Tag Archives: challenges

New art and a new reading challenge

I got a new stretched canvas for my office. The office is the only place in the house that I let myself put anything I choose on the walls, theme, coordination or quality be damned. If I like it, I’ll have it.

Not to suggest that this Icanvas print isn’t quality of a sort, but the rest of the house tends to run toward large, heavily framed prints. It’s not a great photo, but Mizuki by Audrey Kawasaki is what’s above the bed for example:

Though I’ve shrunk it so it doesn’t compete for attention with the canvas that is the point of this post, that frame is almost 30×30 inches (please never let it fall on us in our sleep). So, an unframed whimsical print of science fiction books is a departure from the norm. But I so loved it when I saw it that I insta-bought it, even though I didn’t really have a place for it. (In fact, I wish I’d bought the bigger size.)

After I moved Kawasaki’s Where I Rest out of place (this* one –>), I sat staring at the books and telling my husband how happy I was to see Binti and The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet included among such giants as Asimov and Le Guin. But also how I was distressed that Martha Well’s All Systems Red (Murderbot Diaries) isn’t included. It 100% deserves to be. In fact, once noticed, its absence sapped a little of my love of the print away. I mean, look, I even tweeted at Icanvas about it.

Hey @icanvas_art, if you’re going to include #Binti and #thelongwaytoasmallangryplanet in this stack of classic sci-fi (which I totally agree with) you gotta get #Murderbot in there too! I’d even buy a second copy. 🙂 pic.twitter.com/aaEuuR7Pzu — @rbnsnzsr

This led me to a second thought. If I was so happy to see Binti and The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet included, and was desperate to get Murderbot added, why no excitement for The Martian? It was published in 2014, so it’s basically just as contemporary as the others. Part of it might have been that it’s written by a man and I’m always rooting to see women included. But Dune, by Frank Herbert, is one of my all-time favorite books (even if it by a man). So I decided it wasn’t the gender issue. It was simply that I haven’t read it!

All of the books included here are well known, familiar to me, science fiction. Suddenly I had to stop and think how many of them I love by virtue of being sci-fi cannon and how many I had actually read. Before that very moment I’d have told you of course I’ve read all the classics. But once I was really thinking about it, I realized that couldn’t be true. I hadn’t read The Martian, for example. So, off to Goodreads and my reading list I went. And shock followed.

I started Left to right:

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: a favorite, read
  • The Martian Chronicles: Ray freaking-Bradbury, NOT READ
  • Brave New World: read in high school
  • Binti: started this whole process, obviously read
  • The Martian: NOT READ
  • The Left Hand of Darkness: read it last year when Le Guin died
  • The Diamond Age: What!? owned but NOT READ
  • Solaris: also NOT READ
  • The Foundation Trilogy: thank god, read the whole series
  • The Time Machine: Wells. freaking Wells, and NOT READ
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep: NOT READ
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet: read
  • Hyperion: read
  • Neuromancer: read and loved
  • Dawn: by Octavia Butler! NOT READ
  • Dune: a favorite, read
  • Starship Troopers: read
  • Ender’s Game: read
  • Childhood Ends: NOT READ

Eight—almost half of the books—I discovered that I’ve not read. This is a travesty that cannot be allowed to stand. I mean, for one, If I’m going to hang the picture on my wall (even if just my office wall), I should be able to point to it and know I’ve read them all, but also I’m a sci-fi/fantasy junkie and THEY’RE SCI-FI CLASSICS. How did I let this happen? Obviously, I’m going to fix it. It’s July. I have five months until the end of the year, and by that point I will have read these eight books that I have somehow grievously neglected in my life.

I don’t think I’ll bother coming back and linking reviews here. But I am setting it as an official reading challenge for myself. I do so love to have a plan. Wish me happy reading.


*
Yes, I'm totally vain enough that I spread out those two in the back so they could be seen, and there is another on the wall above. They'd been stacked together to be re-hung. I have a new one at the framer's (and a small one waiting to be framed by me) and I'm going to make a collage wall of them. I'll add a picture when it's done. But, though you can probably guess Kawasaki is my husband and my favorite artist, she's not the point of this post. But once I'd posted one, I just ran with it. 

Reading challenge: Characters of color on covers

In my little corner of the internet there has been a resurgence of the argument that people of color aren’t put on book covers because it adversely effects the sales of the book. And because America (I can’t speak for the world) really isn’t a post-race culture, no matter how much some people would like to argue that it is, there is unfortunately probably some truth to this argument. And it will likely remain so until the day it isn’t. I don’t have the answers to how we get there, but I do know that, as a reader, buying, reading and reviewing books with characters of color on the covers is a step in the direction of proving to publishers that they are as safe a bet as anything else.

Unfortunately, I’m not rich. I can’t run out and buy all the books. (How I wish I could buy all the books!) What I can do is make a point of reading and reviewing book I already happen to own that have non-white characters on the front. Below is the list of such books. It doesn’t include anything I’ve already read or that I request from the library (though I’ll add the latter to the challenge retroactively, along with any I find that I’ve missed).

Now, the choice of these books was problematic in as many ways as you can imagine. For one, I simply scrolled through my Goodreads bookshelves and took from them the books that had obviously non-white characters. I’m sure I missed some. I’m sure that if I’d marked other versions of some books not included, they might have been included, and conversely wouldn’t have included some I did. What to do with images that were clearly meant to be from one culture, but the model was white? Does it count if the book is a biography and the publisher had no choice but to put the person on the cover of their own book, or if the book is set in a largely homogenous time/country, like feudal Japan. What if it is a picture of an often objectified and exotified group, like Geisha? What if I strongly suspect the actual text will turn out to be a White Savior story, or problematic in some other fashion? And lastly, I had to make a visual judgement, sometimes on nothing more than a shadowed, headless torso. I just plain  might have gotten some wrong. When in doubt, I chose to be more inclusive than less. I took the same route when faced with characters of color in obviously secondary position on a cover. Hopefully, it’s the intent that counts here.

There are 78 books in that list (I’ll put links at the end of this post) and, while that might seem like a lot, it is pulled from a very large pool. I own a lot of unread books. Many of them don’t have people on the front at all, but of those that do, they are largely white people. So, no special props for me because I happen to own 78 books I’m simultaneously saying are comparatively rare.

This first challenge post really isn’t anything more than a reference point for myself and a chance to invite others to both join me and discuss the idea. What do you think, small drop in a big pond but worthwhile, performative, interested in joining me?


Links:

Trapped on Draconica
Incoming Alert
The Good Negress
Would it Be Okay to Love You?
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
The Dragon’s Passion
Underworld: Sex, Drugs, and a Loaded Gun
The End of Eden
The Dark Horse of Shanghai
Project SNOW  —-  Review
Degranon
From the Ashes
Shatterproof  —  Review
Prince Charming Wanted (Indian Maidens Bust Loose)
Alpha Moon
Khe
Purgatory Reign
Strength to Let Go
The Girl With Two Names
The Brotherhood of Merlin —–  Review.
From Far Away To Very Close: Seda’s Story
Keeping Score
Empress Orchid
Damned If You Do: The Complete Collection
Hotsuka’s Story
The Art of Three
Dreaming on an Arabian Carpet
I Love It Rough
I Like ‘Em Pretty
Tiger Lily
Halcyon: The Complete Steampunk Trilogy
The Burning Sky
Kiss Me to Spring Time
Human Property Hanging in the Family Tree Yields a Harvest
I Got You
More Than Words
The Beast of Callaire
The Powers of Callaire
Melokai —-   Review
Lost in Space
Of Beasts and Bonds
Moonlight   —  Review
Between the Lies
Psycho Save Us
Their Eyes Were Watching God
New Leaf
Third Vampire Shadows
The Drowning King
Earthrise .  —   Review
The Turnarounders and The Arbuckle Rescue
The Disassembled Life of Duncan Cole
M.C. Higgins, the Great
Black Like Me
Infinite Hope
Crimes of the Heart
To the Edge of the Sky
World Whisperer
The Handoff
A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea
The Orphan Fleet
The Reluctant Sacrifice  Review

Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now
A Woman’s Nails
Stranded with the Navy SEALReview
Anytime Soon
Almost Black
Schoolgirl Apocalypse
Exiled, Malcom
Black Beauty
Shadow Unit 1
Boss
Girl in the Glass
The Geisha and The Monk
Fall of Sky City
Carolina Daemonic
Hope in the Hood
Blood Awakening

Added to the challenge:

From Scratch —  Review
Tangled
Tender Secrets
Shadowshaper — Review
Drunk on Men
The Glass Admiral  —  Review
Black Gold
Happy Hour at Casa Dracula — Review
Dhata Mays — Review
A Princess in theoryReview — Review
The Black God’s Drums Review

2017 Christmas Challenge

 

I enter a lot of giveaways for books. Honestly, it’s a bit of a compulsion. Though I always intend to read them, some of them end up sitting on my shelves for quite some time before I get to them. This tends to be especially true with holiday themed books. I’m just not likely to read a Thanksgiving themed book in May or a Christmas themed one in June.

This idea struck me the other day, when I noticed Beth Carpenter’s A gift for Santa on my shelf. Right behind that thought was, “well, it is the Christmas season. If not now, when?”

So, I searched and found three Christmas books and set out to read them all. Again, if not now, when? Later, I came across Take the Donut and, though not obviously Christmassy, the snowman and red, green and white sprinkles led me to think it might be (see cover below). So, I added it in after I’d started the challenge. In the end, I read four books either explicitly centered around the holiday or at least set during the season.

I would call this a mildly successful challenge. None of the books were big winners for me, two of them had disappointingly similar plot lines, and three of them were part of series I’ve not read. Of the four, I’d say A Gift for Santa was the best. It was pretty unoriginal (being one of the two almost identical plot lines) but I think the writing in it was better than the rest.

Having said all that, none of them were flat out bad. Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe was bottom of the pile, but even it wasn’t so bad I couldn’t finish it.

So, without further ado, here they are, reviews of my impromptu 2017 Christmas Challenge.


Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe, by Melissa De La Cruz:

Two days before I started this book, I wrote a review about another book that stated, “There are two romances, where only one is needed. The first progresses only in that they clear up a misunderstanding from high school (one that was very obvious and persisted because they never spoke to one another again, despite being in the same class), but suddenly they’re all marriage and babies…Nope, I’ve neeevvvvveeerrr seen that used in a book before. Nope, it’s not trite and patriarchal. Nope, it doesn’t piss me off every time I see it. Oh wait, yes it does. ” I complained vehemently to my husband about how common and over used this storyline of the small town girl, who made it big in the city, finds herself unfulfilled by what she’s worked her whole life for and eventually returns to her roots only to discovers that all she really wants is a man and a baby. 

Then I picked up Pride Prejudice and Mistletoe up and, what do you know, it’s about a small town woman who moved to New York and made millions. Then returned home to Pemberly, Ohio, ran into her high school rival and fell instantly in love, eventually getting what every woman apparently truly wants as a happy ending: marriage and a baby. Like the last book, she had her best friend with her, who constituted a second romance in the book. Also like the last book, it was with the brother of the primary male romantic lead. Like the previous book one of the brothers was a carpenter and came from a lovely family while the main character was estranged from her family.

Sure the details of the two books differ, but they are essentially THE SAME STORY. These books are so similar I considered googling to see if the authors were actually two pen names of the same person. I’ve taken the time to lay this out to say this. I randomly picked these two books up. Both romances, but one a romantic mystery of sorts and one a Christmas themed book. Are there really so few storylines in the Romance genre that authors writing in totally different sub-genres can’t find something new? Do they really have to keep recycling the same old crap over and over, such that it’s unavoidable? *Sigh*

Outside of my frustration of reading the same storyline I’ve read a million times before, I never liked Darcy. I understood the point De La Cruz was making about self-esteem and self-worth, but the woman was just generally horrible. She was 29, but felt like a teenager. Luke was a caricature, as flat as cardboard. The romance was sudden and based on nothing the reader was given to understand. NOTHING. It just appeared out of no where. All the vacillating about Carl made no sense, since she didn’t even seem to like him. And the happily ever after was just tacked on at the end. Plus, the writing just isn’t very good.

The only thing I’ll give this book is that Luke moved to New York, instead of Darcy to Pemberly and she didn’t give up her career. That’s a lot more than most books using this storyline manage. But basically this is exactly the sort of book that convinced me I hated romance books for most of my adult life.

As a side note: There is a four-month-old baby stated to have been born “a year ago.” What’s up with that?


A Gift for Santa, by Beth Carpenter

I’m going to start out by saying this book is fine and it stands alone. I’d not read book one before reading this one and had no problems. The writing is readable and the editing seems fine too.

However, this is the third book I’ve read in a week in which the plot line was about a woman leaving home to pursue a career, then returning home to fall in love with a man from her past, and compromising her career to be a wife and mother. THE THIRD TIME IN A WEEK and I’m not trying to seek out similar books within the romance genre. One was romantic mystery, one a retelling of classic with a Christmas theme, and this one a Harlequin romance. You would think there was enough difference in the sub-genres to allow for differing storylines. Is there really no other plot line available in romance? Really? I will say that of the three, this was probably the best. And if you happen to like this plot line you’ll probably enjoy this book.

Outside of complaints about the apparently very frequently used plot, the characters were likable, the twist a little obvious, and the ending happy (as you would expect). Not bad, just also not original.


Away in a Manger, by Rhys Bowen:

Very sweet, but a little plebeian for my taste. I think it just wasn’t the right book for me. I found Molly too much of a pollyanna and her telling of the events of each day repetitive and unexciting. Further, I thought her solving of the mystery far too dependent on coincidence and luck to be believable and I wasn’t comfortable with some of her ideas on underaged criminals.

But again, that’s just my opinion. For those who like a sweet, uplifting mystery, I’m sure this will be a winner. The writing and editing seem fine and there is an appreciable amount of diversity in the cast (though I think a little of that was compromised by the final disclosure about the villain’s personality). Lastly, this is #15 in a series that I’ve not read, and though events from past books were mentioned, it successfully stands alone.


Take the Donut, by Annie Hansen

Not bad, though I was a bit apathetic about it. I’m not sure if that is a reflection of the book or just the effect of it being number three in a series that I’ve not read book one and two. All in all, I found the writing perfectly readable. Though the author does use names in dialogue too frequently to feel natural. The characters are distinct and mostly likable (though Kelly definitely has her TSTL moments). And the mystery isn’t super obvious. I’d read another Hansen book and that is generally my mark of being good enough.