Saturday, March 18, 2017

YALSA Hub Reading Challenge 2017

As generally happens, I'm off to a late start again this year, but whatevs, I'm always up for another reading challenge. I'm still working on another one. Since I still have a ways to go with that one, I'll just dovetail the two together.

My other challenge is called Alphabetically Yours and the idea behind it is simple: Read whatever you like, as long as you read at least one fiction and one nonfiction book for each letter of the alphabet (by author's last name). I haven't been able to limit myself to two books per letter, so it's taking longer than I had originally planned, but I am making room on my bookshelves for some new books. You can see my progress (currently working on H) and add yours in the comments for that post (linked above).

ANYWAY, on to the fabulous YALSA Hub Reading Challenge. I do this one every year because I love the diverse selections that always help me stretch out of my normal reading habits. I try new books and authors. While I don't necessarily enjoy every selection, I have found many new favorites over the years.

I will update my progress below and I hope you'll join me in discovering some great YA reads! I'd love to see what you are reading in the comments.


1. The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

Four teenagers come of age in Alaska in the 1970s.  

There's Ruth, looking for love and connection in all the wrong places. Her loving parents are gone and she lives with her fundamentalist grandmother in a home where any hint of pleasure or joy is a sin. 

Next we meet Dora, trying to escape from an abusive home and looking for someone she can trust to keep her safe. 

Alyce's parents love her, but since their divorce she's felt like her life has been torn in two and she lives her life to make them happy rather than pursuing her own dreams of being a dancer. 

Finally, there's Hank, who runs away from home with his two younger brothers in tow. Their dad is missing, presumed dead, and his mom has a new boyfriend. 

It took me a while to get into the story, but once it hooked me, I was good and hooked. This is my favorite kind of story. It features several main  characters who each have their own journey, but somehow their paths weave together in the end, showing the deep connections that exist in our lives, whether we are aware of them or not.

2. The Diviners by Libba Bray

The Diviners (the first in a new series, hooray!) is my favorite type of book--a blend of genres, fun to read and difficult to classify. It's a mix of fantasy, historical fiction, mystery, and suspense, with a dash of romance thrown in for good measure. Bray has painstakingly researched the Roaring Twenties and her gorgeous prose brings the period, and her characters, vividly to life. 

After getting in trouble back in Ohio, Evie O'Neill's parents send her to New York to stay with her uncle. An expert in occult matters, he runs The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult--known by the locals as The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies. When Uncle Will is asked to help the police investigate a series of brutal, occult murders, Evie comes along for the ride. Will her ability to "read" objects help her solve the crimes or make her a victim?

Evie is not the only character with a special gift. There's also a pickpocket on a mission to find his mother, a Ziegfeld girl hiding from a dangerous past, a numbers runner with healing powers, and a museum employee who is more (and less) than he seems. Despite the supernatural elements, these characters are well-developed and realistic.

Highly recommended! Finished the second in the series, Lair of Dreams, and have pre-ordered the third book, Before the Devil Breaks You (set to be released in October 2017). 

3. The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

This book sums up why I do the YALSA Hub Reading Challenge every year, even now that I'm retired and no longer have students to share books with. I would never have picked this up if it hadn't been on the list because it's so far out of my reading comfort zone. But I loved it. 

Dolssa is a Catholic mystic who believes that her beloved is always with her and is able to work miracles through her. Healing and sharing her passion for her beloved brings the horror of the inquisitors upon her. After watching her mother burn at the stake, she escapes. Scared and alone, she is near death when Botille (the true heart of this story) rescues her and brings her home to the tavern she runs with her sisters. 

They try to keep Dolssa hidden, but she starts healing people and soon the inquisitors descend on the town, putting everyone in danger.

The setting and the characters were rich and detailed. A fine example of well-researched and beautifully-written YA literature that adults will enjoy and possibly even learn a few things from.

Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard

Penelope, who prefers to be called Pen, is the first genderqueer character I've encountered in a YA book. I love how she knows exactly who she is right from the beginning. The problems she encounters are with the way other people see her or expect her to behave, not with any self-doubt. 

Cody and his fragile masculinity provides a counterpoint to Pen's much more secure sense of self. Pen takes a while to see him in all his douchey splendor, but thanks to the support of her amazing brother, old and new friends, and a girlfriend who accepts her just as she is, she gets there in the end. 

This is such an important book, especially for kids who are gender non-conforming. Definitely worth a read.

Currently reading:

Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Reading Challenge: Alphabetically Yours

For our newest reading challenge, let's read at least one book from every letter of the alphabet (by author's last name). For an extra challenge, try to complete in alphabetical order rather than skipping around. My plan is to read fiction and non-fiction for each letter, for a total of 52. You can do what you want.

I am thoroughly enjoying all of the extra free time I have these days. I'm finally getting around to reading some of the books that have been on my shelves for longer than I'd care to admit. I also have found a classroom teacher who happily takes books after I'm done with them. It's great to be cleaning clutter from my shelves and only keeping the books that bring my joy.

If anyone is reading along with me, I'd love to see your progress in the comments.

I will update my progress below. F=fiction / NF=nonfiction


A--Adoff, Jaime (The Death of Jayson Porter) F
     Alender, Katie (Bad Girls Don't Die) F
     Anchor, Shawn (Before Happiness) NF
B--Beals, Melba Pattillo (Warriors Don't Cry) NF
     Berry, Julie (The Passion of Dolssa) F
     Binetti, Marianne and Beck, Alison (Edible Gardening for Washington and Oregon) NF
     Bray, Libba (The Diviners; Lair of Dreams) F
     Buckley, Michael (NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense
     Society; Nerds: M is for   Mama's Boy) F
C--Carman, Patrick (Skeleton Creek; Ghost in the Machine; The Crossbones) F
     Collins, Ross (Medusa Jones) F
     Childs, Tera Lynn (Oh. My. Gods.) F
     Clement-Moore, Rosemary (Prom Dates from Hell; Hell Week;
     Highway to Hell)  
     Cameron, Julia (The Artist's Way) NF
     Carlin, George (Brain Droppings) NF
     Carlin, George (Napalm & Silly Putty) NF
D--de la Pena, Matt (Ball Don't Lie) F
     Davis, Sampson, Jenkins, George, and Hunt, Rameck [with Sharon Draper] (We Beat the Street: How a Friendship Pact Lead to Success) NF
E--Elliott, L.M. (Give Me Liberty) F
     Elliott, L.M. (Annie, Between the States) F
     Esquith, Rafe (Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire) NF
F--Felin, M. Sindy (Touching Snow) F
     Ferguson, Alane (The Christopher Killer; The Angel of Death; The Dying Breath) F
     Fisher, Catherine (Incarceron) F
     Fitzgerald, F. Scott (The Great Gatsby) F
     Fletcher, Charlie (Stoneheart; Ironhand; Sivertongue) F
     Freedman, Rory & Barnouin, Kim (Skinny Bitch) NF
G--Gerber, Linda (Trance) F
     Gaiman, Neil (American Gods) F
     Gaiman, Neil (Norse Mythology) F
     Gay, Roxanne (Bad Feminist) NF
     Gilbert, Jack (Collected Poems) F - POETRY
     Girard, M-E (Girl Mans Up)
H--Haddix, Margaret Peterson (Shadow Children series, books 1-5)   
     Hassler, Christine (Expectation Hangover) NF
     Hayden, Torey (Ghost Girl; The Tiger's Child) NF
     Hitchcock, Bonnie-Sue (The Smell of Other People's Houses) F
I--Ishii, Takayuki (One Thousand Paper Cranes) NF
N--Nix, Garth (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen) F
R--Riotte, Louise (Carrots Love Tomatoes) NF

Thursday, June 23, 2016

2016 Reading Challenge: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Now that my move is complete and life is settling into some semblance of a normal routine, I'm finally feeling like I have time to read again. In the spirit of reducing the time I spend in front of a screen and increasing the time I spend in front of a page, I have created my own reading challenge for 2016. 

I've called it "Get Out of Your Comfort Zone" because the focus is on expanding your perspective and being more open to ideas that are different from your own. I believe the world would be a much kinder place if we could all be more empathetic and understanding of others' opinions and life experiences. Even where we differ, humans all have the same basic need to connect with each other and to find meaning in life. 

I'd love it if you'd read along with me and let me know how you're doing!

2016 Reading Challenge: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

o  A book that teaches you a new skill
o  A book that inspires you
o  A book about creativity
o  A book about relationships
o  A book about science
o  A book about a spiritual tradition different from your own
o  A book written from a political viewpoint different from yours
o  A book about one of your personal heroes
o  A book featuring a topic that piques your curiosity
o  A book featuring one or more LGBTQ characters
o  A book with a female protagonist
o  A book by a female author
o  The first book in a series
o  A book set in a foreign country
o  A book not originally written in your native language
o  A book that transports you to a faraway place and/or time
o  A book with gorgeous cover art
o  A book with a green cover
o  A book with green in the title
o  A book written by John Green
o  A classic you SHOULD have read in high school
o  A book you loved as a child or young adult
o  A banned or challenged book
o  A book you are embarrassed to read in public
o  A collection of short stories
o  A book of poetry
o  A mystery
o  Historical fiction set in a time that fascinates you
o  A fairy tale retelling
o  A genre-bending book
o  An award-winning book
o  A book by an author who shares your first or last name
o  A book by an author you would love to meet
o  A book by an author you would NOT want to meet

Here's the printable version of the list in one page and printable bookmarks.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Debate Process

I created this meme to sum up the difference between the Republican and Democratic debate process:

Friday, July 31, 2015

I Survived Camp Nanowrimo!

Camp Nano, July 2015

Yay me! My draft is a shambles and I still have to write several key scenes, as well as make connections between many others so my novel flows like a novel should. But still. I am proud of my story, rough patches and all. More than that, I am proud of myself for digging in and writing, even on the days when words trickled out of the keyboard like teachers walking into a staff development session when they'd rather be doing ANYTHING else. Root canal, anyone? 

Because that is my biggest roadblock to publishing one of my projects. I get all excited about an idea and start. I am a world-class starter. Seriously, I could start shit all day. Then, as the initial inspiration dries up, the blank pages loom like the White Cliffs of Dover. I get scared of never writing another decent word, or worse, of finishing something and having to show it to a reader. Imagining anyone reading the drivel I write is its own special kind of horror.

So, making it to the end of the month with a daily writing habit that I actually look forward to is a tremendous step forward. 

When I participated in Nanowrimo for the first time in 2008, it was a much smaller affair, and it only happened in November. In some ways, it feels more diluted with the multiple writing events every year. Writing 50,000 words in a month is certainly possible, but I find that trying to do that EVERY month while maintaining a more than full time, very stressful job and a family is more than I can handle. 

I won on word count that first year, although I was only about a third of the way through my story at the end of the month. I have worked on that initial manuscript, off and on, ever since. Every time I pick it up, I fix a few more things and then continue writing. The first 50 pages or so are starting to read the way I want them to, but the manuscript gets progressively rougher as it goes on. I have also started several other projects that I treat in the same way. I find that I hate my writing much less if I leave the words alone for a few months or more. Eventually, I would like to try to get something published. 

My goal from here is to maintain a daily writing habit and to keep moving closer to a finished project.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

26 Books Reading Challenge

While browsing Pinterest this morning in order to avoid working on my current writing project, I found this reading challenge. I'm already doing a couple, but this one looks fun and doable (even for people who aren't in the habit of reading the way I am).

I'll be keeping track in the comments. Feel free to join in!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

YALSA 2015 Hub Reading Challenge, Update #4

Yay for Spring Break! Not only have I had a chance to get away from the den of contagion that is a public elementary school, but I have also had a week to kick back and read, read, read. I tried to limit myself to YALSA titles, but I did have to add in a few related reads. It's probably a touch of OCD kicking in, but I couldn't read Carriger's Curtsies and Conspiracies without rereading the first book in the series. And after rereading Lyga's I Hunt Killers, I could not resist going on to book two (and ordering book three) to keep the chills coming.
The Shadow Hero by Gene Yang and Sonny Lieu

This origin story of the first Asian American Superhero (the Green Turtle) is so well done that even people who don't normally read this genre should give it a try.

Hank is a normal boy who loves his dad and enjoys working in the family grocery store. All he wants is to grow up and take over the store, and to eventually train a son of his own to follow after him. His mother, dissatisfied with her life, has other ideas. One day, she meets a superhero and decides that he's got nothing on her son. She pushes Hank to train and even makes him his own superhero suit.

Finally, tragedy strikes and Hank discovers a long-held family secret that leads to some actual super powers.
In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

Shy Anda starts playing an online role-playing game after a woman comes to her school to talk about the importance of more women and girls getting involved in gaming. Anna starts earning real money by completing missions to kill gold farmers in the game. When she eventually becomes friends with a gold farmer, she feels conflicted about her behavior and tries to help. 

Like Anda herself, there were good intentions behind this story. Sadly, it never really grabbed me. I did enjoy the artwork, though.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

I spent about three fourths of this book hating the characters and the writing. It's about a family of privileged, bored, white people. The adults spend all of their time jockeying to be the favorites of the old man who uses his money to control their lives. They fight with each other constantly and sabotage each other. I kept thinking, "If this is how rich people really live, then I'm actually glad to be poor." The kids are all blond and beautiful, bored and boring. I hated them all. Gat, the outsider who never had a hope of realizing his dreams, was the only one I could stomach.

I liked the use of fairy tales to frame some of the story elements, but the e.e. cummings style of writing was more off-putting than captivating for me. The ending was pretty powerful, and could have been better if I'd felt any connection with these characters.
The Young Elites by Marie Lu

The Young Elites, book one.

Can I first say that I'm so happy that this is going to be a series? Wow! I LOVED everything about this book.

Adelina survived a mysterious fever as a child and has grown up scarred and tormented. She is a malfetto, a survivor who has been irrevocably marked by the disease and who may potentially have some kind of power as a result. Her father torments her throughout her childhood in an effort to bring out her powers and, in turn, profit from them. 

She is such a complex character--just brilliantly portrayed.

When her powers finally emerge, her situation gets even worse. She is plucked from the fire (literally) and thrown into the frying pan (figuratively). She joins up with the Young Elites, but unless she can learn to focus and control her newfound power, she is no safer with them than she was with her father.

The best part of this book is the complex, interesting characters. No one is good or bad. They are all damaged, secretive, and trapped by their own choices.
Skink--No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen

When Richard's cousin leaves town, he is sure that she's in some kind of trouble. Did she run away? Was she kidnapped? He mets the crazy ex-governor/eco-warrior, Skink, and they set off on a road trip to locate Malley. This book was uneven. I absolutely love Skink, but at times the story dragged and the environmental messages were a bit heavy-handed. Overall, an entertaining read, but not Hiaasen's best.
Curtsies and Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

Finishing School, book 2.

Sophronia is back, this time attempting to discover who keeps trying to kidnap her best friend. The fight for control of the prototype continues, although the players remain in the shadows. Another fun and fluffy mystery from Carriger. The world-building is creative and tons of fun, and the characters are witty. That said, they are pretty flat and lack the complexity that would really make them interesting.

This was a fun read, but not much about the characters or the plot was especially memorable. 


Related to the challenge books, but not on this year's list:

Game by Barry Lyga

Jasper Dent trilogy, #2.

When a serial killer known as the Dog-Hat Killer begins terrorizing New York City, an officer from the NYPD comes to Lobo's Nod to ask for Jazz's help with the case.  Jazz, still struggling not to give in to his darker impulses, joins the hunt for this new killer, all the while looking over his shoulder for Dear Old Dad, who is newly escaped from prison and sure to be in touch--sooner or later.

I read most of this 500-ish page book in one sitting. It was taut, suspenseful, and just very well done. The body count is high and the murders are gory (penectomies and enucleations abound). Connie and Howie are more fully developed in this one and have bigger parts to play as well. Unfortunately, this also ups their peril. 

This book ends on a HUGE cliffhanger, with several lives hanging in the balance, so have the third one (Blood of my Blood) queued up and ready to go.
Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

Finishing School, book one.

Sophronia has no interest in becoming a proper lady.  She'd much rather climb things and fiddle with machines. When she is shipped off to finishing school, she is sure she is going to hate every minute of it. But at Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, the learning goes beyond etiquette.  But only the best students will master the fine art of espionage and be truly "finished."

I'm not generally a fan of Steampunk, but I did find this world interesting. As the first in a series, there was more of a focus on world building than plot, but it was a fun, quick read with quite a lot of humor. The audiobook is marvelously well-done and I enjoyed it much more than when I read the hardcover version for last year's challenge.

My favorite quote:

“Really, Sophronia, it makes me most uncomfortable how you manage to sort everything out every time I faint.”