Catch-up Lightning Round: The Language of Hoofbeats, Hellworld, The Broken Kingdoms, and The Kingdom of Gods

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The Language of Hoofbeats by Catherine Ryan Hyde (Website | Twitter)

Genre: contemporary fiction

Setting: Easley, CA (fictional podunk town)

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Kate Rudd and Laural Merlington

Source: my own collection 

Length: 10:27:00

Her Grace’s rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I liked it more than the typical 3-star book but not as much as a 4-star. So, 3.5 stars! I’m so smrt. 🤪 A lesbian couple, Jackie and Paula, moved to a small town with their adopted son and two foster children. Across the road from their new digs lives Clementine, the town shrew. She hates everything and everyone and blames it on her daughter’s suicide which, frankly, I think is totally valid. I would hate everything and everyone, too. But she apparently was always like that and she ends up driving her husband away and her treatment of Comet, her daughter’s horse, causes Star, Jackie and Paula’s troubled foster girl, to run away with him. Various dramas ensue and in the end, Clementine decides to be nice, just like that, and everything turns out bright and shiny.

For a piece of fluff, this was good. I liked the kids and their histories and I think it was nice that they weren’t written as all escapees from Hell or a mental asylum, nor that they automatically fit right in and adapted to being a foster kid. I thought Jackie and Paula were well developed enough that they were different on the page, but overall they were fairly one-dimensional. Clementine had development, but I didn’t find it all that believable. Still, she was the most richly-depicted adult in the book, a character you love to hate. I would read more by this author, though I’d probably get it from the library rather than spend my own money on it.

Hellworld by Tom Leveen (Website | Twitter | IG)

Genre: horror

Setting: mostly Tucson, AZ

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 297 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This was a fast read. I like to support local authors and I bought this one and another of Leveen’s books at a local book festival a couple years ago. So that was fun. He is a delightful human being from what I could tell. And I did enjoy this one, but I generally have a very hard time with most horror. Not because I get spooked – I don’t. It’s because I can’t suspend my disbelief. It’s why I don’t like werewolf or zombie or even sexy vampire stories all that much. They simply aren’t believable to me. Why I have a hard time suspending disbelief for horror and not for the billions of SFF books I’ve read over the years, I have no fucking clue. 

That said, I really liked the vast majority of this book. It was told in a sort of back and forth timeline, the same characters living in the moment for one chapter and then the next chapter being set X number of days, weeks, or months ago. I thought the characters were nicely developed for a genre novel. That’s not shade – genre novels don’t focus as much on character development, but these characters all felt like they had a history and experiences that made them people, not just templates of people like you find in a lot of genre novels. The crux of the plot is that four teens lost their parents a number of years ago while filming a show that sounds similar to Ghost Hunters. They were exploring a cave in the Arizona desert and never came out. The kids go gallivanting off to find them, but whoops! Instead they accidentally open an ancient ark of some kind that lets out gigantic monster bug things that can shoot lasers and fireballs and they start annihilating nuclear power plants, hospitals, schools, and news organizations. You know. Kind of like the Republicans want to do.

I’m not entirely sure the whole story isn’t actually an analogy about the GOP, in fact…

The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of Gods by NK Jemisin (Website | Twitter)

Genre: fantasy

Setting: The city of Shadow, in the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Cassaundra Freeman

Source: my own collection

Length: 11:25:00 / 16:58:00

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

(The Broken Kingdoms) A blind artist called Oree takes in a homeless man who glows. She can see some things like magic and the homeless man, who Oree names Shiny since he won’t tell her his name, throws magic all over. Also, someone is murdering godlings and now Oree is smack in the middle of it thanks to her act of kindness. Shiny happens to be Itempas, so you know things are going to get weird.

(The Kingdom of Gods) The gods of the Arameri are finally free and now they’re pissed, but they’re also all that is keeping the world from descending into unending war and annihilation. Good times. This one is told from the perspective of the godling Sieh, who has been changed into a mortal and is aging in leaps over time.

As always, crazy rich world-building and awesome characters in both of these books. I will want to read them again one day, only with my eyeballs, because the narrator was what kept these from being 4 star books. Her voice was too calm and unchanging and I found myself bored of listening to her. Once, someone ripped a heart out of someone else’s chest with their bare hands – and I missed that at first because there was just no emotion or anything to indicate exciting action in her voice. 

I really love Jemisin’s writing. It’s so complex and descriptive. She takes familiar fantasy tropes and turns them on their head. Some people might think that is heretical but I think it’s brilliant and it makes for a wholly new reading experience. One should never assume she will let the good guys win or allow a happily ever after in her books. I really, really appreciate that. She has said that she set out to subvert the genre and she has been successful in doing so.

Armchair Traveler

book collageThroughout this blog, I have tried to help bring diversity to my own (and hopefully others’) reading practices, to show new ways reading diversely can enrich your life, and teach how readers can do their part to try to influence publishing to stimulate diversity in the industry. Studies show that reading literary fiction helps to hone empathy and compassion by seeing the world from the point of view of people unlike ourselves. However, there is another side to this in addition to honing empathy. Many books set in different countries or even different communities within our own country offer a unique perspective of the world and can give readers the sense of having traveled to a new place from the comfort of our own chair. Enter: book tourism, or armchair traveling.

One of my favorite forms of armchair traveling is through food writing or food tourism. My very favorite food tourism writer is the late, greatly-missed Anthony Bourdain. He summed it up wonderfully in his book Medium Raw when he said, “Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go” (Bourdain 56). Food writing encompasses the best of both worlds, showing readers a new part of the world geographically as well as introducing them to new foods and the cultures that cook them. In addition to the canon of Bourdain’s writing, which is elegant, witty, and achingly poignant, the works of Bill Buford, Fuchsia Dunlop, and Fergus Henderson are also well worth a read. One of the best I have read is Climbing the Mango Tree by Madhur Jaffrey, which introduces readers to the influences of spice, dining al fresco under the mango trees, and learning to cook surrounded by your family matriarchs while growing up in the Indian Himalayan foothills. Who wouldn’t want to grow up climbing mango trees?

Fiction that prominently features food in some way also inspires wanderlust. A vivid scene over a meal or in a kitchen evokes the sights and aromas that truly bring a setting to life. The kitchen is the heart of the home for a reason, and it is over a meal where we can learn the most about people and cultures. Breaking bread is a traditional way to meet new friends and to make peace with enemies. When reading a book like Chocolat by Joanne Harris, you can taste the chocolate as well as feel the cool air of the small French village, smell the bakery up the road, see the cobblestones of the ancient streets. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel gives readers a taste – pun intended – of life in turn of the century Mexico along with characters who can imbue their food with their emotions. One of my favorite novels of recent years is Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King, a historical fiction set in ancient Rome about Marcus Gavius Apicius, the author of the oldest cookbook in the world. This not only makes readers want to travel to Rome and see all the places referred to in the novel, but many passages from Apicius’s cookbook are included in the text as well. Ancient Roman cooking at its finest!

Below are some books, fiction and nonfiction alike, which have inspired wanderlust and food cravings in one way or another. What books would you recommend to instill wanderlust?

Julia Child (My Life in France)

Michael W. Twitty (The Cooking Gene: A Journey through the African American Culinary History in the Old South)

Laura Esquivel (Like Water for Chocolate)

William Bostwick (The Brewer’s Tale: A History of the World According to Beer)

Frances Mayes (Under the Tuscan Sun)

Bill Buford (Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany)

Fuchsia Dunlop (Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China)

Fergus Henderson (The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating)

Marcus Samuelsson (Yes, Chef)

References:

Bourdain, Anthony. Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. London, Bloomsbury Publishing Group, 2010.

Stillman, Jessica. “New Study: Reading Fiction Really Will Make You Nicer and More Empathetic.” The Inc. Life, 2019.

2020 Read Harder results and year-end wrap-up

2020 is finally coming to an end. This was one of the most miserable fucking years ever and it can piss right off. While my life wasn’t really impacted all that much by any kind of quarantine – I’m practically a shut-in in my daily life anyway – I did miss traveling. I am incredibly lucky and grateful that I have a job that allows me to work from home and that my daughter and I have remained healthy. So has my mom, though the rest of my family didn’t come through the pandemic unscathed. Everyone is doing ok so far, though, and I am happy for that. I feel terrible for the many millions of people who have lost their jobs, for the over 300,000 Americans who have lost their lives to COVID-19 (and the more than 1.6 million worldwide), and everyone who is struggling in ways large and small during this very strange and awful time. My grandmother would have said, “This, too, shall pass,” and I know she is right. Sometimes it is hard to see that, though, in the middle of events.

Of course, even the worst times have some bright points. Or, as Emperor Georgiou quoted in “Terra Firma part 2,” “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.” The BEST thing has to be Biden kicking Idiot Hitler’s fat ass. A related bright point to Biden’s election is that we also get Kamala Harris as our first Madam Vice President. I can’t wait! Having a compassionate, intelligent, engaged, literate President and Vice President in office will surely be a sea change after the past obscene four years of the sub-literate, cruel, anti-science, racist, misogynist, corrupt excrescence currently squatting in the Oval Office. Can’t wait for that creature to become irrelevant again, and likely imprisoned. 

For me, books and reading are always a refuge and solace. I can travel by way of books, even if I am physically stuck in Arizona. I can go to other parts of the world or to new worlds entirely. I can encounter people who are facing the same struggles I face, or I can learn more about others who face completely different challenges in their life. I always aim to read 100 books a year. According to my Goodreads Year in Books, I didn’t get to 100 this year, though if I were to add up all the articles I read for research, I would probably get to 100 books total easily. But I didn’t count articles. I’m done researching now, though, and my manuscript is in to the publisher and I hopefully never have to think much on it again! Never thought I would be sick of medieval Europe, but here we are.

RH 2020 complete

Also, as anyone who spends any time with me at all knows, I love reading challenges because they stretch my comfort zone. I love learning about authors and cultures I’ve never been exposed to before. I am passionate about supporting and amplifying the voices of women and authors of color. So to try to do all of these things, I always participate in Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge. I don’t always get through the whole list, depending on what all is happening, but I did this year! I even reviewed almost all of them. I try hard to write a review for every book I read, but sometimes I don’t get around to doing it. But at least I finished it, even WITH all the research and work I was doing to write my own book. I’m pretty proud of me. How did you do on your various reading goals this year? Mine are below the cut.books

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Reading Women 2021

Heyyyy, this year I decided also to outline what I might read for the Reading Women challenge. I tend to complete that challenge most years, too, but rarely write about it. I don’t know why, especially considering how hard I try to amplify women’s voices, work, and literature. Probably it’s because many of the tasks here overlap a little with the Book Riot Read Harder challenge so I don’t focus a lot on this one in its own right. Here’s what I’m thinking of. Where possible, of course, I am going to overlap with the Read Harder tasks. Every book listed is written by a woman, which makes sense because it’s the Reading Women Challenge. 

A Book Longlisted for the JCB Prize: A Burning by Megha Majumdar, which I already own, so bonus! Or Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara sounds really good as well.

An Author from Eastern Europe: Maybe Seeing People Off by Jana Beňová. Or There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. Eastern European literature seems really fucking long, depressing, and boring from what I can tell. These two seem tolerable. There is a reason I’ve never read War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment, or The Brothers Karamazov. Is it just because it’s frigid winter for like 10 months out of the year there? Is there not enough vodka? Too much vodka? I mean, FFS, I could hardly get through The Death of Ivan Ilyich and that wasn’t too bad, relatively speaking. But by the end of it, I wanted to swim in a barrel of vodka. Is vodka made in barrels? Whatever the fuck it’s made in, I wanted to swim in it.

A Book About Incarceration: Affinity by Sarah Waters! That should be awesome. Sarah Waters is awesome.

A Cookbook by a Woman of Color: Caribbean Potluck by Suzanne and Michelle Rousseau. I will need to track down a Caribbean restaurant near me so I can also eat all the food.

A Book with a Protagonist Older than 50: Illumination Night by Alice Hoffman. I love Alice Hoffman.

A Book by a South American Author in Translation: Savage Theories by Pola Oloixarac.

Reread a Favorite Book: Jeez. So many could go here.

A Memoir by an Indigenous, First Nations, Native, or Aboriginal Woman: Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot. This has been on my radar forever. 

A Book by a Neurodivergent Author: Maybe Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis (autism) or All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders (Sensory Integration Disorder). I think I own the Anders book, so probably I’ll read that.

A Crime Novel or Thriller in Translation: The Vegetarian by Han Kang. I don’t know how this is really a crime novel, but it is listed as such on the Pan Macmillan site (Our Favourite Crime Novels in Translation) and I’ve had it for ages, so I’m gonna go with that. 

A Book About the Natural World: The Long, Long Life of Trees by Fiona Safford, Rain: Four Walks in English Weather by Melissa Harrison, or To The River: A Journey Beneath the Surface by Olivia Laing. 

A Young Adult Novel by a Latinx Author: Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo.

A Poetry Collection by a Black Woman: Audre Lord seems popular, so I will try her writing. Or There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce by Morgan Parker.

A Book with a Biracial Protagonist: Caucasia by Danzy Senna. Probably there are a ton of books I will read that can cover this one, but on the off chance none of them do, I will try this one.

A Muslim Middle-Grade Novel: Shooting Kabul by NH Senzai. I got this for my daughter a while back because I wanted to read it.

A Book Featuring a Queer Love Story: Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston.

About a Woman in Politics: The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney, or maybe Nefertiti by Michelle Moran. Or, because she’s fucking awesome, The Truths We Hold by Madam Vice President Kamala Harris!

A Book with a Rural Setting: Real Queer America by Samantha Allen from my RH list can cover this. So can The Round House by Louise Erdrich. 

A Book with a Cover Designed by a Woman: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (cover design by Abby Weintraub).

A Book by an Arab Author in Translation: Women of Sand and Myrrh or Only in London, both by Hanan al-Shaykh, or Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea.

A Book by a Trans Author: Red, White, and Royal Blue will also work for this one. So will Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

A Fantasy Novel by an Asian Author: These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong because I own it, but OMG there are so many I want to read! 

A Nonfiction Book Focused on Social Justice: When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele or White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.

A Short Story Collection by a Caribbean Author: The Pain Tree by Olive Senior seems like a great collection. 

BONUS READS:

A Book by Alexis Wright (Waanyi Aboriginal): The Swan Book

A Book by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwean): Nervous Conditions 

A Book by Leila Aboulela (Sundanese): The Translator

A Book by Yoko Ogawa (Japanese): The Memory Police sounds awesome. 

Kindred

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Genre: let’s call it magical realism

Setting: 1976 and the antebellum South

I read it as a(n): kindle book

Source: my own collection

Length: 287 pp

Published by: Beacon Press (1 June 1979)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Dana is a modern young Black woman, married to a white man called Kevin, and they are both authors. They have recently purchased their first real home together and are in the middle of unpacking when Dana feels dizzy and falls to the ground. When the dizziness passes, she finds herself outside and hears a child yelling for help. Since Dana isn’t a dick, she rushes to help and ends up saving a young boy named Rufus from drowning. The boy’s father comes across them and, thinking Dana is trying to harm his son, aims a rifle at her. Dana is then transported back to her home, soaking wet and covered in mud from her rescue efforts. 

Over the next few weeks, Dana finds herself inexplicably called back to what she learns is the antebellum South, to a plantation with slaves. Somehow, anytime Rufus is in mortal danger, he pulls her back in time to him, completely unintentionally. Dana learns that Rufus is one of her ancestors and she has to keep saving him until he is able to father the child who is her direct ancestor. Each time Dana goes back, she stays longer and the trip is more dangerous for her. She eventually figures out that when she herself fears for her life, she is able to return to her own time, which is moving more slowly than the past. Dana spends hours, days, and months in the past and yet her own time period only moves forward by a few minutes or days even for her longest period spent in the past. Dana has to learn how to survive in a harsh past, retain Rufus’s trust enough that he doesn’t harm her himself just because he can, and keep her husband Kevin safe during her travels as well. 

This story was a difficult and yet un-put-downable read. Difficult because of the subject matter but a very fast and engaging read. Even though it was written in 1979, there was not actually much reference to technology so it didn’t feel dated. In fact, it could have been written this year and would have been hailed as a timely discussion on race relations and equality, given the ongoing protests surrounding police brutality towards Black people. It was a horrifying read as well because it explores topics such as slavery, which is to be expected from the book’s premise. What was worst, though, was Dana’s thoughts on how easy it can be to become accustomed to injustice. The discussion of racism was deep and explored some of the ways in which it has become institutionalized in America even today. Some scenes reminded me of part of Angie Thomas’s novel The Hate U Give where Starr and her brothers received “the talk” from their parents. Not the sex talk, but the talk about what to do and how to act if and when they are stopped by a police officer. The fact that such talks are considered a necessary part of parenting for so many people is heartbreaking, and Butler’s novel shows readers partly why that has come to be. 

Dana adapted fairly quickly to her new environment, not because she was somehow weak or didn’t resist hard enough, but because she had to adapt or die. Part of the discussion on how quickly Dana had to adapt to slavery conditions was also the sense of mutual obligation between many of the characters. They all tried to look out for each other and take everyone’s well being into consideration, even if it was sometimes to their own detriment. But parents, for example, would do whatever was necessary to spare their children and to keep them with them rather than being sold to different places far away. I can understand that; there is nothing I wouldn’t do to keep my daughter safe with me in those conditions. Despite Dana’s ability to adapt quickly to her new circumstances, she was not spared from being on the receiving end of some awful abuse, and she lived in constant fear of being sold to a plantation further south that was notorious for its truly brutal conditions. A modern person worrying about being sold – if that doesn’t absolutely horrify you, then you must be part of the problem.

Part of the discussion on adapting is, I think, the ways Dana and the other Black characters view Tom Weylin and Rufus. Tom initially appears to be brutal, every bit the worst of the stereotypical slave owner. As the novel progresses, how he is viewed doesn’t change so much to liking him as to seeing how he is more or less a fair man operating within the social constructs of his time period. He is a hard man and sometimes does cruel things, but he is doing what is allowed for him to do and doesn’t really step out of those bounds, as disgusting as they are to our modern sensibilities. Similarly, with Rufus, he seems to grow up to take after his father in most ways, except that he is in love with Alice, and his father never would have loved a slave. Use her body, yes, but love her, no. Dana is able to forgive Rufus for so many wrongs, and he actually seems to do worse things than his father ever did. He makes overt threats to Dana, lies about sending her letters to Kevin when he got trapped in the past, and is a volatile drunk. His father at least never seemed to let himself get out of control like Rufus does. In many ways, Rufus is a pitiable character, largely lacking in understanding, empathy, or willpower. To be fair, though, I’d probably be blind fucking drunk all the time if I had to live in the South at that time of history. In any case, the way Dana and the other Black characters view the Weylins very much makes me think of Stockholm Syndrome. Maybe they were just as awful as one thinks they were but the effect was lessened over the course of the novel by the psychological impact of being held against their will, malnourished, beaten and whipped, and worked until they dropped.

Normally, I don’t care much for first-person perspective in novels. But I think first-person is the only way this novel could be as powerful as it was. If Dana hadn’t been the narrator, if we had a third-person POV instead, it would have created a distance between the characters, events they went through, and the reader; the situations she went through would not have been as visceral an experience for readers and thus the discussions on various issues would not have been as effective.

The title itself is a stark reminder that being related to a person doesn’t always mean they are your family. There’s a big difference between relatives and family. Rufus and Dana are related to one another. They have a sense of mutual obligation to each other, though an admittedly lop-sided one. But they are in no way family as I would define it. So that makes an interesting contrast throughout the book, especially when you consider Dana and her husband’s relationship, and her relationship with the slaves. She seems much closer to them than to Rufus, her actual relative. Similarly, her marriage to Kevin is illegal in the past and, I would imagine, is seen as at least odd in 1976. I don’t think interracial marriages were very well tolerated at the time. 

In any case, this was a terrific read, if difficult at times because of the things that happened to people. I definitely recommend it to any fans of timeslip, sci-fi, magical realism, or antebellum history. 

Read Harder 2020 plan!

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Read Harder Challenge. Image credit Book Riot, https://bookriot.com/2019/12/03/2020-read-harder-challenge/

Yay, it’s here! Read Harder 2020 is here! I look forward to this list every year. In part, I just like to see what the brains at Book Riot have come up with, and in part, I love to put together a plan for myself for how to cover the tasks. Additionally, I try to make it more feminist by finding books to cover each task that are written by women or authors who identify as women. For various reasons, this doesn’t always happen, but I try hard to make it so. #RequisiteStarTrekReference

So, what do we have this year? How will this pan out? I am thinking of the following: 

  1. Read a YA nonfiction book: #NotYourPrincess by Lisa Charleyboy or How Dare the Sun Rise by Sandra Uwiringiyimana
  2. Read a retelling of a classic of the canon, fairytale, or myth by an author of color: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi OR One Thousand and One Nights by Hanan Al-Shaykh. Probably the 1st one since I’ve owned it forever and haven’t got round to reading it yet.
  3. Read a mystery where the victim(s) is not a woman: The Appraisal by Anna Porter OR The Distant Hours by Kate Morton OR Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
  4. Read a graphic memoir: Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide by Isabel Quintero
  5. Read a book about a natural disaster: Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala OR Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward 
  6. Read a play by an author of color and/or queer author: Angels in America by Tony Kushner. Mostly because I know Jason Isaacs (Twitter) was in this play at one point. Carrying on with my hardcore Jason Isaacs (Insta) crush. 
  7. Read a historical fiction novel not set in WWII: The Land Beyond the Sea by Sharon Kay Penman. Also, this task is funny to me, as ALL the HF I read is set in a time other than WWII. Is there really that much WWII HF? LOL. I’m already reading this one, so I might as well use it for this task; I won’t get it finished before the new year, so I reckon it counts.
  8. Read an audiobook of poetry: If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar OR The Poets’ Corner by John Lithgow
  9. Read the LAST book in a series: Big Sky by Kate Atkinson (don’t know if it is the LAST, last, but it is the most recent one out in the Jackson Brodie series). Also, DID YOU KNOW that there is a TV series of these books called Case Histories? It stars… wait for it… Jason Isaacs! Dear god, that man’s eyes… 
  10. Read a book that takes place in a rural setting: Gilead by Mary Robinson OR The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth
  11. Read a debut novel by a queer author: How to Survive a Summer by Nick White OR Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead OR Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam
  12. Read a memoir by someone from a religious tradition (or lack of religious tradition) that is not your own: Muslim Girl by Amani Al-Khatanahtbeh OR Educated by Tara Westover. Every religion is different for me. Hardcore atheist…
  13. Read a food book about a cuisine you’ve never tried before: Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex and Nigerian Taste Buds by Yemisi Aribisala OR Notes from a Young Black Chef: A Memoir by Kwame Onwuachi (both Nigerian chefs). This was hard for me even to find some since it turns out I’ve eaten a LOT of different cuisines, and many that I haven’t seem not to have any books written about them.
  14. Read a romance starring a single parent: Maybe Home Again by Kristin Hannah, mostly because someone gave it to me and so I don’t have to look for something else. I really don’t know yet since I am definitely not a romance reader. I might pick one from this list because it’s awesomely comprehensive: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
  15. Read a book about climate change: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (double dipper!) OR The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
  16. Read a doorstopper (over 500 pages) published after 1950, written by a woman: The Land Beyond the Sea by Sharon Kay Penman (double dipper!)
  17. Read a sci-fi/fantasy novella (under 120 pages): Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire OR Last Summer at Mars Hill by Elizabeth Hand. Probably the 2nd. I love Elizabeth Hand; her stories are so fucked up.
  18. Read a picture book with a human main character from a marginalized community: No idea. I’ll probably just wander around the kids’ section at the bookstore and pick one while my daughter is browsing.
  19. Read a book by or about a refugee: Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (because my daughter already has it, so that’s convenient) OR The Silence and the Roar by Nihad Sirees
  20. Read a middle grade book that doesn’t take place in the U.S. or the UK: Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (double dipper!) OR Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb. Probably the 1st since the 2nd seems a little older than middle grade.
  21. Read a book with a main character or protagonist with a disability (fiction or non): House Rules by Jodi Picoult or maybe Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
  22. Read a horror book published by an indie press: After the People Lights Have Gone Off by Stephen Graham Jones. Been wanting to read this one forever.
  23. Read an edition of a literary magazine (digital or physical): I have a backlogged stack of Arthuriana that will do nicely for this.
  24. Read a book in any genre by a Native, First Nations, or Indigenous author: #NotYourPrincess by Lisa Charleyboy (double dipper!) OR The Round House by Louise Erdrich

It’ll be interesting, at the end of 2020, to see how many of these books I’ve planned are the ones I actually ended up reading for this year’s challenge. 

Read Harder 2019 – complete!


I did it! Here are the books I ended up reading for the 2019 Read Harder challenge. I am trying to write reviews for every book I read as well, although I didn’t manage to do so this year. Where I could, I linked to my review of the book.

  1. An epistolary or collection of letters: Dear Committee Members – Julie Schumacher
  2. An alternate history novel: Blood and Ink – DK Marley
  3. A book by a woman and/or AOC that won a literary award in 2018: Circe– Madeleine Miller (and the best lines from Circe…)
  4. A humor book: Dear Committee Members – Julie Schumacher
  5. A book by a journalist or about journalism: Get Well Soon – Jennifer Wright
  6. A book by an AOC set in or about space: Binti – Nnedi Okorafor
  7. An #ownvoices book set in Mexico or Central America: Fruit of the Drunken Tree – Ingrid Rojas Contreras
  8. An #ownvoices book set in Oceania: Whale Rider – Witi Ihimaera
  9. A book published prior to Jan. 1, 2019 with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads: Pandora the Curious – Joan Holub
  10. A translated book written by and/or translated by a woman: All This I Will Give to You – Dolores Redondo
  11. A book of manga: Fence Vol. 1 – CS Pacat, illustrated by Johanna the Mad
  12. A book in which an animal or inanimate object is a point-of-view character: Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy – Tui T. Sutherland
  13. A book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
  14. A cozy mystery: The Tale of Hill Top Farm – Susan Wittig Albert
  15. A book of mythology or folklore: Trail of Lightning – Rebecca Roanhorse
  16. An historical romance by an AOC: Forbidden– Beverly Jenkins
  17. A business book: Total Money Makeover – Dave Ramsey
  18. A novel by a trans or nonbinary author: The Salt Roads – Nalo Hopkinson
  19. A book of nonviolent true crime: The Library Book – Susan Orlean
  20. A book written in prison: The Consolation of Philosophy – Boethius
  21. A comic by an LGBTQIA creator: Fence, vol. 1 – CS Pacat, illustrated by Johanna the Mad
  22. A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009: In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse – Joseph Marshall III
  23. A self-published book: Blood and Ink – DK Marley
  24. A collection of poetry published since 2014: Fig Tree in Winter – Anne Graue

Currently Reading – Book Tags

I wasn’t tagged but I came across this post on Feed the Crime and thought it looked like fun. It is hard to resist a book survey kind of post, especially when it comes to books! So here goes…

How many books do you usually read at once?

I usually have at least two going – a book to eyeball read and an audiobook. Sometimes I will have a couple different eyeball books, depending on the genre, so like a fiction and a nonfiction. Usually, though, I can only handle two at once, unless you count the book I always have going with my daughter that we read together at bedtime. Then it’s always at least three.

How do you decide when to switch between multiple reads?

Depends mostly on my mood or on what I need to get done. Right now, I really want to read for fun but I need to get some research done for my book I’m writing, so I am doing a lot of nonfiction reading. I reward myself with tidbits of fiction everyday.

Do you ever switch bookmarks partway through a book?

No. Why would I switch them? Is this a thing people do? I guess it must be. I don’t even always use a bookmark at all. I obviously don’t need a bookmark for audio or kindle books, but for physical books, a bookmark is just a tool to hold my spot, not something I give any actual thought to. I don’t care what I use. That said, I have a whole huge mug full of bookmarks, and I do use them when I use bookmarks.

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Where do you keep the book(s) you’re currently reading?

All. Over. The house. In my purse. On the nightstand. Sometimes in my car, though those are my daughter’s since I can’t read and drive at the same time, with the exception of listening to audiobooks. This is just my TBR pile. My library is in a separate room. It’s a little ridiculous. 

What time of day do you read the most?

Mostly in the afternoon or evening. I work for a living and have no time in the morning during the week. I am also my daughter’s sole parent, so when I get home, she wants to do stuff with me. Sometimes she lets me read while she’s doing her homework. Mostly, I read after she’s gone to bed. Sometimes, I get to read in the morning on weekends before she gets up.

How long do you typically read in one session?

This depends entirely on how tired I am. It can be anywhere from two minutes to “holy shit! The sun is coming up!” 

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Do you read hardbacks with the dust jacket off?

Yes, it gets in my way and I tend to rip them no matter how careful I am with them. Dustjacket definitely comes off.

What position do you mainly use to read?

I tend to sit in my chair with my feet tucked up under me and my legs all curled up. Sometimes I sit cross legged, or sometimes I actually sit like a human with my feet on the ground or my legs crossed, but mostly I perch.

Do you take your current read with you everywhere you go?

Yes. How else am I supposed to get through the day? What would happen if my car breaks down and I have to wait and I have nothing to read? Or if I decide to go to lunch somewhere and I don’t have my book? I take at least one book everywhere – to the store, the movies, social functions. You never know when you’ll get to escape from humans and read by yourself somewhere.

How often do you update your Goodreads reading progress?

For sure when I’m finished. Sometimes I enter a book in as “currently reading” when I start it, but not always. I never update my progress. No one cares about the progress I make while reading.

What book(s) are you currently reading?

I’m eyeball reading Medieval Queenship, edited by John Carmi Parsons, A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling (with my daughter). I am also listening to The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi, narrated by Gin Hammond.

Two Dollar Radio – blind date unboxing

So this is something different. I had actually intended to try my hand at doing a video and starting some video book reviews and such, and this would have been the first of those. But…I am fundamentally lazy and haven’t got round to it yet. I still plan to do that, but just haven’t managed to get over the fear of technologies yet.

But! I did come across the Blind Date Book Sale that Two Dollar Radio was having a while back. Actually, it looks like they always run it? Or it’s just still running? I don’t know, but as of this writing, it is still up on their sales page. As I am a big fan of supporting small and independent publishers, especially ones that have a tattoo club, I had been interested in this publisher for some time. But I didn’t know what books to get! So many looked so good, but I had several reasons for not just getting all of the ones that piqued my interest. Enter the Blind Date sale, a delightful way to discover new books.* This sale lets you get two random, pre-2017 books from their backlist, which the staff at Two Dollar Radio picks for you, for $9.99. That is an excellent deal, so I went for it.

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This came out a little blurry, but I love that someone took the time to actually draw the little boombox on the envelope. It’s the little things like that wot make me keep coming back to a place. I’m just saying.

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Inside the envelope, I discovered Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky by David Connerley Nahm and Radio Iris by Anne-Marie Kinney.

They are a really nice size as well, these books are. They, um, feel good in the hand. I mean, they’re not too big or heavy or too little and hard to hold or… hell. You know what I’m saying, get your mind out of the gutter. Since these are the first books I’ve gotten from this publisher, I don’t know if they are all this size or not, but I hope so. I like it.

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It also came with a bookmark bearing a coupon code and a Two Dollar Radio sticker, which my daughter promptly stole, but then was confused because she didn’t know what a boombox was. “Is it like an iPod, Mama? But big?” *facedesk* Yes, baby, it is like an iPod but bigger. “They didn’t draw it very good. Where is the screen?” I give up.

End result: I would definitely recommend giving the Blind Date Sale from Two Dollar Radio a try. Even though I have not yet finished the books they sent me, I have started them and they are both high quality writing. Supporting indie and small presses is always a good thing, as is helping spread the word about talented new authors.

 

*N.B.: This is also a great way to discover new foods. I like to go to restaurants whenever I go to new places and ask the server to bring me whatever their favorite dish is. They probably hate it when people do that, but I like to try new things and so, unless their favorite thing is, like, salad with dressing on the side and everything extra bland, I am game to try just about anything. Lessons from Tony, know what I mean?

The Best Books about Anne Boleyn

On May 19, 1536, an English queen was executed. She really hadn’t done anything wrong, other than failing to give her king the son he craved. So, in order to get rid of her, some trumped up charges of adultery – treason at the time – were thrown at her and she was executed by beheading. The queen was, of course, Anne Boleyn.

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People may think of many different things when they think of Anne Boleyn. I tend to think primarily “mother of Elizabeth I” and “she was framed.” Others may see her as a victim (yes, indeed), as a homewrecker (no, read more history), an advocate for Protestantism (certainly, and likely the catalyst for Anglicanism, having owned copies of Tyndale and showing them to Henry at the right moment), generous to the poor (yes), and many, many other things. She was a skilled musician, dancer, and linguist. She was a genuine Renaissance woman. I think her full impact on history may never be fully understood.

Anne was born at her family home in Blickling probably in 1507 (some scholars say 1501) and grew up at Hever Castle in Kent. When she was about 7 years old, she went to Austria at the invitation of Margaret of Austria to study with her wards. In 1514, she went to the court of Queen Claude of France, where she stayed for several years. In early 1522, she returned to England, where she became a lady in waiting to Katherine of Aragon and caught the eye of Henry VIII. The rest, as they say, is history.

There remains a fascination with Anne Boleyn, and rightly so, in my opinion. By most accounts, she dazzled. She was witty and enjoyed dancing, riding, and hunting. She enthralled a king, and then she died for it. It’s hard not to be fascinated by her. Other people would seem to agree, if we take the many books written about Anne as evidence. Below are a few of my favorites.

Nonfiction:

31088The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Politics at the Court of Henry VIII (Canto) by Retha Warnicke. Warnicke was one of my college professors. She is a little crazy, and some of her theories about Anne are not really mainstream. But she is a fierce defender of Anne and for that, I have a soft spot for Warnicke.

The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives. Ives and Warnicke had disagreements. A lot of them. I approve of academic nerdrage.

Anne Boleyn: Henry VIII’s Obsession by Elizabeth Norton. This is a relatively short, accessible scholarly work by one of my favorite historians.

18111981In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn by Sarah Morris and Natalie Greuninger. This is a really cool book which informs readers not only about Anne, but also about the places she lived and traveled. It tells about each home, manor house, church, chapel, castle, abbey, and so on that Anne ever went to. It shows each room of those places, as much as is possible to do so now. It really helps bring Anne to life in ways that simply writing about her cannot, because it shows up the places where she lived and laughed and grieved. An absolute must-have. I wish more books like this existed for other historical figures.

Fiction:

The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn by Robin Maxwell. It’s been years since I read this one, but I still remember it as the one that really sparked my interest in the Tudors.

10108The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers: A Novel by Margaret George. Not about Anne Boleyn, per se, but she featured prominently, of course, and Margaret George is awesome. There are few authors who can tell such a terrific story while also being accurate.

The Last Boleyn: A Novel by Karen Harper, about Mary Boleyn, the other one. Published about 20 years before the other book about Mary Boleyn that most people seem to know about, and which I’m not mentioning because it was awful, this one is nice because it gives readers the big events but entirely through the POV of Mary. None of the major characters we know – Anne, Henry, Katherine of Aragon, Cromwell, etc – appear unless it is when Mary encounters them. I liked it, too, for its more optimistic tone.

Brief Gaudy Hour: A Novel of Anne Boleyn by Margaret Campbell Barnes. One of the older books, but still super interesting. This is not one of the most accurate books you’ll ever read, but it does do a fantastic job of giving Anne a rich internal life, something that not all historical novels really do, oddly. Well worth a read despite the quibbles with the accuracy.

13540943The Queen’s Promise: A fresh and gripping take on Anne Boleyn’s story by Lyn Andrews. This one focuses on Anne before she met Henry, and the love affair she may have had with Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland. Told primarily from Percy’s perspective, readers get a version of this familiar story from an entirely different angle than we usually do.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I’m a little torn at including this one. Too many people use this as an example of how things really were, but Mantel herself has said no, it is her perception of how Cromwell might have viewed things, which makes sense since it’s from his POV. But it is a terrific read and it’s my blog, so I’m adding it because I liked the book and I want it on the list.

There are sooooooooooooo many other books, both fiction and nonfiction, I could have added here, but I had to rein it in or this would just get out of control. These are just a small handful of my favorites. Are there any others you would recommend?

*Amazon affiliate links