Amp Up Your Reading in 2017

Have you ever done a reading challenge? Do you try to read a certain number of books each year? Do you just pick stuff up at random or do you need a guide to keep you moving? If so, check out the following reading challenges! A reading challenge is a great way to guide your reading through the year, or get you going again if you feel “stuck” after a book and don’t know what to read next.

I’m challenging myself for the following year based on last year’s statistics. I want to read more books, more books from the library, more books by people of color, and some short stories. With that in mind, I’m trying to fulfill the following categories for my reading next year:notes-on-bookmarks This is how these categories stacked up for me this past year:

  • Read 140 books – this year I read 123, but my reading didn’t REALLY ramp up until May, so I think this is doable
  • Read at least 50% books that are borrowed – yikes… this year only 35% of my books came from the library, friends, and galley copies, which means I spent a lot of money on books!
  • Read at least 20 books by people who aren’t white – this year I read 19
  • Read a short story collection – I have NEVER done this!
  • Read a book that was translated from its original language – Fredrik Backman gave me 3 in this category this year
  • Read 30 non-fiction – I read 26 this year
  • Read a book by an author that died before I was born – This year I read 3 from authors that passed before I was born, but two were children’s chapter books
  • Read a book under 100 pages – if I count read-alouds with the kids, this is easy, but making this happen with an “adult” book is more difficult!
  • Read a book over 500 pages – my longest this year was 11/22/63 at 849 pages
  • Read a book set in New Mexico – I didn’t pull this off this year, but did read some NM authors!
  • Read a book from an LGBTQ author – I read only two of these this year
  • Read a literary award-winner – I read a few of these this year!

If you’d like to create your own challenge, feel free to use any of these categories! If you’d like one ready-made for you, take a look at the ones below!

modern-mrs-darcyModern Mrs. Darcy: Choose Your Own Adventure Reading Challenge – You can choose to read for fun (12 books) or read for growth (12 books) or read for both (all 24 categories!)

 

momadviceMomAdvice Reading Challenge – I’m a huge fan of Amy Allen Clark and her MomAdvice book club. She came up with this fun reading challenge printable for the year. If you click through to her site, you can even see the books she has chosen for all 52 of these categories!

popsugarThe PopSugar Reading Challenge – 40 categories ranging from “a book about career advice” to “a book with a cat on the cover” and another 12 ADVANCED categories if you want to try for a book a week!

bookriotBook Riot’s Read Harder – 24 tasks and/or reading categories to “explore topics or formats or genres that you wouldn’t normally try”

challiesChallies Christian Reading Challenge This one has 4 levels: Light –> Avid –> Committed –> Obsessed. You choose how many you want to try to attempt, of course! Light includes only 13 books (one every 4 weeks), then 26 for Avid, 52 for Committed, and 104 for Obsessed readers!

better-worldBetter World Books 24 categories including “a book that’s been adapted into a movie” and a movie-watching bonus!

You can also find a master list of many other options on Girl XOXO‘s roundup of 2017 reading challenges! She has over 100 compiled!

My Favorite Books of 2016

top-2016-booksBy the end of this year, I will have read 126 books, and so many were absolutely wonderful! It was really difficult to narrow them down to my top 10 fiction and top 5 non-fiction picks. I could make a top 40 fiction and still feel like I left out some gems. But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do! So, here we have my top 15 books from 2016, fiction first and then non-fiction.

Fiction

coverEveryone Brave is Forgiven – Chris Cleave

This beautifully-written novel is about a couple in London during World War II. It is witty and fun, and unforgettable. Cleave weaves a masterful story. His characters and setting are phenomenal and transport the reader directly to WWII. I loved this story through and through.

Be sure to check out my interview with Chris Cleave after you’ve read it. He’s such a wonderful writer and person!

02-small-great-thingsSmall Great Things – Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult has long been a favorite author of mine, but I’ve always considered her more of a guilty-pleasure-read. This novel changes that for the better. Small Great Things tackles black/white relations in this country in Picoult’s signature style (court case and personal drama). I devoured this one.

11-homegoingHomegoing –Yaa Gyasi

Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel follows two branches of a single family from Africa through the colonial period, slave trade, and post-segregation America. She includes one story from each generation, and it doesn’t seem like it should work, but it does! And it’s so revealing and thought-provoking. I couldn’t put it down.

underground-railroadUnderground Railroad – Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead reimagines the underground railroad of America as an ACTUAL railroad, just like we all did as children. His novel is hard, but so necessary. Main character Cora will stick with you long after this one has ended.

 

09-lilac-girlsLilac Girls – Martha Hall Kelly

This stunning debut novel introduces us to the “Rabbits of Ravenbruck”, healthy young women who were experimented on medically by the Nazis during WWII. I listened to it on audio, and that’s definitely the way to go. The three narrators of the audio version really bring the story to life in such a unique way.

Be sure to check out my interview with Martha Hall Kelly after you’ve read it!

18774964A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman

This sweet story is about Ove, a curmudgeonly old man reeling after the death of his wife. He is forced to interact (begrudgingly) with his neighbors throughout this book, and it produces some sweet moments filled with hope and joy and laughter. Backman is only 35 years old, and this book was originally written in Swedish. I feel like knowing those two things makes the entire story that much more amazing.

8 - 11-22-6311/22/63 – Stephen King

This isn’t a new book, but it was new to me this year. It’s the first 30+ hour book that I devoured on audio, and that should say something about its plot. It’s un-putdownable. None of the horror that made Stephen King famous, but all of the plot and character development that he has perfected over his decades of writing best-sellers.

news-of-the-worldNews of the World – Paulette Jiles

This is a story about an older man (Captain Kidd) that reads newspapers throughout Texas who ends up taking care of a young girl who needs to be returned to her parents after four years of being held captive by the Kiowa tribe. The road they travel is dangerous and long, and they have only each other to make it through. Beautifully-written, and absolutely wonderful plotline.

this-is-how-it-always-isThis Is How It Always Is – Laurie Frankel

This one comes out early next year, but I couldn’t not put it on this list. Laurie Frankel gives us a family of boys, the youngest of which is diagnosed with gender dysphoria. He is a girl. This family drama deftly illustrates the love of forever that comes with family as well as the trial and heartbreak of having a child that you don’t know how to parent.

two-family-houseTwo-Family House – Lynda Cohen Loigman

Loigman’s story about Mort and Abe, two brothers (and their wives Rose and Helen, and their numerous children) who live in a single home spans a full generation. It will make you laugh and cry and sigh with affection for her characters. You’ll be sucked in by family secrets and wonder if it’s a thriller or a drama.

Honorable mentions: What She Knew, Behind Closed Doors, Woman in Cabin 10, The One-In-A-Million Boy, I Let You Go, and Ready Player One.

Non fiction

11-love-warriorLove Warrior – Glennon Doyle Melton

I love Glennon’s writing in every form, but I think this one might be my favorite. The shattering of her (and my) naive notions about marriage, love, acceptance, beginning, and pain is just fantastically written. She does such a wonderful job of redefining the landscape, for women especially, in relation to God and the church as well. I found myself nodding, crying, and amen-ing throughout this book and I know it will become a regular recommendation for others, just like Carry On Warrior has done!

born-a-crimeBorn a Crime – Trevor Noah

I was so grateful for this freebie from Audible! Trevor Noah brings his trademark humor to some really tough stories about growing up during and after the fall of apartheid in South Africa. Read by the author, these stories are full of wit and fun and a bit of horror. just like the daily show, just like life.

5893865Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys – Steven James and David Thomas

Thomas and James dissect boyhood perfectly into ages and stages and needs and wants and desires. I kept nodding my head and wanting to tattoo parts of this book on my arms. I broke out the highlighter and read pages aloud to my husband. Cannot wait to pass it along to fellow boy moms (as long as I get it back!)

05-when-breath-becomes-airWhen Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

In this memoir, neurosurgery resident Dr. Paul Kalanithi is diagnosed with brain and spine cancer. Not a spoiler: it’s about his journey toward death. Paul’s writing is beautiful and poignant. He so faithfully captures both the doctor and patient sides of care. As with everyone else who reviewed this gem, the afterword by his wife left me weeping on the floor.

11 Brown Girl DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming – Jaqueline Woodson

I loved this memoir in verse novel format. I listened to it as an audiobook, read by the author. I highly recommend it in that format, especially. Like most verse novels, this isn’t a lengthy read. Due to our current national/political/social climate, this one seems especially important. Woodson has much to tell us, even in the short format. Make sure you stay tuned for the author’s note and “thankful for”s at the end.

Honorable mentions: The Fringe Hours, This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage, Big Magic, and Hillbilly Elegy.

If you’d like to see my entire year as a reader, you can click over to Goodreads, where they’ve created this fun Kaytee’s year in books graphic!

Author Interview – Mary Kubica

mary-kubica-21Hello, Mary! Welcome to the blog. I’m so thrilled to get to interview you. Your books and story are so intriguing to me. To start, I always ask for the 2-minute bio and something most people don’t know about you (your favorite drink for cold nights, the scariest thing you’ve ever done, the fact that you always sneeze in fours, etc…).

Hi there!  Thanks so much for having me. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with you, Kaytee.  I’m the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of three books, with another set to arrive this June.  I have a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature, and live outside of Chicago with my husband and two children.  I enjoy gardening, photography and caring for the animals at a local shelter.  A few little known facts about me are that I’ve been a vegetarian for about fifteen years and I’m absolutely terrified to fly in airplanes.

Excellent! To get started, I want to dive right into the fact that you’ve mentioned multiple times that you are a seat-of-your-pants writer: you don’t outline and let the characters develop themselves! I find that so fascinating, especially coming from a writer of psychological thrillers! It seems to me, as a reader, that you’d need to know where your story was going to end up in order to plant clues or misdirection throughout the novel. Do you rely on heavy revision and editing after the fact? Or are you able to write out your novels in the format that we get to read them?

I always start my novels with just a seed of an idea, and then watch it grow as I dive deeper into the manuscript.  I’m not an outliner at all, and make a concerted effort not to think too far ahead as I plot out my books.  I need to get to know my characters in order to discover how their stories will unfold on the page.  Quite often the plot of a novel will change its course on me and I’ll need to go back and make revisions to adapt to that change.  I love the spontaneity of writing my novels this way; my favorite part of the process is that moment that I figure out the big twist and get to go back into the book and leave either clues or red herrings for the reader to find.  Because my novels are often told either nonlinearly or from multiple points of view, I break them into smaller sections to write and then combine at the end.  In the case of my latest novel for example, Don’t You Cry, I wrote the entire storyline of Alex before going back to the beginning and creating Quinn’s narrative.  In the book itself their chapters unfold successively.

9780778316558_RHC_SMP.inddIn your debut novel, The Good Girl, as in your other books, the main characters are not all they seem. As you mention here, the one-dimensional characters in thrillers are pretty frustrating to you. So you’ve given us characters that are good guys (or girls) on the outside but have major flaws, or bad guys on the outside, but we are drawn to them and aren’t sure whether to start rooting for them. Since “real life” is like that, what do you think makes it hard for other suspense authors to write characters of this depth? Why do you think we see so many flat protagonists and antagonists in this genre?

I would never suggest that other suspense authors are unable to write characters of great depth.  I deeply admire the authors in my genre and think they are masters at what they do.  It’s a complicated genre in that quite often suspense novels are plot driven as opposed to character driven; readers are craving a propulsive storyline.  I try to create a balance: books that are both plot and character driven because for me, personally, I relish novels with deeply drawn characters that resonate with me.  For some readers, this works, but for others they find my books more of a slow build than other psychological thrillers.  The best thing about books?  They’re completely subjective and deeply personal.  What one reader loves another may not, and that’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.

Before getting The Good Girl published, you had written, sought an agent, and edited your novel for almost ten years. Yet, no one knew that you were writing a novel, except for your husband! Did you purposefully keep it a secret? Why didn’t you let the people around you know that you were writing? Would you do the same if you were to go back and do it again (with the 20/20 hindsight that lets you know you would make it big with this book)?

Yes, I purposefully kept it a secret!  For me for much of my life, I was very buttoned up about my passion for writing.  I was quite self-conscious of it, for one.  I had no idea if my work was any good and was too afraid to share it and find out.  There was also much less pressure when I was writing The Good Girl.  No one knew I was working on it, and therefore no one but me had their hopes up.  If I didn’t finish the novel or if it never got published, no one would feel let down but me.  If I was given the chance to go back in time and do it again, I’d do it the exact same way.

final-for-pb-pageYou mention your love for animals, and volunteering at an animal shelter, in quite a few interviews as well. Will we see this passion play out in any forthcoming books? It seems that it would be difficult to keep things that are such a big part of your life separate from your book-writing!

There are animals in nearly all of my books.  A stray cat plays a fairly prominent role in The Good Girl, the Wood family in Pretty Baby has two cats (both strays rescued as kittens from the outdoors), and my next novel, Every Last Lie (coming June 27th!) features a rescue dog named Harriet who the family adopted from a high-kill shelter.  Animals already play a role in my books, and I’m looking forward to including them in future novels as well.

9780778319054.inddYou frequently write using the unreliable narrator as one of your viewpoints (The Good Girl, Pretty Baby, and her newest novel, Don’t You Cry all feature unreliable narrators). Readers have VERY strong opinions about unreliable narrators, but they fascinate you! To many, it feels like being led astray by the person chosen to guide you through the story. When you sit down to write, do you purposefully create characters that cannot be trusted or are they “lying to you” as you write them down? Since you have spoken about not knowing where the story will go yourself as you write, I am interested in how this aspect of it plays out!

Unreliable narrators don’t always have to be unreliable because they are lying.  In the case of The Good Girl, Mia can be considered unreliable because she has amnesia.  In Don’t You Cry, Quinn can be considered unreliable because she lacks a bit of common sense.  There are all sorts of reasons for this unreliability and to me, it doesn’t make them bad characters, but just the type that keep readers on their toes – and as a reader that’s exactly what I expect from a good suspense novel, to be kept on my toes throughout!

Finally, I like to end on a personal note. Since you often mention in interviews that your first job is as a mom and that your kiddos come first, I’m curious about what they think of your success. It’s very apparent to me that your children are not old enough yet to have read any of your books. Do they care about your job as a writer? Are they interested in it or invested in it? Are they proud of you? 🙂

They’re very proud!  My kids are 11 and 9 years old now, and have spent years watching me write, hearing the PG version of what my novels are about, and attending more book signings than they probably care to.  They’re both avid readers and writers, and I love that we can share these passions together.  They ask frequently when they can read my novels, and beg me to write a book that they’re actually able to read.  I love that we’re on this journey together.

Thank you so much, Mary, for taking time out of your day to answer my questions! I am elated and honored to have you here on the blog!

Thanks so much for having me!

QuickLit – November 2016

Linking up to Modern Mrs. Darcy for her monthly QuickLit post, where we share “short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately”. I’ll share everything I’ve read over the previous month here at the end of each month, in the order I finished reading them. I read 12 books this month! That’s a great reading month for me!


01-behind-closed-doorsBehind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Currently $2.99 on Kindle!

This book was really disturbing. the farther I got into it the faster I had to read because it was freaking me out. It’s been called “the psychological thriller you won’t be able to put down” and that’s exactly what it was for me. Grace and Jack Angel’s marriage looks totally perfect from the outside, but….. ugggghhh. Totally terrified me in the best way. all kinds of trigger warnings for this book but if you like psychological thrillers, definitely pick it up!


02-small-great-thingsSmall Great Things by Jodi Picoult

This has unseated The Storyteller as absolutely my favorite of Picoult’s books thus far. It can be adequately summed up by the author’s note at the end. She challenged herself and all of her white readers by writing as a black woman and a white supremacist man. I was challenged and moved and cried (as per usual with her books). Systematic racism is real and horrifying and unseen by so many of us who have lived out our lives in white privilege. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.


03-the-dispatcherThe Dispatcher by John Scalzi

I picked up this audio novella when it was on sale for free on day, never having read any of Scalzi’s work. I was honestly hooked by Zachary Quinto’s voice (Spock and Skylar!). His chilling voice is perfect for this little Sci fi romp into a world where murder is virtually ineffective: 999/1000 times you come back to life, but if you are murdered. and people use that to their advantage with dispatchers, who kill you if you are about to die so that you can come back. Super interesting premise and a quick “read” (only as an audiobook). I recommend it


04-hillbilly-elegyHillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

I heard this recommended multiple times from varying sources, especially for those who were dying to understand Trump’s rise in popularity with the rust belt. I finished it the night before Election Day and found it supremely interesting. Vance’s upbringing and escape of the hillbilly culture into the middle class were fantastic. For those that are dying to understand the unseen part of America that helped vote Trump into the presidency, I cannot recommend this highly enough.


05-when-breath-becomes-airWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Paul Kalanithi is a neurosurgeon who considered a career in creative writing. Those two very disparate paths led to this amazing memoir detailing his diagnosis of cancer and the subsequent fight for his life. Paul’s writing is beautiful and poignant. He so faithfully captures both the doctor and patient side of care. As with everyone else who read this novel and recommended it, the afterword by his wife left me weeping on the floor. So, yes, cry-fest warning on this one!


06-arrowoodArrowood by Laura McHugh

I couldn’t put down this Gothic mystery about the disappearance of Arden Arrowood’s twin baby sisters when she was a young girl. Arden returns to her family’s home in Iowa after the death of her father and finds herself confronted by the past. Her family moved away from the home shortly after the disappearance of her sisters, with Arden as the sole witness. Definitely got my heart pounding a few times and had me guessing in the wrong direction a few times. Overall, very readable and entertaining. I look forward to picking up her previous novel, The Weight of Blood, as well.


 

07-portrait-of-emily-price

A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay

Be sure you check out my interview with Katherine, the first author I had on my site! I loved this book and feel like we’re really starting to see Reay’s evolution as a writer. She is really coming into her own, writing stories that she is putting her whole self into. I do kind of feel like there are two stories in this one though, and with a little more length on each, it could have been two novels instead. there’s just that much good stuff here. Emily and Ben are your favorite romantic comedy couple in paper form. ❤❤❤


08-light-of-the-worldThe Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

Elizabeth Alexander primarily writes poetry, and that is achingly obvious in this memoir about the loss of her husband unexpectedly at age 50. although his death is the pivot point, this book is more about their life together, the fallout/healing after his death, and his family, more so than the event itself. I thought it was beautifully written. However, I read two books about the loss of a husband in a single week and it’s a bit too much. IMPORTANT NOTE: I AM NOT FACING THE LOSS OF MY HUSBAND, THEY JUST HAPPENED TO BOTH COME UP AT THE LIBRARY AT ONCE!


09-i-hate-everyone-except-youI Hate Everyone, Except You by Clinton Kelly

This was like reading a book written by my bestie. I’ve been a “fruit fly” (the tender and ridiculous name for those girls that hang around gay boys) for the majority of my life and this book feels like the musings of a more famous version of my dear gay boys. You know Clinton Kelly from What Not to Wear and/or The Chew. Kelly doesn’t pull any punches, except for revealing the intimate details of his marriage. All the rest is fair, and fairly hilarious, game. This one comes out in January. I received an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


12-victoriaVictoria by Daisy Goodwin

This historical novel details only the first year or two of the reign of Queen Victoria of England. It is deftly written, pulling you into a story that is more than a century old as though it dealt with current events. I enjoyed the characters but found young Victoria petulant, which I’m sure the author intended. definitely recommended for fans of historical fiction and/or fans of the royals (The Royal We, Downton Abbey, etc). I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


10-tell-me-three-thingsTell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

This is great YA lit. Is smart and funny and endearing without being inane, or sob-fest-worthy. High school drama, yes, but not overly dramatic. Mostly about growing up and first love, and we can all get behind that!

Jessie is a transplant to a new school and receives an email after her first day there from Somebody Nobody, who offers to be her “spirit guide” through the wild halls of their high school. Such a fun premise. Think You’ve Got Mail.


11-homegoing Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

This novel contains a story of a single family that spans 6 or 7 generations and multiple continents. From 18th century Africa to modern day America, we follow an African family, beginning with the two daughters of Maame. The vignettes that give us glimpses of each generation are wonderfully written and so well put together. It’s like a shallow dive into African culture, slavery, the American Civil War, Jim Crow, and current BLM movements. Gently leading the reader to see from all points of view (or at least one different from your own).