My Year For Reading Challenges

My Year for Reading Challenges

Just to prove my capacity for biting off more than I can chew, on top of working on my PhD, doing this blog, and agreeing to a number of requests for book reviews/blog tours, I am signing up for two separate reading challenges this year.

This is a first for me, and I’ll be honest… I don’t know how well this is going to work.  I imagine what will happen is that I’ll start out the first month or two okay, fall off the wagon, scramble frantically to catch up over the summer months, and then ultimately fail in December.  But it doesn’t hurt to try.  So I’m just going to dive in and see what happens.

So here are the two challenges:

2012 TBR Pile Reading Challenge

This is a challenge to read books off that pile that sits and waits, and we keep meaning to get to it, and never seem to.  And lord knows I have a LOT of those.  Some of the books on my TBR pile are fairly recent, having been added over the past year, but some have been sitting around waiting for me for several years at least.

For full information and the sign-up page, go here, but here is some of the basic info:

Challenge guidelines: 
  1. This challenge will run from Jan 1, 2012 – Dec 31, 2012.
  2. As we would like to see quality reviews linked up to our monthly wrap-ups, only bloggers can enter. Sorry about that!
  3. Any genre, length or format of book counts, as long as it is a book that’s been sitting on your shelf for some time now. Only books released in 2011 and earlier! NO ARCs and 2012 fresh-off-the-press releases allowed!
  4. You can list your books in advance or just put them in a wrap-up post. If you list them, feel free to change them as the mood takes you.
  5. When you sign up in the linky, put the direct link to your post about joining the 2012 TBR PILE Reading Challenge (You need to include the info + host list + challenge button. You can also grab the button code and add it to your sidebar!)
  6. You can move up levels, but no moving down.
  7. Sign-ups will be open until Dec 15, 2012, so feel free to join at any time throughout the year.
  8. At the end of each month one of the hosts will post a wrap-up. Every wrap-up will have it’s unique theme, a mini-challenge, a giveaway and place for you to link up your reviews from this month. For each review you link up, you will get one entry in a drawing of one book of choice from Book Depository. It’s open to INTERNATIONALS. For participating in the mini-challenge you will get +1 entry.
  9. If you miss a wrap-up post + giveaway, you can link up your reviews next month. Do not, however, try to link up one review twice – we will be checking 😉
  10. December is a wrap-up for the whole year. All the book reviews you linked up January-November + the ones you’ll link up in December will be entered into a HUGE giveaway – 12 books, 12 winners, INTERNATIONAL.
  11. You don’t have to follow all the hosts to join the challenge, but you do have to follow all of us to be entered in giveaways!

Reading Levels:

1-10 – A Firm Handshake
11-20 – A Friendly Hug
21-30 – A Sweet Kiss
31-40 – Love At First Sight
41-50 – Married With Children

Hosts:
Evie from Bookish – http://www.evie-bookish.blogspot.com @SeoEvie
Nicole from All I Ever Readhttp://www.nicoleabouttown.com/ @Nicoleabouttown
Bonnie from Hands and Homehttp://www.handsandhome.ca/ @HandsHomeBlog
Donna from Book Passion For Life http://bookpassionforlife.blogspot.com/ @BookPforLife
Caitlin from WatchYA Reading http://whatchyareading.net @caitlingss
Rie from Mission To Read http://missiontoread.com/ @missiontoread
Vicky from Books, Biscuits & Tea http://booksbiscuitsandtea.blogspot.com/ @alouetteuette
Christa from Hooked On Books http://christashookedonbooks.blogspot.com @ChristasBooks
Jenna from Fans Of Fiction http://fansoffiction.blogspot.com/ @fansoffiction
Angel from Mermaids Vision http://mermaidvision.wordpress.com @mermaidvisions

I’m not making a full list of books ahead of time because I simply have too many books on my TBR pile to choose from and you never know where my mood might take me, but I can say that Skeleton Lake by Angela Kulig, Being Human by Patricia Lynne, and Breathe by Melanie McCullough will be on the list.  Also, probably a few that have been sitting around for awhile like White Noise by Don Delillo and The Stories of Ibis by Hiroshi Yamamoto, to name just a few.

However, I am starting at the lowest level (1-10 books) right now, because I simply don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep this up.

2012 “Books That Made Me Love Reading” Challenge

This wonderful challenge is being hosted by the always-awesome Emlyn Chand, and is much more simple than the TBR Pile Reading Challenge.  Pretty much, this challenges asks you to read at least 1 book per month that you loved as you were growing up, and which had a huge impact on your general love of books and reading.  This could be a children’s picture book, or the books you were forced to read in high school that you actually learned to love, etc.

I think this is an absolutely fantastic idea for a challenge because those of us who love reading have usually had this passion since we were children (possibly since before we can remember), and we always have a huge slew of books we’d love to re-read some time.  I know for me books have always been a part of my life.  My mother is a also an avid reader and our house was always filled with books, no matter how many times we moved, or how small the apartment or townhouse was.  My mother read to me a lot when I was little, and my brother and I both started reading on our own at very young ages.  Some of the first books I really remember reading are The Boxcar Children mysteries that I read in first grade.  I was obsessed with those books, and I will no doubt read at least the first one over again for this challenge.  I also really loved picture books.  In fact, I still do, and I collect them.  And, of course, the book that changed everything for me (as I’ve mentioned on this blog before) was The Hobbit.  I read it in the 4th grade and knew from that moment on that I HAD to be a writer.  No if, ands, or buts.  So, that one will definitely be on the list (just in time for the new movie too!).

For more information and the sign-up for this challenge, go here.

So there you have it, folks.  More things to add to my schedule, to keep me busy, keep me awake nights, and make me (more) crazy.  But at least it should be a fun ride to the psych-ward. ^__^

And You Thought Your High School Years Sucked: A Review of Farsighted by Emlyn Chand

First off, my apologies for the lateness of this post — I’ve been sick the last couple days and I’ve been rushing to both write and post my review.

Second, if you missed the beginning of the Farsighted blog tour, please check out Monday’s post for an interview with author Emlyn Chand (who is also the president of PR firm Novel Publicity), and also check out all the information about the various events and prizes for this week’s blog tour.

And now, here’s my review of Farsighted:

Title: Farsighted

Author: Emlyn Chand

Genre: YA Fantasy

Where I Got It: A free ebook copy from the author in exchange for an honest review

Score: 5 out of 5

In Farsighted, the first of a series about main character Alex Kosmitoras, Alex’s sophomore year of high school might just kill him.  His parents are scraping to make ends meet.  His hard-working mother is loving but very overprotective, his unemployed father is distant and acting strange.  The high school bully is hell-bent on making Alex’s life miserable.  And to top it all off, Alex is blind. But that’s all par for the course, and his life is about to get a whole hell of a lot more complicated.

Just as Alex is making friends with the two new girls: Simmi, who is kind and smells like an Almond Joy bar, and Shapri, who is smart, blunt, and no-nonsense, he begins to “see” things — or rather, hear, feel, and smell things.  Things that seem to happen, and then happen again.  Things he can’t distinguish from reality.  Things, he soon learns, that mean he has developed the ability to “see” the future.  Stumbling through the school year, shouting at people who aren’t really there, and generally making a fool of himself, he attempts to ignore his new gifts.  Until he discovers that his new friend Simmi may be in danger, and only his powers can save her.  Now, with help from the psychic who just moved in next door to his mother’s shop, and his new friends who may have special gifts of their own, Alex must work hard to change Simmi’s future, and his own.

Yeah, and you thought YOUR high school years were difficult.

What I Liked:

Let’s start with the characters.

Alex is a well-written, believable blind teenage boy written by a not-blind married woman — not an easy thing to pull off.  Alex is a very typical teenage boy, in fact.  Alex loves his mother but is constantly embarrassed by her over-the-top affection and little-boy nicknames.  He desperately wants his father to love him, and fears that he will never be enough for his father.  His crush on Simmi leads him to do some cute and some stupid things in a very believable fashion, so that all we can do as readers is nod in understanding and say: “ah, hormones…”  And even when he does something REALLY stupid, it is still in character, understandable as something a teenage boy might do when he doesn’t quite understand how stupid his conclusions are — of course, when he does this stupid thing (I won’t spoil it for you), I just wanted to smack him in the back of the head and tell him to stop being an idiot.   Through all of this however, Alex remains smart and resourceful, doing the best he can to salvage a difficult situation in admirable fashion.  He is relatable, sympathetic, and likable.

The other characters are well-written as well.  Simmi and Shapri are both kind, smart teenager girls, but they are very much their own characters, with distinct and interesting character traits.  While Simmi is sweet and more on the quiet side, Shapri is out-spoken and blunt.  Admittedly, I sometimes thought Simmi was a little too good to be true, but sometimes you really do find that special girl is just so sweet and so patient, that you almost can’t believe it.  Of the two girls, I definitely prefer Shapri though.  You’ve probably noticed by now I have a thing for female characters who are strong and out-spoken (probably because I’m not particularly out-spoken myself).  It is amusing to watch how both girls turn Alex’s world upside down, and keep him in his toes.  That’s what teenage girls are for, isn’t it?

Of the parents, we don’t get as good a feel for the mother as we do for the father.  The mother is given some well-rounded characterization — she is strong and loving and patient, but prone on a few occasions to give in to depression and despair.  But she is not as dynamic a character as the father, who plays an important role in Alex’s life by virtue of Alex’s perception that he is distant from Alex’s life (does that make sense?).  And with the father acting strange throughout the novel, I had a lot of fun trying to guess what he was really up to.  I won’t spoil that for you either, but I will announce triumphantly that I guessed right.

As for the plot itself: it works much like a mystery (though it is also, obviously, a fantasy).  We the readers, like the characters, are fed bits and pieces, clues that we are trying to fit together just as Alex is trying to fit them together to understand how and why Simmi is in danger.  There is a shadowy bad guy and a wide variety of scenarios involved in Alex’s visions, but it remains unclear throughout the novel what is really going to happen, and why.  Now, I love mysteries.  And I love trying to figure out what the ending is going to be.  So I loved this method of feeding us little bits of information a little at a time.  I had a few guesses going into the final chapters.  And I’ll tell you what: I never saw the ending coming.  Part of me is annoyed with myself for missing the clues.  But the larger part of me is just impressed that the author managed to surprise me.  In all modesty, it doesn’t happen that often anymore.

What I Didn’t Like:

What didn’t I like?  Actually… honestly, I can’t think of anything.  Except maybe that I have to wait for the next installment.  There are some series that I prefer to wait to read until all the books (or at least several of them) have already been released.  I HATE to wait.  And I’m definitely not looking forward to this wait.

Other than that… um… Nope, can’t think of anything.  This book was just plain FUN.  The characters are relatable, resourceful, dynamic, and likable. The plot keeps you on your toes to the end.  The clues keep you actively involved.  And the ending, while decently satisfying, definitely leaves you wanting more.  What more can you ask for, really?

In other words: go read Farsighted.  NOW.

Remember, you can get it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  And right now it’s only 99cents.

You can also currently vote for Farsighted in the Alternative Read Best Book Cover of the Year award: just click here.

Also:

To Win the Prizes

  1. Purchase your copy of Farsighted for just 99 cents on Amazon or Barnes & Noble
  2. Fill-out the form on Novel Publicity to enter for the prizes
  3. Visit today’s featured event; you may win an autographed copy of the book or a $50 gift card!
  4. BONUS: If you leave a comment on this blog post, you have another chance at $100!
  5. DOUBLE BONUS: If I receive more comments than any other blogger, *I* win $100.

…And I can win too!

Over 100 bloggers are participating in this gigantic event, and there are plenty of prizes for us too. The blogger who receives the most votes in the traffic-breaker poll will win a $100 gift card as well. So when you visit Novel Publicity’s site to fill-out the contest entry form, don’t forget to say that I referred you, so I can get a point in the poll.

The Farsighted Social Media Whirlwind Tour

Good morning, everyone! For those of you who celebrate, I hope you had an absolutely wonderful Christmas.  For those who don’t, I hope you had an absolutely wonderful weekend! ^_^  As some of you may remember (once the Christmas dinner coma wears off…), I have spent the last two weeks participating in blog tours for Novel Publicity.  First for In Leah’s Wake by Terri Giuliano Long, and second for Scorpio Rising by Monique Domovitch.  Now it is time for the last Novel Publicity run blog tour.  This is one is extra-special because the book, Farsighted, happens to be written by the president of Novel Publicity herself, the impressive Emlyn Chand.

For today, we have an interview with Emlyn Chand herself.  On Wednesday, check back in my for review of Farsighted (which was fantastic, just to give you a small preview).  And now, without further ado:

Announcing the Farsighted Social Media Whirlwind Tour!

As part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Farsighted eBook edition is just 99 cents this week.

What’s more, by purchasing this fantastic book at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes, including lots of Amazon gift cards (up to $100 in amount) and 5 autographed copies of the book. Be sure to enter before the end of the day on Friday, December 30th, so you don’t miss out.

To Win the Prizes

  1. Purchase your copy of Farsighted for just 99 cents on Amazon or Barnes & Noble
  2. Fill-out the form on Novel Publicity to enter for the prizes
  3. Visit today’s featured event; you may win an autographed copy of the book or a $50 gift card!
  4. BONUS: If you leave a comment on this blog post, you have another chance at $100!
  5. DOUBLE BONUS: If I receive more comments than any other blogger, *I* win $100.

…And I can win too!

Over 100 bloggers are participating in this gigantic event, and there are plenty of prizes for us too. The blogger who receives the most votes in the traffic-breaker poll will win a $100 gift card as well. So when you visit Novel Publicity’s site to fill-out the contest entry form, don’t forget to say that I referred you, so I can get a point in the poll.

The Featured Events include:

Monday, a guest blog on Novel Publicity! Emlyn kicks off the tour on the Novel Publicity Free Advice blog by discussing her brightly burning passion for books in a guest post entitled “My journey through the pages and toward a life-long love of reading.” One commenter will win an autographed copy of Farsighted. Don’t forget to enter for the other contest prizes while you’re over there!

Tuesday, Twitter sharing contest! A tweet is tiny, only 140 characters. But on Tuesday, it could win you $50. Send the following tweet across the twittersphere, and you just may win a $50 Amazon gift card. An autographed copy of Farsighted is also up for grabs. The winners will be announced Wednesday morning. Here’s the tweet: Looking for a fun read to round out your holiday break? The paranormal YA hit Farsighted is just 99 cents! http://ow.ly/81Dt1 #whirlwind

Wednesday, Google+ sharing contest! Yup, there’s yet another awesome opportunity to win a $50 Amazon gift card, and this time it just takes a single click! Visit Google+ and share Emlyn Chand’s most recent post (you’ll see the Stay Farsighted book cover included with it). On Thursday morning, one lucky sharer will be $50 richer. An autographed copy of Farsighted is also up for grabs. Two chances to win with just one click! How about that?

Thursday, Facebook sharing contest! Stop by Novel Publicity’s Facebook page and share their latest post (you’ll see the Farsighted book cover included with it). It’s ridiculously easy to win! On Friday morning, one lucky sharer will be $50 richer. An autographed copy of Farsighted is also up for grabs.

Friday, special contest on the author’s site! Are you ready for some more fun? Take a picture of yourself with your copy of Farsighted either in paperback or on an eReading device, then post it to Emlyn Chand’s Facebook page or email a copy to author@emlynchand.com. You just way win one of three Amazon gift cards! A $100 prize will go to the photo with the most interesting setting (so put your holiday travel time to work for you). Another $50 will go the funniest photo, and one more prize of $50 will go the scariest photo—this is a paranormal YA book after all. An autographed copy of Farsighted will go to one randomly selected entrant. For more details about this contest, please visit www.emlynchand.com.

Remember, it’s all about the books!

About Farsighted: Alex Kosmitoras may be blind, but he can still “see” things others can’t. When his unwanted visions of the future begin to suggest that the girl he likes could be in danger, he has no choice but to take on destiny and demand it reconsider. Farsighted is the winner of the 2011 Dragonfly eBook Awards. Get it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

About the Author: Emlyn Chand has always loved to hear and tell stories, having emerged from the womb with a fountain pen grasped firmly in her left hand (true story). When she’s not writing, she runs a large book club in Ann Arbor and is the president of author PR firm, Novel Publicity. Emlyn loves to connect with readers and is available throughout the social media interweb. Visit her on her website, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads.

Let’s get to know the author a little better through this rousing Q&A…

Q: What was it like writing from the viewpoint of a blind, teenage boy? Were there any parts of Alex’s personality/life you found hard to come up with?

A: You know, it wasn’t as hard to write blind as I initially thought it would be. It didn’t take long to begin “seeing” Alex’s world the way he does. I wrote the entire story without knowing what anyone or anything looked like (except for Alex himself). When it came time to shoot the book trailer, the directors were asking me questions about the scenes and which props they should bring, and I really, really didn’t know what to tell them!

As I got to know Alex better and better, it became easier to tune into his way of seeing things. I read books about coping with blindness in a school setting and spent a great deal of time pondering how I might behave if I couldn’t see. In the story, Alex has always been blind; he’s always known the world to be a certain way. Not everyone understands that, and they have trouble talking about it with him. I gave Alex a tendency to overcompensate. He knows who he is and what he’s capable of, and he wants the world to know it too, so sometimes he overdoes things a bit.

Q: Your cast of characters has international flavor? What’s behind that choice?

A: I don’t see why my characters all need to belong to the same culture or ethnicity. What fun is that? Culture shapes our characters in a big way, so by diversifying my cast, I was able to hit on more types of personalities and situations. Grandon is based on my hometown; it’s small and kind of boring. I couldn’t wait to escape and move on to bigger and better things. My home town was mostly Caucasian, but somehow I ended up with a very diverse set of friends even though they made up less than 1% of the student body. Fast forward a few years, and I end up marrying a man from India. He’s from New Delhi, like Simmi. I’ve always been fascinated by other cultures; I even decided to pursue my Master’s in Sociology for this very reason. I credit two early life influences for this attraction: 1) My adoration of A.C. Slater in Saved by the Bell, 2) Disney’s Aladdin being the best movie ever.

Q: What was the inspiration for Farsighted?

A: Everything started with a single image—my face in these tacky oversized sunglasses reflecting out at me from the car’s side mirror. I was daydreaming while my husband drove us across Michigan for my sister’s wedding. Something about my image really struck me in an almost horrific way. I felt the glasses made me look blind but found it so weird that there was still a clear image within them; it seemed so contradictory. At the time, my book club was reading The Odyssey, which features the blind Theban prophet, Tieresias. I started thinking about what it would be like to have non-visual visions of the future and began forming a modern Tieresias in my mind. Lo and behold, Alex Kosmitoras was born. I didn’t want him to be alone in his psychic subculture, so I found other characters with other powers to keep him company. Thank God for my poor fashion sense. 🙂

Q: What would you like readers to take away from Farsighted? Is there a different message for adults than for teens?

A: First and foremost, I hope that readers will enjoy themselves. My primary goal is to tell an interesting story that people will find entertaining and be glad they read. Secondly, I’d like to infuse contemporary Young Adult fiction with a bit more diversity and teach readers about the beauty of other cultures and other ways of life. I also hope that Farsighted is a book that leads to introspection—what would I do if put in Alex’s place? Did Alex ever have a choice or was this path his destiny? What would it be like to see the world the way he sees the world?

I like to think of anything I write as being kind of like a Disney movie, in that the primary audience will be children, but there are extra tidbits for the adults too. Farsighted has been infused with a great deal of research about runes, classic mythology, and Eastern spirituality, but you don’t need to understand any of that to be entertained by the story.

Q. There have been articles written this year about YA being too dark for teens. What are your thoughts on this?

A: I definitely agree. I want to get back to the core of the YA genre, and I attempted to do that with Farsighted. I also think that paranormal has gotten a bit too out there. One thing I hear from readers quite a bit is that the paranormal seems normal in Farsighted. They don’t question the existence of the powers, and it doesn’t seem out there like some other books of the genre do. That was important to me. I wanted my story to be run by the characters, not the fantastic elements. This is a story about Alex, not about a blind psychic.

Q: What motivated you to structure the book around the runes?

A: Remember how I said my Master’s degree is in Sociology? It’s actually Quantitative Sociology. I’m a numbers person as well as a word person. I love things to be organized just so. If you set a stack of papers in front of me; I’m going to fuss with them until they are lined up in a perfect stack. It’s just the way I am. Shaping each chapter around a rune gave the story order, which made me feel happy and comfortable. Whenever I got stuck and didn’t know what should happen next, I was able to learn more about that chapter’s rune and get the inspiration I needed to continue. The runes themselves tell a story, one that is successfully completed. I felt that boded well for Farsighted.

Q: What is your writing process like?

A: I begin with a seed of an idea and work out from there. With Farsighted, I started with Alex and created the rest of the story and characters to fit around him. Using the runes as a structural framework for this novel created an outline for me too. I’m a numbers person as well as a word person. I love things to be organized just so. If you set a stack of papers in front of me; I’m going to fuss with them until they are lined up in a perfect stack. It’s just the way I am. Shaping each chapter around a rune gave the story order, which made me feel happy and comfortable. Whenever I got stuck and didn’t know what should happen next, I was able to learn more about that chapter’s rune and get the inspiration I needed to continue. The runes themselves tell a story, one that is successfully completed. I felt that boded well for Farsighted.

Q: What do you like to read? Who is your favorite author?

A: I LOVE YA—I read it, write it, love it! My favorite author is JK Rowling. The more I read, the more I realize how brilliant she is as an author. If you remove the dialogue tags from Harry Potter, you still know which character is speaking, and Rowling managed to create an intricate beautiful world without allowing her character development to suffer, which is tremendously rare. I consider her literary God. Suzanne Collins, and JD Salinger are classic faves.

My all-time favorite book is A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, definitely. The novel has so many layers and entertains on so many levels. Also the characters in that novel seem more real than those from any other I’ve ever read. It’s just beautiful—that’s the only word for it.

Q: If you had to be stuck on an island for a year with three literary characters, who would they be?

A: First up, we’d obviously take Robinson Crusoe. He knows what he’s doing, and he can be the provider. I’ll also take Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games—if we get in any kind of danger, she’d be a great protector. Lastly, I’d take Ron Weasley. Ron and I can live the good life, while the other two make sure we all stay safe and well-fed. I know I would never get bored with Ron around—he’s just 24/7 entertainment.

Q: You’ve taken a risk by going with an unconventional ending. Without spoiling the story for your readers, can you tell us why you made this choice? Are you glad you did this? Do you feel it’s been successful? Why or why not?

A: Yeah, I ended with a cliffhanger, which goes against traditional publishing wisdom. But you know what? I. AM. INDIE! Being indie means taking risks and breaking the mold and, boy, am I excited to do it. The ending is kind of polarizing, people either love it or wish there was more there. The joining thread is almost everyone mentions looking forward to the next book in the series. Farsighted demands a companion, and people see that. I think it was a good decision since this is the first in the series and since I enjoy toeing the line of convention. It’s fun to shake things up.