Read Women 2020

Another book challenge, another victim of 2020. Like the other challenge I attempt each year, Read Harder, I did as well as I could and any books I read moving forward that complete a task will be added as the point at the end of the day is to read diversely and grow our habits and there’s no better way then to just keep trying.

All books read for this challenge must be by or about women.

  1. A Book by an Author from the Caribbean or India
  2. A Book Translated from an Asian Language
    • 3 essays translated by Mariam Antar (Bonus if the translator is a woman!)
  3. A Book about the Environment
  4. A Picture Book Written/Illustrated by a BIPOC Author
    • The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad (TBR)
    • BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. For more information on the acronym, visit
  5. A Winner of the Stella Prize or the Women’s Prize for Fiction
  6. A Nonfiction Title by a Woman Historian
  7. A Book Featuring Afrofuturism or Africanfuturism
  8. An Anthology by Multiple Authors
  9. A Book Inspired by Folklore
  10. A Book about a Woman Artist
  11. Read and Watch a Book-to-Movie Adaptation
  12. A Book about a Woman Who Inspires You
  13. A Book by an Arab Woman
  14. A Book Set in Japan or by a Japanese Author
    • Somewhere Among by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu (TBR)
    • The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw (TBR)
  15. A Biography
  16. A Book Featuring a Woman with a Disability
  17. A Book Over 500 Pages
  18. A Book Under 100 Pages
  19. A Book That’s Frequently Recommended to You
  20. A Feel-Good or Happy Book
  21. A Book about Food
    • The Irish Pub Cookbook by Margaret M. Johnson, photographs by Leigh Beisch (2021)
    • Both cookbooks and food writing work for this challenge.
  22. A Book by Either a Favorite or a New-to-You Publisher
  23. A Book by an LGBTQ+ Author
  24. A Book from the 2019 Reading Women Award Shortlists or Honorable Mentions


  • A Book by Isabel Allende – Eva Luna (2021)

Read Harder 2020

I like a reading challenge, and even in our first pandemic year I kept going the best I could. I did not complete either Read Harder or the Reading Women challenges (although I did manage my Cannonball goal) but I’m going to keep going, and any books I read later which qualify I’ll add.

  1. Read a YA nonfiction book
  2. Read a retelling of a classic of the canon, fairytale, or myth by an author of color
    • Ghost Squad by Claribel Ortega (Dominican Republic: El Cuco/ Nimitas) (2021)
  3. Read a mystery where the victim(s) is not a woman
  4. Read a graphic memoir
  5. Read a book about a natural disaster
    • Blackout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, Nicola Yoon (2021)
  6. Read a play by an author of color and/or queer author
    • The Motherfucker with the Hat by Stephen Adly Guirgis (TBR)
  7. Read a historical fiction novel not set in WWII
  8. Read an audiobook of poetry
    • Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn (TBR)
  9. Read the LAST book in a series
  10. Read a book that takes place in a rural setting
  11. Read a debut novel by a queer author
  12. Read a memoir by someone from a religious tradition (or lack of religious tradition) that is not your own
  13. Read a food book about a cuisine you’ve never tried before
  14. Read a romance starring a single parent
  15. Read a book about climate change
    • The Big Ones: How Natural Disasters Have Shaped Us and What We Can Do about Them by Lucy Jones (TBR)
  16. Read a doorstopper (over 500 pages) published after 1950, written by a woman
  17. Read a sci-fi/fantasy novella (under 120 pages)
  18. Read a picture book with a human main character from a marginalized community
    • The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad (TBR)
  19. Read a book by or about a refugee
  20. Read a middle grade book that doesn’t take place in the U.S. or the UK
  21. Read a book with a main character or protagonist with a disability (fiction or non)
  22. Read a horror book published by an indie press
  23. Read an edition of a literary magazine (digital or physical)
    • The Literary Review (no review)
  24. Read a book in any genre by a Native, First Nations, or Indigenous author

Hogfather (CBR12 #56)

Hogfather (Discworld, #20; Death, #4)

Christmas of 2019, I received many books most of which I have not managed to read in 2020. One of the ones I did get to however was Hogfather, specifically because I wanted something Christmas adjacent in this year of not really having my usual holiday traditions and routines. I’m glad that I revisited Discworld this month, even if I couldn’t really sink into it. But that’s definitely a me problem in this adjective year, and not a problem with the book.

Hogfather tells the story of what happens when someone wants the Hogfather (Discworld’s version of Santa Claus) dead, but the assassin’s guild needs to find the right person to do the job, because how do you kill a personified construct of human belief? How do you kill an immortal? And what happens when you do? With a team on the case the Hogfather is (at least temporarily) out of commission and Death, takes some debatable steps to make sure Hogwatchnight goes off as it is supposed to. While he’s running around with a fake beard and a pillow stuffed up his Hogfather costume, his reluctant granddaughter Susan gets drawn into the whole business against her will (all she wants to do is do her governess job and be normal, but she can’t seem to manage it).

I love the character of Death, it’s one of my favorites in all of the Discworld (Granny Weatherwax beats him out by a hair). The best parts of the book are Death’s escapades while taking over for the Hogfather. Death really takes the role seriously (as he does all the things he does), and the humor hangs on that fact that he never gets the complete hang of it. But Death, as usual, provides an overview of what makes humanity tick, he sees and acknowledges the injustice of a system that continues to give the wealthy more while the poor receive less. Which pokes at Pratchett’s larger goal in the Discworld – to hold a mirror up to the absurdity of life.

The Last Smile in Sunder City (CBR12 #55)

The Last Smile in Sunder City (The Fetch Phillips Archives, #1)

I’ll admit, while I’d seen Lisa Bee’s review of this earlier this year, the book didn’t really land on my radar until I watched Black Sails over the summer and it was mentioned that Luke Arnold who plays John Silver had written this as well as a sequel that came out this year, and that he did the audio version himself. I was suitably lured in by this info and many thanks to crystalclear for getting me the audio version. The book tells the story of a former soldier turned PI who tries to help the fantasy creatures whose lives were ruined in a world that’s lost its magic.

As a debut, The Last Smile in Sunder City is a good book. It’s a good book by really any metric, but it isn’t great and that made me sad because there’s a lot here that could have been great. It also made me stall out for six weeks and read other things or just listen to podcasts in the car. The Last Smile in Sunder City is an urban fantasy that’s also a private eye/detective story. It’s also a story of what happens to an urban space when its source of power (in this case, magic) is gone. Arnold has a lot of good imagination and world building happening here, but the story’s ability to hold my attention came and went with the plotting, and that bummed me out. The backstories of the war, and our main character Fetch’s growing up pulled me in, as did the aftereffects of the war and what it cost everyone but most specifically the magical creatures – but I struggled to sink into the actual mystery the book was supposed to be about – finding a missing vampire.

I’m not sure if I’ll keep reading this series, but Arnold is a good enough writer that I’m intrigued.

The Distance Between Us (CBR12 #54

Welcome to my first ever review of fanfiction, are we ready? We’ll try to be, certainly.

I read a lot of short form works this year (my AO3 history tells me somewhere in the neighborhood of 600, certainly not all of it good) and I don’t really think I’ll be reviewing any of those, but I am going to review a novel length work that I’ve been following along with since March.

I had mentioned in my review of Spoiler Alert, a book where fanfiction plays a major role in the plot, that my hobby of writing short form fiction has expanded this Adjective Year of 2020 to include reading and starting to write fanfic. Going into lockdown in the spring it became clear relatively quickly that my brain was reacting to living in a pandemic by shortening my ability to focus. So fic became a place to find the right length work (some days I could handle 2,500 words, others maybe 10,000) and tropes, fluff/angst levels. I could, and one should when it comes to fic, tailor my reading consumption to my needs quickly and efficiently. Moreover, that is before we get into the comfort of the shorthand that comes from watching writers play around with established characters and spaces.

So what did I read? A Poldark modern AU. It’s good. I’d comfortably rate it four stars.

I was curious about how someone would handle writing a pandemic fic, and while I was looking at the Poldark tag The Distance Between Us stood out to me. In some ways like reading Station Eleven it’s been oddly comforting to be able to see our current experience through another lens. Another component that I wasn’t expecting is the experience of reading as its being released (a risk certainly in fic where many works are abandoned before completion because writing is difficult) is that I’ve also gotten a taste of reading serialized fiction.

The Distance Between Us sets up a universe where Ross Poldark and Demelza Carne are strangers forced to quarantine together. She is filling in for his usual cleaner (her job while she goes to school to be a teacher) and he’s just returned from business travel. He needs to do a 14-day lockdown; she is trapped when public transport halts. They agree to share the apartment, each to their own ends, until a solution can be discovered. This is a romance; the solution becomes the slow relationship that builds between them during this forced proximity. It’s a slow burn set over 4 months and it’s very satisfying. These are characters that are given the time and space to get to know each other, and fall gently.

My favorite part is that the author works in dialogue form both the books and the television show. It works so well. There is a joke running around that the pandemic has turned us all into Jane Austen characters. It could also have turned us into residents of Cornwall in the late 1790s. There’s something about the pace of the story (which is pulled apart and rebuilt for the Modern AU) that works incredibly well on the backdrop of pandemic response.

It’s been a fun ride.

(Reviewer note: as of January 8, 2021 this work is complete! 132,061 words across 42 chapters.)

Warnings: The Distance Between Us does deal with a COVID-like pandemic (it’s not named) set in a time that looks a lot like now where one character does get sick and gets better, but they also deal with anxiety as well.

Hot Rabbi (CBR12 #53)

Hot Rabbi

When I was putting together my Best/Worst list for 2020 I added a note that my reading year was predominantly saved by Romance Twitter and then proceeded to name drop a bunch of books that are sexy, feminist, and inclusive but didn’t quite clear the very high bar to be Top 3. Hot Rabbi is one of those books.

I had my eye on Hot Rabbi while it was still in the writing/revising phase – the mood board alone caught my attention in a big way. The plot description certainly didn’t hurt. For fifteen years Shoshana Goldman avoided her childhood synagogue – it brings bad memories, not peace. Nothing short of a minor miracle will change her mind. It might just be the new “hot Rabbi” that her friends convince her she must come see. Shoshana agrees to attend a service, after all it’s only one evening wasted if it’s all a bust. But meeting the new Rabbi changes everything. David Freedman is settling into a new town and new job easily and as a single dad, his priorities are his daughter and his congregation. He isn’t looking for romance, but sexy pink-haired Shoshana whose tendency to say whatever she’s thinking is catches his attention immediately. He knows a romance with a congregant is a bad idea. So it’s a very good thing Shoshana isn’t a member.

The book does great things around consent, power dynamics, and various approaches to one’s faith. David is a Rabbi, his faith looks and acts in a way you might expect, and Sho is culturally Jewish while not truly believing in God but believing in community and faith. Its nuanced and brilliant, and the discussions surrounding the topic in the book rang absolutely true to my ear. The characters are multi-dimensional, David is a divorced single dad and Sho is a bisexual who is also relatively recently out of a long-term relationship. Sho is also dealing with anxiety and some emotional trauma from her past which end up playing roles in how she interacts with David and the progression of their relationship.

Also – and this is important – the book is steamy.

Reading this also brought the point home to me how little truly Jewish writing is in my reading diet. Which, not cool, me. I’m pretty conversant in cultural Judaism, my godmother, stepfather, and partner are all Jewish (while I’m not) but there were a few times where I made a point to Google something to make sure I was understanding exactly what the author intended. It was a good thing.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I would have pulled the inevitable third act break up a little earlier in the narrative (it hits at about 80%) to help with pacing and also probably would have wanted the reader clued in to Sho’s specific reasons for avoiding the synagogue before David was, but these are minor quibbles on the whole. I can easily and happily suggest this book to everyone.  

Her Pretend Christmas Date (CBR12 #52 – CANNONBALL)

Her Pretend Christmas Date (Cider Bar Sisters, #2.5)

I received an ARC of this novella from the author, in exchange for an honest review.

Her Pretend Christmas Date releases on December 8th, 2020.

I am a sucker for a holiday romance novella. I read and enjoyed Lau’s Holidays with the Wongs series (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chinese New Year, Valentines Day) and after reading The Ultimate Pi Day Party earlier this year I signed up for Lau’s reviewer list – and Her Pretend Christmas Date is the first work I’ve received as part of that. I’m happy to report that I really enjoyed this quick, easy read. Lau has a way of writing books that feel like sitting down with a quick snack and a cup of tea, while also making them a little steamy. I’m all for it.

I also like the fake relationship trope, and as the title gives away this book definitely has that at its core. Her Pretend Christmas Date tells the story of Julie Tam and Tom Yeung. The pair are set up on a blind date in November which is lackluster at best, they are opposites in all the ways they initially care about (I do also love an opposites attract trope, see my current obsession with Roy Kent and Keeley Jones from Ted Lasso) and part ways amicably. It hadn’t worked on either side.

Fast forward a month and Julie has been telling her parents about the new guy she’s dating, a fictionalized version of Tom since he is exactly the kind of man they’d want her to end up with, solid profession, neat and orderly as opposed to her artistic nature and jobs as opposed to a career. When her mother insists she bring Tom home for Christmas Julie makes a call and asks if he’d be willing to pretend to be her boyfriend for three days at her parents’ he surprises her and agrees – he has no plans for the holiday as his parents have had to leave town for a family emergency and being with Julie and her family sounds better than being alone.

The premise might sound a little cold, but it is not. Once these characters (and Julie’s sister Charlotte and her boyfriend Mike who featured in book 2 of the series) get to the Tam family home at about a third of the way through it gets decidedly light hearted and these two opposites begin to see what they had initially written off to be things that actually make them quite fond of the other. It doesn’t hurt of course that they find each other physically attractive as well. (Lau also sneaks in a “there’s only one bed” and raises the stakes by making it a twin bed and I cackled even though I don’t much like that trope.) By the end I cared about these characters and was invested in them getting out of their own ways.

This novella is part of the larger Cider Bar Sisters series that Lau is currently writing but it absolutely stands on its own. I haven’t read the first two books in the series yet – furloughing at work has meant a drastic reduction in my discretionary funds – but I didn’t feel as though there was anything I was missing to be able to fully appreciate this 90 page read.