Beatrice Reviews “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes

“Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes
★★★★★

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The story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse. In diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life. As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie’s intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance–until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie?


I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone.

I remember the first time I heard about this book. Chandler Bing, one of my favorite characters from FRIENDS, made a reference to it. “But we can’t live in the small apartment after we’ve lived here! Didn’t you ever read Flowers for Algernon?” To which, Joey made a not-so-witty reply (being Joey of course).

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When I started reading this novel, I did not expect the level of emotional attachment I would form with the characters to be so deep and truly, in a sense, profound. This story isn’t about some mouse on the cover (as some people believed it to be) but a tale of humanity, hope and the strength of the human spirit. This novel being classified as part of the ‘science-fiction’ genre, I did not expect it to explore the human condition in the way that it does.

I am afraid. Not of life, or death, of nothingness, but of wasting it as if I had never been.

Charlie Gordon has an IQ of 68. Everyone sees him as a retard, a moron. No one sees him for what he truly is: a human being. In his pursuit for normalcy and social acceptance, Charlie is admitted into an experiment designed to increase his intelligence to a nearly ‘super-human’ level. Of course, such endeavors come at a price. With self-actualization comes the bitter truth that the sheltered life he leads is not what it seems.

Now I understand that one of the important reasons for going to college and getting an education is to learn that the things you’ve believed in all your aren’t true, and that nothing is what it appears to be.

The book examines a number of things and ultimately raises the philosophical question of the meaning of life. Everything you think you know is put under the lens. In the process of examining several themes such as mental disabilities, kindness, intelligence and human nature (and how often those three things overlap), Flowers for Algernon begs the question of what it means to be human. Should our self-worth be measured through our IQ, or through the capacity we have for love?

How strange it is that people of honest feelings and sensibility, who would not take advantage of a man born without arms or legs or eyes – how such people think nothing of abusing a man with low intelligence.

I do not wish to prattle on about my love for this novella too much but I sincerely urge each of you to go read it. Flowers for Algernon is a godsend for those of us who have lost our appreciation for the simpler things in life.

The human civilization continues to seek ways to expand its’ intelligence and in turn, dominance over this world. In this journey, we have to make sacrifices to achieve such greatness but at what cost? At what point in our search for fulfillment will we have lost too much of our essence? At what point will we think to stop, breathe and reconsider what it means to be human?

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Beatrice Reviews “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris

“The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris
☆☆

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One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.

A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov’s experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.


I hate to be that person, who reads a book of hope and love set during one of the darkest times of history, who goes, “meh, I’ll give it a 2.5/3 star rating”. A love story set during the Holocaust – that’s exactly what we need to remind us that love can trump all and prevail, even in the darkest of times. But, in this case, I just could not find myself consumed by the novel. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the true story of the two individuals (Lale and Gita) on who this book is based on. It’s the execution that I have a problem with.

Let me explain. It all boils down to one thing really: bad writing.

It isn’t great. It isn’t horrible, but it isn’t good either. It’s that awkward attempt at trying to do justice to a true story but failing to tick all the boxes, resulting in a novel that’s both here and there.

I love dialogue but when there’s too much of it, it creates a block in the reading experience. The simple rule of ‘show, don’t tell’ can also be applied to leveraging dialogue to keep the story moving forward. With the lack of prose, much of the story is stifled and contained to the interactions and conversations between the characters without exploring the spectrum of their emotions. It gives away too much of the story, in a way that leveraging descriptive prose and imagery [especially of the setting i.e. the Auschwitz concentration camp] would have done better.

Secondly, the pacing. I didn’t feel the urge to frantically turn from one page to the next, anxiously waiting to discover what befalls the characters next. Again, the use of so much dialogue could factor in here but moreso, the actual progression of the novel. There was no ‘rising action’ or tension that drew me in as a reader. That being said, I in no way am commenting on the true events or the nature of the subject matter in itself, merely on the writing style.

It was very choppy – with quick changes in the scenery, abrupt flashbacks that acted as an attempt to provide more depth to the characters but fell flat.

Speaking of which, the character development was disappointing. I finished the book, still feeling a disconnect to Lale and Gita whose story, though beautiful, just didn’t touch me in the right way. And this is coming from someone who gets sad at the idea of a bee stinging me and dying.

Lale is a charming young man that manages to slip in and out of tricky situations, literally translating to do-or-die scenarios. Fate leads him to Gita and the entire story has us believing that they were destined to be together. The storytelling, in itself, however has much left to be desired. The sense of detachment I felt from the book afterward was not what I’d expected to take away from the read.

That being said, the book acts as a testament to a true account of love and survival in one of the most harrowing periods of history. The world needs stories like this to be shared, people whose love has withstood the trials of time and reality to inspire those who feel there is less beauty in this world worth living for.

I would recommend this book to those of you who’d like to experience that on some level. Maybe this book didn’t touch me on a sentimental scale but you might feel differently.

Here’s to hoping you do.

 

The 2019 Redemption Reader’s Journey

I would call this one a challenge but I thought – hey, why not mix it up a little?

Totally not because my previous reading challenges have crashed and burned due to my utter lack of continued persistence to keep it going.

Jokes aside – this will be my year of redemption. I’m absolutely determined to read all these books by December 31st, 2019. For the books that stand out, for either good or bad reasons, I’ll be posting book reviews (hyperlinked where available).

May the Gods of Literature provide me the strength, energy and renewed passion for the written word to make it through this list!


Italicized – read / completed month
(R) – book review available
Bold – currently reading / current month

Month Target Genre Book
February
Romance Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe (R)
Romance The Next Together 
Romance Persuasion
March
Historical Fiction The Book Thief
Historical Fiction The Red Tent
Historical Fiction The Tattooist of Auschwitz (R)
April
Mythology The Palace of Illusions
Mythology Who Fears Death
Mythology The Rise of Sivagami
May
Novella Animal Farm (R)
Novella The Little Prince
Novella Flowers for Algernon (R)
June
Sci-Fi Ready Player One
Sci-Fi Brave New World
Sci-Fi Here and Now and Then
July
Contemporary A Thousand Splendid Suns
Contemporary Fangirl
Contemporary Norwegian Wood
August
Drama Waiting for Godot
Drama The Kiss Thief
Drama Big Little Lies
September
Fantasy American Gods
Fantasy A Game of Thrones
Fantasy An Ember in the Ashes
October
Horror In the Miso Soup
Horror Misery
Horror Stillhouse Lake
November
Manga Tokyo Ghoul
Manga Akatsuki no Yona
Manga Otoyomegatari
December
Romance Let it Snow
Classics A Christmas Carol
Crime The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding

Beatrice Reviews “Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe” by Melissa de la Cruz

“Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe” by Melissa de la Cruz

★☆☆☆☆

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Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe, from New York Times bestselling author, Melissa de la Cruz, is a sweet, sexy and hilarious gender-swapping, genre-satisfying re-telling, set in contemporary America and featuring one snooty Miss Darcy.


Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe? More like Pride and Prejudice and (a Complete and Total) Injustice.

My habit of starting a book and not being able to put it down till I get to the very last word has nearly always proven a blessing. I can never leave a book unfinished. It’s practically a cardinal sin to me. But the more I read this novel, the more I felt an overwhelming necessity to chuck these principles.

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I cannot begin to comprehend what the author was trying to achieve with this book. Whether or not you’ve read the original Jane Austen masterpiece, this book was just a complete and utter mess. Sure, gender-swapping the roles was an interesting move and the tributes to the original characters and setting by retaining some of the names was evident but in no way redeeming of the utter displeasure the book brought me.

I see not a single way in which this story is worth being branded as a ‘re-telling’ at all. It’s a shame because the idea had a lot of potential and with the right execution, could have actually turned out worlds better than the disappointment it ended up being.

I’m not asking for re-tellings of classic novels to be spot-on. In fact, the more innovative the spark they bring in, the more fun they are. The entire purpose of a re-telling is to have a throwback to the magic of the original while still standing on its own as a memorable read. But nothing – and I truly mean nothing – was worth this re-hash.

The characters were total dillholes. Darcy (a female in this rendition) is a successful, uber-rich hedge fund manager making it big on her own having cut off ties from her family and pursuing a career on Wall Street. I am totally in for ambitious, career-powered women but oh-my-Austen-stars, her character is intolerable.  She certainly did not act, in any way, with the maturity you would expect from a self-made woman. Instead, we see the unravelings of an utterly petty, totally awkward, not to mention, very cringeworthy character.

(Also, author – in this day and age, I doubt a 29 year old single American woman would face as much pressure to get married as Darcy did in the book. It isn’t 1813, anymore.)

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And don’t even get me started on Luke Bennet. The character progression, if I can even call it that, was a wreck and I fail to understand what even happened there. No, really. I’m not even going to bother expanding on this point because it isn’t worth it.

One of my favorite things about the original is the beauty of the writing style. Jane Austen weaves stardust into her words, bringing to life a story for the ages about people that are not only flawed and human, but relatable.

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Kathleen Kelly from You’ve Got Mail says it right – the language is pretty flipping amazing. Of course, classics carry a charm that no modern-day rendition could capture in terms of writing style but by the Gods of Literature, at least try to make it readable.

I doubt this book was run by an editor. I spotted quite a few and very small editing mistakes – both in terms of grammar and actual plot loopholes. I’ve read fanfiction by kids that possessed a certain style in their storytelling, that although worked off the ideas of established novels, still made it their own. I just could not bring myself to be okay with the writing style the author employed here. To quote Chandler Bing, it was ‘a big dull, dud’.

This book is the exact example of one of the biggest reasons to stick to the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule when writing. Endless and boring dialogue consumed most of the pages with the characters verbally explaining their back-stories for the reader to hear. Brand names are dropped here and there to have us learn the wealthy lifestyle Darcy leads in New York. Plot arcs are forced down the readers throats simply to have there be this weak connection to the original Pride and Prejudice. It was like the writer was trying to prove a point on an English-Lit paper she had to turn in.

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I’ve never, ever written a review as scathing as this one but that’s also because I never read a book so bad as this. Maybe the strong reaction roots from my undying love for the original work of art but honestly, I’m saddened because this was such a waste.

If you’re going to re-write a legend, please don’t half-ass it and pleaseGodplease, do not think you’ll get away with comparing it to the original if you do. Just – no. Now, excuse me while I step away to go read a Jane Austen original.

I’m in desperate need of some literary healing.

12 Days of Christmas Reading

The pleasures of falling deep into the pages of a promising book are endless and an adventure I very much cherish when I get the chance to do so. With December right around the corner, distant memories of curling up in a bundle near my bedroom with a nice steaming cup of cocoa and a good book linger in the back of my mind. Granted, hot Indian winters don’t carry the Christmas-vibe as effectively, I still can’t wait for the season to begin.

And what better way to reignite my love for reading than with a Christmas reading list?

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Boy, would it be a wonder if I get through ’em all – here’s to hoping for a Christmas miracle!

*~~~*

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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To bitter, miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, Christmas is just another day. But all that changes when the ghost of his long-dead business partner appears, warning Scrooge to change his ways before it’s too late. 

Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe by Melissa de la Cruz

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Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe, from New York Times bestselling author, Melissa de la Cruz, is a sweet, sexy and hilarious gender-swapping, genre-satisfying re-telling, set in contemporary America and featuring one snooty Miss Darcy.

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie

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Asked to investigate an incident that needs to be dealt with discretion, Poirot reluctantly agrees to spend Christmas in the countryside with the Laceys. Dreading the cold and traditional English fare Poirot attempts to locate a missing ruby in order to save a kingdom…

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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Narrated by Death, The Book Thief is the story of Liesel Meminger, a nine-year-old German girl who given up by her mother to live with Hans and Rosa Hubermann in the small town of Molching in 1939, shortly before World War II.

Miracle on 34th Street by Valentine Davies

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When a nice old man who claims to be Santa Claus is institutionalized as insane, a young lawyer decides to defend him by arguing in court that he is the real thing.

The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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When the Countess of Morcar’s priceless blue carbuncle is stolen, a reformed thief is charged with the crime.

In the Miso Soup by Ryū Murakami

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It is just before New Year’s. Frank, an overweight American tourist, has hired Kenji to take him on a guided tour of Tokyo’s sleazy nightlife on three successive evenings. But Frank’s behavior is so strange that Kenji begins to entertain a horrible suspicion: that his new client is in fact the serial killer currently terrorizing the city. It isn’t until later, however, that Kenji learns exactly how much he has to fear and how irrevocably his encounter with this great white whale of an American will change his life.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

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Life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall—named after the imposing stone barrier which separates the town from a grassy meadow. Here, young Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester and for the coveted prize of her hand, Tristran vows to retrieve a fallen star and deliver it to his beloved. It is an oath that sends him over the ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining…

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

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Her name is Dinah. In the Bible, her life is only hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the more familiar chapters of the Book of Genesis that are about her father, Jacob, and his dozen sons. Told in Dinah’s voice, this novel reveals the traditions and turmoils of ancient womanhood–the world of the red tent. It begins with the story of her mothers–Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah–the four wives of Jacob. They love Dinah and give her gifts that sustain her through a hard-working youth, a calling to midwifery, and a new home in a foreign land.

Letters from Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien

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Every December an envelope bearing a stamp from the North Pole would arrive for J. R. R. Tolkien’s children. Inside would be a letter in strange spidery handwriting and a beautiful coloured drawing or some sketches. The letters were from Father Christmas.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

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Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.

Let it Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle

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John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle encapture the magic of the holidays shines in these hilarious and charming interconnected tales of love, romance, and breathtaking kisses.

Where Do I Get My Ideas?

From everything and everywhere.

^^ That would be my answer in its vaguest form, but honestly – there’s not much more to say.

Growing up, I had this little jar which I proudly dubbed ‘The Imagination Sanctuary’ consisting of story ideas I came up with on the go scribbled onto bits of paper which were then neatly rolled up and placed inside. Whenever I felt like working on a new project, I would reach in and grab a chit, and get to work.

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A little Jack Sparrow never gets old. 

Over time, the jar was tossed and replaced by a Word Doc spanning several pages. Not nearly as magical, but it did the job and continues to be sanctum to hundreds (I’m not kidding) of novel ideas I’ve come up with – ranging from fantasy to sci-fi to romance and even childrens’ books. Whether I get them all written out is another story.

I draw inspiration from everything I see on a day to day basis and leave my brain to do the rest of the work. A lot of my stories are imaginings I concocted while being bored out of my mind in the middle of a lecture in school.

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Others are rooted in dreams I’ve had that I jotted down the moment I woke up so I wouldn’t forget the potential they had to be written out. One of my sci-fi story ideas consisting of an alien invasion and intergalactic characters with special abilities was spun from a visit to the dentist and my lack of fondness for modern medical equipment.

So there’s absolutely no restriction on where inspiration can strike from. Although I do have a few tips on how to cultivate a more ‘idea-friendly’ environment for yourself apart from the ones I’ve already mentioned:

Knock yourself out with bingeing on TV shows and movies: this can do wonders. What better way to gain inspiration than from successful and entertaining productions that have engaging characters and good scripts (I hope)?

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Read, read, read: consume the written word like nothing else before it. I used to read a  lot as a kid (the luxury of time having robbed me blind of this satisfaction now). Read genres you love, classic and well acclaimed writers to see why they’re so good and new ones to discover what’s happening in the genre as of late. I’m heavily influenced by the books I read and it helped me become better at the genre I dabble in.

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Your social circles: a lot of the oddball humor and witty dialogues that come out of my characters are directly in relation to my interactions with my close friends and parents. I even based Helena, a supporting character in my story The Closer off of my best friend. It helps to observe the people in your life. After all, your characters are human too. (Or not in case you’re writing about shiny blood-sucking vampires or something. In which case, I sincerely hope yours will be more interesting.)

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The news and whatever’s up in the real world: fun fact –  Suzanne Collins came up with The Hunger Games when she was flicking between two channels; one showing some reality tv show similar to The Bachelor and the other broadcasting latest news about the Iraq War. She fused the two together and BOOM: a worldwide literary sensation was born. Of course, she had to squeeze in a-looot of work in the middle somewhere.

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Writing communities really do help: I talked in detail about this in my previous blog post but being part of one can boost thinking levels to a whole other planet. You get to mingle with writers in similar genres and absorb feedback and criticism on your writing. This not only helps you grow more ideas but improve as a writer too.

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And to save the day if all else fails, Google it: this is self explanatory but a search engine that can produce an endless list of helpful resources is pretty much a modern day magical wizard substituting as one’s muse (except it’s really no magic here but next-level algorithms and mathsy stuff).

In short, like I said at the start, I get my ideas from everything and everywhere. It’s really just a matter of paying more attention and being receptive to your surroundings. Heck, the next time you’re at the bus stop or in a cafe somewhere, I dare you to eavesdrop a little on the conversations people are having around you. There’s bound to be a hidden gem somewhere.

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The 2017 Reading Challenge

As someone who loves reading but hasn’t had enough time to dedicate to the beauty of it, I feel like this would be the right time to commit myself to a personalized 2017 Reading Challenge. Granted, 2015’s challenge was a failure but 2016’s went pretty well, I’d like to give it another shot! After all, one can have no regrets in giving books a chance, right?

For this year’s challenge, I’m doing a combination of various challenges I’ve found online as well as my own. Links to the various challenges I’ve borrowed from are provided at the end of this post. I’ll be updating this list and ticking off the challenges I finish as the year progresses. Recommendations would be very much appreciated!

If you, too, are doing the reading challenge, why not join me this year? Drop a comment below and let me know how 2017’s book-journey has been going so far! If you’d like me to review any book in particular, I’d be up for that too.

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bold: complete
(parenthesis: book assigned to a challenge)

*a book with a color in the title  (The Color Purple)

*a book of letters (Love Letters to the Dead)

*a book by a person of color (Persepolis)

*a book with multiple authors (Let It Snow)

*a bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read (Gone Girl)

*a book by or about a person who has a disability (El Deafo)

*a book you’ve read before that never fails to make you smile (Flipped)

*a book that’s more than a hundred years old (Anna Karenina)

*a book set in a place you want to visit (The Saffron Gate)

*a book inspired by a a fairy tale (Stardust)

*a book under 200 pages (Man’s Search for Meaning)

*a book of poetry (Rumi)

*a book with a child narrator (The Diary of a Young Girl)

*an autobiography (Night)

*a novel set during wartime (A Cup of Tea)

*a book with an unreliable narrator

*a book set in two different time periods (The Next Together)

*the first book in a series you haven’t read before (Artemis Fowl)

*an adult novel (Big Little Lies)

*a Newbery Medal winning book (The Girl Who Drank the Moon)

*a gifted book (Looking for Alaska)

*a play (Nagamandala)

*a diverse folktale/mythological book (Who Fears Death)

*a book with religious themes (The Red Tent)

*a book on my back list (Can You Keep A Secret?)

*a book by a debut writer (The Hate U Give)

*a book recommendation from a Goodreads pal (How to Be Good)

*a book recommendation from your sibling (The Sword of Shannara)

*a handbook (How to be a Bawse: A Guide to Conquering Life)

*a book by an Indian writer (The God of Small Things)

*a book recommendation from a professor (Waiting for Godot)

*a love story (Eleanor & Park)

*a tragedy (If I Stay)

*a book from your childhood (A Wrinkle in Time)

*your best friend’s favorite (Jane Eyre)

*a French book (Le Petit Prince)

*a controversial book (Lolita)

*a classical romance (Persuasion)

*a book you’ve avoided (The Rape of Nanking)

*a satire (The Importance of Being Earnest)

*a book set in the Victorian Era (Secrets of Midnight)

*a book featuring an animal as the main character (Watership Down)

*a visual novel (Saya no Uta/The Song of Saya)

*a manga (Sakamichi no Apollon/Kids on a Slope)

*a novella (Animal Farm)

*a horror book (In the Miso Soup)

*a book with terrible reviews (Leaves of Grass)

*a book in translation (1Q84)

*a book published the same year you were born (Tuesdays with Morrie)

*a book with a reputation for being un-put-down-able (A Monster Calls)

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Inspiration from:

http://blog.betterworldbooks.com/2016/12/29/2017-reading-challenge-recommendations/

http://www.popsugar.com/love/Reading-Challenge-2017-42561300

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1NC334TlViCh578-VEl9aUJ3WGAOEYY6R0YuC-MxVRj8/edit

http://modernmrsdarcy.com/reading-challenge-2017/