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sturlington Reads Month to Month in 2020

2020 Category Challenge

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Nov 18, 2019, 3:17pm Top

Hi, Shannon here. I like to read by theme, but I find that if I plan too far ahead, I never stick to it. So this year, I'm going to have a very loose challenge where I will read generally by theme, but I'll only decide on the theme (or two) at the start of each month. Themes may be related to the ScaredyKIT category for the month, or the RandomCAT, or cleaning off my bookshelves, or something completely different. I'll post the months up front, and then I'll also post again at the beginning of each month when I decide what the theme(s) for that month will be.

Edited: Jan 16, 10:04am Top


Theme: Paperbacks from Hell (1970s/1980s Horror for ScaredyKIT)
1. When Darkness Loves Us by Elizabeth Engstrom
2. The Reaping by Bernard Taylor
3. The Tribe by Bari Wood

Big Book of the Month: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Edited: Feb 28, 9:22am Top


Theme 1: Myth retellings
Circe by Madeline Miller
Wake Siren: Ovid, Resung by Nina MacLaughlin -- still in progress

Theme 2: Haunted places (to continue into March)
The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford
The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan

ScaredyKIT (psychological thriller): This Sweet Sickness by Patricia Highsmith

Big book of the month: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (for book club)

Edited: Mar 31, 8:03am Top


Themes: Continuing themes of Haunted Places from February for ScaredyKIT:
This House is Haunted by John Boyne
The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

Also read: All Systems Red (SFFKit), The Witchfinder's Sister

Edited: Mar 31, 8:03am Top


Theme is reading books off the shelf since we're now stuck at home due to the coronovirus--it's the coronavirus big read!

ScaredyKIT: The Drowning Girl
SFFKit: Version Control

Nov 18, 2019, 3:21pm Top


Edited: Nov 18, 2019, 3:22pm Top

I love these posters! Where did you find them? Or did you create them?

Nov 18, 2019, 3:21pm Top


Nov 18, 2019, 3:22pm Top


Nov 18, 2019, 3:22pm Top


Nov 18, 2019, 3:23pm Top


Nov 18, 2019, 3:23pm Top


Nov 18, 2019, 3:24pm Top


Nov 18, 2019, 3:24pm Top


Edited: Mar 31, 8:04am Top


4. Book about books/libraries: The Starless Sea
6. Epistolary novel: The Testaments
9. Mystery or true crime: This Sweet Sickness
10. 3+ Letters of Bingo: The ReapING
11. Mythology or Folklore: The Tribe
15. Color red: The Red Tree
19. Birth or death: This House Is Haunted
20. Proper name: Circe
22. Small press: Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing
23. Real historical event: The Witchfinder's Sister
24. LibraryThing author: All Systems Red

Edited: Mar 31, 8:05am Top

Where in the World Am I?

visited 4 states (8%)
Buy Douwe's Machine Learning Book

Connecticut: This Sweet Sickness
New York: The Tribe
North Carolina: The Twisted Ones
Rhode Island: The Red Tree

visited 12 states (5.33%)
Buy Douwe's Machine Learning Book

Canada: The Testaments
Greece: Circe
United Kingdom: The Reaping; This House Is Haunted; The Witchfinder's Sister

Nov 18, 2019, 3:25pm Top

>7 CarlisleMLH: These are WPA posters that I found at the Library of Congress website via WikiCommons.

Nov 18, 2019, 9:33pm Top

Love the idea of monthly themes and the posters, especially the December one. Happy reading!

Nov 18, 2019, 9:37pm Top

March is my favourite poster. Have a great reading year!

Nov 18, 2019, 10:46pm Top

Great design choice—sure to lead to excellent reading!

Nov 18, 2019, 10:54pm Top

Great posters and happy reading in 2020!

Nov 19, 2019, 1:12am Top

I love the posters! I recently bought a whole lot of postcards printed with different years Children's Book Week posters. One day they will be in my library (when I have one!)

Nov 19, 2019, 3:53am Top

Gorgeous posters! Have fun reading!

Nov 19, 2019, 8:17am Top

Thanks, everyone! I'm looking forward to an easy reading year.

Nov 19, 2019, 8:39am Top

Those posters are really gorgeous!

Nov 19, 2019, 5:11pm Top

Love the posters! Here's to a year of excellent reading. :)

Nov 19, 2019, 8:44pm Top

The posters are great!

Nov 23, 2019, 12:38am Top

Wonderful posters! My favourite is December.

Nov 23, 2019, 11:50am Top

Very cool theme!

Nov 23, 2019, 2:03pm Top

nice posters! hope your reading in 2020 is terrific.

Nov 26, 2019, 10:02pm Top

Great theme and it sounds like a good way to stay on track. (This is something I might also consider doing in the future, as I do better deciding at the beginning of the month also.) Wishing you a fun year of reading.

Dec 8, 2019, 7:40pm Top

Hope you enjoy your 2020 reading!

Dec 10, 2019, 3:54pm Top

I like the idea of the monthly theme. I'll be interested in hearing how you liked doing it...a whole year from now!

Dec 28, 2019, 5:05pm Top

Happy new year a couple of days early everyone! I'm starting my 2020 reading now.

My first theme for January will be the Paperbacks from Hell series by Valancourt Books. These are reissued horror paperbacks featured in the book Paperbacks from Hell, and they will all nicely fit the month's ScaredyKIT theme of 1970s/1980s Horror.

I have also decided to read one big book a month, either for a book group or off the shelf. The book I have chosen for this month is one I received for Christmas: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern.

I'll post reviews as I finish up the books.

Dec 29, 2019, 5:31am Top

>34 sturlington: I have The Starless Sea and The Night Circus on my TBR. Look forward to seeing what you think.

Dec 29, 2019, 8:19am Top

>35 JayneCM: I absolutely loved The Night Circus so I am really looking forward to her follow-up.

Dec 29, 2019, 12:30pm Top

Happy New Year!
I'll be seeing you in the ScaredyKIT thread. I look forward to your Valancourt reviews.

Dec 29, 2019, 3:27pm Top

>37 mstrust: I've already started When Darkness Loves Us and so far, it is a trip.

Dec 31, 2019, 11:18am Top

Happy New Year!

Jan 1, 9:14am Top

1. When Darkness Loves Us by Elizabeth Engstrom (4*)

Read for: January ScaredyKIT--1970s/1980s Horror; reissue in Paperbacks from Hell series by Valancourt Books

This is two novellas originally published in 1985. The first one, about a young woman who gets trapped in some tunnels underground, was just wild. The second one, about a woman born disfigured and developmentally disabled, was longer and overall a more psychologically disturbing story. I thought both were great and had some interesting underlying themes about women's lives and how they are treated by the men in their lives.

Jan 1, 3:18pm Top

I love the vintage posters!

Jan 2, 3:40pm Top

What a great idea and I love how the posters work so well with your reading theme!

Edited: Jan 16, 9:43am Top

2. The Reaping by Bernard Taylor (3*)

Read for: January ScaredyKIT--1970s/1980s Horror; reissue in Paperbacks from Hell series by Valancourt Books

I have read Taylor's Sweetheart, Sweetheart, a pretty decent ghost story, so I knew about what to expect from this one: a lot of cheese and probably some embarrassingly written sex. The Reaping delivers on both counts. Most of the novel is a slow burn. A painter receives an overly generous commission for a portrait, but to do the work, he has to stay in an isolated manor in the British countryside where there are weird nuns marching around the grounds, weird manservants lurking around, weird noises in the night, a weird old lady wrapped in scarves... lots of weird stuff going on. Oh yes, and the sex. I enjoyed the build-up, but then the book takes something of a left turn, and when the ending comes, the payoff is just not there. It feels forced and rushed, and when it comes to the big reveal, we just don't care. To find this truly horrific, we have to know more about Ilona: who or what is she, what is she trying to accomplish (besides immortality), what is her cult? So many unanswered questions and missed opportunities. For me, this entry in the Paperbacks from Hell series was a big letdown.

Jan 8, 6:18am Top

>43 sturlington: That's a bit disappointing for your second book of the year. Let's hope the next one is an improvement!

Jan 8, 8:51am Top

>44 JayneCM: Oh well, at least it was a quick read. Onward!

Jan 16, 10:04am Top

3. The Tribe by Bari Wood (strong 3*)

Read for: January ScaredyKIT--1970s/1980s Horror; reissue in Paperbacks from Hell series by Valancourt Books

A compelling story about a small group of Holocaust survivors living in New York City who create a golem to protect them but it gets out of hand. The character development is good, particularly Rachel, the young widow who determines to go against her beloved father-in-law and stop the golem. This novel had some interesting things to say about the lengths we may go to feel safe after suffering great trauma. Although unfortunately coming off as a bit dated now, this entry in the Paperbacks from Hell series is worth reading for horror aficianados.

Jan 17, 2:06am Top

>46 sturlington: sounds interesting. Over the last year or so I am trying to read some of the book mentioned in Paperbacks from Hell. I hope that more of them are reissued as the prices for some of the out of print books mentioned are quite expensive.

Jan 24, 5:24pm Top

I love your set-up with the great posters! I'm looking forward to following along and appreciate your first theme!

I have a few books published by Valancourt press although I don't know if any are from Paperbacks from Hell; I'll have to take a look.

Jan 25, 8:22am Top

>48 LisaMorr: The Valancourt books are great. The Paperbacks from Hell are a smaller size and have the original cover art.

Jan 26, 8:23am Top

4. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (4 1/2*)

January's big book

With The Starless Sea, Morgenstern has written a deeply felt and beautiful paean to story. Every sentence is meticulously crafted to create stunning images. There is a scene in the book that describes a dollhouse sitting in a city crafted of paper and wine bottles on the shores of a confetti sea, each detail of this miniature world lovingly realized. That, in essence, is what this book is, five hundred pages of lovingly realized details constructing a world that is both familiar (at least to constant readers) and absolutely original.

The plot is an adventure and a romance, and probably is not as important as the craft. Interspersed between episodes in the main plot are interludes, fairy tales, and snippets of story that all eventually have bearing on the whole. I actually enjoyed these interludes and their side characters more than the main plot. For me, the characters in the main story seemed like set pieces, and although free will was emphasized, they did behave like pawns in a game. It was not these characters who were important but where they went and what they saw. This is a story about storytelling, and characters in stories do not have free will--only the author (or story sculptor) does.

Never mind about the plot, though. The exquisite writing, the imagery, and the imagined world of the Starless Sea are more than enough to carry this novel, at least for me.

Edited: Jan 26, 1:40pm Top

I've finished my categories for January, so now it's time to look ahead to February.

My theme for February is Noir Thrillers, and I'm going to start with a book I chose for the ScaredyKIT category of Psychological Thrillers: This Sweet Sickness by Patricia Highsmith.

My big book for February will be Circe by Madeline Miller, which I'm reading for my SF/Fantasy book club. I will also be reading The Testaments by Margaret Atwood for my other book club.

Jan 26, 9:31am Top

>51 sturlington: Sounds like a great month ahead! I loved Circe, and those are some good noir authors on deck!

Jan 26, 3:04pm Top

>50 sturlington: - This was already on my radar. I think I saw a blip in Book Pages, the pamphlet carried by the library each month. And I love the cover.

Edited: Feb 2, 4:18pm Top

5. This Sweet Sickness by Patricia Highsmith (3*)

Read for: February ScaredyKIT -- Psychological Thrillers

As an author, Patricia Highsmith fascinates me. I have read several of her books, and I haven't really enjoyed many of them (with the exception of The Talented Mr. Ripley) because her characters are so thoroughly unsympathetic. They depict the worst of human behavior. I truly believe Highsmith just hated people.

This Sweet Sickness is no exception. The main character, David, is so completely obsessed with a woman he doesn't really know and who is married to someone else that he has invented a double life in which he is married to her that seems more real to him than his actual life. But when he calls or phones the woman herself, Annabelle, she really doesn't do much to put him off. Maybe she is just being polite, as she says, but she seems to me to be stringing him along (and she's also very quick to get married, in my opinion), and so she does not earn my sympathy as a stalking victim. Likewise, David's only two friends are equally pathetic. Wes is a drunken lech with not a lot going on upstairs, and Effie is so absurdly in love with David that she comes off as nutty as he does. But we spend all our time in David's head, and he becomes rather tedious in his unrelenting, impervious obsession after a time. There is no one here to like or root for or even try to understand, and I have found this to be quite typical of Highsmith's writing.

Compare with In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes, which has a similar antagonist and theme but is populated by women who have personalities, strength of character, and a sense of themselves.

Feb 2, 4:19pm Top

6. Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing by Ursula K. Le Guin with David Naimon (3*)

Read for: This was a Christmas gift and a very quick read.

Nice little book of Le Guin wisdom. I'm not a fan of the interview format usually (especially when the questions are longer than the answers), but Le Guin has so many interesting things to say I didn't mind it here. I also appreciated the excerpts from her writing that accompanied the interviews.

Edited: Feb 12, 9:48am Top

7. Circe by Madeline Miller (4*)

Read for: SFF Book Club and February SFFKit -- Transformation

The story of Circe, the naiad witch best known for the part she played in The Odyssey but who was tangentially related to many other myths, including Theseus and the Minotaur, Jason and Medea, Daedalus and Icarus, and Scylla and Charybdis. So this novel also functions as a nice overview of Greek myth, yet from a different point of view. Circe's character drives the story, and her evolution from a young person just discovering her powers through to mature and self-reliant woman yet struggling with her immortality serves as its arc. Some of the people she encounters seem too good to be true (Daedalus), but the portrayals of Odysseus and Penelope in particular were very three-dimensional and human. The end surprised me, and I found it both beautiful and powerful.

Feb 10, 7:31am Top

Reading Circe has made me want more myth retellings, so I am going to continue with that theme for February (rather than noir), and I may sneak in some early haunted house reads as well, which is March's ScaredyKIT theme.

Feb 10, 8:44am Top

Have you read Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls? I very much enjoyed that retelling of the story of the Trojan War.

Feb 10, 9:34am Top

>58 RidgewayGirl: No, but I've seen it around. I will add it to the ever-growing reading list.

Feb 11, 8:58am Top

8. The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford (4*)

Read: off the shelves (looking forward to next month's ScaredyKIT theme of haunted places)

A group of college kids home for summer vacation drink way too much and investigate long-buried town secrets. This one started out pretty creepy but quickly evolved into more of a Scooby Doo-type adventure. Not deep, but fun. The hanging ending leads me to believe there might be a sequel.

Feb 20, 9:38am Top

9. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (4*)

Read for: real-life book club

I generally distrust sequels, especially those published 35 years later on the heels of a successful television series based on the first book. But Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors, and I'm happy to say that she did not phone this in. It's very different from The Handmaid's Tale, which I think was the best choice. Set mostly in Gilead fifteen years later, it alternates between three points of view: a young girl being raised to be a Wife, another young girl living in Canada, and the infamous Aunt Lydia. How smart Atwood was to allow Lydia to tell her own story, as it humanizes her without watering down her character. She does the right thing, but--depending on your point of view--for the wrong reasons; revenge is what motivates her, and her long con is delicious. The Testaments takes a broader view of Atwood's imagined dystopia, showing us both how Gilead came to be and how it came to fall. While there were lots of parts that made me feel sick and angry--mostly because Atwood makes me believe this could really happen--this book also made me feel hope. And I appreciate that.

Feb 21, 5:05pm Top

>61 sturlington: Yes, that hopeful note to The Testaments was so necessary!

Edited: Feb 28, 9:21am Top

10. The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan (3*)

Read: off the shelves (looking forward to next month's ScaredyKIT theme of haunted places)

In many ways, this is an old-fashioned horror story drawing heavily on the traditions of the New England gothic established by Poe, Lovecraft, Hawthorne, and Shirley Jackson, as well as folklore and Native American storytelling traditions. The allusions are thick and heavy, and will keep anyone who's interested in following them up busy for a long while. The main character, Sarah, is a writer who can't write, renting a very spooky and inhospitable-sounding house for the summer, where she discovers an unfinished manuscript in the basement by the previous tenant who hanged himself, about a sinister-looking tree out back and the strange happenings connected to it. It's quite a rabbit hole to fall down (and yes, there are plenty of Alice references too).

Sarah is grieving her ex-girlfriend Amanda's recent suicide, which is probably why she can't write. She begins keeping a journal about her research into the manuscript and the tree. After a while, another tenant moves into the house, a beautiful younger painter named Constance who takes the attic room. Constance seems to exist solely to remind Sarah of things she'd rather not think about. And here I'm going to get very spoiler-y, so maybe stop reading now if you haven't read the book yet.

It is clear, at least to me, early on that Constance does not exist. Sarah has a lot of issues: she has seizures, she has periods of missing time, she drinks, and Constance simply does not make sense as a person. She is a stand-in for Sarah's dead ex and the guilt Sarah feels about it. Based on the way Sarah reacts to Constance, it is my strong sense that Sarah was an abusive partner to Amanda. This is just a supposition I'm making, but it feels right to me, and even though I liked Sarah's narrative voice, I couldn't empathize with the character very much as a result.

The story itself is often vague and sometimes feels overstuffed. The tree itself does not seem that frightening to me. However, that basement is genuinely disturbing, and the two scenes set there were the two creepiest parts of the book. I am usually not fond of the whole found manuscript story-within-a-story trope, but I think it rather worked here, although it was sometimes hard to keep track of which spooky story was which. For me, the most effective piece of writing was Sarah's short story inserted into the middle of the novel, "Pony," which was bizarre as hell but very affecting, and shed a lot of light on Sarah and Amanda's relationship. All in all, this is a hodgepodge: good writing throughout, a thorough knowledge of the gothic tradition on display, a couple of truly creepy parts, an entirely expected ambiguous ending, and yet a sense of dissatisfaction--really, that's it? After all that?

Feb 28, 9:31am Top

Looks like we are almost to March, and I'm not really in a planning mood, so I'm just going to continue on some themes I started in February:

Myths retold: I'm still reading Wake, Siren, which I'm enjoying but can only be read in short bursts.

Haunted places: This is the ScaredyKIT theme next month and one of my favorite kinds of stories. I also might continue with the Lovecraftian-style horror, which just seems unavoidable.

Feb 28, 3:38pm Top

>63 sturlington: Thumbs up on that review!
I've started my March haunted places read, Twelve Nights at Rotter House.

Mar 9, 2:37pm Top

11. This House is Haunted by John Boyne (3.5*)

Read for: ScaredyKIT's March theme of Haunted Places

An homage to the Victorian ghost story, especially The Turn of the Screw. Boyne runs with the classic tropes of a governess arriving at her mysterious place of employment, a ramshackle country estate, where she encounters two sometimes creepy children and many secrets to be uncovered. There's even a hint of romance as well as many other gothic elements I won't mention to avoid spoilers (but you'll certainly be reminded of Jane Eyre and Rebecca as well). I think this novel would make a good movie, especially the climactic scenes. While I found this short little yarn to be entertaining, I don't think Boyne was doing anything particularly new with the form. Still, I'm always in the mood for a ghost story.

Mar 14, 9:00am Top

12. All Systems Red by Martha Wells (3*)

Read for: SFFKit's March series theme

I didn't think this lived up to the prehype. Perhaps it was because all of the human characters weren't fleshed out and seemed interchangeable. Or because I never got a good sense of the planet they were on. Or because I never fully felt invested in the plot or worried about the danger. The Murderbot's voice is fun and flippant, but that seems just a device, not really a character. Why does the Murderbot have a personality at all? What are the rules, and where does its autonomy come from? Normally, I like short novels, but I think this one needed a lot, lot more world-building and character development for me to really connect with the story.

Mar 22, 9:34am Top

13. The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher (3.5*)

Read for: ScaredyKIT's March haunted places theme

The setup for this horror story is that Mouse returns to the home of her detestable but now dead grandmother in rural North Carolina to clean out her house--her grandmother was a hoarder. She finds her step-grandfather's diary and a manuscript he wrote about a missing book and mysterious white people in the woods. The story starts out very strong: Mouse's voice is engaging, she has a cute dog (maybe a little too cute?), and a couple of very creepy things happen. But things get progressively weirder and less scary as Mouse gets closer to the mystery of the White People. This story is of course inspired by Arthur Machen's "The White People," and I am not a fan of Machen anyway. I think Kingfisher did a good job reinterpreting him and Lovecraft's response to him, but she can only do so much when the material she is working with is already batshit crazy. Good setting, good monsters, good creep factor, but a bit too much in the end.

Mar 22, 9:38am Top

I think my theme for April will have to be Reading Books Off the Shelf since we're basically stuck at home for who knows how long. I hope it won't be the whole month, but who can say at this point? I will try to find books on the shelf that fit the ScaredyKIT theme (Paranormal) and the SFFKit theme (Time Travel).

Mar 26, 4:23am Top

>67 sturlington:. I think you summed up what we’re also my feelings concerning All Systems Red. I thought it was overhype and never felt the urge to read any more in the series.

Mar 26, 7:27am Top

>70 Zozette: I'm glad it wasn't just me.

Mar 31, 8:00am Top

14. The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown (4*)

An interesting work of historical fiction set during the time of the witch hunts in 17th-century England, with only ambiguous hints of the paranormal. The witchfinder of the title is a deeply disturbed man, literally and figuratively scarred, who enacts his long-ingrown hatred of women on the innocent women of nearby villages and, ultimately, on his own sister. Another historical story that makes plain how very few choices women had and how easy it was to destroy them. I admired Alice, the sister, and the resolution that carried her through the trauma she endured, even if her narrative voice was somewhat dry.

Mar 31, 8:02am Top

Well, it is almost April, and my theme for next month shall be "Off the Shelves" since the library is closed, and I, like many of you, am stuck at home for the duration. I hope I'll get a lot of reading done and whittle down that TBR.

Mar 31, 5:52pm Top

>73 sturlington: It's funny, I managed to get a fair number of books from the library before it closed, but I've been totally ignoring them in favour of my own books.

Mar 31, 7:36pm Top

>74 rabbitprincess: Isn't that the flip of what usually happens? :-)

Apr 1, 1:08am Top

>72 sturlington: Taking a BB for that one!

>74 rabbitprincess: I have been doing the same! I think it is because I know the library books are not due back any time soon, so I can spread them out a bit. The due dates have all been extended to 1st June.

Apr 1, 6:04pm Top

>75 sturlington: It totally is!

>76 JayneCM: Wow, 1 June?! Right now the books I have out are due back starting on 8 April, but I think they're going to have to be extended :-/

Apr 1, 6:27pm Top

Our library deadline is 1 May right now.

Apr 1, 7:00pm Top

My library keeps changing the due date. Now it's April 24th. We'll see if that's extended.

Apr 1, 7:28pm Top

>79 RidgewayGirl: Just like everything else right now, nobody knows.

Group: 2020 Category Challenge

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