Reflecting on 2017’s Reading Challenges

This year I participated in the Book Riot and Pop Sugar Reading Challenges, as I did last year. I don’t take these challenges too seriously, but they are a fun way to track my reading and to push myself to read different books than I would normally gravitate to.

Here are my results from the last twelve months!

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Read Harder Challenge (Book Riot)

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Pop Sugar

Clearly, I didn’t finish every category but that’s ok. You are technically allowed to use the same book in multiple categories but I chose not to … it felt like that defeated the purpose of the lists, which was to get me reading outside my normal niches.

Looking forward to starting the next year’s challenges tomorrow 🙂

Happy New Year Everyone!

xx

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The Zookeeper’s Wife (Diane Ackerman)

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When Germany invaded Poland, Stuka bombers devastated Warsaw—and the city’s zoo along with it. With most of their animals dead, zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski began smuggling Jews into empty cages. Another dozen “guests” hid inside the Zabinskis’ villa, emerging after dark for dinner, socializing, and, during rare moments of calm, piano concerts. Jan, active in the Polish resistance, kept ammunition buried in the elephant enclosure and stashed explosives in the animal hospital.

Meanwhile, Antonina kept her unusual household afloat, caring for both its human and its animal inhabitants—otters, a badger, hyena pups, lynxes.With her exuberant prose and exquisite sensitivity to the natural world, Diane Ackerman engages us viscerally in the lives of the zoo animals, their keepers, and their hidden visitors. She shows us how Antonina refused to give in to the penetrating fear of discovery, keeping alive an atmosphere of play and innocence even as Europe crumbled around her.

—                         —                         —

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman is one of those books I’ve been hearing about for a few years, without knowing much about, other than it was set in World War II. It is actually a non-fiction book, that tells the story of a husband and wife in Nazi-occupied Poland and their efforts in the Polish underground. Together, they saved scores of Poles from Nazi SS squads, and participated in organized groups to undermine and sabotage Nazi operations in Poland.

I found the information in this book to flow well between factual and narrative, although at times the author did seem to briefly fall down a rabbit hole of information linked to – but not directly regarding – the Zabinski family or their efforts.

Growing up in Canada, I mostly learned about WWII in relation to the Western Front, the causes, the homefront, and conflicts between Japan and the USA. We spent very little time on lessons about the Eastern Front except as a lead-in to the Cold War and relations with Russia post WWII. So learning about the underground Polish Resistance was fascinating, particularly because one of my close friends is from Poland. There were multiple times throughout the books where I listened to Antonina Zabinski’s story and thought of my friend’s grandparents, who likely shared those experiences.

I listened to the audiobook version of this story. It took me longer to get into than most of my other recent books, but eventually I did fall into the rhythm of the story and listened with avid fascination, and at equal turns horror.

The narrator moves between the narrator’s normal European accent and heavy Polish, Russian, and German accents depending on who is speaking in the narrative. While this did help me to distinguish between individuals during conversations, it was at times jarring as well.

The Zookeeper’s Wife was turned into a blockbuster film in 2016. I’m not sure if it is one I will be able to watch. Although the focus of the story is not set on animals being hurt or killed during the war, it does happen, and that is something I usually cannot tolerate in media. For now, I will stick with what I have learned from the book.

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xx

Merry Christmas!

I hope everyone on here has a wonderful and pleasant Christmas. I’m looking forward to catching up my reading challenges and sharing them on this blog this week. Hopefully I filled out most of the categories!

Full disclosure, this is not my picture, I found it online. But it was too perfect not to share. This is my type of Santa!

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Make Me, Sir (Shadowlands Book #5)

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Her job is to make his life miserable. His job is to make her submit. Whose heart will surrender first?

Across the country, rebellious BDSM submissives are being systematically kidnapped, one from each club. When her friend falls prey to the slavers, FBI victim specialist Gabrielle volunteers to be bait in a club not yet hit: the Shadowlands.

She finds that being a bratty sub comes naturally, especially when she gets to twit the appallingly conservative Master of the trainees. But she soon discovers he’s not as stuffy as she’d thought. Or as mean. She’d expected punishment, even humiliation, but she sure never expected to fall in love with a damned lawyer.

Courtesy of a prima donna ex-wife, Marcus loathes disobedient submissives. When the club owner insists he admit an incredibly bratty trainee, he’s furious. But as he comes to know Gabrielle and sees the alluring sweetness beneath the sass, he starts to fall for her.

Unfortunately, Marcus isn’t the only one who believes the feisty redhead is a prize worth capturing. And in the world of the slaver, such treasure is worth a hefty fee.

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Make Me, Sir is my favourite book in this series so far! It flowed well, the couple are spirited and well-matched and some new kinks were definitely introduced. Look forward to great experiences with wax play, puppy play and figging. Hopefully you, the reader, enjoy them more than our heroine did.

Speaking of, I loved Gabi and Marcus. There is something about the down-south country-boy charm that Marcus exhibits that just makes my toes curl. I could hear his drawl in my head and his courtly manners were divine. There is something special about the combination of a gentleman Dom. You know he is a man who will hold the door open for his woman and then smack her ass as she walks through it.

Something that really sticks out in Make Me, Sir is that this is an incredibly funny book, despite some of the difficult subject matter that is broached. The following excerpt is from one of my favourite parts, a wax play scene that Gabi isn’t too sure is a smart idea.

After rolling up the sleeves of his white tailored shirt, exposing those muscular forearms that really didn’t belong on a lawyer, he picked up the candle. He dripped some wax on his inner elbow, grunted, and raised the candle higher. More wax splatted onto his arm. “That’ll do.”

She couldn’t take her eyes from the dancing flame. No, this was so wrong. Candles should be used for meditation…for romance. Or on a birthday cake at least.

So where was the cake? The present? The song?

As he stepped closer to her—as the damned flame got way too close—she started singing. “Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to me…”

Marcus paused, looking at her in disbelief. See. I knew he didn’t have a sense of humour.

“Happy birthday, dear Gabi”—she lifted her head and blew out the candle—“happy birthday to me.”

He stared at her, and she tensed, and then he burst out laughing, so loud and strong that she giggled. God, he was so incredibly sexy when he laughed.

Sinclair, Cherise. Make Me, Sir (Masters of the Shadowlands Series Book 5) (pp. 261-262). VanScoy Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I felt so bad for Gabi’s upbringing and the author was right on the money when she compared Gabi to a flouncy puppy and her parents to snooty Siamese cats. I’m a lot like Gabi (Re: a bit of a brat … handful) but thankfully my parents love me (and usually even like me!).

This is another full length novel in the Club Shadowlands series and a definite auto-buy for me. I can’t wait to dive into another book in this series. I am having so much fun re-reading them!

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xx

Lean on Me (Club Shadowlands #4)

 

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Andrea wants to submit, but not to just any so-called Dom. He has to be tougher than the slum-bred bullies she grew up with. She’d given up finding a true Dom when her friend finagles her a place as a trainee in an exclusive BDSM club with the powerful Shadowlands Masters. Andrea’s thrilled…and terrified.

Forced to accept an unknown submissive into his carefully run trainee program, Master Cullen is furious. Not only is the young woman new to BDSM, but she’s unsuited to her role–armoured in leather like a Domme, she’s more liable to punch a Dom than kneel. He decides to push her right back out the door. But as he ruthlessly intimidates her, punishes her, then cuddles her, his glimpses of the woman inside the emotional armour intrigue him and her utter surrender captures his heart.

Although Master Cullen is famous for his unfettered lifestyle, Andrea believes he might be interested in her, until she discovers he’s not just a bartender–he’s a cop. Maybe he’d overlook her past brush with the law, but when another trainee accuses her of stealing money, Andrea knows she’s lost the Master she wanted with all her heart.

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Lean on Me is the fourth book in the Club Shadowlands series that I love so much. This is the first full length book in the series, and I am SO SO SO thankful that the author has made this switch, even if we do have to wait longer for a new book now. I feel like the longer stories enable her to include more complex plot lines, and let the romance between the hero/heroine unfold more naturally, although it is still a romance with a typical compressed timeline for falling in love.

Another benefit to longer books is that there is space to update the reader on the previous couples we have fallen in love with 🙂

At first, Andrea comes off as a super tough, butch female, but she has some definite insecurities that bring out all of Cullen’s protective Dom instincts. I love romance novels where both the male and the female develop and work through issues, and this is one of those books where I felt like their needs and growth were balanced.

Andrea struggles to submit, to trust, to not react with aggressiveness. Cullen has a rather ingenious method for helping her learn to control her aggressive reactions by setting her up with the other Masters in the Shadowlands.

*minor spoiler ahead*

The only concern that I had with this book was how quickly Cullen wrote Andrea off after she fell off the ladder, due to her inability to lean on others and ask for help. I understand why this is such an emotional trigger for him but I felt like he didn’t give her enough time to work on overcoming this or explain well enough why it was such a big deal to him. Even though he was there for her that night, he was so remote and closed off the next day, all “relationship over, no discussion”,

Kudos to Andrea that she was able to overcome her fears and reach out to him from the auction block because I don’t think that I would have been able to at that moment if I was in her place!

As always, an excellent story by Ms. Sinclair and I am definitely starting the next one tonight (I don’t “need” to sleep before work in the morning).

The Good Daughter (Karin Slaughter)

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Two girls are forced into the woods at gunpoint. One runs for her life. One is left behind…

Twenty-eight years ago, Charlotte and Samantha Quinn’s happy small-town family life was torn apart by a terrifying attack on their family home. It left their mother dead. It left their father — Pikeville’s notorious defense attorney — devastated. And it left the family fractured beyond repair, consumed by secrets from that terrible night.

Twenty-eight years later, and Charlie has followed in her father’s footsteps to become a lawyer herself — the ideal good daughter. But when violence comes to Pikeville again — and a shocking tragedy leaves the whole town traumatized — Charlie is plunged into a nightmare. Not only is she the first witness on the scene, but it’s a case that unleashes the terrible memories she’s spent so long trying to suppress. Because the shocking truth about the crime that destroyed her family nearly thirty years ago won’t stay buried forever…

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The Good Daughter is the most recent crime thriller that I have listened to during this kick that I am on. And it was EXCELLENT.

It was the first time that I have picked up a book by this author, and I have to say that her stories are detailed with deep backstories for each character and a ton of depth. Every character had different facets of their personality, and each had at least one redeeming quality, or character flaw.

I started this book thinking that it was mostly about the school shooting and Charlie representing Kelly, trying to get her off the murder charge, but this storyline only serves to bring the Quinn family back together after nearly twenty years. The Good Daughter opens with the tragic events that destroyed their family 28 years ago, and flashes back and forth between that night and the present. The story is also told from both of the daughters’ perspectives.

I felt that the pacing to the story was timely and finished this book in four days. I did predict the ending and unravelled several points in regards to the past and the school shooting very early in the book but I didn’t find that this took away from my enjoyment of the story at all. I will definitely be going back to read more books by this author!

This audiobook is very pleasant to listen to. It is read with a southern accent which changes slightly for each character, something that is really helpful, especially since the book is told from several characters’ POV.

There are graphic descriptions of violence, murder and sexual violence in this book. Generally, the victims are teens at the time and this may be difficult for some readers to get through.

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xx

 

Fighting Attraction (Redemption #4)

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My sweet, sexy Penny has a dark side. Just like me.
I will have her. And then I will lose her, and suffer a lifetime of regret.

Rampage. Everyone loves him. He is Redemption’s top heavyweight fighter and the biggest gossip in the gym. But he isn’t the teddy bear everyone thinks he is. He’s hiding a dark secret-and he hates himself for it.

Twice a week, Rampage transforms into Master Jack, a notorious dom only the most hard-core submissives will play with. How can he-a Southern gentleman, bred to respect and protect women-want to dominate them?

But Penny Worthington wants him. Beneath her pearls, kitten heels, and prim British exterior beats a tortured heart…Master Jack is the only one who can set her free.

—                         —                         —

Fighting Attraction is the fourth book in the series Redemption, which features alpha heroes who train mixed martial arts at a fight club called (you guessed it) Redemption. This instalment is about club favourite Rampage, who has a secret life as a prominent Dom/sadist at the local private kink club. When friend Penny accidentally stumbles upon his secret, something in her is piqued at a healthier way to mix pain and sex than the abusive relationships and self-harm she hides in her past.

In many ways I felt that Fighting Attraction was the best written book in this series so far. Many of the interactions and conversations were more realistic to how people actually talk and I could appreciate the way that Penny and Rampage tried to overcome some pretty big differences to work things out.

However, I felt like the author got some ideas in her head about how to write Rampage as the hero for this book, ideas that were inconsistent with her past descriptions of him. Here, Rampage is both an up and coming professional athlete, a past underground champion and still maintains a secret life as a top Dom in the city of Oakland where the whole story takes place. I found it difficult to believe that he could be so well known in one life and so low-profile about his secret at the same time.

Also, Rampage is the club gossip who knows everything about everyone but somehow disappears a few nights a week to attend the kink club. You would think he would value other people’s privacy more when he has such a potentially devastating secret to hide.

He also is seemingly able to turn down his need for a sexual submission in an instant when Penny indicates that she is a masochist but not a submissive. It made it seem like that was a fun kink he played at rather than a strong part of his personality and I felt like it did the real work D/s lifestyle a disservice.

Rampage is also charmingly southern in this book. Its not overdone, but he was most definitely raised a southern gentleman, something that didn’t come across in previous books. He also apparently has access to his family’s “old money” despite being estranged from them. These inconsistencies kept popping up throughout the story, distracting me from the romance at hand.

Overall, Fighting Attraction was entertaining but I hope the author keeps improving in her writing. I noticed she has the fifth book coming out in early 2018 and will be happy to jump back into this world then.

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xx