Thursday 19 March 2020

Reading Challenges for 2020

New year, new challenges. I've had a lot of work already this year, which is why I'm already terribly behind on my reviews, and on writing this post, announcing my sign-up for the many challenges which will help me plan my reading lists over the course of 2020. By now, I've been doing so many varied challenges for so long that I'm not entirely sure how I'd plan my reading without various prompts. Just pick up any old book I fancy - that's just madness.

Challenges 1 and 2: The Cannonball Read. I am allowing myself to count this as two challenges, because it was only touch and go that I managed to complete my double Cannonball last year. I'm not going to be the first to read and review 52 books (someone has already done that), but I managed to end in the top ten of reviewers last year and hope to do so again this year. My official goal is for 52, but I hope to manage at least 104 books reviewed (or more) by the end of 2020.

3. Goodreads 2020 Reading Challenge: I've signed up to read 100 books, and am pleased to be ahead of schedule so far.

4. 52 Books in 52 Weeks: Exactly what it sounds like. Read 52 books over the course of the year. Children's books are not allowed to be counted, unless the reader participating is also a child. Books counted need to be at least a hundred pages long.

5. Alphabet Challenge:

6. 2020 Audiobook Challenge: I've signed up for Level 4, Socially Awkward. 15-20 books.

7. Beat the Backlist: Read as many books from your backlist/TBR as possible. As long as the books were published in 2019 or earlier, they are fair game.

8. The Backlist Reader Challenge 2020: For this one, you also read books from your TBR, but here the book have to be published in 2018 or before, and have to have been on your TBR list from before you actually read it.

9. Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2020: This is a challenge I've been doing for years, and I really like it. Read at least nine books, one for each category with blue, red, yellow, green, brown, black, white, any other colour or which implies colour in the title or on the cover. Before the rules changed so the primary colour of the cover could count to fill the category, it was a much more difficult challenge to complete. The "Implies colour" one still sometimes stumps me, though.

10. Contemporary Romance Challenge: Here I have signed up for 3rd base, 11-15 books, and it should hopefully not be too difficult to complete the challenge. Nevertheless, only straight up contemporaries count for this, no paranormal, historical, time travel, fantasy, sci-fi or mystery/suspense/thriller.

11. Diversity Reading Challenge: I need to try to expand my horizons and read more diversely, so challenges like these are good to make sure I hit my goals. For this challenge, the author and/or one of the main characters (preferably a POV character) has to belong to a diverse group, including, but not limited to LGBTQIA, native, people of colour, gender diversity, people with disabilities, ethnic, cultural or religious minorities. I've challenged myself to read at least 40 books that fit these criteria.

12. For the Love of E-books Challenge: I read mostly e-books now anyway, and I want to read more this year than last year, so I've set myself the most difficult challenge level here, Legend Status, with 60 or more books.

13. Finishing the Series: I read far too many multi-book series, and frequently get bored and/or distracted halfway through. This is to encourage me to actually complete some of the many series I read, and since I did so well on this challenge last year, I've set myself a harder goal, going for A-list, to finish 9 or more ongoing series over the course of the year.

14. Historical Fiction Reading Challenge: Once upon a time, I could easily finish the most difficult level of this (50+ books), but nowadays, I just don't read as many historical novels as I used to. Hence, my goal for this one is now a more achievable 25-50 books (the Ancient History level).

15. Literary Pickers Challenge: Making my romance reading that little bit more fun, this challenge is like a book scavenger hunt, where you are supposed to tick off a list of items in romances, or books with a strong romantic element. Just as in previous years, I have signed up for level 2 - Garage Sale Guru, where I have to tick off 25 of the 100 items on the list. It looks like some of the categories are tricksier than last year, so we'll see how I do.

16. Monthly Keyword Challenge: This is one of the challenges that really helps me get through a lot of the older books on my TBR and especially encourages me to read books I actually own, not just get from other sources. It also allows me to start each month by making a long, comprehensive list, which I also love doing. There are six keywords for each month, and you can be pretty creative in interpreting the words as well, so my selection of books is rarely limited.

17. Monthly Motif Challenge: Another list that helps me work through my ever-expanding TBR list.With each month given its own motif or theme, it gives the reader a pretty wide scope to choose from.

18. New Releases Challenge: This challenge is all about reading books released in 2020, and there are enough new and exciting books coming out each year that I'm pretty certain I'm going to manage level 2 - New Release Pro - 31-60 books (although it seems likely I'll be closer to 31 than 60).

19. Retellings Challenge: I exceeded my expectations for this challenge last year, and so decided to do it again this year. I've signed up for the level Warrior Princess - 6-10 retellings and hope I can find enough stories to complete it over the course of the year.

20. Tackle my TBR list: For this challenge, I have set myself the goal of 37-48 books (Field Goal). There are also monthly challenges, which I'm hoping will further encourage me to work through my very long TBR list.

21. Mount TBR Challenge: For this challenge, the various levels are named after various peaks and mountains. Matching my other TBR challenge, I've chosen 37-48 books, Mount Vancouver.

22. What's in a Name 2020: This is a challenge that I haven't done in a few years, because I didn't like the categories offered. This year, the list seemed very achievable, though, so it's back on my list.

23. The RIP 15 Challenge: This challenge is one that I take part in every September to October, because I like the genres it suggests you read, and it's another easy one to complete.

24. The Cannonball Bingo: For the past two years, the Cannonball Read has arranged a Bingo in the latter half of the year to keep the readers interested and motivated and the review on the site from dwindling. I've managed to complete the full card each time, and assume I will manage the same onc more.

25. Reading Challenge Addict: As with pretty much every year since I started doing reading challenges, I have chosen "Out of this world" - 16 challenges or more entered and completed.

#CBR12 Book 12: "A Wicked Kind of Husband" by Mia Vincy

Page count: 386 pages
Rating: 4.5 pages

Official book description:
Cassandra DeWitt has seen her husband only once—on their wedding day two years earlier—and this arrangement suits her perfectly. She has no interest in the rude, badly behaved man she married only to secure her inheritance. She certainly has no interest in his ban on her going to London. Why, he’ll never even know she is there.

Until he shows up in London too, and Cassandra finds herself sharing a house with the most infuriating man in England.

Joshua DeWitt has his life exactly how he wants it. He has no need of a wife disrupting everything, especially a wife intent on reforming his behavior. He certainly has no need of a wife who is intolerably amiable, insufferably reasonable … and irresistibly kissable.

As the unlikely couple team up to battle a malicious lawsuit and launch Cassandra’s wayward sister, passion flares between them. Soon the day must come for them to part … but what if one of them wants their marriage to become real?

Cassandra was married to a wealthy man who her father trusted to take care of her, but she hasn't seen him since their wedding day. She barely remembers what he looks like, she was nervous during the ceremony and it was dark when they consummated the marriage. Now Cassandra is doing her best to take care of the family estate, but after the deaths of first her brother and later her father, her mother is no longer to be relied on, mostly retreating into a laudanum stupor. Both her two younger sisters are out of control in different ways, and it's becoming painfully clear that the eldest of the two, Lucy, needs to have a season and be married off before she ruins the entire family and/or creates a scandal out of sheer boredom.

So against her harried secretary's advice (he was sent there by her husband to assist Cassandra), the young woman goes off to London to speak with her grandmother, the Duchess of Sherbourne, whose help Cassandra needs to her launch Lucy into society.

Joshua DeWitt has a lot of darkness and grief in his past. He believed himself to be the heir to the Earl of Treyford until he was fourteen. Then it was discovered that his father was a bigamist, so Joshua, his two younger brothers, and little sister were all illegitimate. Joshua's mother, no longer a countess, took his little sister and disappeared without a trace. Joshua and his brothers were disinherited and had to fend for themselves. One of his brothers went to India, the other joined the Navy, while Joshua eventually became a very wealthy and powerful industrialist. He was married once before and had a child, but it would be spoilery to reveal any more details than that. He felt intense gratitude towards Cassandra's father (who helped him settle his brothers in their chosen professions and helped Joshua get his own start), hence he married her as a favour, to make sure she could keep the estate in the family. He doesn't need, nor want a wife, and certainly has no intention of interacting with her in their London home.

When the couple are first reunited, in a public park, neither of them recognise the other. Cassandra believes her husband to be on an extended business trip in Liverpool, he thinks she's off in the country taking care of her family and estates. He wants her to go back to Warwickshire, she's not going to leave London until she's secured her grandmother's promise to help Lucy. This isn't really enemies to lovers, more like strangers to friends to lovers. From the start, the dialogue between Joshua and Cassandra is amazing:

“You’re meant to be in Warwickshire,” he said.
“You’re meant to be in Liverpool.”
“I did not give you permission to come to London.”
“I did not ask your permission.”
“You should…  Let me explain, Mrs. DeWitt, how marriage works.”
“Oh, please do, Mr. DeWitt, I’m all agog.”
“I am the husband, so I make the rules to suit me.”
“And I am the wife, so I change the rules to suit me.”
“You seem puzzled,” said his disruptive wife, as they reached the gate. “Have I said something to puzzle you?”
“Most of what you say puzzles me.  It’s almost as though you have a mind of your own.”
“Please don’t vex yourself. I’ll try not to use it too often.”

On the surface, Cassandra is all that a proper, young lady should be. She's unfailingly polite, gentle, dutiful, takes care of her family and dresses with decorum. Yet there is a lot of pain and darkness hidden underneath her mask of amiability as well, and having been forced into the unwilling role as the head of her family, she's certainly not going to let some man who hasn't bothered to even visit her order her around. Neither of her sisters understands the sacrifices she's made for them and her mother has entirely checked out.

Both protagonists carry a lot of understandable grief and have dark secrets they haven't been able to share with anyone. They both project one image to the world around them, while secretly feeling lonely and vulnerable. It's obvious to the reader from early on that they need one another a lot, but it takes them quite a while to open up to the other and accept help and support.

I wish I could go into more insightful details about the plot and characters, but the problem with 1) not taking notes while I'm reading and right after I finish a book to help me gather my thoughts about what I just read and 2) letting life get in the way and waiting a month and a half to review the book, means that I no longer remember clearly exactly why I really liked this book so much. I read it in little over 24 hours, which with my busy schedule and especially last year's deplorable reading record, is in itself a testament to how much I liked it. I promise it really is a very good book and it rightfully appeared on a bunch of the Best of 2018 end of year lists. The fact that this is a debut novel makes it all the more remarkable. I'm very happy that I discovered Mia Vincy and am very excited to read what she does next.

Judging a book by its cover: Gah, this cover is so excessively pink I can almost feel my teeth hurting. Rather than making me likely to buy the book, this would likely make me run (in a figurative sense, I really try never to run) in the opposite direction. Had I not read several extremely glowing reviews about this book, I would have relegated this book to the "Nope" pile - that's just too much Pepto Bismol pink in one place for me.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR12 Book 11: "Trust Me on This" by Jennifer Crusie

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Official book description:
Dennie Banks is an investigative reporter chasing down the biggest story of her career. Alec Prentice is a government agent working undercover to catch an elusive grifter. When they meet by accident, it’s a case of mistaken identities at first sight. What they don’t mistake is the instant attraction they have for each other, an attraction they’ll do everything in their power to resist—because Dennie thinks that Alec is running interference for her interview subject, and Alec suspects that Dennie is linked to his swindler. As the confusion grows, so do their feelings for each other, and what begins as a romantic comedy of errors may just end in the love affair of a lifetime. 

This book was a quick, fun read, with several cases of mistaken identity and a lot of silliness taking place in a hotel over the course of a weekend. The protagonists are both likable and good at what they do (although I wasn't entirely sure why Dennie thought her entire career would be made by interviewing this one woman that she keeps pursuing) and there's also a nice secondary romance between the main two supporting characters, who are middle-aged.

I would have liked it if the romance wasn't quite so instantaneous, the couples really don't spend a lot of time together at all before apparently, they're madly in love with one another (yup, this is the case in both the primary and secondary romance). I would have liked more build-up and banter, as it was, the relationships seemed almost pre-destined, as the characters met, sparked, bantered a tiny bit, fell into bed with on another and decided this was their HEA, all in one weekend. With all the various storylines being juggled, neither romance gets enough focus.

A while back, I still had a bunch of Crusie's early romances on my TBR list, all purchased in e-book sales over the years, usually only rediscovered when the book in question fit into one of my reading challenges. Having finished this, I think I may only have one or two of Crusie's back catalogue left unread. As her books tend to be, this was an entertaining read, which I got through in only a day r two- unlike her really classic contemporaries, however, this book was nothing very remarkable either, but I think she managed her goal of creating a screwball comedy rather well.

Judging a book by its cover: Anyone thinking that this book will have a serious canine presence based on the cover, will be sorely disappointed. Our intrepid heroine DOES own a dog, who she thinks about a lot and mentally asks for advice a few times, but the two are separated for much of the story, and placing the adorable doggo front and centre on the book is rather misleading.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday 18 March 2020

#CBR12 Book 10: "Six Degrees of Scandal" by Caroline Linden

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Official book description:
Olivia Townsend is in trouble and out of options. Pursued by a dangerous man in search of a lost treasure she doesn’t possess, she’s got only two things in her favor: her late husband’s diary, which she was never meant to see… and the man who was her first—and only—love. Losing him broke her heart, though she’s been careful to hide it for the last ten years. But when he comes to her aid and vows to stand by her, no matter what, she can’t help but hope things will be different for them this time.

James Weston has blamed himself for letting Olivia down when she needed him years ago, and now he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her safe—and to win her trust again. He’s confident he can outwit the villain chasing Olivia. But being so near her again threatens to expose every secret in his heart … even those that he swore would stay hidden forever. 

Olivia, our heroine, is an old friend of Penelope from Love in the Time of Scandal. In that book, it's obvious that Olivia has gotten herself into some really dangerous trouble, and Penelope persuades her brother, James, to track her down and help her.

James and Olivia have a past. When the Westons moved in close to where Olivia's family lived, she befriended Penelope and her sister, and also fell hard for James, who was a few years older. As they grew up, Olivia's crush only grew, while her family's already dwindling fortunes disappear. When James comes back from University, he and Olivia share a passionate encounter in the woods near their homes, and James promises to marry her. He is unaware of how desperately Olivia's parents need money, however, and goes off on a long journey to prove himself to his dad, not realising that Olivia will be forced into marriage while he's gone. By the time he returns from his trip, it's too late.

Olivia's husband seems to have been indifferent and neglectful rather than abusive, but he was up to some pretty shady stuff, the extents to which Olivia never realised until after she became a widow. Now she's on the run from a ruthless, sadistic nobleman, who used to be her husband's partner. He not only believes she's keeping secrets about her husband's last transactions from him, but seems to have decided that he also wants to use her sexually. When James manages to track her down, she's hiding in a remote village, trying to get to the bottom of what her husband was actually involved with.

James and Olivia figure out that Olivia's dead husband was part of an art smuggling ring, and the creepy Viscount Clary thinks Olivia knows the whereabouts of a very valuable painting. Keeping one step ahead of their pursuers, James and Olivia do in fact figure out where the painting is and get it to safety, while also rekindling their old romance. Unfortunately, they also need to figure out a way to neutralise Viscount Clary for good, or Olivia will never be safe.

We're back in "Malin reviews books she read several months ago" and hence, I cannot promise that my recollection of details is all that it should be. This is the final book in the Scandalous series, Regency romances where one of the subplots involves the heroines reading and enjoying the erotica pamphlets 50 Ways to Sin. In this book, it's finally revealed who the actual author is, not that I cared all that much. it was nice that the author and the printing of the final dozen or so of the erotica was actually an important factor in how the dastardly villain (who tried to drown the heroine in the last book) was finally taken down.

I read the first of the books in this series back when it came out in 2013, and while these romances, for the most part, have been perfectly fine, if unremarkable reading experiences, I think it's very telling that I only pick up another one in the series when it fits into one or more of my reading challenges. There's even one left in my collection (I also only ever buy them when they're available in book sales for 2 dollars or less, so it's not like they've cost me much), about James' other sister and based on the contextual clues I've gotten about her romance from these two other ones, I'm genuinely not sure I can be bothered.

If you have nothing else to read, this book is fine. It's not going to upset you or shock you, but you're also not likely to remember much about it about a week after finishing it either.

Judging a book by its cover: Good things: nice colour on the dress and background wallpaper. Dress appears to be appropriate to the historical setting. The cover models have the same hair colour as the characters they're supposed to be portraying. Bad things: the pose of the characters, is the male cover model's chest and arms glistening? If so, why? Not entirely sure what is going on with the dude's shirt either, it looks like he has some sort of puffy cushion stuck to his arm. Do better, Avon.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.