose young daughter was kidnapped and murdered now works a very similar case for a high-profile judge and a family with a lot to hide…)
  28. Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty (I was expecting an And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie type murder-mystery, but this took me by surprise. Nine people check into a health retreat for various reasons, only to find out things are not what they seem)
  29. The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe – Allie Condy (my gifted book from this post, a fantastic story about loss and redemption and finding a path forward beyond vengeance)
  30. Dance of Thieves – Mary E. Pearson (super sexy male MC and badass-yet-relatable female MC, a queen’s soldier is sent to find a traitor amongst an outlaw family’s kingdom, but a joint kidnapping throws her together with the leader of the outlaws, joined in their goal to survive and maintain order and peace)

 

Any suggestions for the last 10 books to round out my 2019 reading list? Have you read any of the same books? I’d love to hear what you thought!

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Rambling Review: A Quiet Place

This is — obviously — not a book review, but I just saw A Quiet Place this weekend and I want to tell everyone about it.

It was SO good. I DO NOT do horror movies — my imagination is over-active enough as it is, thankyouverymuch — so believe me when I say everyone should see this movie (yes, Mom, even you). Sure, it is suspenseful. There are a those sudden “jump out” scenes. There are flashes of gore (very brief, and I’d say almost tastefully done). So much of the movie is spent feeling a chill creep up your spine, feeling each tiny hair on the back of your neck stand up in that delicious anticipation of terror. Don’t get me wrong, this movie definitely has those elements that make great horror movies (I assume, as like I said: NOT my thing).

But there is such a depth to the story as well. The premise is fairly simple: sound = death. There are creatures who hunt solely by sound, so the family has to live in silence. Because of this, the viewer gets to interpret the story in their own way, more so than in most movies. Actions truly do speak louder than words, and the beauty of the story is found in the facial expressions, in gestures and sign language. A life lived on mute makes everything more profound — both the joys and the pains.

I was afraid I’d be terrified to make noise the whole time, but there was a comfort in the crack of popcorn kernels and the seat shifting going on around me. There were times when I breathed into my sweatshirt, trying to convey advice to the characters on the screen. And I audibly gasped, empathizing with them. The movie made me stress-sweat, wondering if I could bear what they do without making a sound. And my admiration for them all grew with each scene.

I’ve said it many times, but I love for my entertainment to also move me. This movie did that. I cried, I rejoiced, I feared, and I cheered. It lingers in a way that doesn’t make me need to keep a light on to sleep, but makes me appreciate the little things like being able to swear loudly when I stub my toe — and the big things, like how much my own parents love me.

It is suspenseful without being horrifying, sweet without being trite, sad without wallowing, and triumphant without being cheesy. A Quiet Place is so well done, and so worth seeing.

Rambling Review: The Chemical Garden Trilogy

Because of my current lack of work, I’ve had a lot more time to read. I’ve devoted a lot of this time to the Outlander series per a good friend’s insistence, but now that I’ve made it through to the fourth book, I’ve taken a break to return to the world of young adult, which I love so much.

Since the move, I’ve been staring at our beautiful bookshelf full of my beloved YA series.

And so, I thought, why search for a new book or series to get involved in, when I have so many I know are great just waiting to be re-experienced?

I know a lot of people might not re-read books. I am not one of those people. Granted, I like to let enough time pass by that I forget the minute details and get to rediscover the little things that make a story great.

This past week, I read the Chemical Garden trilogy by Lauren DeStefano. The first in the series is available on Kindle for $4.99, and you can buy the whole series for $20-23, depending on print/digital.

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The trilogy centers around Rhine, a lovely sixteen year old who’s been kidnapped and forced into marriage. Usually, marriage is the best a girl can hope for in her short life — females die at age 20, males at age 25. Rhine, however, just wants to live out her days with her twin brother, and she’s desperate to escape and return to him. The series follows her through escape attempts, adventure, budding romance, and learning all different ways to define the term “love”.

I read DeStefano’s Internment Chronicles series first — also highly recommend — before returning to her debut series. The writing in the first novel is a bit stilted at times, but I can’t say if it’s simply because she was a new author, or if it was because of the character. Sometimes the prose felt a bit distant, but that actually works for the story, since Rhine is clearly trying to distance herself from her current situation. As the story progresses and she falls deeper into the messes she and others have made, the narration is tighter, more internalized, and feels more true to who she may actually be.

As I’m sure I’ve made clear through my previous reviews, I love a good love interest. This series is particularly great at giving little snippet-views of a possible romance, without the love story overtaking the action and adventure of the actual plot. Unlike a lot of YA that has a love triangle, there isn’t an exact shape drawn between two obvious choices. Rather, much like real life, my feelings towards her “options” were fluid, rising and falling with each good and bad experience, inevitability wrapped in “what-if”s and “if only”s.

There are some great twists, and anything that might seem too coincidental I think is explained very well with enough plausibility. The ending is bittersweet, life balanced with death, joy measured through pain, and I think that might be what I like best.

 

Tequila Dance Party

Once upon a time, I worked in residential property management, which meant I got paid very little to get yelled at a lot by people for things like charging them late fees when they didn’t pay rent or sending out “pick up after your dog” letters or when a lightbulb needed to be changed but they didn’t report it until the end of the day after our maintenance team had already left and what do you mean that isn’t an emergency, it’s dark in my dining room!

There were good days, too, and wonderful residents, and the team I worked with was made up of some of my favorite people ever. The good parts don’t work for this post, though, because they did not contribute to my discovery of the best stress relief exercise ever.

After one such day that left me feeling like a total failure, I went home planning to lay on my couch and watch TV until my eyeballs bled. Instead, for reasons I still do not know, I decided to take a shot of tequila and watch YouTube videos of zumba dance moves set to Enrique Iglesias’s “Bailando” (I do not remember in which order these happened — it’s a chicken/egg situation). Next thing I know, I’m tequila-tipsy and trying my best to sexy-dance to Spanish music — AND RECORDING MYSELF. I think the recording was to show my mom I was okay. Or maybe because my friend was laughing hysterically at the idea of my tequila-dancing, and I wanted to show her how epic it was. Either way, it was horrendous and so mortifying I couldn’t possibly share it with anyone.

Except of course, my mom and my friend. I have a pretty high threshold for humiliation at my own hand. I lay on my floor and belly-laughed until I thought I was going to throw up, and it was amazing.

It became something of my own ritual: have an especially horrible day, come home, drink tequila and dance it out. I always text someone if I’m drinking alone, because drinking alone is usually frowned upon. The last time I had a tequila dance party, I told all of Twitter, so I was extra covered.

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As you can see from the likes and retweets, I have a ton of followers who really care about my goings on. Regardless, I hadn’t had a dance party like that probably since getting engaged about two years before those tweets — because who has time for fun when a wedding needs to be planned amiright? — but now that I’ve found it again, I’m not giving up my dance parties.

Tequila is my go-to party liquor. I get that it’s a controversial choice that makes a lot of people gag just hearing the name, so you know, go with whatever works for you. Also, stupid dancing is amazing fun all on its own, so there’s no real need for alcohol to have a great dance party for one. But it does help lower some inhibitions if it’s hard to get started. Closing your eyes helps, too. If you can’t see your windows, you forget people can see inside them. I try to think of the dumbest things I could possibly do with my arms or legs or head and then I do that thing, so the dancing is more kicks and jerks and wiggles and it-is-hilarious. Whatever gets your lungs working and your face hurting from grinning. The goal is to forget your worries and remember how great being alive can feel.

Rambling Review: Garden of Thorns

Recently, I’ve been reading more “adult” books (Slaughterhouse-Five, The Handmaid’s Tale — reviews to come), modern classics that make me sound more cultured and grown up than the usual YA fiction I prefer. I do feel more well-rounded, but I’ve missed the adventure and angst and inevitable romance that all winds together into nearly every young adult novel.

Garden of Thorns by Amber Mitchell popped up on my Amazon recommendations, and I couldn’t resist. In all honesty, I was fully prepared to re-read any one of my favorites I already own, but currently they would need to be fished out of boxes, and Garden of Thorns was only $3.99 on Kindle, so I figured I’d take a chance on it.

The story is about a girl, Rose, who is part of a traveling entertainment troupe called the Garden — in which the Flowers dance and the Wilteds are punished for any infraction the Flowers make. The Gardener is cruel and abusive, and very early on we get to see just how devastating life in the Garden can be. Rose manages to escape, only to find herself in a rebellion against an emperor every bit as cruel and emotionless as the Gardener. All she wants is to free her sisters from the Garden, but first she has to prove herself worthy of the rebellion’s help.

Her growth throughout the novel is a beautiful thing. She struggles with trust issues and hope, vacillating between the two nearly constantly. Frustrating and relatable, it sometimes seems like one step forward is met with two steps back. I soared with her triumphs and screamed (internally) when she seemed to have run out of chances for success. As a reader, her fears seemed objectively ridiculous but also extremely valid at the same time. The frequent reminders of her past felt repetitive at first, but were necessary to continuously explain her hesitations.

I’m not sure if this is a stand alone novel or part of a series. Unlike most series, the ending was satisfying and didn’t hint at another story waiting to be told. I’d be perfectly happy with this as its own novel, but I can’t deny I’d love to see Rose and the others back for another adventure.

Rambling Review: The Virgin Suicides

Virgin Suicides

References to The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides kept popping up around me recently, so I decided to check out this modern classic for myself. I can’t deny I’m into darker/heavier stories like the synopsis suggests (5 sisters kill themselves within a single year) and was intrigued right off the bat by a collective narrator (the story is told by the neighborhood boys as a whole).

Because it’s a relatively slim paperback, I brought it along on vacation, intending to read it on the beach or during down-time between activities. This encouraged a lot of horrified feedback from my friends, who always ask what I’m reading. They then spent the week checking in by asking “how many girls have died now?” then following my answer up with a head shake and a “why do you read stuff like that?”  That’s how I discovered pretty much my entire group of friends consists of happy, shiny people like my husband who prefer little depth and pain in their entertainment.

Leaving aside my friends’ responses, this is not a good beach read. In the way of most classics, the story needs your attention for good chunks of time. I found myself re-reading sentences and chapters and getting frustrated because I couldn’t devote more focus to it.

The story is beautifully written. There are some of the lovely descriptions and word-pictures that I love, and the fact that it’s like the neighborhood boys have sat me down to tell me their observations adds a touch of near-innocence to a tragic experience. Rather than being a novel about suicide, it’s more of a love letter to the sisters from the boys who grew up watching them.

It is sad. The parents are misguided and in my opinion arrogant in their negligence. The novel does discuss suicide, the ways the sisters end their lives, in just enough detail to make the reader uncomfortable without turning it into a caricature. Suicide should make a person uncomfortable to read about.

But it’s also a subject that is treated with respect. Eugenides captures the bewilderment and guilt and shock and grief that lingers over those left behind. The narrator shows how suicide affects a neighborhood, the process one goes through to try to understand something no one will explain outright.

It is a heavy book. It’s tragic and inevitable and beautiful. A modern classic, indeed.

Road-Trip Playlists

It’s officially summer. The perfect time for a road-trip. And what is a road-trip without music?

Not something I’d enjoy, that’s for sure. A good road-trip playlist is even more important than snacks — and this might be the only time I say ANYTHING is more important than snacks.

I will say, Spotify has a decent “Road Trip Sing-Along” playlist that was well-received by all four members of my most recent road-trip. We listened to it on shuffle so it was kind of all over the place between classic rock and throwback pop and more current hits, but pretty much every song was great.

Usually, I prefer to make my own playlists. For our upcoming two- to three-day drive to St. Louis from the D.C. area, I’ve already started on two different lists, and may now make a third.

When you first leave, everyone is usually super pumped to be on the road and looking forward to the adventures that await — both on the journey and at the destination. You’re amped and you want your music to reflect that energizing optimism. My first playlist is full of pump-up music like “Forgot About Dre” (because none of my road-trips — however long or short — is complete without it) and “Danza Kuduro”  and “Shake it Off”. It floods the car with aggressive beats to get you going.

But then the excitement wears off (especially if you’ve left early in the morning) and the pump-up playlist is too loud. So my follow-up playlist is mellow and calm. It’s got songs like “Cactus in the Valley” and “Swing Life Away” and pretty much anything by Fort Atlantic. It’s great to calm down the adrenaline from the previous playlist and encourage some naps from the passengers.

After the success of the pre-made Spotify road-trip playlist, though, I’m thinking I should put together a third playlist full of songs that are classic enough to spur some sing-alongs but also familiar enough to mindlessly hum or ignore altogether if a particularly good daydream comes along.

I can’t imagine life without music, and driving is nearly impossible for me if I don’t have some sort of tunes pumping through the speakers. If you haven’t already heard of the songs mentioned above, I’d highly recommend checking them out, and if you have any suggestions, send them my way. I’d love to hear what your “must-have” road-trip songs are!