Let’s Talk About Reading Challenges…

Hello, Internetland! Happy New Year! Here is my first post of 2018!

This post is not a book review. It’s a post about reading. Reading challenges, to be specific. A reading challenge, if you are not familiar with them, is a way to motivate yourself to read. Usually people will set a specific number of books they want to read in a year and strive to reach that goal. Other times, people will set themselves a challenge to read certain genres that are outside their normal reading habits. For example, one year I set myself a challenge to read more non-fiction since I tend to mostly read fiction books. I didn’t set a specific number of non-fiction books I wanted to read. Just that I wanted to read more non-fiction.

Goodreads.com has an excellent reading challenge format. You set the amount of books you want to read, then Goodreads keeps track for you and lets you know if you are ahead or falling behind. There’s also the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge that challenged the reader to read things in different genres, from different time periods, etc. If you Google “2018 Reading Challenge” you will certainly be able to find one that suits your fancy.

Now the real question: Should you set a reading challenge? What is the purpose of a reading challenge other than to motivate you to read. It’s not like you are actually accountable for it. It’s not like you are going to win some prize (well, unless you’re a kid and you are doing a summer reading program through your local library!).

I’m going to go through the pros and cons of setting yourself a reading challenge. If you want to read a Goodreads specific set of pros and cons, head over to BoatsAgainstTheCurrent.net for blogger Laura’s list: http://boatsagainstthecurrent.net/pros-cons-goodreads-challenge/ It’s a good read and has many of the same points that I will be discussing.

The Pros:

  • First and foremost, a reading challenge is meant to encourage you to read more. Maybe you only get through one or two books a year but you want to challenge yourself to read 5 or 6. It can be the motivator you need to get through your to-read pile.
  • Not only does it encourage you to read more, but read more broadly. A lot of reading challenges encourage readers to read outside their usual genres. For example, the challenge might list X number of romance, X number of sci-fi, X number of classical literature, etc. etc.
  • A reading challenge can help you keep track of your reading. Maybe it’s through an online system like Goodreads, or maybe you have a nifty little book tracking spread in your bullet journal. Doesn’t matter! You can keep track of what you’ve read and go back and look whenever you feel like it.
  • If you use the online method, such as Goodreads, to keep track of your challenge you can often times see what your friends are reading and how well they are doing with their challenges. A little bit of friendly competition can be a great motivator!
  • There are health benefits to having a reading challenge as well. For example, if you know you want to reach your goal then maybe, just maybe, you make time to read. You schedule yourself an hour or two just for reading each day and you find yourself feeling more relaxed, less stressed. The Magic of Reading!

Now, the Cons:

  • Not making your goal number by the end of the year can be discouraging. In 2017 I set myself the goal of reading 52 books. One book a week. I didn’t meet my goal and let me tell you it feels really crappy. Especially when you see all your friends on Goodreads reading 100+ books and you think to yourself, “I’m a freaking librarian! I should be able to read more than 52 books in a year!” Nope. Life sometimes gets in the way. For me it was a newly re-discovered hobby that I got really into. 
  • Having a reading challenge can also make you feel pressured to read and that can be stressful. In fact, having a reading challenge can have a negative effect on your health if you are forcing yourself to read instead of doing other things you might enjoy, or sacrificing sleep in order to get those last few chapters in.
  • A reading challenge can negatively influence what you read. Maybe you need to hit a certain number of books or you see you’re falling behind on your challenge, so you binge on some short trashy romances (not that there’s anything wrong with short trashy romances!) JUST to meet your goal, instead of reading what you REALLY want to read.
  • Reading challenges that encourage you to read outside your preferred genre can also sometimes put you in a reading slump. If all you really like to read is high fantasy but your reading challenge is forcing you to read some chick lit or westerns, you may find yourself bored and putting down your book for a while. If you’re like me you can’t move on until you have either decided to give up on the book (which, for me, would mean failing my reading challenge) or finish the dang thing (which would be unpleasant if I’m really not enjoying the book). So you end up at a standstill. Unable to start something new and unable to finish what you started. And there you are. Slumped.

So there you have it, Internetland! Some of the Pros and Cons of setting yourself a reading challenge in 2018. Take care of yourself, and if you find yourself not enjoying your reading challenge don’t forget you don’t need to stick to it. No one is going to hold you accountable to it. No one will scold you if you change it mid-year. No one will scoff if you don’t read as many books as Joe Schmoe over there. Reading is meant to be fun and relaxing. This year I decided to set myself a smaller challenge. In fact, I halved my challenge this year because I want to make time for my other hobbies. I am also going to keep in mind that I CAN change the number any time I feel like it and I’m going to try and not feel too badly if I can’t make that number. I implore you do do the same. A reading challenge shouldn’t be something you beat yourself up over. It’s meant to be a fun motivator.

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A Spell For Chameleon by Piers Anthony

chameleonA Spell for Chameleon is the first book in a LONG series of novels set in the magical land of Xanth. I first read this book when I was very young. Maybe when I was 11 or 12?. Too young to really understand it, but I enjoyed it because it was such an interesting idea and compelling plot. Now that I’m older I decided to re-read it. I have issues, but we’ll get to that later.

A Spell For Chameleon is a high fantasy novel set in the magical land of Xanth. Xanth is so hard to describe. There’s a bunch of history cleverly packed into this novel. One of the main things to note is that everyone in Xanth has a magical ability they refer to as a talent. Very similar to X-men, or if you an anime fan, My Hero Academia. These talents range in power, so some can be Magician caliber talents with the ability to control the weather, or transform living objects, and some are completely useless, like making a coloured spot appear on the wall. But, no matter what the talent is you must have one in order to stay in Xanth. If you are talentless you are exiled.

The main character is a twenty-five year old man named Bink and so far he seems to have no talent and if he cannot demonstrate one very soon he will be forced into exile in the non-magical land of Mundania (aka Earth). So, in order to discover his talent Bink sets out to visit the Good Magician Humphrey, whose talent is knowledge. He meets a lot of people along the way, including two girls named Wynne and Dee. Once he finally gets to the Good MAgician’s castle he is thrilled and also disappointed to find out that he does, in fact, have a talent. A Very powerful talent that would put him in Magician class, but for some reason his talent remains hidden and the Good Magician Humphrey cannot figure out how to reveal it.

Unfortunately, the letter from Humphrey stating that Bink has a very powerful hidden talent isn’t good enough for the rapidly deteriorating Storm King and Bink is exiled anyway. Once he is across the border to Mundania, which is protected by a magical Shield to protect Xanth from Mundanian invaders, he is captured by the Evil Magician Trent and meets a woman named Fanchon. Trent was exiled twenty years ago for trying to take over the throne, but now he wants to go back to Xanth and… take over the throne. But for different reasons. Twenty years ago he wanted the power to rule Xanth. Now, however, he wants to help Xanth grow and prosper. Something the current Storm King cannot do any longer.

The rest of the novel is the story of how Bink, Trent, and Fanchon make it back into Xanth and make their way through the wilderness into populated areas. Throughout their adventures Trent figures out Bink’s talent, Bink figures out Fanchon’s secret, and all’s well that ends well.

Things I like about A Spell For Chameleon:

  • There’s a map in the front of the book. I love maps.
  • The story is really compelling and fun to read. There are also a bunch of puns written into the prose, which I didn’t really understand when I was younger.
  • I’m a big fan of X-men and My Hero Academia, so I love the idea of each person having their own unique magical ability in Xanth. It always makes me think what mine would be if I had one.

Things I didn’t like about A Spell For Chameleon:

  • Sometimes it can get pretty wordy. I ended up skipping some paragraphs because they would be too boring to read. I don’t need to read a page long description of  every small detail about the land of Xanth. My imagination will fill in the gaps, thanks.
  • My biggest dislike of this novel is how completely and obviously sexist it is. Piers Anthony was a male chauvinist with a complete lack of respect for women. There is even a self proclaimed “woman-hater” character in the novel. The character Bink is a shallow man who says he would get bored of an average woman and wants variety in a woman. The women in the novel are portrayed as either untrustworthy or not worthy of any of the men in the story. Take the three women I mentioned. Wynne is extremely beautiful but extremely stupid. Dee is completely average. Fanchon is incredibly intelligent but hideous to look at. None of these women are good enough for Shallow Bink the Talentless Wonder. It makes me so angry the way women are treated and portrayed in this novel. So much so that I have decided to get rid of all the Piers Anthony novels I have collected over the years.

Overall, I like the story and the idea behind Xanth, but I just can’t get over the blatantly sexist attitudes portrayed in this novel. I originally had this novel marked as four out of five stars on Goodreads, but now it’s only two stars in my opinion. Bye Piers Anthony. I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life, kay thanks.

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones

murdermagicOriginally, I picked up Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones because Gail Carriger suggested it on her Facebook page. Carriger is the author of one of my favourite steampunk book series and she often talks about books by new authors that she’s reading. I trust her judgement and I was not disappointed.

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore is a young adult historical fantasy novel set in the year 1818 England about a young woman named Annis Whitworth. As it stands right now it is a stand alone novel, but the ending left it open enough to have a sequel or possibly a whole series based on it.

The story starts out with Annis and her aunt Cassia finding out that Annis’s father has been killed in a carriage accident. Annis, however, doesn’t think that her father died by accident — she thinks he was murdered. Why does she think this? Because her father was a spy for the British Empire.

Her suspicions lead Annis to wanting to become a spy herself so she can finish her father’s work, but her attempts seem to be thwarted at every turn. She’s desperate to become a spy because her only other option is to become a governess and teach children the alphabet. That is until she discovers she has magical powers and can sew magic into clothing. She uses this power to sew disguises for herself and her maid Millie. Together they solve the mystery of who murdered her father, stop Napoleon from being released from prison, and become spies for England. #theEnd

Things I liked about Murder, Magic, and What We Wore:

  • The writing style was good, flowed well, and was entertaining and humourous. Jones did a good job of describing the environment and the dresses that each character wore. In a book whose title includes “And What We Wore” this is an important detail.
  • I liked that Annis could sew magic. I myself am a seamstress (kind of…) so I really appreciate books that include sewing references. Annis reminded me a lot of Sophie Hatter from Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones because Sophie, like Annis, could sew magic into hats, but she too was unaware of her power. Annis could make fabric bulletproof, or encourage the wearer to be invisible or feel extreme confidence. Sophie could do the same thing, but with hats. She could make a hat that would make the wearer more attractive, lucky, etc. It’s just a really cool power that I really appreciate.
  • The aspect of Girl Power in this book was great! Annis was a pampered lady who suddenly befell hard times, but rather than take what life gave her she decided to forge her own path. This book is full of strong female role models for girls.

Things I didn’t like about Murder, Magic, and What We Wore:

  • It was sooooooo predictable. There was no surprise at all to the “big reveals” at the end of the book. Maybe I’ve just read too much and am too good and picking up small details, but I felt that the clues Jones dropped were way too obvious and took some of the excitement out of the book.

Overall, I was very entertained by this book. I feel that it’s a good book for young adults as it’s easy to read and full of interesting characters. I gave Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads because while I really enjoyed reading the book I felt the obviousness of the plot took away from the experience. Despite this I look forward to potential sequels.

Origin by Dan Brown

originThis is the fifth installment of the Robert Langdon series. What’s great about these books is that they are stand alone novels that feature the same protagonist. You don’t need to read the previous books to know what’s happening in the current one. Although there are little nods to the previous books that you’d only pick up if you read them. For example, someone might make a remark about “that incident at the Vatican” or something to that effect which of course is a reference to Angels & Demons. Knowing what happened at the Vatican isn’t integral to understanding the plot of Origin.

The movie The Da Vinci Code is what prompted me to read the books and I have loved the Robert Langdon books since then. I started with The Da Vinci Code, then read Angels & Demons. After that I read the books as they were released. Angels & Demons was by far my favourite. So disappointed that the corresponding movie was so utterly terrible.

This book follows the same recipe as the other Robert Langdon books. Robert somehow finds himself in a situation with a pretty female companion and they must #savetheday. Origin starts with Robert’s friend Edmond Kirsch visiting three religious leaders and revealing to them he has discovered the origin of the the human species and discovered our destiny — through science, not religion! Obviously, the religious leaders are not happy because his discovery undermines faith and if this information became public, organized religion as we know it would crumble.

Fast forward a few days, Edmond is about to reveal his discovery to the whole world via live streaming and he has invited his dear friend and former professor, Robert Langdon, to the live presentation at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. As he is taking the audio guided tour of the museum Robert discovers that the person on his audio headset is not a person at all and if in fact a highly advanced artificial intelligence named Winston created by Edmond.

During the presentation of Edmond’s discovery Edmond himself is brutally assassinated on live television before he can reveal what he has discovered. So, Robert and Edmond’s friend Ambra must go on an epic adventure, aided by Winston, to discover the password to Edmond’s super top secret computer server so they can release his discovery to the world. And they must do this while evading the police and Edmond’s assassin.

Things I liked about Origin:

  • The book grabs hold of you right away and hooks you into reading more. It’s exciting and Brown’s writing style makes you really want to know the answers to the questions “Where do we come from?” and “Where are we going?”
  • Winston was an interesting character. Being an artificial intelligence (or rather, a synthetic intelligence as Winston prefers) makes him the ultimate “man in the chair” as it were. He can hack into any system and acts as a deus ex machina for Robert and Ambra. Winston has his own personality, thoughts, ideas, and feelings, even though he insists they are just programmed reactions you really have to wonder. Especially at the end of the book.

Things I didn’t like about Origin:

  • It really does follow the same recipe as the other books and while there were a few big reveals that actually surprised me at the end of the book, it was a pretty predictable plot.
  • I was also a little disappointed with the reveal of Edmond’s discovery. Especially the answer to “where are we going?” Seemed like a cop-out to me. As if Dan Brown didn’t want to make any real predictions about the future of the human race and just picked something that would be the least controversial. Although, I guess when you think about it, humans are well on their way to the outcome he describes in the book.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and look forward to Robert Langdon’s next crazy adventure. Hopefully the movie adaptation isn’t terrible. I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads because, while there were a few things I was disappointed about the book was extremely entertaining and well written.

P.S. There is a secret message hidden in the plot description on the book jacket flap. Comment if you figured out what it says!

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

konmariHello, Internetland! I’m going to be reviewing a non-fiction book today! I actually finished reading this book about a week ago, but my schedule has been crazy lately and have only just had the time to write the review now. The book I’m reviewing is called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I first heard of the “KonMari” method of tidying from a YouTube vlogger I follow called Lovely Lor (if you’re interested in Japanese Lolita Fashion Lovely Lor’s video’s are awesome to watch! Link here). I was intrigued by Lor’s video and did a bit of research on my own about the KonMari method and that’s how I found the book that started it all.

After only a couple of chapters into the book I felt really motivated to get started. I decided to finish reading the book before diving in, however. The thing about the KonMari method and Marie Kondo’s writing style is she makes cleaning and tidying seem like it’s not a chore, but something fun and relaxing. I very rarely read non-fiction books from cover-to-cover. Usually I just scan the chapters looking for pertinent information, however this book is one that I read every single word. This book is incredibly interesting to read. I can’t explain it. It’s just captivating. Marie Kondo’s words are inspirational, and almost poetic. She evokes a sense of calm, and really makes you think about what happiness means.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up  isn’t just some other ‘how to organize’ book or a ‘how to clean’ book. It’s an in depth look at the KonMari method, which is the art of learning to let go of things that do not spark joy in your life. Marie Kondo is an organization consultant in Japan and her clients have never fallen off the horse, as it were, after taking her course. Kondo talks about her life and how she came up with the her method and she talks about her clients as well. I like that she goes through other methods and tells the reader why those methods don’t work. For example, she talks about her early obsessions with the art of storage and how it isn’t actually de-cluttering, it’s hiding the items you need to get rid of.

I feel like I need to buy a copy of this book for everyone in my life. I know so many people who could benefit from reading this book and really taking the time to sort and tidy their homes, myself included. I borrowed a copy from the library, but I want to eventually get myself a copy to keep because I feel like it will be an excellent reference book in the future.

spark joyI’m itching to try the KonMari method for myself, but as she recommends in the book you need to have the time to fully and thoroughly go through your belongings. I have been crazy busy with work, extra curricular, and side projects lately, so I haven’t had the chance to try the method out. While I wait for the time I am going to read Kondo’s second book Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. This book goes further in depth to how to do the KonMari method, and I’m really looking forward to reading it!

The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman

dark days pactHello, Internetland! Today I’m going to be reviewing The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman. This is the second book in the series about the Dark Days Club and I highly recommend the first book! Even though there are some people who categorize this book as Steampunk, it’s not. It’s gaslamp fantasy. There’s a very subtle difference between gaslamp fantasy and steampunk and this book definitely falls under the gaslamp fantasy umbrella. For one thing, there are no steampunky gadgets featured in this book. Can’t have a steampunk book without steampunk gadgets!

As I mentioned this is the second book in the series. The first book gives the reader a good base knowledge for the world the book is set in. I’m afraid that if you wanted to jump right into the second book it may take you a while to figure out what’s going on. Fortunately, however, there are some new faces being inducted into the Dark Days Club in this book so we do get a little bit of a recap on what’s happening. Here’s a very undetailed description of the first book: Lady Helen discovers the existence of the Dark Days Club, a secret government organization dedicated to fighting Deceivers (demons who lives as humans and feed off human energy) and that she’s a Reclaimer, basically a warrior who is physically able to fight Deceivers. I really enjoyed the first book in the series and so was quite excited for the second book! While I liked the first book better I really enjoys the second one as well, and I had a really hard time putting it down once I started reading it.

So here’s the basic plot of The Dark Days Pact. Spoiler alert! After the events of the first book Lady Helen has moved to Brighton with Lady Margaret to start her Reclaimer training with Lord Carlston. There she is visited by the Second Secretary to the Home Office, Ignatius Pike. He comes to deliver a message to Lord Carlston, but his true purpose is to swear Lady Helen into the Dark Days Club, officially, and also order her and Lady Margaret’s brother, Mr. Hammond, to secretly retrieve a journal owned by the Terrene of a mad Reclaimer who was the antagonist in the previous book. As Mr. Hammond and Lady Helen begin their secret mission they start to notice that Lord Carlston is slipping further and further into madness, a symptom of Reclaiming for too long. Lord Carlston is convinced it’s not Reclaimer Madness that ails him and starts trying to figure out ways to cure himself. He eventually asks the Comte d’Antraigues, a very old Deceiver who has worked with Lord Carlston before, for help. The Comte says he knows a cure for Lord Carlston, but as payment wants the same journal that Lady Helen and Mr. Hammond are secretly trying to retrieve, as the journal  is rumoured to contain sensitive information about the Comte and his family. Also trying to get the journal is a Deceiver named Philip who works for the Grand Deceiver. So now it’s a race to see who can get the journal first! Also it turns out the journal is actually a Ligatus, an item that could be used to destroy all Reclaimers and open a gate to the Deceiver world (aka Hell). So it’s more important that Lady Helen gets the journal before it falls into the wrong hands.

Here are some of the things I liked about the book. I love the gaslamp fantasy genre almost as much as I love the Steampunk genre. The setting of the book is 1812. I studied historical costume design in university so I’m really familiar with what the fashions of the time were. This made it easy for me to picture the story in my head as I read. I also really enjoyed the secret society fighting evil theme and the characters. I felt the characters were written really well, and even if there’s nothing about the character you can relate to on a personal level you can empathize with them because they are written in such a way that you almost experience their emotions along with them. The romantic tension between Lady Helen and Lord Carlston is a prime example. Dang… The last thing I like about this book is the race against time theme. It makes the book so exciting! Honestly, I had a really hard time putting it down. Work? Who needs to work? Food? Eh, I’ll eat later. It was that compelling.

Despite loving this book so much there are still a couple things that I disliked about it. The first is that while I like the plot, and the secret society theme… it’s really overdone. There are tonnes of books about secret societies that fight evil in order to protect humanity. The Infernal Devices/Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, for example. Despite it being a really overdone theme in young adult literature right now… I still like it. So sue me. The second thing I disliked about this book was one point of inconsistency that was never explained. At the end of the book SPOILER ALERT when Lord Carlston brings the journal to the Comte and it’s revealed to be a Ligatus the Comte says he wants nothing to do with it. But just a few pages later the Comte tells Lady Helen that the Ligatus is the key to curing Lord Carlston because it will allow them to be joined as the Grand Reclaimer. If the Comte only just found out the journal was a Ligatus how could he possibly have known that it was the key to curing Lord Carlston of his madness?

There you have it, Internetland. My review of The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman. I gave this book four out of five stars on Goodreads because while I really enjoyed it, that one giant plot hole at the end was enough to make me dock a star. I hope you’ll give this series a try! If you like books set in Victorian England with a fantasy/supernatural theme you will enjoy this book!

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

rollergirlOkay, Internetland, I’m going to share a little known fact about myself here. I play roller derby. Well, sort of. I’m still just a Freshmeat (roller derby slang for new player), but I do play! My derby name is Dewey Decimator and my number is 025. If you’re a librarian, you’ll get the jokes. The reason I’m telling you this is because I’m reviewing Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson today and in my opinion as a player of the sport I can tell you that this book is a pretty accurate representation of roller derby! Not like some other forms of pop culture out there *cough*Whip It Movie*cough*…

Roller Girl is a graphic novel about a 12-year-old girl named Astrid discovering roller derby. The story starts out with her mom taking Astrid and her best friend, Nicole,  to a roller derby bout. At the bout they find out about derby skate camp and Astrid is very excited and can’t wait for her and her Nicole to go together. Unfortunately, Nicole doesn’t want to go to derby camp, and goes to ballet camp instead. The story follows Astrid as she stresses over not being good at derby, starts drifting away from her best friend, starts making new friends, and in general just discovers who she wants to be.

There are a lot of important themes in this book that young adults will find relevant. Friendship is a big one. Astrid and Nicole are drifting apart and Astrid is making new friends, but she’s having a lot of anxiety about it as well. Coming-of-age and self discovery is another important theme. Astrid is trying to discover who she wants to be as she prepares to start junior high. Bullying is another theme that plays a lot into the story. Astrid has been bullied basically her whole life, and continues to be bullied by “the popular girl”. I feel that roller derby is a sport where like-minded people can gather and feel accepted for who they are and that’s why Astrid seems to find herself on the track.

This book does a really good job explaining the sport, but sometimes I felt it was a little too much. I’m sure it’s just because I already know about the sport that I think this, and I know for someone who isn’t familiar with the sport that they would find the explanations very useful. This book also accurately describes how difficult roller derby can be. I don’t think my legs stopped hurting for a whole month after I started roller derby. It’s a very physically demanding sport. Great exercise though! If you’re interested in roller derby I encourage you to do an internet search for your local team! Most teams are online somewhere these days. Also visit the Woman’s Flat Track Roller Derby Association website (https://wftda.com/) for more information on the sport and a list of leagues! Or if you’re in Canada, go here: http://www.crdinfo.ca/

Just for fun, here’s my derby headshot:

025-dewey-decimator