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Getting Out of That Reading Slump: The 2017 Reading Challenge

Friday, December 30, 2016
You'll have noticed that I haven't blogged much for the past year. I started book blogging because I love books and wanted to share the love. As my blog got bigger and I started receiving more books for review, I found that I was getting trapped inside of a genre. Part of it is my bad. I love young adult, and that was what I shared on my blog. Reading book after book in the same genre forced me into a rut, however, as I became increasingly critical of books that tried to catch fire on the latest trend but failed to deliver in quality of writing or execution of plot.

I found joy as a child in browsing the library shelves, where I picked up books that taught me new things. In my early years (elementary to middle school), I didn't restrict myself to the kids section. I read across many genres, including pure nonfiction.

The purpose of this reading challenge is to branch out from my usual reads and revive my childhood joy of reading for the sake of learning new things. This list captures a wide variety of books: there are old books and newer books, books I hadn't heard of before making this list, books of different genres (including ones I don't usually broach), books that seek diversity, and books that I've always wanted to read but never touched.

Credit: The categories for this list come from the Modern Mrs. Darcy's 2017 reading challenge.

Following are the cover images for the books that I plan to read in 2017. Click on them to view the synopsis on Amazon. Below them, I have described the books and my reasons for selecting them in more detail.





READING FOR GROWTH

A Newberry Award winner or Honor book: I have two nominations for this category.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Growing up, I noticed that many protagonists didn't look like me, and I was always excited to find a book with an Asian heroine. This novel appeals to be because it not only has a Chinese heroine but also draws from Chinese fables.

Synopsis: In the Valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli spends her days working hard in the fields and her nights listening to her father spin fantastic tales about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon. Minli’s mother, tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense. But Minli believes these enchanting stories and embarks on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family can change their fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest.


Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins
Criss Cross is a simple story about how our lives intersect with those of others. I tend to be drawn to the fantasy genre with all its action, adventure, and magic. This will be a different kind of story.

Synopsis: She wished something would happen.

Something good. To her. Checking her wish for loopholes, she found one. Hoping it wasn't too late, she thought the word soon.

Meanwhile, in another part of town, he felt as if the world was opening. Life was rearranging itself; bulging in places, fraying in spots. He felt himself changing, too, but into what? So much can happen in a summer.


A book in translation: Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
My brother read this novel for a class and highly recommended it to me.

Synopsis: 
Doctor Zhivago is the story of the life and loves of a poet/physician during the turmoil of the Russian Revolution. Taking his family from Moscow to what he hopes will be shelter in the Ural Mountains, Zhivago finds himself instead embroiled in the battle between the Whites and the Reds. Set against this backdrop of cruelty and strife is Zhivago's love for the tender and beautiful Lara, the very embodiment of the pain and chaos of those cataclysmic times. Pevear and Volokhonsky masterfully restore the spirit of Pasternak's original—his style, rhythms, voicings, and tone—in this beautiful translation of a classic of world literature.


A book that's more than 600 pages: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
I read the first couple of chapters of this novel but never got around to finishing it (the size is pretty intimidating, and I was a student at the time. I've heard fantastic things about this novel, however, and can't wait to read it (again)!

Synopsis: Told in Kvothe's own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen.

The intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king form a gripping coming-of-age story unrivaled in recent literature.


A book of poetry, a play, or an essay collection: The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
I can't remember where I heard about this book (it's been that long), but the title is intriguing as well as the story behind the publication of this book.

Synopsis: Marina Keegan’s star was on the rise when she graduated magna cum laude from Yale in May 2012. She had a play that was to be produced at the New York Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at The New Yorker. Tragically, five days after graduation, Marina died in a car crash.

Marina left behind a rich, deeply expansive trove of writing that, like her title essay, captures the hope, uncertainty, and possibility of her generation. Her short story “Cold Pastoral” was published on NewYorker.com. Her essay “Even Artichokes Have Doubts” was excerpted in the Financial Times, and her book was the focus of a Nicholas Kristof column in The New York Times. Millions of her contemporaries have responded to her work on social media.

A book of any genre that addresses current events: What's up with the Fig Leaves by Heather Thieneman
The question of how we should dress has been a hot topic these days. This book was recommended by a blogger I follow. I haven't seen much else on the book, so this will be a surprise.

Synopsis: These days, modesty seems to be a floundering ship ... and the more we try to patch her up with teaching, the faster she seems to sink. Passing on this virtue to the next generation can feel like a hopeless cause. Instead of answering the questions we usually ask - where to draw the lines - What's Up with the Fig Leaves? points us towards the really important questions - where to lay the foundations. Building on what Scripture teaches, we obtain an understanding of modesty that will not capsize even in a world lurching from one sexual revolution to another.

An immigrant story: The Fortunate Pilgrim by Mario Puzo
My brother read this book for a class and loved it. He rarely recommends books, so I'm expecting a masterpiece! Apparently Puzo likes this book better than The Godfather, which presents a romanticized image of the mafia.

Synopsis: Before The Godfather and The Last Don, there was Puzo's classic story about the loves, crimes and struggles confronted by one family of New York City immigrants living in Hell's Kitchen. Fresh from the farms in Italy, Lucia Santa struggles to hold her family together in a strange land. At turns poignant, comic and violent, and with a new preface by the author, The Fortunate Pilgrim is Italian-American fiction at its very best.

A book published before I was born: Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
I asked for book recommendations on Facebook, and a friend suggested Starship Troopers. Quite honestly, I have no idea what to make of this novel. However, this year is about going outside of my usual reads!

Synopsis: In one of Robert Heinlein's most controversial bestsellers, a recruit of the future goes through the toughest boot camp in the Universe--and into battle with the Terran Mobile Infantry against mankind's most frightening enemy.



Three books by the same author: Neil Gaiman
I read and loved Coraline as a child, and I've read stories from a short story collection of his. Gaiman is a talented author whose novels my friends have been recommending to me for a while. This is the year to finally cross some of his other works off my to-read list!



A book by an #ownvoices or #diversebooks author: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
I found this book as I was browsing list of works to teach my AP Lit class, and I bought a copy along with Peony in Love as part of my attempt to broaden my worldview and learn more about the culture of my ancestors.

Synopsis: In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men.

As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

A book with an unreliable narrator or ambiguous ending: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Another book that I've never heard about nor would normally pick up but which was highly praised by a friend!

Synopsis: At a café table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man converses with an uneasy American stranger. As dusk deepens to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful encounter . . .

Changez is living an immigrant’s dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by an elite valuation firm. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his budding romance with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore.

But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, and his relationship with Erica shifting. And Changez’s own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love.

A book nominated for an award in 2017: TBD


A Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award winner: All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
I love The Road and have had this book on my reading list for a while. (1) I've loved animals since I was a child and (2) I live in Texas, so the setting is close to my heart.

Synopsis: All the Pretty Horses is the tale of John Grady Cole, who at sixteen finds himself at the end of a long line of Texas ranchers, cut off from the only life he has ever imagined for himself. With two companions, he sets off for Mexico on a sometimes idyllic, sometimes comic journey to a place where dreams are paid for in blood. Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction.




READING FOR FUN

A book I chose for the cover: When Jesus was a Green-Eyed Brunette by Max Davis
The title and the story behind the title caught my attention. When I clicked on the link and saw the cover, I was sold. I love the simplistic design and how key words are accentuated with bold colors. The excerpt on Amazon was the clincher.

Synopsis: When Jesus Was a Green-Eyed Brunette weaves heartwarming and miraculous stories of Jesus showing up in ordinary people, revealing that He knows us and is fully present in our everyday circumstances, especially in our difficulties. As best-selling author Max Davis puts it, When we are born again, Jesus lives inside each of us. He is very much alive today and still does incredible things -- sometimes supernatural things -- through us!

Davis's own life was dramatically altered when he first came face-to-face with Jesus living inside a green-eyed brunette. That encounter started a forty-plus-year journey where Jesus became his best friend. When we see others as God sees us we will love them as God loves us.

A book with a reputation for being un-put-down-ableSaving My Assassin by Virginia Prodan
Everyone in my church group has been reading this book recently, and they have only great things to say about this book (and Virginia herself). As soon as I get a copy, this will be the first book I tackle on this list.

Synopsis: “I should be dead. Buried in an unmarked grave in Romania. Obviously, I am not. God had other plans.”

At just under five feet tall, Virginia Prodan was no match for the towering 6' 10" gun-wielding assassin the Romanian government sent to her office to take her life. It was not the first time her life had been threatened―nor would it be the last.

As a young attorney under Nicolae Ceausescu’s brutal communist regime, Virginia had spent her entire life searching for the truth. When she finally found it in the pages of the most forbidden book in all of Romania, Virginia accepted the divine call to defend fellow followers of Christ against unjust persecution in an otherwise ungodly land.

For this act of treason, she was kidnapped, beaten, tortured, placed under house arrest, and came within seconds of being executed under the orders of Ceausescu himself. How Virginia not only managed to elude her enemies time and again, but how she also helped expose the appalling secret that would ultimately lead to the demise of Ceausescu’s evil empire is one of the most extraordinary stories ever told.

A book set somewhere I've never been but would like to visit: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
As soon as I read this category, I thought of Japan. It is a country rich in history and culture. While this is a fictional story, it was written by someone who studied Japanese history, and it is revealing of a part of the historical culture. (Note: A friend gave me a copy of Shogun by James Clavell a few years back, so I might substitute it for this category.)

Synopsis: Speaking to us with the wisdom of age and in a voice at once haunting and startlingly immediate, Nitta Sayuri tells the story of her life as a geisha. It begins in a poor fishing village in 1929, when, as a nine-year-old girl with unusual blue-gray eyes, she is taken from her home and sold into slavery to a renowned geisha house. We witness her transformation as she learns the rigorous arts of the geisha: dance and music; wearing kimono, elaborate makeup, and hair; pouring sake to reveal just a touch of inner wrist; competing with a jealous rival for men's solicitude and the money that goes with it.

A book I've already read: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Maybe not the whole series . . . but at least the first three books. Anne of Green Gables is a book filled with memorable moments (and quotes to go alongside them). As I gain new experiences, I find myself relating to Anne more and more in different ways. This is a classic.

Synopsis: Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert had decided to adopt an orphan. They wanted a nice sturdy boy to help Matthew with the farm chores. The orphanage sent a girl instead - a mischievous, talkative redhead who the Cuthberts thought would be no use at all. But as soon as Anne arrived at the snug, white farmhouse called Green Gables, she knew she wanted to stay forever. And the longer Anne stayed, the harder it was for anyone to imagine Green Gables without her.

A juicy memoirWishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
Carrie Fisher has been appearing on my social media feed a lot recently, then I saw someone shelf this on Goodreads. I don't read many memoirs, so this will be a good change of pace.

Synopsis: In Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher tells the true and intoxicating story of her life with inimitable wit. Born to celebrity parents, she was picked to play a princess in a little movie called Star Wars when only 19 years old. "But it isn't all sweetness and light sabres." Alas, aside from a demanding career and her role as a single mother (not to mention the hyperspace hairdo), Carrie also spends her free time battling addiction, weathering the wild ride of manic depression and lounging around various mental institutions. It's an incredible tale - from having Elizabeth Taylor as a stepmother, to marrying (and divorcing) Paul Simon, from having the father of her daughter leave her for a man, to ultimately waking up one morning and finding a friend dead beside her in bed.

A book about books or readingEncountering God in Tyrannical Texts by Frances Taylor Gench
A professor recommended this book to me back when it came out. It looked interesting but was on the pricey side for a newly grad, so I shelved it on Goodreads and forgot about it until recent days. I'm hoping to get a lot of answers out of this book (...which is probably why my professor recommended it in the first place lol)!

Synopsis: The Bible includes any number of "tyrannical texts" that have proved to be profoundly oppressive in the lives of many people. Among them are Pauline texts that have circumscribed the lives and ministries of women throughout Christian history. What are people who honor Scripture to do with such texts, and what does it mean to speak of biblical authority in their presence? In Encountering God in Tyrannical Texts, Frances Taylor Gench provides strategies for engaging such texts with integrity- that is, without dismissing them, whitewashing them, or acquiescing to them-and as potential sources of edification for the church. Gench also facilitates reflection on the nature and authority of Scripture. Encountering God in Tyrannical Texts provides access to feminist scholarship that can inform preaching and teaching of problematic Pauline texts and encourages public engagement with them.

A book in a genre I usually avoid: Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
Horror and scary vampires, not to mention the tagline "chillingly erotic." That's usually enough to have me backing away from a novel. However, I had two friends with good taste in literature recommend this one to me, so I've decided to give it a try. If it does get too much for me, Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald is my backup for this category.

Synopsis: Here are the confessions of a vampire. Hypnotic, shocking, and chillingly erotic, this is a novel of mesmerizing beauty and astonishing force—a story of danger and flight, of love and loss, of suspense and resolution, and of the extraordinary power of the senses. It is a novel only Anne Rice could write.



A book I don't want to admit I'm dying to read: Dreamland by Sarah Dessen
Romance . . . ewww. That's my automatic response to a book that advertises romance. That said, I love Dessen's The Truth About Forever and This Lullaby (though I haven't been as a huge fan of her more recent works). When there's romance, I want to see a larger story or issue being explored. I'm hoping to see more of that in Dreamland.

Synopsis: Wake up, Caitlin. Ever since she started going out with Rogerson Biscoe, Caitlin seems to have fallen into a semiconscious dreamland where nothing is quite real. Rogerson is different from anyone Caitlin has ever known. He's magnetic. He's compelling. He's dangerous. Being with him makes Caitlin forget about everything else--her missing sister, her withdrawn mother, her lackluster life. But what happens when being with Rogerson becomes a larger problem than being without him?

A book in the backlist of a new favorite author: TBD
I haven't been reading much recently, and I've read most of the works of old favorites. A possibility for this one is The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima. It's not that old, but it was written in 2009 (so it's over five years old).

A book recommended by someone with great taste: TBD
I'm going to wait on this one. If you have a suggestion, I'd love to hear from you!

A book I was excited to buy or borrow but haven't read yet: I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Frank Turek and Norman Geisler
Technically, I started reading this (got through the first 7 chapters), but I never finished it. It's been well over a year since I picked this one up. One of my goals this year is to restart and finally finish this book! I loved what I read, and I'm looking forward to reading more from this one.

Synopsis: To some, the concept of having faith in a higher power or a set of religious beliefs is nonsensical. Indeed, many view religion in general, and Christianity in particular, as unfounded and unreasonable.

Norman Geisler and Frank Turek argue, however, that Christianity is not only more reasonable than all other belief systems, but is indeed more rational than unbelief itself. With conviction and clear thinking, Geisler and Turek guide readers through some of the traditional, tested arguments for the existence of a creator God. They move into an examination of the source of morality and the reliability of the New Testament accounts concerning Jesus. The final section of the book deals with a detailed investigation of the claims of Christ. This volume will be an interesting read for those skeptical about Christianity, as well as a helpful resource for Christians seeking to articulate a more sophisticated defense of their faith.

A book about a topic or subject I already love: Flamecaster by Cinda Williams Chima
Well, I love young adult, and I love fantasy. I received this for review a while back but never got past the first chapter because of my reading slump. (I got really anxious whenever I thought about reading a novel.) One of my goals this year is to finish this novel and get past that slump!

Synopsis: Adrian sul’Han, known as Ash, is a trained healer with a powerful gift of magic—and a thirst for revenge. Ash is forced into hiding after a series of murders throws the queendom into chaos. Now he’s closer than ever to killing the man responsible, the cruel king of Arden. With time running out, Ash faces an excruciating choice: Can he use his powers not to save a life but to take it?

Abandoned at birth, Jenna Bandelow was told that the magemark on the back of her neck would make her a target. But when the King’s Guard launches a relentless search for a girl with a mark like hers, Jenna assumes that it has more to do with her role as a saboteur than any birth-based curse. Though Jenna doesn’t know why she’s being hunted, she knows that she can’t get caught.

Eventually, Ash’s and Jenna’s paths will collide in Arden. Thrown together by chance and joined by their hatred of the ruthless king, they will come to rescue each other in ways they cannot yet imagine.

What are you planning to read in 2017? Feel free to link to your reading challenge. I'd love to take a look at what you have planned for 2017!

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