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. 

20 Books about Fire

fireI often enjoy reading groups of books that are thematically similar, or pair well together. For one thing, I find it easier to remember titles if I group them. Sometimes I even remember plots! I swear I do a memory dump every time I finish a book and couldn’t tell you a single plot point or character name, even if I loved it. I really hope I don’t ever meet an author who wants me to tell them my favorite part of a book just on the spot. I’ll be reduced to screaming, “I loved your book! I READ ALL THE WORDS!!” Then, of course, I would just melt into a puddle of embarrassed flaming goo. 

So because embarrassed flaming goo is apparently on my mind, I thought I would give a list of books that are, in some way or another, about fire, burning, explosions, etc. Maybe it’s in the title, maybe it’s related to the plot, maybe both. Who knows. No, I am not going to list any of the Game of Thrones books. Do you have any other recommendations?

  1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Seemingly perfect lives all go up in flames! Literally and figuratively.
  2. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. Necessary reading regarding racism in America.
  3. A Burning by Megha Majumdar. Three people trying to rise in life, connected by a shared catastrophe.
  4. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. A medievalist takes a job at a crematory and learns about the culture of caring for the dead.
  5. The Fire This Time edited by Jesmyn Ward. Using James Baldwin’s narrative, several writers offer essays and poems on race.
  6. A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. A galactic war brought about because a person’s potential is determined by its location in space, known as regions of thought.
  7. The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon. A young woman at an elite university is drawn into domestic terrorism by a cult with ties to North Korea.
  8. The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan. A bomb in a market in Delhi impacts the life of a survivor in ways that may seem impossible.
  9. Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao. Two girls in India find a friendship that helps them survive a life of crushing poverty, abuse, trafficking, and immigration.
  10. Smoke Signals by Sherman Alexie. Two Native American boys, Victor and Thomas, on a journey and the lessons they learn along the way.
  11. Smoke by Dan Vyleta. In an alternate Victorian England, people who are sinful are surrounded by smoke and soot while the virtuous are clean and pure. 
  12. A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger. In 1380s London, a seditious book predicting the assassination of Richard II is causing a lot of problems. So bureaucrat Chaucer asks poet and information trader Thomas Gower for help.
  13. Miracle Creek by Angie Kim. A hyperbaric chamber at a specialized treatment center explodes. Layers of mystery and secrets lead readers to discover who is behind the explosion.
  14. Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg. A woman loses her entire family in one horrible accident. She drives across the country to get away from the memories, and finds connection in shared heartbreak with others.
  15. The Fire Line by Fernanda Santos. The story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite team of firefighters, and the Yarnell firestorm tragedy.
  16. Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson. Lillian and Madison, best friends from college, drifted apart after they left school. Years later, Madison contacts Lillian, begging her to come and take care of her twin stepchildren who spontaneously combust when agitated. Lillian figures why not. 
  17. Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman. Short stories by Neil Gaiman. What else do you need to know?
  18. Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center. Cassie is one of the first female firefighters in Texas, she is great at dealing with emergencies. And then her mother asks her to move home to Boston to tend to a different kind of emergency.
  19. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan. Astronomer Sagan discusses why scientific thinking is necessary both for the pursuit of truth as well as for the health of society. Because how can you make good decisions if you don’t know the difference between myths, pseudoscience, and actual testable scientific fact?
  20. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In the future, all entertainment is on the TV and literature and books are forbidden. Firefighters are those who seek out and burn books. One firefighter, Guy Montag, begins to question everything he thought he knew. 

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

Arthurian Novels Round-Up!

It’s been a while since I did any kind of round-up post, and I’ve been thinking a lot about Arthurian novels. Arthurian legend is probably my absolute go-to favorite for fantasy literature. I love a ton of different kinds of sci-fi and fantasy, of course, but if I had to pick one specific subgenre that really blows my skirt up, it has to be Arthurian. I’ll take it in just about any setting, I’ll read it without forgetting, I’ll read it at school, I’ll read it in the pool, I love stories of Arthur the King… I’ll stop. Ahem. Sorry.

Anyway, in no particular order, below are some of my favorites and I hope some are new to you!

51itaibuaqlOur Man On Earth (The Swithen Book 1) by Scott Tilek. An account based on some of the oldest extant manuscripts describing Merlin.

Black Horses for the King (Magic Carpet Books) by Anne McCaffrey. My beloved author wrote an Arthurian novel (yay!) about horses (winning!!), which is even better. All about the quest to find the perfect breed of warhorse for Arthur and his knights.

51ln1vvcazl._sx331_bo1204203200_The Kingmaking: Book One of the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy by Helen Hollick. An historic retelling, stripped of magic and placed in a realistic medieval setting. One of the best, on par with Bernard Cornwell’s Arthurian Trilogy (The Warlord Chronicles: Books 1, 2 & 3: Excalibur / Enemy of God / The Winter King), which is also legit.

The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy (Daughter of Destiny, Camelot’s Queen, and Mistress of Legend) by Nicole Evelina. The Arthurian legends told from Guinevere’s perspective. The tales get a fresh, feminist revision with a fierce new look at Camelot’s queen.

Child of the Northern Spring: Book One of the Guinevere Trilogy by Persia Wooley. Guinevere is a Welsh princess tomboy who was raised to become a queen.

Knight Life by Peter David. Arthur and Morgan in modern Manhattan, as told by the hilarious Peter David, whose Star Trek books I have universally loved. Especially Imzadi.

51gzvucvqfl._sx354_bo1204203200_Song Of The Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell. Actually, this is the story of the Lady of Shallott, told in verse, and it is lovely.

The Excalibur Murders: A Merlin Investigation by JMC Blair. Excalibur is stolen and a squire is murdered, so Merlin has to use his magic to solve the crime.

The White Raven by Diana Paxson. An historical setting of the Tristan and Iseult story, placed in medieval Cornwall. It is told from the perspective of Branwen, Iseult’s cousin and lady in waiting. Alas, I think this one is out of print, but I know you can get it from used bookstores and Amazon, because that’s how I got my copy. Just sayin’…