Books

52-Week Challenge: My Q1 Reading List

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions for a reason: I’m just setting myself up for failure. My life is too erratic and ever-changing to commit to set goals and guidelines. Take my latest “marathon” for example (quotations used to emphasize how it’s not happening). I thought four months was plenty of time to get back into shape after seven months of not training (traveling the Western United States by trailer, moving cross country, then circumnavigating the world by ship). And then I went to California for six days. And Colorado for a week. Spoke at BlissDom. Took off for Atlanta and Savannah. Spring Break’d in Florida. And, uh, that significantly cut my training time in half (I don’t train while on the road). So here I am having not run more than eight miles since last July and I’ve bumped back my entry to the Country Music Marathon to running the half instead. Let’s hope I can make it that far.

In an effort to spend more time off of social media and with my nose pressed to my Kindle (figuratively), I thought I’d impose a 52-week reading challenge. Surprise, surprise, I’m already behind at the end of the first quarter. After reading 34 books in 2011, I wanted to bump up that number to 52 for 2012. At this rate, I’m on schedule for 44. (And just like that, another stressor has been added to my life. WHY do I do this to myself?!)

Here’s what I’ve read to date:

Everything Changes by Jonathan Tropper

There wasn’t so much a plot per se to this book—bottom line: protagonist thinks he’s dying and starts to reexamine his own life and shortcomings—but Tropper has such a fast-paced, witty style of writing that the actual story doesn’t seem to matter. I have a lot more of his books on my to-read list, and I think anyone would enjoy this novel of his.

Rating: 4 out of 5

*****

Winter Bloom by Tara Healey

When Borders was closing last summer, I bought 15 books in the giant clearance sale. I haven’t plowed through too many of these yet as I generally read with my Kindle while traveling. I picked this one up during one of my stints at home, and while it’s a bit slow at first, it chronicles a few characters from Dublin—all from different backgrounds and walks of life—and how a city garden they decide to save impacts all of their lives. It wasn’t the most riveting read, but I enjoyed it all the same.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

*****

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Thus begins my descent into the bottomless world of YA lit. I have loved dystopian books since I was a kid and first read Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. I can’t help it: There’s something so frightfully appealing about authors’ takes on what could happen to our society if we’re not careful. I devoured The Hunger Games trilogy in four days two years ago, and I’ve read countless YA series since then. Divergent is by far one of the best. Roth’s world is divided up into five factions, and children get to choose which one they join when they turn 16. Central character Tris, who has one major secret (I won’t ruin it for you), decides to leave Abnegation (the selfless) for Dauntless (the brave), who I envision to be a whole gang of Lisbeth Salanders with leather accoutrements, brass knuckles and the works, and finds out they’re looking to overthrow the other factions. Same formula as all dystopian lit: Character sparks a rebellion, mayhem and violence ensue, entertainment (and extreme anxiety) for the reader follows. The second book in this series, Insurgent, comes out on May 1, and I am literally counting down the days (34!).

Rating: 5 out of 5

*****

The Fault in our Stars by John Green

If you haven’t heard about The Fault in Our Stars since its January debut, you’ve been living under a rock (or at least in a world devoid of Internet and entertainment magazines). I haven’t seen a bad review about it, and all of the critics have been spot on: This book is excellent. Don’t let people tell you Stars isn’t sad, though, because that’s not true. It’s about two teenage kids with cancer for Chrissakes. But it’s incredibly poignant, the writing is top notch, the dialogue is Gilmore Girls-esque in its sharp intelligence and shrewdness, and you can’t help but love Green when you watch his Web series (and/or when he moves you to tears with his realistic portrayal of love and loss).

Rating: 5 out of 5

*****

Legend by Marie Lu

More dystopian lit, I downloaded Legend after Veronica Roth (see above) recommended it on her blog. It wasn’t as good as Divergent, but it was fast and I finished it in an afternoon and am eagerly looking forward to the follow-up (out this fall). What gets me about all of these rebellion trilogies are how the authors can create entire worlds without replicating what their predecessors have done. In Legend, the rebel is a guy (named Day)—a departure from the typical feminist protagonist like Tris or Katniss Everdeen—and the government is turning the poorer citizens into lab rats (unbeknownst to them) by spreading a deadly plague for which only they have a cure.

Rating: 4 out of 5

*****

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I finally got around to reading this one after so many of you recommended it on my last book post, and while I thoroughly enjoyed it in the end, I would highly disagree that it’s “the next Harry Potter” as so many critics boldly spouted when it was released last fall. First of all: It’s a single installment, not a series, so how can such a novel compete with a seven-book saga? Secondly, I found Morgenstern’s writing style a bit too jumpy for my liking. She flitted back and forth between years (from 1880s to the early 1900s) and characters, and I was constantly having to go back (not easy to do on a Kindle) to figure how who, what, when she was even talking about. The setting for much of the book is a traveling circus that operates on magic and shows up in new locations without warning. The central focus is two children who are trained by different rival mentors from early on to duel to the death (eventually). Each doesn’t know who their opponent is, when or where this duel will take place or what it will entail. I liked the fantasy element of it, and in the end I put it down having enjoyed myself, but it took until I was halfway done to really invest in the plot and characters.

Rating: 4 out of 5

*****

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

You’ve read Delirium by now, right? After The Hunger Games, it ties Divergent for my favorite trilogy. This second installment starts with Lena’s escape over the border into the Wilds and the vagabond community of survivors she joins, as well as their attempt to go back into the real world (New York City) unnoticed and overthrow the government. I don’t want to give anything else away, so just do yourself a favor and go read it. My only complaint is that we have to wait until Spring 2013 to find out how it all concludes.

Rating: 5 out of 5

*****

I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella

One-sentence summary: Newly engaged Poppy Wyatt finds a discarded phone in the trash after hers is swiped and becomes immersed in a corporate scandal as she pretends to be the phone’s original owner. Look: I may be partial to YA reads, but I’m still a girl. I do pick up the chick lit on occasion. I love the Shopaholic series, so anytime Sophie Kinsella puts out a new book, I download it immediately. This wasn’t her best: The character was an obvious offshoot of Becky Bloomwood, as so many of hers our, and the story wasn’t great but it was perfect for the beach nevertheless.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

*****

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (audiobook)

Obviously, I had read this before, but I wanted to refresh my memory before seeing the movie. So I downloaded the audiobook and listened to it while running each day. I thought the narrator was perfect for painting a bleak picture of the districts after the Uprising, but her male voices (mainly Peeta’s and Haymitch’s) drove me crazy. Still, it was about 11 hours long and kept me entertained while pounding the pavement.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (audiobook), 5 out of 5 (story)

*****

Her Royal Spyness and A Royal Pain (books 1 and 2) by Rhys Bowen

I was having bouts of insomnia while in Florida, so I put away the high-stress dystopian lit for awhile and finally read some of my mom’s more mellow recommendations. She loves this spirited series from Rhys Bowen about Depression-era England and a relative of the queen’s (all fictional). If you like Downton Abbey, you’ll probably enjoy Spyness. I’m not usually one for murder mysteries, but the central character Lady Georgiana (Georgie to her friends) won me over and my obsession with Old World Europe didn’t hurt. I’ll tackle the next few in the series at some point, as well, as they’re very quick reads.

Rating: 4 out of 5

*****

Up next: The Paris Wife, Under the Never Sky (gotta love more YA), The Book Thief, Looking for Alaska.

What are you reading, loving, loathing?

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Comments ( 75 )

  1. This is awesome! I also set the goal to read 50 books this year and I am currently on #13 which makes me right on track I think? Anyways I never thought to cover it on my blog so I might just steal this idea from you (although all my books are on kindle so not as photogenic).

    • Mine are all Kindle reads, too, so I just snapped this of my bookshelves in my closet! Note that none of the books pictured are ones I read this time ’round, ha.

  2. You know, this was my same resolution, which I thought I’d be able to keep thanks to my new Kindle. NOPE. I’ve been terrible — only six read so far!

    Thank you for the recommendations — I came across Divergent and for some reason ignored it and read the young adult dystopian book Life As We Knew It instead. ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE!!! Just because it sounds like an authentic teenager’s diary, it doesn’t mean that anyone wants to read it!!

    If I can pass one on to you, I recommend The Post-Birthday World. Lionel Shriver is my favorite author and she creates characters that you will think about for years. I’m still thinking about these characters. She also wrote We Need to Talk About Kevin. Let me know if you read it because I need someone to discuss it with!!

  3. I hope you love The Book Thief, it is one of my favorites! :)

    xox

    • It’s one of John Green’s favorites, too, and after The Fault in Our Stars, I will read ANYTHING that guy recommends.

  4. Oooh, Kristin, The Book Thief is really good! I stayed in a tiny house in Costa Rica for a few weeks in 2010 and found it. One of the best YA books I think I’ve ever read. Also found In Patagonia – have you read Bruce Chatwin? That would be very appropriate for you!

  5. i will actually heading down to nashville from vt for the city music marathon! …my cousin’s wife is running the half while my cousin and i will be running the mini (2.6 miles) race. good luck!

    • Oooh, maybe I’ll see you on the course! (I’ll be the one huffing and puffing and not ready for 13.1 miles.)

  6. Just finished Everything Changes a couple of weeks ago too. I really enjoy Jonathan Tropper — he has a gift for analogies, that guy. I also second the reco above for The Post Birthday World..I don’t really know how to describe it except to say it was super engaging while I was reading it. Looking for Alaska rocked — I think I need to read more John Green but the internet is kind of beating me over the head with him right now — though I did enjoy that book a lot, so maybe the internet is on to something :)

    • Yes! The Post-Birthday World just got bumped high up the list. I’ve never read anything else of Green’s, but a lot of people highly recommend Looking for Alaska so it’s about time.

  7. I also love the dystopian fiction! Have you read “The Passage” by Justin Cronin? It’s more of an adult dystopian novel and really great. There’s a sequel coming out in a few months. Loved it! Highly recommend.

    I declared it the “Year of the Book” on my blog and am forcing people to follow my reading adventures. Great post – love your blog!

    • No, I haven’t! So happy to have another dystopian rec as I’m quickly burning through all of mine, ha! =)

  8. We obviously have the same taste in books (YA love!), so I’m going to go right home and download the rest of your suggestions. The Mortal Instruments series is another good YA one.

  9. Love this post, I needed some new books for my Kindle and wondered what the fuss was all about with the Hunger Games

  10. Love this post. I am always looking for new things to add to my ridiculous Amazon Wishlist! I think I’m going to read Divergent next – I have been hearing great things about it everywhere!

  11. I bought The Fault In Our Stars last month and read it in less than 24 hours. I had heard people talking about it online and saying how good it was and how much it made them cry and was like “that’s a book for me!”. haha I wonder what that says about me that I like to read books that make me cry. Anyways, I loved it and just received Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska today from Amazon. Excited to read them!

    I haven’t read anything by Jonathan Tropper except This Is Where I Leave You but I’m thinking I want to check out more of his books. I also wrote down Divergent and Delirium on my list of books to check out. WAY too many books, way too little time. :)

    I’ve recently decided to not read books that don’t seem interesting to me even if they come highly recommended by people I know. A lot of classic or popular books I end up having to force myself to read and where’s the fun in that? I know what authors I like and what types of stories so I should stick to those (even if it is a lot of YA)!

    • We clearly have very similar reading taste! I also have “This Is Where I Leave You” on my Kindle, just haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. Seriously, my Amazon wishlist right now is around 100 books deep. Reading isn’t cheap…ha.

      Before reading The Fault in Our Stars, I read so many blog reviews where the writer was all “it isn’t sad!” and then I wondered if I read the same book because I bawled my eyes out. (I also like sad things…to an extent.)

  12. my goal is 62 for this year. (I read 61 in 2011)

    I am on book 16 (YIKES!). A Visit From the Goon Squad, which I am enjoying.

    We have almost ZERO overlap…I’m shocked, actually. I did read The Night Circus, though, and liked it.

    • Not totally shocking since you didn’t like THG and many of these are in the same genre! Though I *am* surprised you haven’t read The Fault in Our Stars yet–I figure that’s one you probably would like.

      I did like The Night Circus in the end, though did the jumping around not bother you? It was sort of the literary equivalent to how The Hunger Games was filmed, with that Blair Witch-like effect.

      And Goon Squad is on my Amazon list, too! I just need to find the time to read all these books. Seriously, HOW do you do it? The only reason I miss having an office job is because when I rode the subway I had commute time to actually read.

  13. Last year I did a 100 book challenge, and succeeded! So this year I’m kind of taking it easy. I have Night Circus and Divergent on my Nook, as well as lots of other YA ones – I like the dystopia ones too!

    • Are you KIDDING me? I’m not going to even make 50! You must have done nothing but read in 2011, ha. That is so impressive.

      • Thanks! I was temping for about 6 months and only actually working for about 3 of them, so I got way ahead before I moved to Korea to teach English.

  14. I used to absorb books, pre-internet. Now I get in an occasional good non-fiction, usually natural or cultural science. You are So busy I don’t how you find to read any books. Hats off to you girl. And don’t kick yourself for trying.

    • I’m trying to get into a habit of reading before bed each night, but many times, I’m falling asleep already by the end of the third page, ha!

  15. Divergent is on my list to read…before the next instalment comes out. As for The Night Circus (I was one of the many who recommended it) and I agree….it took me a bit to get into it, but was very glad by the end. And definitely not even close to Harry Potter.
    Thought this looked familiar when I saw it on Groupon tonight. :) http://www.groupon.com/deals/ga-institute-for-shipboard-education?c=all&p=30

    • Haha, I know! That’s the next one I’m working, too! I’m trying to get the whole Internet to go so we can have one big party at sea =)

      And yes, the second half of The Night Circus was excellent; I just wish the first half had moved along at a quicker pace (and not jumped around so much).

  16. John Green is absolutely amazing. You should definitely read Looking for Alaska. I bawled for hours. His writing is so beautiful.

    • I really can’t believe his writing is considered YA because you can’t even compare it to the crap out there like, say, Twilight. Looking for Alaska is a high priority!

      • I completely agree! At first I didn’t think I’d enjoy his books because they’re considered YA. But honestly, if I was in that age group I probably wouldn’t enjoy his books as much. And don’t even get me started on that Twilight crap :)

  17. This is just a theory, but I know in myself that I tend to set ridiculous goals for myself because it’s easier to motivate myself to do things when I’m driving towards a specific goal. Then, every mile I run or page I write or book I read isn’t done without purpose, but as another small step towards some higher goal. It makes everyday activities feel more important, and at the end of the day I can tally up all my accomplishments and say, “I did that.”

    But like I said, it’s just a theory.

    • Theory holds true, at least in my case. I’ve only ever run consistently when I have a race on the calendar prompting me to do so. But what about burnout? i.e. Right now, instead of running miles toward my goal (my next half-marathon), all I want to do is sit at home and read books working toward another goal (52 books, one year). Conflicting goals, and I might not even meet either of them! What then? ;-)

  18. love these posts! it’s always great to get ideas/recommendations. my book club is reading the night circus now but i haven’t started it. i just finished cat’s table, the marriage plot, and a visit from the goon squad. didn’t particularly care for those three, but a few i have enjoyed in the last year: the shadow of the wind and world without end (i know that one’s over 20 years old and over 1000 pages, but i couldn’t put it down). i liked paris wife and had to immediately reread the sun also rises. next on my list is the sense of an ending.

    • People seem to love the Goon Squad. I have no idea what it’s about, but it’s on my list (though now I’ll bump it down since you said you weren’t a fan!). I love me some Hemingway–I read The Sun Also Rises while I was working in Pamplona back in 2006, and A Farewell to Arms is one of my all-time favorite books. The problem with The Paris Wife is that I’m only 10% into it, and already I’m prepare to pack up and move to France!

  19. I’ve set a similar goal for myself (50 books) and am also dreadfully behind…

    I think I might be the only person on the Internet who didn’t LOVE “The Fault in Our Stars”.

    I’m definitely going to pick up (download) Everything Changes. Tropper’s “This is Where I Leave You’ was one of my favorite reads last year. Hopefully this will kickstart me back into reading.

    • No, you’re not–my best friend Liz just blogged that she had a similar reaction! Personally, I can’t understand that, but to each her own, ha =)

      I have This is Where I Leave You on my Kindle, too! Now to find the time to read it.

  20. Oooh I think you’ll like The Paris Wife. It was one of the best books I read last year. I’d also recommend Rules of Civility. Fiction, but not total fluff, and definitely interesting enough to keep those pages turning!

  21. Great List! I loved Divergent & Hunger games – yeay for YA Dystopian fiction! Have you tried Maze Runner?? It’s not as well written as the other two, but it’s definitely worth a read!

    • No, but it’s on my Amazon wishlist, too! Should I bump it up to the top of the list? Right now, I’m trying to break up my dystopian lit to every other book, so my anxiety doesn’t reach epic proportions ;-)

  22. I just finished The Book Thief and let me tell you, near the end I was so into it on the bus I had tears coming out of my eyes, and at another point my mouth was hanging open like a crazy person. It’s so good!

  23. Excellent! I needed some book reco’s and am going to check these out.

    I don’t know how you can listen to an audio book while running, very impressive. I think if I tried that I’d end up in some sort of accident (I can only focus on limited amounts of things at a time…. ;)

    • Ha, well it’s probably not the safest thing to do, but I live in a small town at the moment and run on a sidewalk so I just assume no one will run me over while I’m immersed in Katniss’ world ;-)

  24. 52 books? With your hectic lifestyle? Damn, and I thought I was an overachiever. I’ve decided that instead of reading more, I plan to upscale my life. More adventure. More outdoor things.

    Currently reading some David Sedaris. Best thing to ever come out of America.
    Loving? Easter vacation. Have some many fun things planned.
    Hating? The fact that I’m getting sick and that I might actually spend Easter vac in bed. *sigh*

    • Well, it’s actually easier when I’m traveling a lot (which I’m not at the moment, except by car) as I do most of my reading on planes and in airports! Now I’m having to make a concerted effort to get off the computer and spend an hour or two reading before bed each night.

  25. I am lucky to read 5 books in a year! Woman, you are amazing!

    I did read the Hunger Games complete series last year. Awesome! And I’m hoping to check out the movie this week.

    • The Kindle has been great for that–picking back up on my reading–as I can download a book from anywhere in the world! Love it. It’s my savior on long plane rides and layovers.

  26. I hadn’t read anything for years and years (besides Harry Potter) until this trip. I ravage books in a matter of 2-3 days. It can be an expensive habit! :D

    • For real, yo! I can’t believe Kindle books cost more than paperbacks and hard covers these days! I started subscribing to the Kindle Daily Deal for this very reason and asking for Amazon gift cards for my birthday and Christmas.

  27. I’m trying to read 40 books this year, but am already two books behind. Life’s busy, yo!

    • Yeah, I’m only on #14 so I’ve fallen behind, too. I reiterate: This is exactly why I never set goals for myself, ugh!

  28. Super impressed, can’t believe I’m saying this, but I haven’t read a book in a freaking year!!!!!!

    • Really? With all the flying/time you spend in an airport? That’s when I get the majority of my reading done!

  29. I’m stealing all of these book recommendations for myself…. :) And I love the Hunger Games!! I just read it a few months ago and I was floored – there aren’t many well-written books with such a strong female protagonist / heroine!

    Since getting my Kindle I read so many more books, especially as we travel. Trains, planes, buses, twenty minutes over coffee… I read constantly now. :)

    Just out of curiosity, what’s your favorite book of all time?

    • Agreed! If you love the Hunger Games, you seriously need to read Divergent and Delirium (both the first books in trilogy series). I might have liked them as much as THG, and they’re also well written with strong female protagonists.

      Favorite book of all time is a hard one…can I pick a few? Children’s books I LOVE The BFG and Matilda (both Roald Dahl. Memoirs, I love The Glass Castle. Fiction, The Princess Bride and Memoirs of a Geisha. Though I really love some of the books we had to read in school as kids like Cold, Sassy Tree and 1984, so I’m not sure if I can even narrow down my favorites to a handful! I don’t reread books anymore (other than series like Harry Potter or THG before the movies come out) as my reading list grows exponentially and I just can’t keep up =)

  30. A) Apparently I have been living under a rock, as I have never heard of this The Fault of Our Stars book. Whhhaaaaa?? What is WRONG with me?! (Don’t answer that.)

    2) I love, absolutely LOVE Jonathan Tropper. I just finished The Book of Joe which I enjoyed absolutely as much as This Is Where I Leave You. I hope these are both on your list if you’re a Tropper fan and haven’t already read them. :)

    III) Huzzah! to Her Royal Spyness series! Loved ‘em. Fun, fast reads. And agreed–I’m not usually much of a murder mystery kind of gal, but a “cozy” mystery every once in awhile is certainly enjoyable.

    4) I just read Hunger Games for the first time. Like, ever. And then went and saw the movie.

    ?) This has nothing to do with books, but while on vacation in St. Croix we went to a place that had a dish called “Luna Shrimp” on the menu. I of course snapped a picture and have been meaning to send it to you, but alas, I keep forgetting. GAH.

    • I have both The Book of Joe and This Is Where I Leave You on my Kindle already! Though I just finished The Book Thief (meh) this afternoon, and now feel the need to read the third Royal Spyness as something quick and lighthearted after the somber content of Nazi Germany.

      The Fault in Our Stars. Read it. I just follow a whole lot of book review bloggers on Tumblr and Twitter so this was ALL over both of my dashes when it came out in January. Sad but incredibly sweet and well written.

  31. I loved Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars and the Night Circus. I also just finished Moloka’i by Alan Brennert and just downloaded Honululu (same author). Moloka’i was really excellent.

    Have you read A Discovery of Witches yet? Highly recommend if not!

  32. Thanks for the ideas! I actually haven’t ready any of them so you’ve given me good potential book club picks.

  33. I just stumbled onto your blog and am really enjoying it! Thanks for the book rec, we seem to have similar taste.
    I went through a period in the spring where I read 19 YA novels in 3 weeks, while working a full-time job and balanced time with my husband. So I set my goal to be 100 books for 2012; possibly a bit too ambitious, but doable. I have read 40 so far, but really that seems like nothing when I have 60 left for my goal. I literally finished Pandemonium last night and I do not believe I will be able to last until it’s published! I also loved Divergent, Delirium, and THG and enjoyed Legend (but not as much as the others)! If you like those novels then I truly believe that you will like Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi and Matched by Ally Condie as well.

    • Hi, Other Kristin Who Spells Her Name Right ;-)

      19 books in three weeks? You are Superwoman! I don’t even think I’m going to get to 52 this year at this rate (I’m only to about 28). I did read Matched, and to be honest, didn’t love it; however, I’m one of those must-read-a-trilogy-in-its-entirety, so Crossed is on the list regardless. Thanks for the Shatter Me reference–hadn’t heard of that one. Here’s the second installment of what I read this summer:

      http://www.camelsandchocolate.com/2012/07/book-recommendations-part-two/

      Since then, I’ve read Gone Girl, Gold and an Abundance of Katherines. Am reading Falling Together now. I needed a bit of a respite from YA dystopian–too much anxiety right before bed, ha!

  34. thanks for the delirium series recommendation. just finished pandemonium. totally hooked! anxiously awaiting the release of the final book. spring, eh?? can’t wait!

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