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Reflections on the #AtoZChallenge

by Donna Huber For the A to Z Challenge, I discussed different book genres/categories. Each day, I gave a few details about the genre/catego...

November 29, 2020

Thankful for Books

by Donna Huber

Can you believe there is only a month left of 2020? Though in many ways this has felt like a very long year the last few months have flown by. I don't think this will be a year that we forget any time soon.
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Life Update

The babies (who are now 3.5 years old). Pete and Beau
received a clean bill of health at their annual checkup.
As suspected I had to return to the office this month. I was really hoping that working remotely would become a permanent thing. Though with more organizations being open to remote working now, I have started to see what other career opportunities are out there. Before I thought I would have to wait until I had my 30 years in and could take full retirement as most remote jobs were either part-time, freelance, or contract positions. 

I finally finished watching all the Marvel/Avengers movies. I watched Avengers End Game with my neighbors during the holidays last year and I realized how many of the movies I hadn't seen. So I made a list and then determined which ones I could stream for free and which ones were at the library. When the libraries closed at the beginning of the pandemic I still had a few movies to watch. As soon as they reopened I started putting in requests for them. I've had a hold on The Incredible Hulk forever (so long in fact that my hold expired yesterday. Then I saw that my parents' library system had a copy and my mom was kind enough to check it out for me and I watched it this weekend (of course my DVD player died on Tuesday when I sat down to watch the movie, but Amazon to the rescue and I had a new player on Friday). I did rewatch a few of the movies as either I couldn't remember if I had watched them or they were part of a series (like the Thor movies). In all, I used 5 different libraries.

Now that I'm back to work I went back and forth on whether I should have Thanksgiving dinner with my parents. In the end, I did. The weather was nice so we had the windows open and my parents' dining table seats 12 and there were just the 3 of us so we were able to spread out. I wasn't able to help out as much in the kitchen because it would have been difficult to maintain 6 ft of distance.

I started decorating for Christmas. I like to put my tree up and give the cats 24 hours to get used to it before decorating it. They were really wild after I put the tree up - like overexcited children.
Oliver was quite pleased to show off his climbing skills.

Blog Update

It has been another month filled with great books. There's been a few Christmas books sprinkled throughout the month but there have been plenty of new releases in other genres and I hope you have found something great to read. Here's a look at some of our most popular reviews, in case you missed them.
We offered a few discussions as well.
Tomorrow we will name our favorite reads for the month.

Popular on Instagram

Reading Update

My reading dropped off this month. Now that I'm back at the office I have the hour roundtrip commute, plus I don't like wearing headphones so I don't have an audiobook playing in the background constantly. I read/listened to 9 books: 4 audiobooks, 1 print book, and 4 ebooks.

A look at my goals:
  • Goal 1 - Read as many, or more, review copies as non-review copies: 5/9 this month. (YTD: 63/123)
  • Goal 2 - Read at least 12 nonfiction books this year: 0 this month (YTD: 11).
  • Goal 3 - Read 12 backlog review copies: 0 this month (YTD: 2).
  • Goodreads Challenge: 123/120
I have surpassed my Goodreads Challenge! And I still have another month to go. I need to find one more nonfiction book to read this month - any suggestions? It will be close if I meet goal 1. Thankfully I have a few Christmas ARCs to read so I can still binge Christmas stories without completely ruining my goal. As expected I'm not going to reach goal 3. 

Books Read

Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton

Hollow Kingdom
Another book that proves that if it involves animals, there will be very sad parts. It is definitely different than what else I've read in the post-apocalyptic fiction genre. The discussion, which I led, at book club was good as there is a lot of depth in this story. Everyone at the book club enjoyed the book so I'm 2 out 3 books recommended that were loved by the book club. I bought this book.

S.T., a domesticated crow, is a bird of simple pleasures: hanging out with his owner Big Jim, trading insults with Seattle's wild crows (those idiots), and enjoying the finest food humankind has to offer: Cheetos ®.

Then Big Jim's eyeball falls out of his head, and S.T. starts to feel like something isn't quite right. His most tried-and-true remedies--from beak-delivered beer to the slobbering affection of Big Jim's loyal but dim-witted dog, Dennis--fail to cure Big Jim's debilitating malady. S.T. is left with no choice but to abandon his old life and venture out into a wild and frightening new world with his trusty steed Dennis, where he discovers that the neighbors are devouring each other and the local wildlife is abuzz with rumors of dangerous new predators roaming Seattle. Humanity's extinction has seemingly arrived, and the only one determined to save it is a foul-mouthed crow whose knowledge of the world around him comes from his TV-watching education. (Goodreads)

Buy Hollow Kingdom at Amazon

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
I was on the fence about reading this book. I enjoyed the Hunger Games but I haven't re-read the series since the last book came out. I recently re-watched the movies when I found them for free on the IMDB channel and enjoyed them more than I remembered. Since so many bloggers have been featuring the book I thought I should give it a try. I listened to the others on audio so I went that route again. If the point was to make Snow a more sympathetic character, I think that was a fail. If it was to give more background on the universe Collins created, then that was a success. I found most of the story boring. I would have liked to have seen more characters that would have been alive for the 74th games. I think it would have tied together the future revolution more to this story and answered the questions I had about the revolution - why now, why Katniss. The narrator of the audiobook was good, but I wished he had sang the songs. They all sounded like cheer chants or rap songs. I checked out the audiobook from my digital library.

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capital, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute.

The odds are against him. He's been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined -- every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favor or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute... and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes. (Goodreads)

Nothing Good Happens After Midnight (anthology)

Nothing Good Happens After Midnight
Short fiction isn't my favorite thing to read but this anthology had one of my favorite authors - Rhys Bowen. The only other author in the anthology I had read was Jeffery Deaver but I recognized a couple of the other authors. Some of the stories would be fun to read around the fire pit. Others were a bit too strange for me. I enjoyed Deaver's story much more than I thought I would as I've only felt so-so about the short story I listened to. Now I think it might have just been because I listened to that story and this one I read. Read my full review. I received a free ARC via Netgalley.

The sun sets. The moon takes its place, illuminating the most evil corners of the planet. What twisted fear dwells in that blackness? What legends attach to those of sound mind and make them go crazy in the bright light of day? Only Suspense Magazine knows…

Teaming up with New York Times bestselling author Jeffery Deaver, Suspense Magazine offers up a nail-biting anthology titled: “Nothing Good Happens After Midnight.” This thrilling collection consists of thirteen original short stories representing the genres of suspense/thriller, mystery, sci-fi/fantasy, and more.

Readers’ favorites come together to explore the mystery of midnight. The ‘best of the best’ presenting these memorable tales, include: Joseph Badal, Linwood Barclay, Rhys Bowen, Jeffery Deaver, Heather Graham, Alan Jacobson, Paul Kemprecos, Shannon Kirk, Jon Land, John Lescroart, D. P. Lyle, Kevin O’Brien, and Hank Phillippi Ryan.

Take their hands…walk into their worlds…but be prepared to leave the light on when you’re through. After all, this incredible gathering of authors, who will delight fans of all genres, not only utilized their award-winning imaginations to answer that age-old question of why “Nothing Good Happens After Midnight”—they also made sure to pen stories that will leave you…speechless. (Goodreads)

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Before the Coffee Gets Cold
I wasn't sure what to expect from this novel. I like the sound of the story but translated fiction can be iffy. I loved it. There is a beauty in its simple storytelling. I'm afraid that since it was released right before the hubbub of the holidays that people will miss it. This book is definitely one of my top reads this year. Read my full review. I received a free ARC via Netgalley.

In a small back alley of Tokyo, there is a café that has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. Local legend says that this shop offers something else besides coffee—the chance to travel back in time.

Over the course of one summer, four customers visit the café in the hopes of making that journey. But time travel isn’t so simple, and there are rules that must be followed. Most important, the trip can last only as long as it takes for the coffee to get cold.

Heartwarming, wistful, mysterious and delightfully quirky, Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s internationally bestselling novel explores the age-old question: What would you change if you could travel back in time? (Goodreads)

The Burning Son by TH Leatherman

The Burning Son
This is a well-written story and well-performed audiobook. I'm not sure if the space opera genre is my kind of genre but it was interesting. I think definitely sci-fi fans and gamers would really enjoy the technology and descriptive battle scenes. Read my review. I received a free audiobook via Audiobookworm Promotions.

Pilot Mark Martin must flee his home world of Yale when the Erethizon theocracy overwhelms the defenses. His father, an influential senator, is captured. Now Mark must find a way to save his dad before the resistance is crushed, and with it, all hope of ending the occupation. A chance encounter with a smuggler captain may be his only hope. Will they help, or will the crew sell him to the alien invaders?

The Burning Son the first book in a new is a classic space opera series set in a dark future. Yale was a thriving colony until the aliens showed up. Their demand, join our religion and serve our theocracy.

Mark Martin was a pilot in Yale's space navy. When the stalemate crumbles, he was forced to leave the military and join a band of pirates. The smugglers were not the marines he's used to serving with. With them he will explore a galaxy full of adventure. (Goodreads)

Buy The Burning Son at Amazon

Murder in the Snow by Verity Bright

Murder in the Snow
I thought some of the magic of the previous book (the first one that I have read in the series) was missing in this book. It was still a good mystery and had a few festive moments. Read my review. I received a free ARC via Netgalley.

Winter, 1920. Amateur sleuth Lady Eleanor Swift is feeling festive. She is playing host to the entire village at Henley Hall for gifts, games and gingerbread. She’s also purchased perfect presents for each of her household – not forgetting the biggest bone in the butcher’s shop for her partner in crime, Gladstone the bulldog – and is looking forward to celebrating her first English country Christmas.

As snowflakes fall, Eleanor is cheering on contestants in the traditional Christmas fun run in the grounds of the Hall. But tragedy strikes when one of the runners drops dead at the finish line. Dashing Detective Seldon is convinced it’s just a heart attack, but Eleanor isn’t so sure. When she finds a rather distinctive key where the man fell, Eleanor knows she’ll never rest until she finds out the truth about what happened in her own home.

Next the vicar is taken ill with what looks like poison and Eleanor starts to wonder if the two cases are linked. When someone tries to frame her by planting poisoned berries in her own kitchen, she knows speed is of the essence. But the entire village was at Henley Hall for the festivities and Eleanor has enough suspects to stuff a town full of turkeys. Can she nail the true killer and clear her name in time for Christmas? (Goodreads)

Buy Murder in the Snow at Amazon

Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner

Big Summer
I didn't know what this book was about. I knew that I had seen it a lot this summer and when it was featured at my digital library I checked it out. It started out as a typical chick lit novel - plus-size young woman trying to find her place in the world. But when someone turns up dead at the biggest wedding of the summer it definitely became a solid suspense/mystery book. I enjoyed it and it had some "food for thought" moments. I checked out the audiobook from my digital library.

Six years after the fight that ended their friendship, Daphne Berg is shocked when Drue Cavanaugh walks back into her life, looking as lovely and successful as ever, with a massive favor to ask. Daphne hasn’t spoken one word to Drue in all this time—she doesn’t even hate-follow her ex-best friend on social media—so when Drue asks if she will be her maid-of-honor at the society wedding of the summer, Daphne is rightfully speechless.

Drue was always the one who had everything—except the ability to hold onto friends. Meanwhile, Daphne’s no longer the same self-effacing sidekick she was back in high school. She’s built a life that she loves, including a growing career as a plus-size Instagram influencer. Letting glamorous, seductive Drue back into her life is risky, but it comes with an invitation to spend a weekend in a waterfront Cape Cod mansion. When Drue begs and pleads and dangles the prospect of cute single guys, Daphne finds herself powerless as ever to resist her friend’s siren song.

A sparkling novel about the complexities of female friendship, the pitfalls of living out loud and online, and the resilience of the human heart, Big Summer is a witty, moving story about family, friendship, and figuring out what matters most. (Goodreads)

Buy Big Summer at Amazon

Roadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky & Boris Strugatsky

Roadside Picnic
Another piece of translated fiction. I don't think I like Russian literature. Add to that, this book is also science fiction which is not a favorite genre. I look forward to the discussion with my book club. I was able to read the ebook online via the University's Galileo access.

Red Schuhart is a stalker, one of those young rebels who are compelled, in spite of extreme danger, to venture illegally into the Zone to collect the mysterious artifacts that the alien visitors left scattered around. His life is dominated by the place and the thriving black market in the alien products. But when he and his friend Kirill go into the Zone together to pick up a “full empty,” something goes wrong. And the news he gets from his girlfriend upon his return makes it inevitable that he’ll keep going back to the Zone, again and again, until he finds the answer to all his problems.

First published in 1972, Roadside Picnic is still widely regarded as one of the greatest science fiction novels, despite the fact that it has been out of print in the United States for almost thirty years. This authoritative new translation corrects many errors and omissions and has been supplemented with a foreword by Ursula K. Le Guin and a new afterword by Boris Strugatsky explaining the strange history of the novel’s publication in Russia. (Goodreads)

Buy Roadside Picnic at Amazon

The Headshrinker's Brigade by Leslie Tourish

The Headshrinker's Brigade
A great audiobook. The story really drew me in and I connected with Julia immediately. I didn't want to stop listening. I received a free audiobook from the author. My full review will post in December.

Julia Longley is determined NOT to repeat her mother's mistake and marry the wrong guy. She thinks she has found the perfect one in Nick, a handsome, charming, and successful star reporter for the newspaper where Julia is a photojournalist. But when her coverage of a tragic and bloody accident leaves her in a temporary state of blindness, Nick is anything but loving and supportive, and Julia must search alone for a career more suited to her. Her choice: go back to school and get a degree in counseling. Soon Julia finds herself juggling the demands of finishing her education along with planning their wedding, while Nick resorts to anger and manipulation to compromise with the dictates of his very imposing socialite mother. How long before Nick treats her this way? Julia wonders, as she gives in time and time again. Part of her school assignment lands Julia at the county mental health free clinic as an intern, where her first mission is to learn to moderate a group therapy session. Nothing in any textbook, however, has prepared Julia for The Headshrinker's Brigade. What Julia learns from this motley band of suffering souls gives her the strength to make some tough decisions in her effort to find love and something even more important: herself. (Goodreads)

So that's it for me for the month. I have two more weeks of work and then I'm off for the rest of the year. So hopefully I will get the last of my 2020 ARCs read and binge-read many Christmas stories. I might get started on some of my January ARCs as the first four months of 2021 look pretty full with several of my favorite authors having new books come out.

How was your November?

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

This post is linked to The Sunday Post at Caffeinated Reviewer, The Sunday Salon at Readerbuzz, The Monthly Wrap-Up at Feed Your Fiction Addiction.

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  1. Our older cats don't mind the decorations and only sit under the tree but our new kitten so far has been really good. She sniffs things but hasn't knocked them over yet but she still has time, lol.

    I am hoping to find a remote type job next year or at least one that allows me to work both home and in an office. Plan to start looking once the holidays are over.

    I hope you have a great week, Donna! Happy Reading! :)

  2. That is really a clever idea! Put the tree out without decorations and see what the cats do. My baby (Elza of course) couldn't leave the tree alone at all last year, so far she just jumped in the box of decorations. Fingers crossed!

    You've had a good reading month in November! May December also be as good.

    Thanks for visiting us, have a good week!

  3. All the NonFicNov posts should give you plenty of options to choose from. You can start with my wrap up post :)

    Wishing you a great reading week

  4. I think one thing we've discovered in this pandemic is that a lot of people can work from home, and a lot of businesses have come to terms with that. Not all though- I know some here who stubbornly insist their people come in, even though they could clearly work from home (and some have while being quarantined, etc). It can be hard to go back given that the technology exists to make work from home a reality. Hope your transition back goes well!

    Love the cat pic!!

    I still haven't seen Avengers End Game yet...

  5. I started watching Queen's Gambit last night, so far I like it.

    Some companies have started working downtown in the towers but very few. From what I hear there are no plans to return until at least the new year and perhaps not even then as our numbers are climbing. We are in a lockdown.
    I don't like science fiction either.

  6. I'm sorry to hear that you had to return to work instead of continuing to work remotely. I think a lot of people will prefer working remotely even after all this is over.

    We are hoping to decorate for Christmas today, too. This is much earlier than normal for us, but I think we need it.

    I think I am most excited to see your review for Before the Coffee Gets Cold. I saw a little about it at Book Expo this year, and I put it on my wish list. I ended up getting copies of it from two people! Now I'm very happy that I have two copies, one to read and one to give away.

  7. Glad you were able to safely enjoy the holiday with your parents! And I hope you find a job that works perfectly for you.

    Love the kitties with the tree---that's a good idea to get them used to it. I was thinking of trying that with our pup too.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  8. I read and enjoyed Within These Lines. I need to read the new Hunger Games book, but am leery of not enjoying it. We'll see. It's nice that you were still able to have Thanksgiving. My school district says we are going to have a hybrid schedule come January but with the numbers going up, I just don't know if I see that. Have a great December!
    Lisa Loves Literature's November Wrap-Up

  9. I loved Big Summer! I’m impressed you read as many non review copies. I need to start doing that once I catch up.

  10. Looks like you had a great reading month! I have had Anne Perry's Christmas mysteries on my TBR for a few years, but haven't read any yet. Same goes for the Lady Eleanor Swift mysteries. So many books, so little time :).

    Before the Coffee Gets Cold looks interesting. I will have to look for it.

    Have a great December!

  11. It really does seem like a weird year. Part of it felt like it was never going to end and then suddenly it went fast and now we are only one month away from 2021.

    Big Summer looks good. I always enjoy that author's books. I hope December is a good month for you.

  12. The cat we had when I was in high school couldn't leave our Christmas tree alone. She climbed it and knocked it over so many times, my dad finally had to tie a rope around it and anchor it to the wall somehow. We also had to decorate the top 2/3. She never did lose her fascination with it! Your idea is a good one though.

    I agree about The Ballad of Songbirds... I checked out the e-book but it was only a 2-star read for me. I didn't feel like it added much to the series as a whole.

    We're currently trying to re-watch the Marvel movies in timeline order. We just finished Iron Man 3 last week. We're amazed by how much we had forgotten.

    Enjoy your week!

  13. Leaving the christmas tree to the cats for 24 hours is a good idea. I decorated my place with things out of reach of my youngest cat, she watched with interest, but won't be able to get there !

  14. You had a great reading month. Our Thanksgiving was just our immediate family and we had Mexican for the first time ever. I didn't feel like cooking a big meal and enjoyed the time making homemade pumpkin pie instead. Sorry you had to go back to commuting--I'm blessed to be able to continue to stay home. Merry Christmas!