Fi50 Reminder and Double Dip Review

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It’s that time of the month again – Fiction in 50 kicks off on Monday!  To participate, just create  a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words and then add your link to the comments of my post on Monday.  For more information, just click on that snazzy typewriter at the top of this post.  Our prompt for this month is…

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Good luck!


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I don’t know about you but I’m all chocolated out after Easter, so I’ll be opting for a savoury snack to accompany my musings about one middle grade sci-fi comedy novel and one YA coming of age tale.  Grab your snack and let’s nosh on!

First up we have The Broken Bridge by Phillip Pullman which we received from PanMacmillan Australia for review.  This is a re-release of the novel which was first published in 1994 and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At 16, Ginny finds that her love of painting connects her to the artistic Haitian mother she never knew and eases the isolation she feels as the only mixed-race teen in her Welsh village. When she learns she has a half-brother by her father’s first marriage, her world is shattered. Ginny embarks on a quest for the truth that will allow her to claim her artistic heritage–and face her father.

the broken bridge

Dip into it for…

…a solid family drama with authentic characters and believable problems.  Ginny is a resilient young woman with a strong desire to be an artist like her mother was, but is plagued by the usual stressors and angst that most teens fall victim to at sometime or other during adolescence.  She has the added problem of trying to catch hold of a solid identity as a girl with a Welsh father and Haitian mother while living in an almost all-white village.  The secrets hinted at in the blurb are revealed slowly and by about a third of the way through the book I began to share Ginny’s bewilderment about what on major hidden aspect she might find out about her past next.  The pacing is well done, allowing the reader to get a grasp on Ginny, her friends and the general feel of her hometown before throwing in the confusion of multiple family secrets.  Kudos to Pullman also for creating a social worker character who is actually human, rather than overbearing, cold-hearted and disconnected or patronising.

Don’t dip if…

…you want simple resolutions to easily-solved problems.  Every story has two sides here, even that of the villainous Joe Chicago.

Overall Dip Factor

This is an engaging coming of age story that paints family breakdown, death and abuse in a believable light without resorting to gratuitous teen melodrama.  By the end of the book the reader can appreciate how Ginny has matured in her outlook despite not having all the answers about how she will present herself in the world.  I enjoyed this book for its authentic portrayal of a young person carving out a place for herself in her family and in the world.

Next we have How to Outsmart a Billion Robot Bees, the second in the Genius Factor books featuring Nate and Delphine, by Paul Tobin.  We received our copy from Bloomsbury Australia for review and we will be submitting this one for the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 in the category of a book with a red spine and the Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017 AND my Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge in the category of something you’d take on a hunt.  I reckon a billion robot bees would be pretty handy.  You can check on my progress for all the challenges I’m undertaking this year here.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It’s Friday the 13th again, and for sixth grade genius Nate Bannister, that means doing three more not-so-smart things to keep life interesting. But he has bigger problems than his own experiments. His nemesis, the Red Death Tea Society, is threatening to unleash a swarm of angry bees on the city of Polt if Nate doesn’t join their ranks. But then a new group of people with murky intentions shows up — the League of Ostracized Fellows — and they want Nate as their own, too. To top it off, he’s convinced there’s a spy in his very own school.

Nate must once again team up with his new, resourceful, friend Delphine to save the day. They’ll need the help of Nate’s crazy gadgets, such as his talking car Betsy and super-powered pets Bosper the Scottish terrier and Sir William the gull, if they hope to see another Friday the 13th. Because they might be battling more than just sting-happy bees and villains with a penchant for tea this time around.

Dip into it for… billion robot bees

…silliness, wild inventions and bee stings in sensitive places.  I do enjoy the quirky tone and dry yet silly humour that Tobin has created in these books.  There is a certain imagery conjured up by his writing that is truly giggleworthy.  Nate and Delphine are also a fun pair and the introduction of Melville – a friendly robot bee adopted by Delphine – adds to the action in this installment.  Bosper, Nate’s genetically modified talking dog stole the show for me in this book however – something about his manner of speaking just cracked me up every time.  The plot of this one seemed a lot more straightforward than in the first book despite the inclusion of the socially awkward League of Ostracised Fellows and everybody, including the jealous Betsy the car, had a role to play in saving Polt from bee-mageddon: The Sting-en-ing.

Don’t dip if…

…you are after fast-paced action.  The one quarrel I have with these stories is that the quirky humour, when added to the action sequences, slows down the pace of the story interminably.  My edition clocked in at 340ish pages and by about halfway I was ready for the resolution to start coming into play.  While the humour is a massively important part of these books, the constant banter does really slow things down when it feels like things should be speeding up.

Overall Dip Factor

I can’t remember why I didn’t finish the first book in this series, but I think it was something to do with the pacing and a lag in the middle.  This book does suffer from the same ailment in my opinion, but I got a lot further along in this story before I really felt the lag, compared to the first book.  Nate and Delphine are so likable and the style of humour so enjoyable that I would still pick up a third in the series, but I would be hoping that the story overall would move a bit quicker.

Right, I’m ready for chocolate again after that.  Have you read either of these books?  Do you like a bit of silly, quirky comedy?  Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

Bruce

Challenge Checkpoint: 25% into 2017

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Since we’re nearing the end of March, it’s time I fill you in on how I’m progressing on my multiple reading challenges for this year, because I know you’re dying to know all about it.  *Hint: If you’re that desperate, you can check here at any time to get all the goss*

Mount TBR Reading Challenge Checkpoint #1:

I am super pleased with how I’m going on this challenge.  My original goal was 12 books – or Pike’s Peak level – but at only three months in I’ve managed to knock over seven books, so I may upgrade to Mount Blanc level, which requires 24 books.  I’ll take stock again halfway through the year and make a decision then.

book-uncle-and-me chickenhare beastly-bones takeshita-demons return-of-zita time-travelling-with-a-hamster the-boyfriend

You’ll notice that some of these weren’t on my original list of books that I wanted to get through for this challenge:

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…but I still plan on having a crack at all the books pictured.  I’m having a bit of trouble with The Bromeliad.  I started it in January, but found my attention wandering so I’ve put it aside for the moment.  Hopefully I’ll get it knocked over before the end of the year.

Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge:

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This, of course, is the Shelf’s own homegrown challenge and I’m doing pretty well so far.  I’ve knocked over three of the seven categories so I’m well on track to finishing this one in plenty of time, provided I can remember what the other categories are.

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Colour-Coded Reading Challenge:

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I’m killing it with this one.  I decided to go with cover colours here, rather than colours in the titles because I’m already doing a title-based challenge with Wild Goose Chase.  I’ve knocked over every colour except brown, red and “implied colour” so far and I can’t foresee any troubles finding those colour books in the next nine months.  Here’s a selection of the covers so far.

time-travelling-with-a-hamster what-not-to-do-if-you-turn-invisible frogkisser deepdean-vampire ghosts-of-sleath book-uncle-and-me night shift ya

Popsugar Reading Challenge:

I’m not going too badly here, just taking it as it comes and occasionally checking back to see if my books match any categories.  So far I’ve knocked over books in ten of the fifty-two categories.

Epistolary Reading Challenge:

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This is my slowest challenge so far, with only two books read – and one of those books is a bit of a stretch to be honest.  I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for any epistolary novels being released soon and I’ve got one sitting on my shelf ready to step into the breach, but I’ll need to search out a few more to really feel like I’ve had a good go at this one.  Suggestions welcome!

How are you going on your various challenges for the year?  Do you track your progress regularly or are you a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of challengee?

Until next time,
Bruce

A Fi50 reminder and a Top Book of 2017 pick!

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Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

It’s nearly Fiction in 50 time for March and this month our prompt is…

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If you’d like to join in (and we would love to have you!) just create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words, post it and then link your post in the comments of Monday’s Fi50 post.  If you would like more information, just click here.


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Today’s Top Book of 2017 pick is a wartime beauty that is also a celebration of the strength of womankind in adversity.  We received a copy of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan from HarperCollins Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Summer, 1940. In the Kentish village of Chilbury some are unimpressed at the vicar’s decision to close the church choir, since all the men have gone off to fight. But a new arrival prompts the creation of an all-female singing group and, as the women come together in song, they find the strength and initiative to confront their own dramatic affairs.

Filled with intrigue, humour and touching warmth, and set against the devastating backdrop of WWII, this is a wonderfully spirited and big-hearted novel told through the voices of four marvellous and marvellously different females, who will win you over as much with their mischief as with their charm.

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For the first few chapters of this epistolary, diary-entry novel I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, but by the time I’d finished I felt that this book seemed to me for all the world to be a grown-up version of Goodnight Mr Tom.  Since that story is one of my favourites, it stands to reason that I would jolly well enjoy The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir too.

The book switches between the perspectives of a number of the ladies, young and old, of Chilbury.  There’s Kitty Winthrop, thirteen (nearly fourteen) year old sister of the wild beauty Venetia, and dead war hero Edmund, daughter of the brutish Brigadier and rising songbird, whose perspective we are privy to through entries in her journal.  There’s Venetia herself, older sister of Kitty and focused entirely (for the most part) on snagging a handsome, mysterious lover while leading on all the other lads in the village.  We see her side of the story through letters to her friend Angela.  Then there’s the shady Edwina Paltry, midwife of the village and not one to shy away from morally dubious dealings provided there’s something in it for her.  Finally, we have Mrs Tilling, a widow, whose son David is about to leave for the front lines in France and through whose diary we witness the major changes of Chilbury throughout the year of 1940.  We also get to see a few glimpses from Sylvie, a young child evacuee from Czechoslovakia who is living with the Winthrops until her parents can escape or it is safe for her to return, as well as Edith, the Winthrop’s maid.

At its heart, this is a book about personal growth, set against a backdrop of the ever-encroaching threat of invasion and loss, that highlights the strength of women under adversity.  Although each follows a different path throughout the story, the four main ladies whose stories we engage with all become very different people by the end.  It is this growth that reminded me so strongly of Goodnight Mr Tom: while the war and its effects play a large role in the book and in some instances create a shocking and frightening atmosphere, the plot is chiefly about decisions and their ripple effects and ways in which the women of the story choose to stand up in defiance of their situation or roll with the punches.

Funnily enough, the Choir plays a significantly smaller part in the overall story than I expected, but the sections that deal with the ladies coming together – be it for a local competition or to provide respite for a weary community – were always uplifting and provided a lightening of the atmosphere and enough humour to take the edge off some of the darker happenings going on in the plot.  My favourite character, apart from the enthusiastic, indefatigably positive Prim, the choir mistress, had to be Mrs Tilling.  As the only trustworthy adult narrator, I came to trust her judgement (except, of course, in regards to her opinion of the Colonel, her billet) and adored the way in which she grows into herself again as a confident, strong woman and a leader for the village.

This isn’t a light-hearted romp from beginning to end; nor is it a slow examination of the effects of war.  Rather, it is a snapshot of a village at the beginning of World War II, struggling to cope with change already happening and the inevitable change that is just over the horizon.  Hefty as it is at four hundred plus pages, this is one that you would do best to savour over time.  Get to know the ladies of Chilbury at your leisure and you certainly won’t regret that you took the time to visit.

As well as a Top Book of 2017 pick, I am also submitting The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir for the Epistolary Reading Challenge, the Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge and the Popsugar Reading Challenge.  You can check out my progress toward all those challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: The 12.30 from Croydon

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As promised, here is the first of two Murderous Monday posts for February.  Today’s book is going to count toward the Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge under category six, a book with a mode of transport in the title.  You can check out my progress toward the challenge here. The 12.30 From Croydon by Freeman Wills Croft is a bit of classic British crime fiction with a twist.  We received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

We begin with a body. Andrew Crowther, a wealthy retired manufacturer, is found dead in his seat on the 12.30 flight from Croydon to Paris. Rather less orthodox is the ensuing flashback in which we live with the killer at every stage, from the first thoughts of murder to the strains and stresses of living with its execution. Seen from the criminal s perspective, a mild-mannered Inspector by the name of French is simply another character who needs to be dealt with. This is an unconventional yet gripping story of intrigue, betrayal, obsession, justification and self-delusion. And will the killer get away with it?”

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Plot Summary:

A tale of murder told from the point of view of the murderer, this book is an in-depth study of the carrying out of a “perfect” crime.

The Usual Suspects:

For the second time this year I am bringing you a “not your typical” murder mystery, in the sense that, from the very beginning – or thereabouts – we know who the murderer is.  This is because the book follows the main character as he plans and carries it out. This book is also different in the sense that it carries the reader through two inquests and a full trial before the story is done.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Even though we know who the killer is, it is fascinating to watch through his eyes as the police investigate here and there, seemingly moving closer and then further away from the clues that might give the murderer away.  The second half of the book deals with the murderer’s keen interest in the hunt put on by the police.

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for the roller-coaster of emotions of a murderer wondering whether or not he will be caught.

I thoroughly enjoyed getting into this one, even if the “mystery” element of the murder-mystery equation was thoroughly absent.  It was fascinating to follow the protagonist’s – Charles Swinburne’s – train of thought as a convenient solution presents itself to his financial and personal difficulties.  Despite being a murderous murderer, Charles is quite a likable and ingenious bloke, with a real knack for malice aforethought, once he gets going.

Some readers may find the story a tad repetitive.  Because we are privy to all Charles’s pre-planning, the information brought out at the inquests and trial is not at all new to us as readers, and by the end I did find it a bit odd that I was sitting through what amounted to a detailed retelling of the story that I had already read.  By that stage I was thoroughly invested in the outcome however, and putting the book down was no longer an option.  The ending is something of an anti-climax, in that it wraps up quite abruptly, but the author has done a fantastic job of tying up every possible loose end.

I would highly recommend this if you are in the mood for a bit of classic historical mystery, from a slightly unexpected angle.

Until next time,

Bruce

A Fi50 Reminder and Gabbing about Graphic Novels…

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Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTON

It’s nearly time for our first Fiction in 50 challenge for the year!  Fi50 for 2017 will kick off on Monday and out post for January is …

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To participate, just create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words, post it and add your link to the comments of Monday’s Fi50 post.  For more information and future prompts, click here.


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It’s time to get gabbing about graphic novel goodness and today I have two options for you, each weirder than the last.  First up, there’s Chickenhare by Chris Grine.  I’m submitting this one for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017 and for the Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge under category two: a book with the name of a bird in the title.  You can check out my progress in all of my challenges for this year here.  Anyway, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Chickenhare: half chicken, half rabbit, 100% hero!

What’s a chickenhare? A cross between a chicken and a rabbit, of course. And that makes Chickenhare the rarest animal around! So when he and his turtle friend Abe are captured and sold to the evil taxidermist Klaus, they’ve got to find a way to escape before Klaus turns them into stuffed animals. With the help of two other strange creatures, Banjo and Meg, they might even get away. But with Klaus and his thugs hot on their trail, the adventure is only just beginning for this unlikely quartet of friends.

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I’ve had this one on my TBR shelf for about four months or so after I impulse bought it because it sounded wacky.  Wacky it certainly is, and I didn’t quite expect how dark it would get in some places.  I’d have to say that while middle graders could certainly read and enjoy this, it’s probably more suited to slightly older readers who aren’t easily shocked (or grossed out).

So Chickenhare and Abe are sold to a taxidermist and in order to affect an escape, they must team up with a mad monkey (or is he?) and a strange girl creature with horns.  All is not so simple as it seems however, because Klaus, the taxidermist, has vowed never to let any of his “pets” escape since he lost his most beloved animal, a goat called Mr Buttons.  Whacking and falling out of windows ensues (on the part of the enemy) and while our heroic quartet manage to escape, it is out of the frying pan and into the fire as the team tries to navigate pitch dark tunnels that are plagued with Shromph, little trollish creatures with big pointy teeth.

And this is where the goat corpse comes in.  I don’t want to spoil it for you, but just be warned that the half decomposed corpse of Mr Buttons plays a major role in the denouement of this adventure.  I will readily admit that it is easily the best characterisation of a deceased goat that I have yet seen in children’s literature.

The story ends on a mild cliffhanger and while there were certainly parts of  this that had me going “Eeergh”, “Blaaagh” and “Oooh, that’s not cricket!” respectively, I do actually want to know what happens to our four friends because there is a bit of a suggestion that at least two of them may not be exactly what they seem.

Again, even though the art style is quite colourful and cartoonish, the content and tone of the book is probably best suited to the YA aged reader and above.

Next up I have the first volume of stories from the popular Adventure Time TV series, Adventure Time, Volume 1 by Ryan North, Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It’s ADVENTURE TIME! Join Finn the Human, Jake the Dog, and Princess Bubblegum for all-new adventures through The Land of Ooo.

The totally algebraic adventures of Finn and Jake have come to the comic book page! The Lich, a super-lame, SUPER-SCARY skeleton dude, has returned to the the Land of Ooo, and he’s bent on total destruction! Luckily, Finn and Jake are on the case…but can they succeed against their most destructive foe yet? Featuring fan-favorite characters Marceline the Vampire Queen, Princess Bubblegum, Lumpy Space Princess and the Ice King!

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I picked this up from the library on a whim in the hope that it would allow me to find out the basic gist of the TV show without having to actually watch it.  Being a trendy sort of a gargoyle, I like to try and keep up with what the young folk are watching, if I can manage it.  While I do feel that having read this has given me a basic grasp of who’s who and what’s what, I can’t say for certain that I actually enjoyed the read.

Essentially, in this volume, a big, nasty skeleton warrior called the Lich turns up with a nefarious sack which has the power to suck all matter into its depths.  Unsurprisingly enough, Jake, Finn and all the inhabitants of the Land of Ooo (and then some), get sucked into the bag and end up in a desert landscape, from which there is no escape, let alone any sandwiches not actually made of sand.

As more of Finn’s friends (and enemies) get sucked into the Lich’s sack, it becomes apparent that they will all have to work together to save Ooo and the planet.  And that is exactly what they do.  Having not seen the show before, this graphic novel does give a good overview of who the important characters are and what their general roles and characteristics and catchphrases happen to be in the series.  There were a number of pretty funny scenes and bits of dialogue throughout, but I found a lot of the “catchphrase” type bits rather tedious.  I don’t think they translated as well to paper as they might in the actual TV series.

While I feel that I now do have a bit of an idea what the show is about, I would still like to know more…but I think I’ll just have to bite the bullet and actually watch the damn thing and save myself the bother of having to read pages and pages of high fives and such.

Don’t forget to join in with Fi50 on Monday!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Welcome to 2017! Now Join the Hunt…

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Welcome to a new year and a new chance to participate in a completely frivolous reading challenge!  Today’s post is just a quick one to make anyone who doesn’t know about it aware of the Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge 2017, which is being hosted by your very own Shelf-denizens!

You can find out more about the challenge here and have a gander (see what I did there?!) at all the lovely people who have already jumped on board.

For those who have already signed up, welcome (!), good luck (!) and the link-ups for each category are now available for your linking pleasure here.  These can also be accessed from the page headings at the top of the blog, under Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge Sign Up Page.

If you are super keen, you can also grab the button for the challenge to display on your own blog.  The code for this is in the sidebar.

Now, let us go forth in search of a cracking year of reading!

Until next time,

Bruce

2016 Challenge Wrap Up Post …and new challenges for 2017

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It’s time for me to take stock of the challenges in which I participated this year and start looking ahead to new challenges for 2017.  I’ve had great fun completing the challenges I chose for this year – some have been quite tricky in parts, but I’ve knocked them all over and now I’m ready to start the process again.

2016 Challenges – completed!

I went in for three challenges this year.  The first was my own challenge – the Title Fight Reading Challenge 2016″

Title Fight Button 2016

I had to read seven books for this one, and completed it on November 13th.  You can check out the books I chose and their reviews here.

The most useful challenge for me this year was the annual My Reader’s Block Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2016.

I signed on at the lowest level for this challenge – Pike’s Peak, or 12 books from my TBR pile – because I wasn’t sure what my review schedule would be like.  I managed to finish all the books I chose at the beginning of the year, plus a few extras for a total of 16 books.  I’m really pleased with that achievement and I’ll be aiming to equal it next year.

I also managed to complete the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas.

alphabet soup challenge 2016

After a few false starts on some letters, I finally managed to complete the alphabet on December 10th.  I did hope to find books that began with each letter (without a “the” or “a” or whatever in front), but I didn’t manage to find an appropriate X book and had to settle for a book with an X elsewhere in the title.  Overall though, this was a pretty simple challenge to complete and a bit of fun.  You can see which books I chose and what I thought about them here.  I have decided not to sign on to this one next year but I may well do it again in the future.

2017 Challenges

I’ve signed on for four challenges for 2017.  The first is, of course, my own challenge: The Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge 2017.

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You can check out the guidelines for the challenge here and sign up to join in!  I won’t plan the books I will read for this challenge before hand, but rather wing it (pun intended) throughout the year.

Next up, I’ll be having another crack at the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted by Bev at My Reader’s Block.

I’m joining up at Pike’s Peak level again, which requires me to read 12 books.  One a month is certainly doable and I’ve chosen in advance the books I want to knock over.  You can see them here.

Next up, I’m jumping on board the Epistolary Reading Challenge 2017 hosted by Whatever I Think Of!

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Epistolary Reading Challenge 2017

This one requires you to read books that are, in all or part, in the format of letters, diaries or emails etc.  It’s a pretty low key challenge because there are no levels or check ins.  I am not going to set myself a level, but see how many I can find to fit this challenge as I go next year.  You can check out the challenge and guidelines here and sign up.

Finally, I’m getting on to another My Reader’s Block annual challenge, the Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017.

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This one requires you to read nine books with different colours in the title OR on the covers.  Since my own Wild Goose Chase Challenge  already requires me to find certain elements within titles, I am going to focus on cover colours for this one.  Luckily, my TBR shelf is arranged in colour blocks, so this shouldn’t be too tricky!  Once again, I’m not going to plan which books I’ll read in advance but discover them as I go.  You can check out the guidlelines for this one and sign up here.

Are you planning on participating in any reading challenges in 2017?  Let me know!

Until next time,

Bruce