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The Push Your Boundaries Reading Challenge 2014

So if you've followed me for a while, you know I love a reading challenge. For the past two years, I've done the 50/50 Challenge (50 movies and 50 books in a year) and I've kept track of it here and on Pinterest. This year I also did the Dusty Bookshelf Challenge to try to encourage me to read stuff I already own instead of only the new, shiny books I buy. 

I like these kinds of challenges because it helps me keep track of what I read (and watch, in the case of the 50/50 challenge) and it pushes me a little. BUT, as I was looking at my list of books I've read this year, I realized I'm very homogenous when it comes to genres. Obviously, I love romance and in particular, erotic romance, New Adult, Young Adult, and m/m romance. That's the bulk of my reading pile. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's what I like to read (and write.)

But I also know that as a writer, I am what I consume. Inspiration is found in the things I expose myself to--movies, books, art, experiences, travel, etc. That's what's going to influence me. And if I'm swimming in the same pool with my reading all the time, I'm missing out on the chance to broaden my influences, to see things in a different way, and to think more outside the box with my writing.

So, I'm creating my own personal reading challenge this year, and I'm inviting you to customize one for yourself and join me. : )  I'm challenging myself to read outside of my boundaries in addition to my favorites. So I made a chart and listed levels of "comfort zones" then I selected genres to put in the boxes. By the end of 2014, I want to X out each of these boxes with at least one book from that particular genre.

As you can see in the chart, I have six rows of "zones": In My Zone, Read on Occasion, A Bit of a Stretch, Pushing It, Out of Comfort Zone, and Just For Fun.

I have 36 genres listed, but feel free to make yours as big as small as you want. Maybe you just want to list one genre in each of the six categories. Or maybe you're a power reader and want to add more than me. Also, know that everyone's chart will look different because what's comfort zone to me is going to be different for you.

But hopefully you can use my chart as a jumping off point.

If you want the chart in Excel so you can edit and plug in your own goals, you can download it here. (I created this in Mac Numbers so there may be some formatting differences. If it shows up as two worksheets, click on the bottom tab that says blank calendar and that will show you the chart.)


So who's with me?

Let me know in the comments if you decide to participate and leave a link to how you're keeping track if you have it (link from your blog, Pinterest, Tumblr, whatever.) 

I'll be pinning the books I read and keeping track on my Push Your Boundaries Pinterest Board. If you make your own board feel free to Pin this post on it and remember to leave your link to it in the comments! :) 

Follow Roni Loren's board The Push Your Boundaries Reading Challenge on Pinterest.

Follow Roni Loren's board The Push Your Boundaries Reading Challenge on Pinterest.


Some ideas for genres to include (and please add your own suggestions for categories/genres in the comments because I know I've missed some!):

Historical mystery - Romantic Suspense - Made Into A Movie - Urban Fantasy - Dystopian - Memoir/Bio -LGBT - Action/Adventure - Humor - Award Winning - True Crime - Erotic Romance/Erotica - Horror - Gothic - Travel - M/M Romance - Non-Fiction - On Writing - Literary Fiction - Anthology - Translated - Mystery - Historical Fiction - Young Adult - New Adult - Historical Romance - Fantasy - Sci-Fi/Speculative - Thriller - Classic - Banned Book - Re-read From Childhood - Debut Author - First in Series - Middle Grade - Picture Book - Graphic Novel - Book From Your Birth Year - Loved By Others - A 500+ Pager - Audiobook - Second Chance on a DNF - Road Trip Story - Set Outside of the U.S./UK/Canada - Self-Help - A Book That Intimidates You - A Book Written By the Opposite Sex - Inspirational Fiction - Retro Romance (70s-80s) - Paranormal - Women's Fiction - Short Story



My Promise When I Review or Recommend Books

Photo via chicagogeek (Flickr CC)Mondays are usually reserved for Must-Read Mondays, but today I wanted to talk a little bit about a related topic. There was a post last week on Dear Author called When the Personal Becomes the Professional and was about how authors approach giving negative reviews of other books. Some argue that it's professional courtesy not to tear down another author's book. Others feel that authors should be able to review like readers do and that the author on the receiving end of the feedback shouldn't get personally offended.

I'm of the school that anyone has the right to review my book and have an opinion about it. If another author posts a negative review about my book, I'm not going to think that author is being unprofessional. I can take it. However, having said that, I don't post negative reviews or talk bad about books publicly. Why? Well, frankly, it's not worth the drama--having an author take it personally, seeing them at the next conference and it being awkward, looking like you're being jealous or spiteful by panning a book in your genre, or offending readers who thought that book was the best book ever.

But, there's also this thought out there that if someone only does positive reviews, that their opinion is somehow not valid because they "like everything." But I disagree with that. I don't like everything--believe me. If I don't like something or have neutral feelings on it, you'll just never hear about. The books I recommend on Must-Read Monday or rate highly on Goodreads are books I honestly loved. I'm not going to "be nice" and give something a high rating or recommendation because I know the author or whatever. There are authors who I really like as people but I just don't connect with their writing. I'm not going to pretend I do just to be friendly.

So I'm saying all this because I want you to know that when you see me talking up a book, that means one thing--I, Roni the reader, loved the damn thing. I looked back at Must-Read Monday posts for this year. Almost all were books by authors I've never met or interacted with. None of them were given to me for review. They are just books I bought as a reader and enjoyed. Just because I don't post about the ones I didn't like doesn't make that any less valid. So you can feel confident in knowing I'm not blowing smoke or trying to sell you something on a friend's behalf. If I say I loved it, it means I loved it. : )

I'm curious, how do you view authors reviewing or recommending other authors' books? Do you assume they are just helping their friends if it's positive? If you're a writer, how do you feel about the debate on whether or not to post negative reviews?



Must-Read Monday: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell


So everyone knows New Adult books (stories with college-aged protagonists) are very hot right now. I love the genre, but I have to say, most of the stories I've read do not resemble what college looked like for me. The characters are often way more mature than I remember being at 18, and the college setting seems like a background brush stroke. But Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell was a totally different experience. The way the college setting was described made me think--Yes, this. This is what freshman year looked like--dorms that always smelled like burnt popcorn and laundry detergent. Libraries that were impossible not to get lost in. Being completely clueless as a freshman. Most of us weren't hanging out at cool parties and being all hip our first yer of college (or if you were me--any years of college, lol.)  It felt authentic.

And beyond the setting, the characters are so fresh and funny and likable. The hero was adorable and not angsty or damaged at all. (Don't get me wrong, I love angsty/damaged heroes but this was a nice change up.) The heroine was smary, sarcastic, and funny. I laughed out loud a lot, which is rare for me when reading. And I couldn't put this one down.

After reading Eleanor & Park by this same author earlier this year, I was already a fan. But I liked Fangirl even more than that one. Now this author is an autobuy for me.

So, go read it, you'll thank me later. :)

About the Book:
In Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

Have you read anything good lately? Feel free to share your must-reads in the comments. : )

Must-Read Monday: The Last Hour of Gann by R. Lee Smith

One of the things I love about being linked into the reading/reviewing/writing community is that I get book recommendations that lead me to stories I never would've picked up on my own. So last week, when I was pouting about having two DNF books in a row, I was on the look out for something good. That's when I saw buzz around Twitter about a book called The Last Hour of Gann by R. Lee Smith. And when I saw reviewers like Jane at Dear Author and Mandi at Smexy Books raving about it, I paid attention. 

But I looked at the summary and I'm thinking--meh, I don't really read adult sci-fi. And I'm not really into books where characters have those crazy, hard to pronounce names. And wait--the hero is a lizard man? And it's something like 1500 pages long?! It's like the opposite of what I gravitate to, lol. But the reviews were so effusive and those reviewers don't hand out praise easily. So I decided to give it a shot.

And omg, I'm so glad I did. For the last five days, I've been obsessed. Like reading into the night and sneaking pages on my phone while I'm out and about. I could not put it down. I'm sure my hubs was totally annoyed with me because I've basically ignored him during our normal TV time. And for me to read such a long book in less than a week is a testament to how much it captured me. Because even really excellent 1k+ page books like Stephen King's 11/22/63 take me a while to get through because I have a hard time staying with any book for that many pages.

So, I could try to summarize the book, but there's just so much and I know I won't do it justice. (Check the reviews I linked to above if you want more of an analysis with example passages and such.) Plus, the world-building is complex, so much of what I can say probably won't make much sense anyway. But here's a bullet point list of my thoughts on the book:

  • This is sci-fi--spaceship crashing on alien planet and all. I do not read sci-fi. I should not have been the audience for this book. But it totally worked for me. So don't be scared if you don't normally read this genre.
  • If you are sensitive to reading about violence, particularly rape, be warned. This is a brutal book at times. I've heard it called erotic horror. The things the characters have to go through are horrible and intense--particularly for the heroine and the other women in the story. There were times it was hard to read and I wanted to read faster just to get some relief from the horrible dark moments. And the bad times can last a long time. No brief ten page black moment. You're there for 200 pages or more at times. Then just when you think they're in the clear, something even more awful happens. It's gut-wrenching. But I also think this is why the love story ends up feeling so epic. These two have fought through things worse than death to be together.
  • Yes, the hero is a lizardman. He has a snout and red eyes and different, er, parts. I couldn't get my head around those things before I read the book. How could that work? But it totally does. Meoraq is a fantastic hero who does not start off as a very good person/lizard. He has a dramatic journey to go on, but the end result is one of the best heroes I've read in a long time.
  • In 1500 pages, there are bound to be some slow parts. This story is broken into "books" and then chapters. In Book 2, when we first meet Meoraq, the worldbuilding takes a while. There is so much to learn about their culture and religion and the hero himself that it can drage a bit. Don't give up. Keep reading.
  • Outside of Amber (the heroine), the humans in this book are pretty horrible people. It's hard to read some of it and can be over the top. They suffer from a bad case of TSTL often.
  • Faith is an important theme in this book. Religion plays a big role in the story and it leaves you with some fantastic food for thought on what religion is and what it can/can't do for a society. I loved this aspect.
  • I think this is a book people will either love or hate. I can't imagine having ambivalent feelings about this one. I've heard some have issues with the gender roles in this book and the fact that the hero doesn't treat women well before the heroine comes into his life. (Women don't have any say in anything in that world, including refusing sex.) But I saw those roles as part of this alien society and the heroine was a good, strong badass woman to break that mold. As for how Meoraq was with women before the heroine, I felt that was a big part of his journey and made the end result more satisfying. He had a long way to go.
  • Even after all those pages, I hit the end (which was fantastic) and wanted an HEA epilogue. So--yeah, 1500 pages and I still wanted more. That says a lot.
  • This is the biggest book hangover I've had in a long time, and that's the best sign that a book really got to me. I won't forget this one for a long time.


So that's all I've got to say about that. : ) If you decide to read it or have already read it, let me know what you think.


About the book:

It was her last chance:

Amber Bierce had nothing left except her sister and two tickets on Earth’s first colony-ship. She entered her Sleeper with a five-year contract and the promise of a better life, but awakened in wreckage on an unknown world. For the survivors, there is no rescue, no way home and no hope until they are found by Meoraq—a holy warrior more deadly than any hungering beast on this hostile new world…but whose eyes show a different sort of hunger when he looks at her.

It was his last year of freedom:

Uyane Meoraq is a Sword of Sheul, God’s own instrument of judgment, victor of hundreds of trials, with a conqueror’s rights over all men. Or at least he was until his father’s death. Now, without divine intervention, he will be forced to assume stewardship over House Uyane and lose the life he has always known. At the legendary temple of Xi’Matezh, Meoraq hopes to find the deliverance he seeks, but the humans he encounters on his pilgrimage may prove too great a test even for him…especially the one called Amber, behind whose monstrous appearance burns a woman’s heart unlike any he has ever known.

From R. Lee Smith, author of Heat and Cottonwood, comes an epic new story of desire, darkness and the dawn that comes after The Last Hour of Gann.

WARNING: This book contains graphic violence, strong sexual content and explicit language. It is intended for mature readers only.

Have you ever been bowled over by a book that's not in your normal reading comfort zone? What was it? Why was it so fantastic?



The Dreaded DNF: 10 Things That Make Me Close a Book for Good

That sad moment when I don't care how it ends
This is a revamped post from a while back, but since I had two books back to back this weekend that I couldn't finish, I thought it was a good time to freshen up this post since my reading habits are constantly evolving.

Up until a few years ago, I had this problem when I started reading a book. Once I peeled back the cover of one, I was compelled to finish it. No matter if I was fully enjoying the book or not. It felt like starting a book was like signing some contract. I bought this book. I've chosen to read it. And now I must read it all. I was the Chronic Finisher.

But then a lot changed in my life. I got published (yay!) and started writing 2-3 books a year on tight deadlines. Everything got infinitely busier. And my reading time shrunk to this minuscule sliver of time. So I found myself putting down books that didn't capture my interest. And then I wouldn't get any reading done because I felt like if I was going to read, I needed to finish whatever book I had started. But I wasn't into that book so didn't pick it up at all.

Well, finally, I came to the conclusion that I had to put the Chronic Finisher in rehab. I was missing out on good books by forcing myself to read ones I didn't love. My reading time is too short and my TBR pile too big to be doing that. So if a book hasn't grabbed me by page 50 or so, I'm probably putting it aside. And sometimes even sooner if it's clear a book isn't working for me. 

And each time I put down a book in the DNF (did not finish) pile, first--I am sad. I want to like every book I pick up. But I know that's impossible. But second, the writer in me wants to evaluate WHY I didn't feel compelled to finish it. What put me off? (And how can I avoid making those mistakes in my own books.)

Here's what I've discovered:


What Makes the Chronic Finisher Put Down a Book:

1. Didn't connect with the characters

If I can't relate to the hero or heroine at all, if I don't like them, or if they're not interesting enough, I find it next to impossible to get into the book. I must be emotionally connected by chapter 3 at the very latest. And it's fine to have a not so likable character as long as they are compelling and interesting enough to take a journey with. But this is probably the most common reason I put a book down. 


2. There was no chemistry or not enough build-up between the hero and heroine in a romance.

Obviously, I write sexy romance and enjoy reading it. But nothing will bore me quicker than throwing two people together when there hasn't been any tension or chemistry set up beforehand. This doesn't mean you can't have the characters get together quickly, but the author better have done a fabulous job building up that tension. 


3. This feels familiar...

Tired plots and clichés. Post-Twilight, this has happened in the YA paranormal genre for me. Now it's the 50 Shades effect. If a book is going to have a girl meeting dangerous, mysterious billionaire--there better be a helluva twist to make it different from all the other stories out there like that. (And I'm saying that as someone who writes BDSM books with rich guys.) I'm also starting to see this in New Adult with the setup of the girl with the big tragic secret who is broken and needs to be fixed by the hero (or reverse it with the hero as the broken one.) It can work really well, but it can also get really tired if not done with a fresh twist.  


4. The BIG secret is the only sense of tension in the book.

I am fine with a secret in a plot. That can be great. (And by secret, I don't mean twist we don't see coming. That's something different. I mean we, the readers, know there is a secret.) But what I will not put up with for long is a book that drags out revealing what the BIG secret is to the reader for no apparent reason but to pull you along. This is when characters keep almost revealing what the big, bad thing is, but then someone walks into the room and interrupts them. Gah! I'm much more a fan of where the reader may know the character's secret early on, but the hero or heroine is keeping it from another character for good reason.


5. Bad writing

I know I'm picky. I'm a writer so I'm going to see things now that I wouldn't have probably picked up when I was only a reader. For instance, an opening scene where the character is looking in a mirror and describing herself is cliche. Writer me groans. A reader may not care. Or if there is lots of telling and no showing, I'll get turned off by it. A few of these things here and there won't necessarily make me put down a book, but a consistent appearance of things like that will make me close the book. (And if it's exclamation points on every page, I'll close it regardless since it's a pet peeve of mine and usually indicates beginner writing.) With all the publishing options out there, I've grown a bit more careful and am reading sample pages. Because some books are edited and some you can tell are by a first time writer who let their Aunt Ruth "edit".


6. Nothing to get passionate about

This one is new for me and a little harder to define. I've started to read books that were...fine. The writing was good, the characters were interesting enough, there wasn't anything I could point to that was bad. BUT at the same time, when I put these books down, I didn't find myself thinking about the book or that desperate to get back to it. I didn't feel passionate about anything in the book. It's kind of a "I could take it or leave it" feeling. Like, if I had nothing better to do, I'd read it. In the past, these would've been books I'd make myself finish. Now I'm at the point that I just move on. The TBR pile is too big to waste time on something I'm ambivalent about. (This is also the one that drives me most crazy as a writer because I want to know WHY I'm ambivalent so that I don't make those mistakes in my own writing.)


7. Can't Suspend my Disbelief

So I am *really* open-minded when it comes to stories. It can be out there. I mean, I write books that can be out there sometimes. But if a book tries to push too far with coincidences or crazy stuff or has obvious inaccuracies, then I get pulled out of the book. 


8. It Has Things That Make Me Worry In a Bad Way

Making a reader worry is good. Will the bad guy be caught? Will they survive? Will these two people be able to be together? That's all fantastic. But there is also bad worry. For instance, in a BDSM book, if the hero and heroine barely know each other and haven't discussed any limits and have no safewords and then jump into a scene where the heroine is gagged and bound, I'm worried in a bad way. And I'm thinking a) the heroine is stupid to put herself at this kind of risk and B) the hero is a jerk for not taking care of safety issues. It can ruin a story for me. 


9. *Yawn* Boring....

This one is obvious I'm sure, but I need a book to hook and excite me. If I'm at page fifty and I don't give a crap what happens, then you've bored me. You should have me by chapter one. If the book goes on and on with description and setting up characters and not giving me any true action or conflict, I'm bored. Or if there's not enough plot (like a book with a bunch of sex scenes but not a lot of substance in between.) Maybe that's a result of our fast-moving culture, but it is what it is. A book is entertainment, so entertain me. Dance, monkey, dance. :)


10. Just not my cuppa...

So in some cases, there may not be anything wrong with the story. The writing may be good, the characters fine, but it's just not my thing. I like what I like. Yes, there may be the rare (awesome) occasion when a book outside of my normal genre preferences wins me over, which is why I still try books outside of my typical tastes. But usually, I can tell pretty quickly if something is going to be one of those books that just isn't my cup of tea. And that's fine. I'll close the book and give it to someone who I hope will like it.


All right, so those are my top reasons for putting down a book. What are some of yours? How long do you give a book to hook you? Are you a chronic finisher?

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