Reading Challenge Recap Part 1- Looking back…

The year 2019 has come and gone but before I put it to rest, I decided to finish off my reading challenge reviews. Yes, I know we are nearly a week into 2020 and I’ve started a brand new reading challenge. But, the ghosts of last year’s reads are haunting my brain, rattling around and moaning to be released. In essence, I needed to finish what I started.

A few 2019 stats:

Books Read: 29, Non-fiction: 7, Fiction: 22, Series books: 4 (huge progress for me) Prompts completed: 28/30

*Note: Posting 1/3 of reviews in Part 1, linking the 1/3 of reviews I’ve already posted in the titles and the remaining books will be posted in Part 2.

1. The Eulogist / Terry Gamble (Book set in your home state) ★☆☆☆☆

Unsure what to use to fulfill the “home state” prompt, I chose a glum period tale set on the Ohio river. [100% my bad] 1820s Cincinnati is the burgeoning locale for this tedious slice of early abolitionist life. Three Irish immigrant siblings must make their way in their new country; Joseph a hard-working, hen-pecked candle maker, Erasmus, an itinerant preacher, also a shameless womanizer, and Olivia, who examines most of her life with cat-like passivity due to her spinster-esque circumstances. Sneaking out to perform illegal autopsies in the name of science with a grave-robbing doctor is the highlight of Olivia’s life and of the plot. Gamble explores interesting territory (I learned a lot about early cadaver research), including; resisting gender norms, religious evangelism, slave plantation dynamics and the business of ferrying runaways. But it travels too long and plodding a road to reach it’s conclusion, by which time, the tale has gotten stale. Isn’t there anything less depressing set in Ohio? My home state let me down.

2. Shoeless Joe / W.P. Kinsella ★★★1/2☆☆ (saw the movie, now read the book)

Paperback of The Name of the Wind

3. The Name of the Wind / Patrick Rothfuss (Book on tbr 1+ yrs) ★★★★★

For the readers drawn to tales of magic and yearning, failing and learning, bravery and bravado: seek out this epic masterpiece. Savor the language, the pulse-quickening moments and invention of a timeless quest. Don’t get caught up in minor flaws like flip-flopping narrative voice. It doesn’t matter as Rothfuss conjures winds of adventure creeping with demons, harsh gales of loss and survival, and gentle breezes touched with humor and heart.

4. Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee / Casey Cep (Flora on cover) ★★★☆☆

Small town memories are long and grudges last longer.

Furious Hours p. 109

A record of three diverse subjects: one, a remorseless killer who commits untraceable crimes against family members to collect insurance money, the cunning lawyer who clears his name, but also represents the vigilante who has gunned his client down, and the humble writer, observing it all and taking notes. Missed opportunities are an ever-present theme in this true crime hybrid. Alex City, Alabama’s detectives can’t pinpoint the damning evidence to convict the diabolical Reverend Maxwell. Big Tom Radney’s promising political aspirations end in failure when he is cast out for spouting liberal views in the deep south. Meanwhile, Harper Lee is so stymied by expectation after the smashing success of her first novel that she buckles under a case of massive writer’s block.

Cep fairly handles the disparate threads, from the timelines of the grisly murders, to Lee’s path to writing [then not writing] a true crime drama, with Big Tom’s brash career acting as a bridge between. Successful in both objectivity and personal storytelling, where this compelling account fails is in it’s lack of insight for the defining reason behind Lee’s abandonment of her book. Glimpses of color appear; I love the anecdote of Lee’s supportive friends gifting her enough funds to quit her job and pursue writing. But the iconic author comes away looking dismal, bitter and thwarted despite, or because of, her fame. Leaving readers with the ultimate missed opportunity, the gift of her powerful words.

5. The Dream Thieves / Maggie Stiefvater (Beastly book) ★★★☆☆

All the Raven boys have problems but none more identity-shattering than Ronan’s. This second in the series reveals much about the misunderstood bad boy of Aglionby Academy. Answers to urgent questions such as: Why can’t he visit his mom? Who is hunting his family secrets? How does he wake up scratched and bleeding from dreams? And what exactly are his feelings for a friend?, will be revealed. This book works well because many of those answers are unexpected.

Fighting sinister forces, both supernatural and typically teenager, the four friends face disbandment. A circumstance oft-employed in sequels, but in Stiefvater’s hands, the second part feels more intense, energetic and inventive than in other series. Not every twist was effective; I utterly eschewed Blue’s mom’s romance with a hit man and cringed over Ronan’s rival, Kavinsky’s testosterone-fueled monlogues. Yet, every action Ronan takes burns with consequence and that is fun to read.

6. A Man Called Ove / Fredrick Backman (Scandanavian setting) ★★★★★

Sorry, other books. I loved Ove’s story. My #1 read this year and in the top 3 of the decade. Reviewed here.

7. (Flavor- a book built around food) Didn’t complete prompt.

8. We Are Displaced / Malala Yousafzai (Passport required…set in a country you have never been to) ★★★☆☆ Reviewed here.

9. The Girl with All the Gifts / M.R. Carey (Yellow/Gold novel) ★★★★☆ Beautiful(?) British zombie book. Biggest surprise of the year. Full review coming.

10. The Girl in the Tower / Katherine Arden ( a witch-centered tome) ★★☆☆☆

I was excited to continue Arden’s Winternight trilogy after devouring The Bear and the Nightingale last year. Unfortunately in this installment, rebellious Vasya’s woods lost their ancient magic for me. Brother Sasha’s reappearance brought joy and conflict while mysterious Kasyan added a spark to the story, yet, I felt it slip away from the unique subtlety and invention present in Bear, into standard YA fantasy romance tropes.
I plan to follow Vasya’s story of wild Rus in the final book, but anticipate the deep emotional resonance and philosophical paradoxes from the first will be tough to recreate.

11. (A novel that is now a Netflix series or adaptation) Didn’t complete prompt. I considered a few titles but nothing appealed.

12. Wanderers / Chuck Wendig (Shallowness: pick a book based on its spine appearance alone) ★★☆☆☆ Stunningly beautiful cover, big disappointment. A similar zombie premise to TGWATG but at 800 pages, it could be cut in half and still feel bloated. Full review soon.

13. Anywhere that is Wild: John Muir’s First Walk to Yosemite / Edited by Peter and Donna Thomas (non-fiction nature read) ★★★☆☆

Both my companion and myself had lived and dozed on common air for nearly thirty years, and never before this had discovered that our bodies contained such multitudes…or that this mortal flesh, so little valued by philosophers and teachers was possessed of so vast a capacity for happiness.

p. 10

A too brief exploration of pioneering conservationist John Muir’s first trip to Yosemite Valley, told through his personal letters from 1868. Muir exalts in the natural world around him. Personifying the environment and delivering a master class in metaphors, his descriptions are thrilling even if I stumbled over the poetic verbs. I wish the Thomas’s had spent more time tracking his excursion (they claim to retrace his steps, but include none of their journey). Despite one comical incident with a bear, buckshot, and a misfiring musket, not a lot happens. The book elucidates that Muir’s pursuit was wilderness itself. Wild tantalized, but didn’t satisfy, leaving me wanting more.

14. All The President’s Men / Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward (Read a book from your birth decade) ★★★★☆ Reviewed here.

15. Nightmares! / Jason Segel (Author with same initials) ★★☆☆☆

A relative who shares similar reading habits recommended this audio, but I should have considered age level more closely before choosing. Segel, (the actor from How I Met Your Mother) is an earnest and energetic narrator. However, the story and writing prove too juvenile to garner my full attention. A mixed-up menagerie of greek myths, bogeymen and cackling witches descend upon the young sleep-deprived Charlie Laird. Not only must he outmaneuver his witchy step-mother and protect his younger brother but he can’t so much as take a nap without his nightmares coming to life. An over-elaborate plot ultimately delivers a valuable lesson in the redemptive power of facing one’s fears.

Mac’s Backs books in Coventry

2019 was a year of major book thrifting and brand new Audible discoveries. Look for Part 2 of my reading recap later this week, where I take on beloved classic Wuthering Heights and contemporary classic (?) The Testaments. Don’t forget to check out our 2020 challenge too!

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