GR Reading Challenge 2018 – yes or no?

Since I joined Goodreads (the popular book reviewing site known to most readers) in 2014, I’ve done two reading challenges – one in 2016, a year during which I had plenty of time to read, and one in 2017, a year during which I had to fight hard to squeeze in time to read.

In my experience, a reading challenge has its advantages and its disadvantages for any reader, but especially for busy ones. I’m somewhat hesitant about doing a reading challenge this year because I didn’t enjoy the experience in 2017 (though to be fair, there were a lot of things I didn’t enjoy last year, so my reading goals may have been collateral damage).

As I sat down to draft this post, I thought to myself: What are the reasons to participate in a reading challenge or to refrain from so much as pledging a single book? Note that this is a spontaneous compilation of pros and cons. I’m sure there are plenty more arguments for pros and cons than those I’ve mentioned. You’re more than welcome to share your own thoughts in the comments!

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Chantal’s 2017 Reading Recap & 2018 Resolutions

Hi. I don’t really know how to start this because a) I just came back from Singapore (14 hour flight) and am sleep-deprived and b) I’ve been away from here for WAAAY too long and I don’t really have a proper explanation or justification. All I can say is that I love all of you reading this and that I hope that you still care somewhat about my book-related thoughts.

Also: Happy new year!! I hope that 2018 will be the year when all your dreams come true and your lives will be filled with love, laughter and happiness <3

I will be writing a couple of posts wrapping up the 2017 reading year which has also been my worst reading year (in regard to quantity) since I started writing reviews on Goodreads. I set my reading challenge to 50 books this year but only ended up reading 40. What upsets me more however, is the fact that I somewhat abandoned the blog and left Nina on her own. I’m not usually the type of person to neglect a commitment so this is something I hope to remedy in the new year.

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Nina’s Top Five Favourites of 2017

So, this is it. 2017 has come to an end. To be frank, I’m not sad to see it go. This year has thrown so many obstacles my way, and as if that wasn’t enough, I found the quality of the books I read to be quite lacking as well. There were a couple of gems among my reads I’d like to talk about, but first, let me give you a quick overview of my 2017 in general.

Life in 2017. I could write an essay about the things that made me feel sad, angry, or helpless this year. But I do not wish to dwell on the negative experiences I had this year. Instead, I’d like to mention a few things that brought me joy or made me proud: I made new friends in and across fields of study at my university. I worked hard and reaped the reward in form of very good grades. I took a class to improve my Spanish. I went skiing a lot last winter, so I spent a lot of time doing a sport I love with people I love. I travelled to several cities and countries in Europe I’d never been to – including Valencia, Edinburgh, London, and the Cyclades (Greece) – and got to visit my co-blogger Chantal in the UK for the first time since she’d moved there to pursue her studies. I also experienced one positive thing related to the painful cards 2017 has dealt me: The unwavering support of family and friends.

Books in 2017. In terms of books, I’ve read more diversely this year, but not necessarily because I picked more diverse genres. At least half of the books I read were of the fantasy genre, which means that diversity is not something that is reserved for contemporaries anymore. It makes me so happy that we now encounter diverse individuals across genres. This is a step forward in the battle for realistic representation in literature. I ended up reaching my goal of reading 50 books but it was close! I read 22 books featuring people of ethnicities other than Caucasian as their main characters and half of those were people of colour. I read 17 books featuring LGBTQ+ characters. I read books by 21 authors who identify as members of minority groups. I read at least 7 books featuring mental health issues or disabilities, and 3 books with disfigured characters. I read 3 short stories, two comic books, and a poetry collection. To draw a conclusion to my reading of 2017, I’d like to present and talk about the five books that impressed me or stuck with me most this year. The books are ordered alphabetically and clicking on the titles will lead you to my reviews of the respective books.

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Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Dear Martin by Nic StoneDear Martin by Nic Stone
Published by Crown Books for Young Readers on October 17th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary

Raw, captivating, and undeniably real, Nic Stone joins industry giants Jason Reynolds and Walter Dean Myers as she boldly tackles American race relations in this stunning debut.

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can't escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it's Justyce who is under attack.

3.5 Stars

“You ever consider that maybe you not supposed to ‘fit’? People who make history rarely do.”

Dear Martin is the third book I’ve read this year on discrimination against black American teens. I feel like this topic has gained an increasing amount of attention in YA literature, and this makes me extremely happy, for it is an issue in dire need of recognition and action. As a white person, I recognise my privilege and cannot fully comprehend the issues POC face, but each book I read and POC I talk to brings me closer to understanding.

In spite of being short, Dear Martin packs a punch by addressing police violence against black American individuals and being torn between two worlds through the eyes of a young man writing letters to Dr. Martin Luther King. And this is where my unpopular opinion comes in: Though I enjoyed this book, I had expected more from the story as a whole. 

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Morning Star by Pierce Brown

Morning Star by Pierce BrownMorning Star by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising Saga #3
on February 9th, 2016
Pages: 524

Darrow would have lived in peace, but his enemies brought him war. The Gold overlords demanded his obedience, hanged his wife, and enslaved his people. But Darrow is determined to fight back. Risking everything to transform himself and breach Gold society, Darrow has battled to survive the cutthroat rivalries that breed Society’s mightiest warriors, climbed the ranks, and waited patiently to unleash the revolution that will tear the hierarchy apart from within.

Finally, the time has come.

But devotion to honor and hunger for vengeance run deep on both sides. Darrow and his comrades-in-arms face powerful enemies without scruple or mercy. Among them are some Darrow once considered friends. To win, Darrow will need to inspire those shackled in darkness to break their chains, unmake the world their cruel masters have built, and claim a destiny too long denied—and too glorious to surrender.

5 Stars

We will howl and fight till our last breath, not just in the mines of Mars, but on the shores of Venus, on the dunes of Io’s sulfur seas, in the glacial valleys of Pluto. We will fight in the towers of Ganymede and the ghettos of Luna and the storm-stricken oceans of Europa. And if we fall, others will take our place, because we are the tide. And we are rising.

My review for Morning Star was a tough one to write – not due to the amount of criticism but perhaps the lack of it. When I started this series roughly a year ago, I’d have never thought that this whole Red Rising business was going to be so bloodydamn epic. This series took me completely by surprise, and I’m happy to share my praise of Pierce Brown’s work with you – even knowing that my word vomit can never truly do this incredible book justice (and yes, it took me over half a year to type up this semi-coherent review).

Morning Star was a real peach of a final instalment. I think I’ve already said this about the sequel but Morning Star was darker, grittier, and bloodier than the previous instalments. Ever the master of character dynamics, politics, battles, and heart-stopping plot twists, Brown brought his finely atuned concert to a crescendo in Morning Star, and I will gladly send him the medical bills for all the heart attacks I suffered during this series but specifically reading the final instalment.

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Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

Piecing Me Together by Renée WatsonPiecing Me Together by Renée Watson
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing on February 8th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 272

Jade believes she must get out of her poor neighborhood if she's ever going to succeed. Her mother tells her to take advantage of every opportunity that comes her way. And Jade has: every day she rides the bus away from her friends and to the private school where she feels like an outsider, but where she has plenty of opportunities. But some opportunities she doesn't really welcome, like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for "at-risk" girls. Just because her mentor is black and graduated from the same high school doesn't mean she understands where Jade is coming from. She's tired of being singled out as someone who needs help, someone people want to fix. Jade wants to speak, to create, to express her joys and sorrows, her pain and her hope. Maybe there are some things she could show other women about understanding the world and finding ways to be real, to make a difference.

4 Stars

Sometimes I just want to be comfortable in this skin, this body. Want to cock my head back and laugh loud and free, all my teeth showing, and not be told I’m too rowdy, too ghetto.

It’s a shame that one book release on a certain topic – such as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – can create such a buzz, whereas others focusing on similar, if not the same, topics are easily overlooked. Both of these books focus on race, injustice, and inequality, but go about addressing these themes in a very different manner.

While The Hate U Give addresses blunt police violence against black individuals, Piecing Me Together zooms in on a more subtle form of aggression, namely micro aggressions. It is a quiet, slow, and character-driven book about self-love, dreams, friendship, and the power of art. This book talks about what it means to be a black, to be a woman, and that having the same skin colour does not necessarily result in mutual understanding.

Though contemporary is not my go-to genre, I find myself enjoying it so much when I feel like a book is expanding my knowledge on issues I cannot relate to and teaching me something about life. Piecing Me Together is that kind of book. I found myself writing down quotes every other page. Though I consider myself a person who is aware of many struggles POC experience in their daily lives, this book has opened my eyes to a great deal more.

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Anticipated Releases of Winter 2017/2018

Hello fellow book enthusiasts! So, this time of the year we’d usually be posting a massive list of upcoming anticipated releases of ours, but as it turns out, the list is rather short this time around. Have a snoop in the selection of books we’re looking forward to, or at least mildly curious about, in the coming winter of 2017/2018 (winter being December, January, and February where we live). The books are ordered by release date and clicking on the titles will lead you to the respective Goodreads pages or to our review (if there is one). Should you find this list lacking one of your anticipated books to be published in the coming months, please direct our attention to said release(s) in the comments! Since we have an unhealthy obsession with adding books to our TBR, as do most of you, we always welcome recommendations 🙂

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The End of the Year Book Tag 2017

Hey everyone! I was having a bit of a reviewing slump, so I decided to do the End of the Year Book Tag by the lovely Ariel Bissett (in case you’re wondering: Yes, you should totally check out her channel). This tag does not so much reflect on the reading year of 2017 but rather focuses on the months leading up to the end of the year. And I can honestly say, I have rarely been so glad for a year to end, because 2017 has not been good to me. But more on that when I do a reflect-on-2017 post in December. Feel free to do this tag on your blog, vlog, or bookstagram – just remember to give credit to Ariel!

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You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner

You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney GardnerYou're Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on March 7th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 297

When Julia finds a slur about her best friend scrawled across the back of the Kingston School for the Deaf, she covers it up with a beautiful (albeit illegal) graffiti mural.

Her supposed best friend snitches, the principal expels her, and her two mothers set Julia up with a one-way ticket to a “mainstream” school in the suburbs, where she’s treated like an outcast as the only deaf student. The last thing she has left is her art, and not even Banksy himself could convince her to give that up.

Out in the ’burbs, Julia paints anywhere she can, eager to claim some turf of her own. But Julia soon learns that she might not be the only vandal in town. Someone is adding to her tags, making them better, showing off—and showing Julia up in the process. She expected her art might get painted over by cops. But she never imagined getting dragged into a full-blown graffiti war.

2.5 Stars

“Silence is the loudest sound.”

You’re Welcome, Universe taught me so much about Deaf culture, and for this educational aspect alone, I’d love to give it five stars. Its theme is underpinned by lovely graphics every other page. Unfortunately, the good rep, diverse characters, and strong focus on friendship were overshadowed by an otherwise weak plot. A lovely concept that just… fell a bit flat. 

As an able-bodied person, and not knowing anyone who’s deaf, it was difficult for me to judge the accuracy of the rep, but throughout the book, I had a good feeling about it. I scanned the reviews for insight on personal experience and stumbled upon Cait’s review, which confirmed my impression that the Deaf rep was well researched. I recommend checking out other #OwnVoices reviews as well.

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An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret RogersonAn Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on September 26th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 300

Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized among them. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes – a weakness that could cost him his life.

Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love, violating the fair folks’ ruthless Good Law. There's only one way to save both their lives, Isobel must drink from the Green Well, whose water will transform her into a fair one—at the cost of her Craft, for immortality is as stagnant as it is timeless.

Isobel has a choice: she can sacrifice her art for a future, or arm herself with paint and canvas against the ancient power of the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.

3.5 Stars

The vibes I got from An Enchantment of Ravens makes me place this somewhere between A Court of Thorns and Roses and Wintersong. The similarities to the former put aside, Margaret Rogerson created a set of lovely characters and an enchanting world. This is, however, a classic case of good ideas not being entirely able to make up for a weak, meandering plot. This author’s writing is promising, but her debut has been overhyped, I’d say.

When I’d first read the premise for this book, I’d gotten strong A Court of Thorns and Roses vibes from it, and I was hestitant to pick it up. You’ll see reviewers saying there were no parallels between the books, whereas others told me I might like it in spite of those. Well, I have since claimed my place in the latter group. Though this book does contain elements similar to A Court of Thorns and Roses, this does not mean you won’t like this book if SJM wasn’t your jam. Things that’ll remind you of the aforementioned book: The heroine who paints, the divided-into-seasons fae courts, the love interest with dark hair and amethyst eyes, and the plot catalyst of him barging into her home and demanding she stand trial for her crimes.

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