2015 Reading Challenge – Recommendations

So, I ran across the 2015 Reading Challenge which is going around the internet, and was intrigued by the list. I got a little ways into it and realized that I was mostly putting down things that I’ve already read, so here is a list of my recommendations based on the Challenge list! (With commentary, because I can.) I’ve tried to list a mix of things, with some stuff that is hopefully new to anyone who’s looking to do the Challenge. With a few necessary exceptions, the following books are ones that I, a) have read, and b) do actually recommend (I’ve stated if that’s not the case).

I plan to make a separate version of the list as a challenge for myself, with things that I haven’t read yet, but I doubt I’ll worry about trying to finish them all this year.

Enjoy!

  • A book with more than 500 pages: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

This is one of my all-time favorites, and I definitely recommend that everyone read it for themselves. Whatever you think of Rand’s philosophy, there’s a lot of encouragement in her works for you to take a look at your own life and what you’d really like to get out of it, which I’ve always found very uplifting.

  • A classic romance: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

When I started this, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it or not, but I ended up loving it. Good story of two people overcoming initial bad impressions and misunderstandings and discovering that they are actually quite compatible. I like that Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are honest enough to let their opinions change as they learn more about each other.

  • A book that became a movie: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I’ll be honest, I don’t remember the book very well (as compared to the movie), but I have no strong memory of disliking it.

  • A book published this year: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

This is the sequel to Hartman’s first book, Seraphina, which I really enjoyed; one of those books where I was hooked ten pages in. Interesting take on a world where humans and dragons are in conflict with each other. I just requested this one from the library and will hopefully be able to read it shortly.

  • A book with a number in the title: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

A classic, and definitely worth reading, though unfortunately one of those that I read once years ago and don’t remember too well now.

  • A book written by someone under 30: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

I haven’t ever gotten to the rest of the series, but I definitely enjoyed this one.

  • A book with nonhuman characters: Raptor Red by Robert Bakker

If you have the slightest interest in dinosaurs, you should read this book. Part of me would say that you should read this book even if you have no interest in dinosaurs. More seriously, it’s a dinosaur book set in the Cretaceous Period, written by a paleontologist who knows his stuff. Not only does he make the character of Raptor Red sympathetic and believable, but he paints a rich, fascinating picture of the life and environment that she would have lived in. Another of my all-time favorites.

  • A funny book: Next of Kin by Eric Frank Russell

This is one of those books that made me cry because I was laughing so hard. I recommend pretty much all of Russell’s work, but this one is top-notch. If you’re looking for humor and sci-fi, this is a good one.

  • A book by a female author: Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

This is (chronologically) the first book in Bujold’s Vorkosigan Series. It’s fabulously written science-fiction, and I heartily recommend both this book and the rest of the series. This one starts the series off with two strong main characters who overcome some difficult situations (both existential and moral) in order to be together and be happy.

  • A mystery or thriller: Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

This is the first book in what is probably my favorite mystery series. The main character is Amelia Peabody, a young English woman of means in the late 1800s who goes to Egypt after her father’s death to pursue her interest in Egyptology. This initial adventure sparks off many more as she and her family navigate not only the joys and hazards of archaeological discovery, but the changing political and culture milieu as the world passes from the late 19th century into the early 20th. I’d also recommend these to anyone who’s a fan of historical fiction.

  • A book with a one-word title: Juniper by Monica Furlong

A childhood favorite that I still enjoy today. Her descriptions of life in ancient England are rich and interesting.

  • A book of short stories: Major Ingredients by Eric Frank Russell

As I said before, I recommend all of Russell’s work, and this anthology of his short stories is excellent.

  • A book set in a different country: Eight Million Gods by Wen Spencer

Having spent time in Japan, the setting of this book was very nostalgic for me in a lot of ways. The premise was fascinating, and I have an interest in stories that portray relationships between mortal and immortal characters, so I liked it a lot for that reason too. It’s a weird story, like pretty much all of Spencer’s work, but I have enjoyed everything of hers that I’ve read, so don’t let the weirdness deter you.

  • A nonfiction book: Written in Stone by Brian Switek

A fascinating look at how our understanding of evolution and the progress of life throughout Earth’s history has changed. I found it really interesting both from the scientific perspective, learning more about different branches of life that have existed and how they have changed over time, and from the historical perspective, as Switek traces the changes in our thought about the evolution of life and how it happens.

  • A popular author’s first book: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

I have fond memories of my mother reading this to my sister and I, the book itself having been a present from our grandmother. The whole series is excellent and, of course, highly recommended. It’s probably coming up on time that I re-read them all.

  • A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet: League of Dragons by Naomi Novik

This is the ninth and final book in Novik’s Temeraire series. My usual summation of this series: the Napoleanic Wars, with dragons. If that sounds appealing to you, then you’ll like the books. Definitely recommended for fans of fantasy and historical fiction. This ninth book isn’t out yet, so obviously I haven’t read it, but now is a good time to get caught up for anyone who hasn’t read the series yet or has fallen behind!

  • A book a friend recommended: Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Epic. Both this and the two sequels that follow were gripping, and I did not at all expect the ending. Sanderson has created a very interesting world, and I’m glad that he’s writing more books set in it.

  • A Pulitzer Prize-winning book: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1961 winner)

This is, as it turns out, the only Pulitzer Prize winning book that I have ever read. (And, to be entirely honest, there is only one other book on the list that seems appealing to me: The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, which I do intend to read.) I first read To Kill A Mockingbird in middle school, and loved it. One of those “it’s a classic for a good reason” books.

  • A book based on a true story: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Read this one in high school, I think? It was interesting, though I’m not sure I can say that I liked it much. It’s one of those stories about a person who abandons everything and goes to try and live “in-tune with nature,” which I’ll admit are not my favorite sort of books. The fact that it kills him is, from my perspective, both tragic and not unexpected. Nature is not actually very kind to people, when you’re at its mercy.

  • A book at the bottom of your to-read list: Prudence by Gail Carriger

This is on the bottom because I added it recently (on Goodreads), not because I don’t want to read it. The first book in the sequel series to the Soulless Quintent, which I definitely enjoyed.

  • A book your mom loves: Modesty Blaise by Peter O’Donnell

Great story! I definitely want to read the rest of the series now. Modesty is a wonderful female lead, strong, smart, and very good at what she does (think female James Bond, but better). Also, lots of clothing porn and weapon porn, for people (like me) who like that sort of thing.

  • A book that scares you: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

I despise this book. I had to read it twice for school, and I despise it. It’s such an awful view of human nature, and while I agree that there is certainly evil in the world, and that awful, savage people do exist, I don’t believe it’s the default for most. This is one that I don’t recommend.

  • A book more than 100 years old: Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

Delightful story! It has been years since I read it, so I don’t remember the details well, but I remember loving it.

  • A book based entirely on its cover: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

I really picked this book up solely because the cover looked awesome, and I did not regret it. Isabella is one of those strong, intelligent characters that I enjoy reading about; she does not let hardships and setbacks stop her from pursuing her passion (in this case, the scientific study of the dragon species of her world). This book (and sequels) are presented as memoirs that she is writing as an older woman, looking back on her younger days, and I think that style is handled very well by the author. I also loved the second book (The Tropic of Serpents), and am eagerly awaiting the third (The Voyage of the Basilisk). I would also recommend these to anyone who enjoys Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody mysteries.

  • A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Sort of. I was supposed to read it over the summer for a 10th grade class at one high school, but my family moved during that time and I switched to a different high school, where I didn’t have to read it anymore. The characters were not compelling to me, so I quit reading it. If there was another book that I was supposed to read for class, but didn’t, then I no longer recall it.

  • A memoir: Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman by Richard P. Feynman

Read this recently and enjoyed it! He has a lot of funny and interesting stories.

  • A book you can finish in a day: The Girl Who Owned A City by O.T. Nelson

This is my antidote to Lord of the Flies. A much more realistic portrayal, I think, of children left to survive on their own. The premise (which I admit requires some suspension of disbelief) is that a virus has killed off everyone over the age of twelve, and the remaining children must fend for themselves in the remnants of their old lives. Some are good, and some are bad, some give in to fear and savagery, but many do not. It’s short, interesting, and enjoyable.

  • A book with antonyms in the title: Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I grew up with this and the other books in the series (and am long overdue to re-read them, probably). They are, of course, a really fascinating picture of what life was like in the wilds of Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Dakotas in the late 1800s. Highly recommended.

  • A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit: Murder in the Place of Anubis by Lynda S. Robinson

A friend recommended this one a couple years back, and I enjoyed it a lot! I have a long-standing interest in Ancient Egypt, so having a mystery that was set in that time period was enjoyable. I would like to visit Egypt someday, if the world political situation ever allows for it.

  • A book that came out the year you were born: Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt

You learn fascinating things looking up a list of books that were published the year you were born, ahaha. I don’t remember a lot about this one, but parts of it have stuck with me even though I read it once years ago. Since I’m trying to have some variety for these recommendations, it seemed like a good candidate.

  • A book with bad reviews: Footprints of Thunder by James David

This actually has more good reviews (on Goodreads) than I was expecting, but several not-so-good reviews also (both on Goodreads and Amazon), so I’ll say it counts. It was entertaining, and had a fairly novel premise, and of course I’ll read almost anything with dinosaurs in it, but there were too many characters and I don’t recall liking it tons.

  • A trilogy: Graceling, Fire and Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Discovered Graceling as a recommendation from a friend, and loved it! Very interesting world Cashore sets up, and the way she takes shows two very different parts of that world as depicted in Graceling and Fire, and then brings them together in Bitterblue, was great. Interesting characters, and Bitterblue was (I thought) a fascinating look at how a country might have to try and recover in the wake of an especially bad (and especially powerful) ruler.

  • A book from your childhood: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Another all-time favorite (as is A Little Princess). I think the thing I like the most about this one is how Mary, in gradually opening herself up to the world and discovering things that she values, allows the people around her (her uncle and cousin) to do the same. Definitely a good story.

  • A book with a love triangle: Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton

Okay. I really dislike love triangle stories. I loved the premise of this book (that Anita Blake works a job raising the dead temporarily in order to resolve unresolved issues like estate disputes and things), and enjoyed the first several books of the series due to that, and in spite of the love triangle. Eventually the love triangle and related issues started to take up too much of the story, and I quit reading them at that point.

  • A book set in the future: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Somehow, this wasn’t quite what I expected, but I enjoyed it. Another on the “it’s a classic for a reason” list.

  • A book set in high school: Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

First book in a series of seven (I believe), which take place in Australia. Picked this one up randomly off the shelf back in middle school, and the premise was really interesting: an (unnamed) Asian country unexpectedly invades Australia looking for more land, and a group of high school friends who had been out in the bush camping together come back to find their homes invaded, and set about fighting a guerilla war of their own against the invaders. I don’t know that I loved every book in the series, but I did like them enough to read them all.

  • A book with a color in the title: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

I read this so long ago, but I know that I enjoyed it.

  • A book that made you cry: Warnings by Mike Smith

This is a book chronicling the development of the severe storm warning system in the United States, and how meteorologists learned much more about severe weather (focusing mainly on tornadoes and hurricanes), and can therefore better predict them and protect people from their effects. Some of the stories that Smith tells of these forecasting failures and triumphs are really heart-wrenching.

  • A book with magic: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

Actually another “I picked it up because the cover looked interesting, and wasn’t disappointed” book. It’s an interesting, very personal story about a couple types of mythical beings that I think tend to get less attention in traditional U.S. books about supernatural creatures. Also features a very creepy and believable villain.

  • A graphic novel: Rurouni Kenshin by Nobuhiro Watsuki

Another all-time favorite. Set during the Meiji Period (specifically 1860s-1870s) in Japan, which is an era that I’m very interested in, and was historically a very transitional time. The story is wonderful. Great characters, epic fights and some really good themes about the importance of peace for human life and might-does-not-make-right.

  • A book by an author you’ve never read before: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Obviously, haven’t read this one, but my mother and several other people that I know of enjoy this series, so I’m hoping to give it a try.

  • A book you own but have never read: Emma by Jane Austen

Since I liked Pride and Prejudice so much, I figure it’s probably worth giving some of Austen’s other works a try.

  • A book that takes place in your hometown: War for the Oaks by Emma Bull

Set in the Twin Cities in MN, this is a really interesting story about the Fae. The premise (which may be present in mythology about the Fae, I can’t remember), is that in their wars against each other, the Light and Dark Fae must have a mortal present on their battlefields in order to make death “stick.” Without that mortal presence, they can fight and “kill” each other over and over again because they will all just heal. Bull has written another novel, called Finder, that I also remember enjoying.

  • A book that was originally written in a different language: Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

I believe this one was German, originally! A great story about the (in this case literal) power of books and story-telling, and particularly the power of reading out loud. Since I love reading out loud to people, I found the premise of this one very interesting. I should probably get around to the sequels at some point too.

  • A book set during Christmas: The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

Also on the all-time favorite list. My father first read this to my sister and I around Christmastime, and it has been a Christmas book in my head ever since. A very classic good-versus-evil fight, with rich descriptions of both ancient and modern England, and of winter and the change of seasons. The characters are great as well, and I love the portrayal of the hero (Will Stanton) with his rather large, loving family. The rest of the series is also excellent. Very much recommended for fans of Arthurian legend.

  • A book written by an author with your same initials: Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White

I believe that I read this many, many years ago when I was young, or possibly it was read to me, though I have almost no recollection of the book. There is an animated movie version that I remember a little bit better, and remember liking.

  • A play: Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmund Rostand

An amazing play, one of my favorites. If you love smart characters who are good with words, this is a play for you. Absolutely worth reading, but the movie version with José Ferrer is also excellent and I recommend it.

  • A banned book: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

I read this senior year in high school. Not one of my favorites, but I did enjoy it pretty well and it was interesting.

  • A book based on or turned into a TV show: Storm Front by Jim Butcher

I have only seen one episode of the Dresden Files TV show, of which there is one season, and cannot make a recommendation about that. The book series, however, is epic and fabulous, and everyone should read it. Especially recommended, of course, for fans of occult mysteries, urban fantasy, stories with mythological creatures, and action/adventure.

  • A book you started but never finished: a vampire kids book that I don’t remember

Once when I was (much) younger, I picked up a vampire book randomly at the bookstore, started reading it when I got home, and then got scared part way through and never finished it. I now have no recollection of what it was called, and the internet has failed me in my search to identify it. It’s actually pretty rare for me to not finish books (which can either be a good thing or a bad thing, at times, depending on the book); I’m just too stubborn about them.

Hope this provides some books of interest, or perhaps even some new favorites!

~Ethelinda

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