Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The 2017 Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge

Wow.  Time has totally gotten away from me.  I'm seriously behind in my blog posts!  Guess I've maybe been reading too much!!!!  I have been a busy little beaver when it comes to reading this year. Per Goodreads, as of today, I have read 217 books for a total of 64,595 pages!  You can see my final tally here:

Niffer's Year In Books2016

(**Note: The number will adjust as I read more books, so while as of today I've only read--Only! Ha!--217 books, there's still 17 more days to the new year and I expect that number to go up.)

Even with 217 books, I have not quite completed my 2016 Pick Your Poison Challenge.  Remember!  The point of the challenge is not just to read a certain number of books, but to read books that meet certain criteria.  I have 6 more books to go to finish all my categories.  6 books...17 days...Can she do it?....

But while we're fretting about whether or not I can finish this year's challenge, we should not forget next year.  I have been putting my poor little brain to work and trying to come up with an even better reading challenge for everyone out there.

Ladies and Gentlemen!  I present, for your reading pleasure, the 2017 Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge!!!!  (drumroll, please.....)

A printable .pdf is available here for your convenience.

A few hints for folks:

This is totally supposed to be a fun challenge.  Don't look at the Freaky Reader challenge and think, "Man, I could never read 104 books."  Check out the Baker's Dozen challenge and think, "You know, I probably will read 8 or 10 books this year.  I bet some of those books will fit into some of these categories."  One of my friends recently commented that she didn't think she could ever do this challenge.  I stalked her Goodreads read books from last year and she had totally completed the Baker's Dozen challenge.  The challenge is as much to stir your creativity as anything.  Is there a river mentioned in the book you're reading right now?  Dude, mark it off for the "A book about a river" category in the "Take It To The Bank" topic.  Reading a mystery and the murder victim has a pet cat?  Check off "A book with a cat in it" under "Critters."  You can do this!

Need help finding books that fit into a category?  Seriously, check out the Lists on  Last year I found "a book that takes place on an island" here.  The have a list of books where the dog lives or cats in romance novels.

And if you totally can't find a book that fits, or you're just running out of time, remember you can use a Wildcard category for any of the levels except Baker's Dozen.  (And heck, you can use it for that, too, if you really want to.  I won't judge you!)

And of course, once again, Extra Special (With A Helping Of Stevia On Top) Thanks are due to my friend Good Karma for helping with the fonts and getting me all the files I needed to post this.  (I'm so helpless with it comes to computer stuff.)  You should totally check out her lovely shop here.  And, as always, thanks to the Cafe gang at Creative Breakroom for offering support and suggestions as I put together this list.

I will try to come back with another blog post soon to update my 2016 progress!

Monday, March 21, 2016


Wow.  More than a month since my last post.

February was not a particularly good month for me.  I love pictures of happy animals, so I follow a few pages on Facebook that are either rescues or just pages of an individual critter.  Two of my favorite pages, Rocky Ridge Refuge and Jamie Samoyed, lost an beloved animal.  Rocky Ridge lost one of the most incredible critter ambassadors ever, Butterbean the bull terrier.  (For a lovely tribute to Butterbean click here.  Much love to Janice.)  Jamie Samoyed lost his kitty friend, Fish.

In the midst of all that, I lost my precious kitty Zigamaboo very suddenly.  She was only seven years old and had never had any health problems.  My vet suspects it was a heart attack.  Z was never a cuddly cat--she had been born to a feral mom and never quite lost her wildness--but she was very vocal and loved her head scratches.

One of the things that I find really amazing when you lose a pet is how empty the house seems without them.  I had eight cats and two dogs--my home is never empty--and yet I have routines with each of my critters.  I turn a corner and I expect to see Z sleeping in a particular basket, or perched in a familiar spot on a cat tree.  In every room there's suddenly an empty corner or a blanket that should have a little furball asleep on it.

I was also surprised by the reaction of one of my other kitties, Lincoln.  I knew that he and Z sometimes played together.  I didn't realize how attached he was to her.  When I returned to my house after taking her to the vet, I found him actively looking for her.  He took short naps in a couple of her favorite spots--but only short naps, as if he was expecting her to boot him out and when she didn't he went looking for her again.

Within a couple of days, Lincoln was driving everyone in the house mad as he desperately looked for someone to play with.  I spent a lot more time playing with him to try to compensate, but I work a full time job during the week and on Sundays I have a part time job.  And I like to sleep sometimes.  It became very apparent that instead of staying with a seven cat household, I was going to have to find Lincoln a friend to save everyone's sanity.

It took four different rescues, but I finally found a super energetic, crazy, seven month old kitty to add to the household.

At the rescue, he was Charlie, but I felt that was a little too prosaic to fit with the rest of the crew, so after a couple of days of internet searches and reading "What to name the baby" books, I finally settled on Petoskey, because his marking reminded me a bit of the petoskey stones I used to find as a kid on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Being a rescue, Petoskey had to be quarantined (he had a snotty nose and icky eyes) and having him in his own room for a week or so just to get acclimated is a good idea anyway, so I've been spending a lot of time sitting with him in a spare bedroom.  Plenty of time for reading, but not so much for updating the blog.  Once his snot cleared up, I started introducing him to the other kitties--first just Lincoln, but eventually to everyone.  It's been a little stressful and there's been plenty of hisses, but overall things are going well.

In any event, I'm up to 50 books read, and no blog post in a month, so time to catch up a bit.  These are the books I've read since my last post:

A book about sportsThe Runner by Cynthia Voigt.  Not my favorite of the Tillerman series, but still a solid book.
An autobiography: Yes My Accent Is Real by Kunal Nayyar.  Not really an autobiography (the guy is only 34) so much as a series of memories about growing up and his acting career.  I enjoyed it a lot.
A book of historical fiction set before 1900: The Miniaturist by Jesse Burton.  A kind of dark story (based in Amsterdam in the winter!), but strongly written.
A book published before you were born: The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark.  One of the things I'm enjoying about doing these challenges is pushing the envelope a bit and finding some more obscure books to fit the topic.  Sometimes I find a gem.  Sometimes not so much.  This one was not so much.
You've seen the movie--now read the book: A Slight Trick Of The Mind by Mitch Cullin.  I honestly think I might have been disappointed by this one if I hadn't seen the movie first and had an idea what to expect. Yes, Sherlock Holmes is the main character. No, this is not a mystery. At the same time, I think the book is a little bit deeper than the movie, and not as "Pollyanna-ish" in the end. Worth the read.
The first book by an author, published in the last 5 years: Jackaby by William Ritter. A decent book, but with it's flaws.  A nice, light read, and I look forward to reading more in the series.
A book you can finish in a day: Let's Be Less Stupid by Patricia Marx.  Finished it in a day, and regretted the time wasted on it.
A book about somewhere you want to visit: The Shadow Of The Wind by

A non-fiction book about science: The Soul Of An Octopus by Sy Montgomery.  More memoir than scientific, but a decent read.
A book published the decade you were born: If On A Winter's Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino.  An odd book, with a very different premise, I enjoyed it although it got a little confusing towards the end.
A fable: Frederick's Fables by


I've got a few more in progress.  Hopefully it won't be as long before my next update.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Rounding past the first turn....

One of the books I had finished was due today, and a couple that I had put on reserve were ready for pick-up, so I went to the library yesterday, returned a few books, and picked up some new ones.

On the way home I finished The Alchemist, which I listened to on audio book.  Then when I got home, I finished So Long A Letter, which was a beautifully sad book about a woman mourning the husband who died--a husband who had left her five years earlier when he married a second, much younger wife.  A wonderful book at just 90 pages, to complete my "book under 100 pages" category.

Before leaving for the library I also finished Here Lies The Librarian, which was an odd book that didn't really seem to have much of a plot, although the main character was kind of fun.  But it was based in my home state of Indiana, so another tick mark on my list.

I also managed to read Calvin and Hobbes 1: Thereby Hangs a Tale and Freedom's Just Another Word for People Finding Out You're Useless to complete the "two comic books from the funny pages" category.

That officially puts me at 26 books, so I'm a quarter of the way done.  Woohoo!!!  Unfortunately I can't say that I've completed the "Fortnightly" challenge because in several categories I've read two or three books, and in others I've read none.  Some of that has to do with getting books from the library--I want to read them before they're due, so even if I've already read a book in a category, if I have a book due soon I need to read that and return it.  I've mostly identified all the books I'm planning to read at this point, and several of the categories are going to be books that I own.  If it's a choice between a library book due soon and a book that might just gather a little more dust on my shelf, the library book wins.

But I am hoping to hit at least one book in each category soon.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

A Day Of Many Adventures

Late last night I finished A Desperate Fortune, which fulfills the "book more than 500 pages long" category.  It had its flaws, but overall I really enjoyed it and gave it five stars because I was left feeling happy and relaxed after--and isn't that one of the best things about reading?

Somehow a lot of the books I'm planning to read for this challenge are on the longer side, especially the ones next up in my queue (translation: due back at the library soon) but I thought I'd take a break from monstrosities this morning, and pulled out The Face On The Milk Carton.  It turned out to be just the perfect length to finish before an 11 o'clock appointment.  It fills the "choose for you by a family member, bff,..." category. Or at least I'm going to use it for that.  She didn't exactly "choose" it for me, and she's not quite a bff, but the woman who told me about it definitely is someone I'd like to hang out with more except our work schedules are in conflict.

After finishing the book I had just enough time to shower and get dressed before heading over to my appointment.  The woman I met with is super chatty and British and had two cute Westies, one of which was so excited to meet me that she peed all over, much to her mom's embarrassment.  We had a great chat, and I picked up my order from her and headed out.

Next I stopped at the post office, where I was delighted to discover that the custom dog bowls I had ordered were in.  Yay!

Then I hit the back roads to head over to Columbia, MD, to go to Daedalus Books.

I adore Daedalus. Unlike most bookstores which are mostly full of best sellers, Daedalus sells remainder books at discounted prices.  There's an awful lot of good books published that don't make the New York Times Best Seller list, and many of them end up at Daedalus, just waiting for you to discover them. (They also have a handful of new/popular books to appease people who really need to buy a best seller.)

This book challenge includes two items that made me sad over there today. First there's the "first book you see in a book store." Second, Daedalus usually has a selection of " staff picks" which I figured would count for my "recommended by a local librarian or bookseller" category.  (Have I mentioned I'm an introvert and find talking to people difficult? I figured this would work as a recommendation while allowing me to avoid talking to anyone.)

I popped an audio book (yes, for the challenge) into my CD player for the drive over and enjoyed a good story along with some pretty countryside.  I followed a horse trailer part of the way until it pulled into a little lane in the historic area in Sunshine.  Always have to wonder if they're picking up or dropping off.

When I got to Daedalus I put my "devious plan" into action.  Most bookstores put their super sale final clearance type books, like "Healthy Cooking With Margarine" or "How To Repair Your Toilet With Motorcycle Parts" in the front of the store, and Daedalus is no exception. I figured I needed to make it to one of my favorite sections in the store without seeing any other books. So I squinted my eyes mostly shut and walked with my head down trough the front of the store and back to the right, back to the young adult table in the children's section.  Woo hoo!  I did it. Made it all the way back there without seeing any books. Then I opened my eyes and saw...

...the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy....

Well crap. Guess I have to read the whole trilogy now.  Luckily I have it on eBook, so I took a picture just to remind me, and then went back to the front of the store for a shopping cart.

I wasn't in the mood to spend hours looking at the shelves, so I mostly skimmed the display tables, picking up a couple young adult books, a few mysteries, some history books, and a cute book Tiny Hats On Cats that will make a fun Christmas gift for my mom next year.

Unfortunately the "staff picks" section was basically signed first editions that were fairly expensive--and I had to wonder if staff had really picked them. I took a picture of one that looked interesting and figured I'd check it out from the library.

I took my purchases to the front.  One of the guys bagging my books stopped as he was bagging and held up one of my books.  "This is a great book. You'll love it." Dude. Got a recommendation. Score.

And so I headed home with two bags full of books, plus my recommendation and my "first book I see" category filled.  And on my way home the same horse trailer pulled out in front of me. I couldn't tell, when I finally passed it, if it had a passenger or not.

Now I gotta get back to reading!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Snow Days Mean Lots of Reading

I really would have preferred not to get 30 inches of snow.  I mean, I'm from northern Indiana, so I know how to deal with big snow.  I learned how to drive in big snow.  That doesn't mean I like it that much.  One of the things I like about Washington, DC is minimal snow.

But every once in awhile DC likes to prove that big snow can happen.  And last week it did.  In a major way.  I've lived in the DC area off and on for more than 20 years, and honestly this was one of the biggest storms I remember.  There were a couple of others where we got back to back storms, or a second fairly large snow after a big storm, but this was just snow snow snow for about two days.  Which meant lots of shoveling.

And between shifts shoveling, lots of time to read.  Which has actually put me a bit ahead of my reading goal of two books a week--hopefully that will help later in the year if my schedule gets crazy (at some point I need to do inventory and get Gregory Road updated!).

So thanks largely to the snow, I managed to finish nine more books:

1. A book you are constantly recommending to others: One of my all time favorites, The Bellwether, by Connie Willis.
2. A book written by a celebrity:  Me: Stories of My Life, by Katharine Hepburn
3. A book by your favorite author: Hard for me to identify a single favorite author, but Cynthia Voigt is definitely high on the list, so I went with The Book Of Lost Things
4. A science fiction novel: Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom
5. A book you haven't read since high school: A Horse For X.Y.Z.
6. A National Book Award winner: The Color Purple
7. A book that's more than 600 pages: Lair Of Dreams
8. Read a children's book aloud: Three More Stories You Can Read To Your Cat (and yes, I did read this to my cats)
9. A book with a blue cover: The Assassin's Curse

I have been busily working on identifying other books for the challenge, and have quite a pile in my house of things I want to read.  I also recently replaced my library card and have been having a blast reserving things through inter library loan.  Having a list like that is encouraging a sense of urgency (READ ALL THE BOOKS), which I may have to rein back at some point so I don't get totally burnt out.  But I am having fun so far. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A few more notches on the bedstand...

Overall, I'm feeling a little behind in my reading.  First, I read The Sister.  My normal "MO" for reading is that I read a book at lunch for a couple of days, get pretty well hooked, and end up staying up way too late one night to finish it.  Unfortunately last week was full of errands that needed to be run in the evenings, so I wasn't able to finish it in the evening.  I was feeling very frustrated by the time Saturday rolled around and I was able to finish the book and then, well, it ended.  And I was left feeling like WTH?

I'm not sure what even caught my eye about the book.  When I first read the blurb, for some reason I thought it was going to be a funny book.  "Humorous book" is one of the categories, so I was okay with that.  Then about 50 pages in I could tell it wasn't a funny book and thought maybe mystery, but then it wasn't really a mystery.  It was kind of a horror story, but (as one goodreads reviewer said "The only thing it lacks is a sense of horror....") it really wasn't that either.  By the end I was like "Did I just waste a week of my life on this?"  Luckily there's a "book by/about someone you don't like" and I definitely didn't like the main character of this book by the end, so I guess we'll pop it there and have done.

Because I could tell generally where that book was heading, I decided to go for a book I knew I'd likely enjoy for my next book.  When I was a kid, one of our teachers was a fairly conservative Christian and we were forbidden from reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond.  I've always wanted to read it, though, and this seemed a good opportunity to jump in.  I was not as enamored of it as I had hoped, but it was a relief after The Sister.

I got suckered in by a colorful cover and thought maybe I'd enjoy The Cherry Cola Book Club, but overall it was a really disappointing read for my "book with a fruit in the title" category.  This is the kind of book that you feel like publishing companies publish just because they need to meet a quota this month, and hey everyone loves a good "they're going to close the library--we need to save it" drama, right?  Yeah, do yourselves a favor and pass.

Finally, I greatly enjoyed reading Bloodsucking Fiends to complete my "humorous book" category.  It really was a humorous book, by the same author who wrote "Lamb," which is an old favorite of mine. This was a fun book about a woman who was turned into a vampire (mostly to amuse the vampire she turned into) and her struggles to figure out how to survive.  Campy and entertaining, with a solid plot and good characters.  I need to read more of Christopher Moore's books when I have time.

Next up is my behemoth "book over 600 pages" category, which I'm guessing will take me awhile (and disturb the cats as a 600 page hardcover takes up too much lap space for them to be comfortable sitting on me), and I'm working my way through a "book written by a celebrity."  We'll see which I finish first!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Off to a good start!

I'll admit to cheating a little bit.  I had already read about seven books by the time I have this list created--but due to my late start creating the list, I'm going to go ahead and use a few of them.  I don't know that I will have time to review every book I read, but so far I've managed to do reviews.

First, a trilogy, The Nightblade Epic First Trilogy Box Set: Books 1-3 of The Nightblade Epic  Luckily these books were fairly quick reads, because honestly they wouldn't have been worth the effort if they were longer.

Second, a book of poetry, Goblin Market  Technically this was one long poem, not a book of different poems, but I found it enjoyable and will likely go back to it in the future.

Third, a book about trains, Orphan Train  I'm being a little loose here in my interpretation of the topic, but I feel like it's in keeping with the spirit of a book challenge.

There's two other books I've read--one I actually started in 2015 (even if I only read 40 pages) so I'm not going to count it, and the other I'm not sure what category it might fit into so I'm going to add it quite yet.  Still, three books (five really, if you don't count the trilogy as one book) is a good start.  I've got a start on a couple of other books, and have been looking at what I can read to complete the other topics.

Knowing myself, and how long a year it, I don't know for certain if I'll want to create a 2017 Pick Your Poison list, but I am considering things as I go along, such as: How easy/hard is this list?  Are there changes I would make?  What would make it more appealing?  What would make it work better?

One thing that has occurred to me is that I wrote this from a very American-centric viewpoint.  I have Facebook friends in a handful of different countries, and my initial blog post was viewed by folks in fun places like Spain, Germany, New Zealand, Ireland, Australia and Great Britain.  Looking at my list I see topics like "a book from your home state."  I choose "state" over "city" because the book challenge I did last year had a city one and, being from South Bend, IN--a lovely city, but not the world's most happenin' place when it comes to exotic book locales--I found "city" a bit too restrictive.  But now I'm thinking not every country has states.

Maybe I need to consider that in the future.

Also, I made topics like "a book set in Europe" because for me that's an exotic and different location.  Perhaps someone from Spain would rather read "a book set in the US" or "a book set in India."  And I have topics like "a New York Times bestseller", "an Oprah Book club book", "a Newbery Award Winner."  (And I just noticed a typo in "Newberry" on the list--whoops!)  Maybe I'm including too many books from lists that are common in the US but not so much elsewhere.

Granted I would go crazy trying to find award winning lists in every country around the globe, so it probably wouldn't be in my best interest to try to be all inclusive.  But perhaps focusing on other types of awards (an award winning Fantasy or Mystery) instead of specific lists would be helpful.  Or maybe just limit the number of topics related to location.

Just things I'm pondering.....

Friday, January 8, 2016

The 2016 Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge

Sometime early last year (or late 2014) I saw a 2015 reading challenge. Anyone who knows me knows I love to read. When I was a teenager I would often read a couple books a night (much to my father's dismay) and while I no longer have that luxury, I still love to settle down with a good book as often as possible.

One thing I've found recently, though, is that my tastes have changed, and new genres are out there, and some of the genres I loved really don't exist anymore, so I've been a little frustrated finding things I want to read. Stuck in a rut, really, with a fairly narrow mind about what genres to pick up, and often I've found the books to be poorly written or uninteresting. A book challenge sounded like an excellent way to get me out of the rut. I printed off the graphic and left it on my desk at work.

Around about October I was cleaning off my desk and found the book challenge printout and thought, "Bummer. I was going to do this." Then I started looking at the list and realized that I'd already read books that would qualify for a good bit of the challenge. So I buckled down and started a reading marathon and managed, just barely, to finish the challenge. Whew.

Immediately I started thinking about 2016, and looking for challenges to keep me going. One was too long. One was too short. One had multi-levels, but tended to be all on the same topic.... I was beginning to feel like Goldilocks stumbling around in the three bears' house. (Anyone interested in checking out some other challenges, this article has some great ones.) I finally decided to take the best bits of all the challenges and put them together into something I thought would work not just for me, but for some of my friends who also were looking for a good challenge.

The result is the "2016 Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge." There are five levels, starting with the Baker's Dozen (a book a month plus one) through the Freaky Reader (two books a week baby!). Topics are arranged in groups in order to push you a little out of your comfort zone, so that you can't read 4 children's books and skip the 500 page monstrosities. And because just about every challenge I saw had at least one topic that was a real doozy, I decided to include a couple of wildcard topics to help you out.

So here you go.  The 2016 Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge.

A printable pdf is available here for your convenience.

I will be trying to blog about some of the books I read--probably not all, as I'm gonna go for broke and try to do all 104 (it is my challenge after all).  But feel free to check back to see how I'm doing.

Super Awesome Special Thanks go to my friend Good Karma for helping with the fonts and layout of the final challenge and for suggesting some topic changes to replace the ones I made while brain dead. You should totally check out her shop here! And of course, thanks to the whole Cafe gang at Creative Breakroom for putting up with my stress and shenanigans while I was putting this together.