Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 - The Year in Reading

This will be a long post, sorry!

When I started this blog in January 2011, I never imagined that I'd be able to keep doing it for a full year - I often lose interest in things. I had no specific goals beyond using the blog as a place to keep track of the books I had read. Then I discovered reading challenges, and other book blogs/book bloggers, and somehow this blog became very important to me. I really enjoy tracking the books I read, and exploring new and different books because they are for reading challenges. It really became fun to find a book specifically for a challenge, or to try to fit a book into a challenge. The blog also made me conscious of how much I was reading, which was a good thing.

Speaking of which, here are some year-end statistics and random thoughts on my 2011 reading:

  • I read a whopping 166 books this year
  • The books I read ranged from classic literature (Sense and Sensibility, The Woman in White, The Power and The Glory, My Antonia) to mass-market "best sellers" (The Nanny Diaries, Confessions of a Shopaholic, The Notebook) - and I found I enjoyed the classics much, much more
  • I read War and Peace! War and Peace!! It has 365 chapters for Pete's sake!!!
  • I read books by some of my favorite writers (Kazuo Ishiguro, Haruki Murakami, Bill Bryson, J.K. Rowling, Jasper Fforde, Banana Yoshimoto) and discovered some great new (or new to me, anyway) favorites (Christopher Buehlman, M.T. Anderson, Graham Greene, Alison Weir, Frederick Ramsay, Marc Acito)
  • I found some authors who wrote books I really enjoyed, from whom I look forward to reading more of in 2012 (Nicola Griffith, David Ebershoff, Jane Austen, Kurt Vonnegut, Eva Ibbotson, Wilkie Collins, Willa Cather, Edward Rutherfurd, Naguib Mahfouz)
  • I had 3 significant geek-out-over-an-author moments: I emailed Christopher Buehlman and got an email back (ZOMG!!!!), I got a comment from Nicola Griffith on my review of her book Stay (ZOMG!!!!), and I got my first request for a review, from John Michael Cummings (ZOMG!!!!) (look for that review in early 2012)

Here are my reading challenge wrapups, in the order in which I joined the challenge:

The TBR Pile Challenge. I loved this challenge, it made me commit to reading 12 specific books from the ever-growing TBR Pile, and I did it! It also helped me stay conscious of the books that have been sitting around for years, and I read some of those even though they weren't on the official list. I'm really looking forward to doing this one again in 2012.
The 100+ Book Challenge. This was a great challenge too. I made the goal of 100 in July, at which point I was hoping to hit 200, but 166 is still good. I do hope to outdo myself next year though!
The Forgotten Treasures Challenge. I think some of the books on my list for this challenge aren't exactly forgotten, but some of them definitely are and I enjoyed reading them and making sure they are not entirely forgotten.
The Buck Stops Here Challenge. Another great challenge, even if it did give me a license to keep buying books from the Library Sale shelves, ha ha. I think I will track my books this year as if I were doing this challenge again, as I enjoyed keeping my spending on books as low as possible.
War and Peace: 1 Chapter a Day. It worked! I read this book at long last. This was a great way to break an intimidating book into manageable portions. I might do something similar with other intimidating classic books.
The Hogwarts Reading Challenge. As I reported back in July, I won this challenge (more ZOMG!), even though my house, Hufflepuff, didn't take the overall prize. This one was a lot of fun, and after participating for 6 months it was hard not to want to put every subsequent book I read into one of the challenge categories. I believe Bunnita is doing this challenge again, but with some changes, which should be fun.
The Read Outside Your Comfort Zone Challenge. I didn't do as well with this challenge as I did with all the others, which is too bad - I thought this would be a lot easier! I still read 11 books and I feel like I have become more willing to read books I otherwise would shy away from, so overall this was a success, even if I fell short of my reading goal.
The Color-Coded Reading Challenge. It was more challenging than I would have thought to find books for all the colors listed, while some colors (blue, for one) seem to be well represented in book titles. I hope to do this one again, I liked it.
GLBT Reading Challenge. I tried to make sure I had a reasonably diverse set of books and authors for this one, and it seemed to have worked. I would definitely do this challenge again, I found some great books for this, and stumbled on some that fit the challenge just by chance.
Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge. Found this challenge rather late in the game, but made my modest 3 book goal, which included 2 books that were new to me. I will definitely be reading at least 1 Murakami book in 2012, and preferably more, although at this point I have read most of them (I think!).

I have some overall goals for 2012 too:

Read more in general. I did well making time to read this year, and I'd like to keep doing that. I can't predict when work will get busy, but when it's not exceeding the normal level of busy-ness I need to create more reading time and not fall prey to the lure of the TV. 
Read more classic books. I really do like all kinds of books, and sometimes a person does want to read a quick, simple book that will entertain (and there's nothing wrong with that at all), but I need to round out my reading and fill some gaps in my reading of the classics that simply should not be there. I find it embarrassing that I have not read as many classic books as I should have read, and there's no reason I can't do so in 2012. I even have a reasonable amount of classic books on hand, so there's no excuse.
Clear the TBR pile once and for all. On top of the preexisting TBR books I have had for who-knows-how-long, my little escapade at Borders when I could not resist the temptation of $1 books created a mountain of books that need to be read. This is ridiculous and all of these TBR books need to be read and moved out of the house.
Read 2 books in foreign languages. I am always moaning about how I have no chance to practice my foreign languages (and I don't) but one way to get around that would be to read books in these languages. I have 2 books on hand, one in French and one in Russian, and I will read them both this year with the aid of a dictionary.
Explore some new series. I have some in mind but will not commit to them just yet, as they mainly involve trips to the library that I won't be taking until I do some TBR pile clearing, but this is a goal for me.
Read at least one book by each of the new authors I discovered and loved this year. I have a feeling I will be reading more than one book by most of these authors, but I want to do at least one each as a goal. Which goes along with my next goal....
Read more quality overall. I don't think I read too much junk at all this year, but I want to concentrate on good authors and quality writing as much as possible in 2012.
Complete all my reading challenges. This post is so ridiculously long already that I will create a separate challenge post tomorrow, but this includes my personal challenge: The Around the World Challenge, so please join me!

I want to wish all of my blog readers and visitors a very happy, healthy, and prosperous 2012. I hope the year is filled with lots of good things, particularly books. See you in 2012!

December - This Month in Reading

Thanks to a couple of busy work weeks and holiday activities, December turned out to be a slow month for my reading, and I didn't get as much done as I would have liked. I did still manage to read a decent 11 books, which is better than 0 books, so I'll accept that. I also finished up the last of my outstanding challenges, with the exception of the Read Outside Your Comfort Zone Challenge (ROYCZC) - apparently that is easier said than done!

I'll write a separate year-end wrapup/goals post, but for January 2012, I would like to do the following:
  • Read at least 10 books, and preferably more like 15 - 20
  • Read at least one book for each 2012 challenge I have entered, which I will list below to help me keep track
  • Read at least one book that I might not otherwise read, in the spirit of the ROYCZC
  • Stay away from the library, so as to read the books that are already on hand
Happy New Year everyone, and I wish you all the best for 2012, and for your 2012 reading!

January Challenge Tracking (1 book for each):

Ash - Malinda Lo

An imaginative retelling of Cinderella. The ending almost seemed too easy for me, so I am wondering if there will be a furthering of the story in the author's next book, which I assume is a sequel, although I don't know that for sure. I would definitely read it though, I'd like to read more about the main character, whom I liked a lot.

Friday, December 30, 2011

War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy

As a participant in the "War and Peace One Chapter a Day" Challenge, I "cheated" and finished the book today, as tomorrow is going to be full of errands and evening celebration plans. I can't believe I finally read this book! Reading one chapter a day was a good way to make the book manageable and not seem overwhelming, even if I did sometimes fall behind and then have to catch up with a few (*ahem*) chapters in a day. I  would have liked to have read this book in a college-level class, with discussion, commentary, context, background, etc., but I'm still glad I read it. I have to say, however, that I am not a fan of Tolstoy; he has what I used to call "Charles Dickens Syndrome" and have now renamed "Dickens/Tolstoy Syndrome:" a tendency to ramble and either bury the point entirely or bang the reader over the head with it. And as with Anna Karenina, I was struck at times at how romance novel-like this book was. Frankly, I preferred the "war" part of this book in general, although there were some really compelling "peace" parts as well. I think I have given Tolstoy a fair try, and in 2012 will move on to other Russian novelists just to compare and contrast.

Annie on My Mind - Nancy Garden

This book was originally published in 1982, and it very much reminded me of the YA books I grew up reading. It was a wonderful story well told, even if it was frustrating because of the ridiculous way people thought about homosexuality at the time of this book's publication (and of course some people are still ridiculously thinking about it today, 30 years later, but fewer, I believe/hope!). Highly recommended.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Gormenghast - Mervyn Peake

I enjoyed this volume of the Gormenghast books more than the first book, I have to admit. Seeing how the events from the first book played out in this book was fascinating. There are some plot lines that are puzzling and I feel like I'm not sure what the point was, but at the same time I enjoyed reading them.

And I must say that after a couple of busy weeks at work, and some holiday plans, it feels good to get back to reading and this blog! Now I need to finalize my 2012 TBR Pile Challenge list - should be great!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

After Dark - Haruki Murakami

Every time I think I have read all Murakami books that are available to me, I discover another one that I missed. Somehow this book was one of those that had gotten away from me, and I hadn't previously read it, so finishing up the Haruki Murakami Challenge by reading it was perfect. I was able to read this book quite a bit faster than any of his others - I'm not sure if it was the length in general (just under 200 pages), or the specific writing style/language choices (and I realize these are both heavily influenced by the translator), or if the writing was more compact and less dense than in one of his longer books. I am a "night person," I feel alive at night and I prefer to be out and about in cities when it's dark outside, because I like the energy caused by the electric lights that keep the dark at bay - if that makes any sense - so it was easy for me to imagine the events in this book as they took place, and made the characters stand out against the setting in my mind. I very much enjoyed this book, I think it will live in my head for a long time. Highly recommended.

In other Murakami-related news, I believe I will be receiving a copy of 1Q84 from Santa Claus/St. Nicholas/Pere Noel/Ded Moroz/Sinterklaas etc. this year, and I really looking forward to that!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Stay - Nicola Griffith

This book came out of nowhere and captivated me - I loved it. The main character is someone I want to read more about and the book kept me guessing. I went into this book knowing nothing about it (my favorite way to experience a book) and I was unable to put it down. And it was only after I had finished that I did some quick research and realized that the sneaking suspicion I was beginning to have was correct - this was the second book in something of a series - D'oh!!! As I have complained about before, I hate reading books in a series out of order, but in this case the book was so well done it felt like a standalone novel. I will most definitely be reading the other books, though, and I may have to sidestep my existing TBR pile to do so in early 2012 as I don't want to wait a long time to read them. Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Palace Walk - Naguib Mahfouz

Another book I can't believe I waited so long to read. The story was completely absorbing and the characters were fascinating, even the less sympathetic ones. In particular, there was a very accurate description of a narcissist's inner life and how that influences their behavior. I also enjoyed reading about early-20th-century Cairo and what daily life was like there. I'm glad this book is part of a trilogy because I want to read more about these characters and what happens to them; I'll definitely be reading both books in 2012 when I have cleared by TBR pile somewhat. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman

This is a short book - more like a long short story, I guess - that packs a wallop! I really enjoyed it. Originally published in 1892, it's available in book form, although I read it through Project Gutenberg. I'd actually like to see a version that has commentary and historical info, and info about the author, etc. after having read this - more inspiration for research! I can't say much about it without running into a spoiler, so I'll just say this is highly recommended.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Three Cups of Deceit - Jon Krakauer

Stumbled on this book just now and felt compelled to read it, as I have read and enjoyed other books by Jon Krakauer. This book is an exposé of Three Cups of Tea, which is apparently a purportedly true story that is really more fiction than fact, ala A Million Little Pieces. How disgusting that yet another greedy jerk has created a multimillion dollar business that masquerades as a charity. It's also disgusting because it makes me question anyone who appears to advocate for the poor of this planet - maybe they're greedy liars too. What a shame. I haven't read Three Cups of Tea, thank goodness, as apparently I'd do better sticking with fiction. On the plus side, this book reminded me that I need to read Where Men Win Glory, Krakauer's biography of Pat Tillman.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Alexander the Great - John Gunther

I found this book at the ongoing library sale at "the other library" I go to, but it was $1 and I talked myself out of buying it, even though 1) it was a vintage children's book; 2) it had really cool color illustrations on the inside front and back covers; 3) it had cool 2-color illustrations on the inside too; 4) it was in great shape and almost seemed new; and 5) I have a serious weakness for vintage children's books. Of course, the joke was on me, as I couldn't stop thinking about the book. I had to return to this library to return books a week later, and I told myself if the book was still there I'd take it home guilt-free. I had to search for it, and in fact I thought it was gone at first, but then I found it and snatched it up. Hooray!

I read this book as it was a perfect fit for the Forgotten Treasures Challenge. It was an interesting, well written read, and because it was originally published in 1953, it made me want to read modern accounts for more updated information about Alexander the Great.

The Red Tree - Caitlín R. Kiernan

Not sure what to make of this book. It was a thriller in the "Blair Witch Project" vein (the movie is even referenced in the book). I liked the narrator, even though there was some occasional choppiness of the writing that snagged my eye/brain connection - not having read any other books by the author this might have been a deliberate choice. Also, part of the story uses a Courier-type font, which looked authentic and added realism, but was physically difficult for me to read for some reason. I enjoyed the spooky overall atmosphere, and there was some really disturbing imagery that added to the story; and I was definitely tense almost the entire time I was reading. But as with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, part of me wondered where it was all leading. I'd definitely try another book by this author.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Literary Blog Hop/TGIF/Feature and Follow

Hi everyone, and Happy Friday! Welcome to my blog.

Literary Blog Hop

This week's Literary Blog Hop question is a good one: 

What work of literature would you recommend to someone who doesn't like literature?

My response: What a difficult but great question! I guess it depends on the person, and what they actually like to read (assuming they read, just not literature). I think I would try to figure out which genre they do like, and then try to tailor my recommendation to fit what they already like. For example, if they like Steven King, I might recommend Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman as a beautifully written book that falls into this genre, or maybe some Edgar Allan Poe, as many of his stories are somewhat short and might whet the appetite for more. If they like romances or Nicholas Sparks type books, I might recommend Memoirs of a Geisha, The Great Gatsby, or On Green Dolphin Street, as they might be able to appreciate these stories. If they like sci-fi/fantasy, I might recommend The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami, as it's short stories that often have a fantastical twist that might appeal. A fan of mysteries and thrillers might appreciate Raymond Chandler. So for me it would depend on what I know about the person before I make the recommendation. 

Over at the GReads TGIF Hop, the question this week is:

Writing Reviews 101: What's your process for writing book reviews? Any tips or suggestions you would recommend to other bloggers?

My response: When I started this blog last January I was really only doing it as a place for me to keep track of my reading, but the blog post format necessitated a review of some kind, so I kept it short and sweet and limited to deliberately non-spoilerish commentary. As time wore on I have not really changed this format, for many reasons. I don't add book summaries as I find they can be spoilerish for me, plus I am too lazy to copy them from Amazon or Goodreads or wherever. I try to limit my reaction to high-level comments about the content of the book, and/or the writing and my reaction to it, so as not to create spoilers. I do try to write the review as soon as possible after I finish a book so as to capture my thoughts while they are still fresh, and because I have a tendency to procrastinate and if I put the reviews off they may never happen!

As I consider myself still fairly new to this, and not someone who does in-depth reviews, I am not sure I have any tips or suggestions. I would say, however, to do your reviews in the way you feel most comfortable. If you like to summarize and review at length, go for it! If not, keep it brief. I would say to be honest at all times though; if you don't like a book feel free to explain why. I'd always rather read an honest review, even if I don't agree with it, than a halfhearted review that doesn't display your true thoughts. 

If anyone reading this has any suggestions for me, I'd love to hear them too! 

Parajunkee's Feature and Follow has a good question this week too:

What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to books? Maybe you don’t like love triangles or thin plots? Tell us about it!

My response: I know I have said this before, but I cannot stand clunky, poor writing. I can put up with a lot of issues if a book is at least well written. An interesting story that is hampered by poor writing becomes unreadable to me. So that's number one. 

I have to say another pet peeve (because as usual I have multiple answers to every question) is when writers have characters do things that are not at all realistic, just to create drama or a "funny" situation. Or just because they are not thinking about continuity. In my opinion it's lazy writing and indicative of a writer who is not fully thinking out his/her ideas, or someone who is just writing to try to make money, not because they have a story to tell. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

TBR Pile Challenge 2012

Roof Beam Reader is reprising the TBR Pile Challenge in 2012 - Hooray!! This challenge went well for me this year, I have currently read all 12 books I chose for this challenge, and being mindful of the TBR pile books led me to read more books that had otherwise been languishing on the shelves that weren't part of the official challenge. It was a great way to clear off the shelf and read some books that had been patiently waiting their turn to be read!

Here's my official list for 2012 (in no particular order).

1. Snow - Orhan Pamuk - read Dec. 2012
2. We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson  - read Feb. 2012
3. The Devil Drives: A Life of Sir Richard Burton - Faith Brodie - read Sep. 2012
4. Othello - William Shakespeare  - read Jan. 2012
5. A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson - read Oct. 2012
6. Tales of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. - read Jun. 2012
7. The Autobiography of Henry VIII - Margaret George - read Oct. 2012
8. Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man's Miraculous Survival - Joe Simpson - read Apr. 2012
9. Moby-Dick - Herman Melville - read Dec. 2012
10. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath - read Apr. 2012
11. Cold Mountain - Charles Frazier - read Nov. 2012
12. The Ice Queen - Alice Hoffman - read Mar. 2012

1. Snow Falling on Cedars - David Guterson
2. A Crack in the Edge of the World - Simon Winchester

NOTE, Dec. 31, 2012 - I completed the challenge for the second year in a row! Thanks to Roof Beam Reader for hosting this great challenge. I so look forward to doing this again in 2013, it really helps to spur me on to read books that have been hanging around for way too long.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November - This Month in Reading

November turned out to be a spectacular month for me. I even managed to get a decent amount of reading done! For the first time (I think), I managed to fulfill all the goals I had set for myself at the end of October. I am more or less caught up with my challenges (with exceptions noted below) and I managed to read a respectable 16 books this month - I am pleased with this progress.

For December, I need to concentrate on wrapping up all the remaining challenges I have for 2011:

  • Finish War and Peace right on schedule - I'm on target for this - read last chapter Dec. 30 - Challenge Completed!
  • Read the last 2 books for the TBR Pile Challenge (and if possible read the alternates too) - 1 read as of Dec. 8/2 read as of Dec. 26 - Challenge Completed!
  • Read the last 2 books to complete Level 3 (the bonus level) of the Forgotten Treasures Challenge - I have 2 on hand, should be easy - 1 read as of Dec. 3/2 read as of Dec. 6 - Challenge Completed!
  • Read the "Red" and "Yellow" books to complete the Color Coded Reading Challenge - on hand, ready to read - 1 read as of Dec. 3/2 read as of Dec. 6 - Challenge Completed! 
  • Read at least 2 books to reach 15 books in the GLBT Reading Challenge - I put 4 books on hold at the library and 2 came in today, so I will definitely make this, but I'd prefer to read all 4 to ensure that I have 15 different authors in total - 1 read as of Dec. 3/2 read as of Dec. 10/3 read as of Dec. 30/4 read as of Dec. 31 - Challenge Completed!
  • Somehow read 5 books for the Read Outside Your Comfort Zone Challenge - I fell behind here, and I would really like to catch up. I have some books around that can apply, but getting to 5 books might be pushing things. I will try, however!
  • Read the last book for the Haruki Murakami Challenge - luckily I signed up for only 3 books for this challenge. I don't think I will get to 1Q84, which is too bad, so I will either have to hit the library for one of the few other books of his I haven't managed to read yet, or else do a reread of one of the many books I have on hand as a last resort - 1 read as of Dec. 11 - Challenge Completed!

So there you have it - adding up this list, I need to read a total of 16 books (not counting War and Peace, of course) to fulfill these challenges as I'd like them to be fulfilled. Might not be easy with the holiday madness that often takes over December, but I am going to try - wish me luck!

How are you doing with your 2011 challenges?

A Princess of Mars - Edgar Rice Burroughs

Mr. K has been recommending this series to me for ages, but I've been blowing him off because it's sci-fi/fantasy, and as I've mentioned, I don't have the patience for that genre anymore. However, now that they are releasing a movie based on this book and I prefer to read books before I see movies whenever possible, and this book will count for the Read Outside Your Comfort Zone Challenge (not to mention the Forgotten Treasures Challenge!), I thought this was the perfect chance to give this book a try.

I enjoyed this book for what it was - a sci-fi/fantasy book written at the beginning of the 20th century, and obviously displaying a lot of the beliefs and thought patterns that were typical of that age (for example, heroes wouldn't have flaws back then, while now it's expected, etc.). I did like John Carter, and the story kept me reading. I would not say no to reading the other books in the series, although they would not be top of my list either - luckily they are in the house waiting for me when I am ready.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Room - Emma Donoghue

This is another book I had heard a lot about in other book blogs and etc., so I couldn't pass it up at the library. I see why it has gotten a lot of attention, and most of it was unbelievably riveting, but I have to say there were things that fell flat for me too - things that felt incongruous, that didn't quite add up. I don't want to go into detail, because I don't want there to be spoilers in this review, so I apologize for being so vague. Overall it was a good read.

The Notebook - Nicholas Sparks

Another book read solely for the Read Outside Your Comfort Zone Challenge. As I think I've mentioned before, I am not a sentimental/romance novel type of person, and I had never read one of this author's books before because I assumed it would be that type of book. I was right - this was not my cup of tea. It was a romance novel with clunky writing and I don't like either of those things. But I gave it a fair chance, which to me is in the spirit of this challenge.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

My Personal Challenge for 2012 - The Around the World Challenge

I've been trying to come up with a challenge that involves reading a book set in each country in the world, so I did some research and discovered there are 257 countries total. Now I am an ambitious reader and all, but 257 books in one year is probably pushing it even for me, so I decided to use's number generator to come up with 12 randomly chosen countries, which is a very sane 1 book per month, and 2 alternates in case I can't find a book set in a country chosen.

I should add that any book counts, fiction, nonfiction, etc., and books can be used for other challenges too.

Without further ado, here are the countries (being typed live as I generate the numbers):

1. 109 - Hungary - Ballad of the Whiskey Robber - Julian Rubinstein
2. 45 - Cayman Islands - Cayman Islands - Tricia Hayne
3. 236 - Turkey - My Name Is Red - Orhan Pamuk
4. 215 - Spain - Captain Alatriste - Arturo Pérez-Reverte
5. 206 - Seychelles - Seychelles - Sarah Carpin
6. 221 - Swaziland - Sangoma - James Hall
7. 87 - The Gambia
8. 46 - Central African Republic - Culture and Customs of the Central African Republic - Jacqueline Woodfork
9. 235 - Tunisia - Benny and Omar - Eoin Colfer
10. 228 - Thailand - 4,000 Days - Warren Fellows
11. 202 - São Tomé and Príncipe - Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe - Sophie Warne
12. 94 - Greece - A Dark Enchantment - Roland Vernon

And 2 alternates:
Alt. 1: 256 - Zambia - In My Family Tree: A Life with Chimpanzees - Sheila Siddle with Doug Cress
Alt 2: 86 - GabonGabon, São Tomé and Príncipe - Sophie Warne

Well there you have it - this should be very interesting! If you'd like to join me, please feel free - I don't have the blog skillz to use the Mr. Linky thingy, but you can leave a comment. Also, feel free to create your own list using the links above to mix things up. Now I'm off to find possible books, which I'll add after the country. I hope I have at least a few hanging around in my huge TBR pile....!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Mixing It Up Challenge 2012

I know it seems just a little early to be thinking of 2012 challenges, but this one is awesome! Here's the link to the challenge post if you want to join too. I'm in for the full 16 books, with the caveat that they are all (or as close to 100% as I can manage) going to be books that actually currently exist on my TBR shelves (which are now plural thanks to my ongoing habit of getting books from the Library Sale shelves and my insane Borders shopping spree when the store was going out of business). I really need to read all these books and this is a great opportunity to do so since I have so many books - I literally have multiple books for almost every category! I have listed all the categories below and added some possible books/ideas off the top of my head, as most of the books are upstairs and I'm too lazy to go up there and look them over at this moment.

1. CLASSICS - How Green Was My Valley - Richard Llewellyn

2. BIOGRAPHY - The Devil Drives: A Life of Richard Burton - Fawn Brodie

3. COOKERY, FOOD AND WINE - Save the Deli - David Sax

4. HISTORY - The Devil in the White City - Erik Larson

5. MODERN FICTION - Amberville - Tim Davys

6. GRAPHIC NOVELS AND MANGA - Persepolis 2 - Marjane Satrapi

7. CRIME AND MYSTERY - Roseanna - Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

8. HORROR - Let the Right One In - John Ajvide Lindqvist

9. ROMANCE - Beautiful Disaster - Jamie McGuire

10. SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY - Of Ducks and Universes - Neve Maslakovic

11. TRAVEL - Culture and Customs of the Central African Republic - Jacqueline Woodfork

12. POETRY AND DRAMA - Othello - William Shakespeare

13. JOURNALISM AND HUMOUR - The Portable Dorothy Parker - Dorothy Parker (Edited by Marion Meade)

14. SCIENCE AND NATURAL HISTORY - A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson

15. CHILDREN'S AND YOUNG ADULT - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

16. SOCIAL SCIENCES AND PHILOSOPHY - Sophie's World - Jostein Gaarder

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke

I found this book on the Library Sale shelves for 50 cents, and it looked brand new. It seemed intriguing so I eagerly snatched it up ... and then it sat on my TBR shelf for a few years, for no good reason. When I put it on my official TBR Pile Challenge list for this year, and examined it again, I was startled to realize that it had won so many awards and been so popular when it was first published, as I hadn't heard of it at all - but that was before I was reading book blogs or book blogging myself, so maybe that explains it.

I really enjoyed reading this book, the writing was pitch-perfect and very enjoyable, although I have to admit that I'd occasionally lift my head from the page and wonder where the story was going, and how it would get resolved. I also wondered at what seemed to be the obtuseness of some of the main characters. They truly seem willfully ignorant of very obvious things going on around them - I have to believe that that was part of the story, and was a conscious decision on the author's part. Overall I loved the tone of this book, and the sly/dry humor added to the generally dark feel, giving the book a good balance. Recommended.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Beck Valley Books Weekly Book Blog Hop

I have been meaning to join this hop and finally managed to remember - hooray! Check out the Beck Valley Books site and blog, and join in the hop.

Beck Valley Books Weekly Book Blog Hop

If you are here because of the Hop, welcome to my blog! Please leave a comment so I can visit your blog too.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Bedwetter - Sarah Silverman

Sarah Silverman's standup veers between too many poo/pee type jokes and hilarious bits for me, but I am a huge fan of The Sarah Silverman Program. I loved the first episode of the first season (it's in the inappropriate-but-hilarious category along with some of my other favorites, South Park, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, etc.) and the infamous (in my world) Tab-centric episode sealed the deal for me - I still want all that Tab stuff - including the Tab car! I picked up her autobiography at Borders at a good markdown and it was a fast read that gave a lot of interesting background on her life, but was a bit too short on information about the show, in my opinion - I would have loved to read more about how the show is written, funny stories from behind the scenes, how her real-life sister came to play her sister on the show - that sort of thing. But I still enjoyed the book overall, and it made me giggle quite a bit while reading, which is always a good thing!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson

This was another YA book I feel like I have heard lots of good things about on lots of book blogs so when I saw it at the library yesterday I decided to read it, even though it won't count for any of the challenges I'm trying to complete for the year. I'm really glad I read this book, it was very powerful and well done. I can see why so many people have said good things about it. The main character is really captivating and has a very real voice. I'd absolutely read more by this author. Highly recommended.

The Man in the Brown Suit - Agatha Christie

I went to the library yesterday specifically in search of a book with "brown" in the title for the Color Coded Reading Challenge. You wouldn't believe how many children's picture books have "brown" in the title - just how many picture books about brown bears does the world need? I had also forgotten about the Encyclopedia Brown series, which I think I read as a kid but I'm not sure. I rejected both these options as too easy, ha ha. In the adult realm, I discovered two mystery series that actually feature colors in the titles* - that would have made this challenge less diverse but easier had I discovered this much earlier this year! However, in both of these series the "brown" book was one of the latest, and as I have explained before, I am weirdly rigid about reading any series in order from the first book, and as it's now mid-November, I don't think I have time to read more than 6 books in a series - I have my hands full trying to keep up with my challenges right now! I will, of course, keep these series in mind for next year!

And so it was that I wound up reading this book. I hadn't read an Agatha Christie book in ages, and this one was perfect, since it wasn't part of a series. I enjoyed it, it kept me guessing and I really liked the main character. A great way to fulfill part of the Color Coded Reading Challenge.

*Edited to add - for the record, they are the Easy Rawlins series of books by Walter Moseley, and the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Confessions of a Shopaholic - Sophie Kinsella

I read this book solely for the Read Outside Your Comfort Zone Challenge - it's totally not normally something I'd ever read. Having said that, though, I ended up liking it as much as one can like this type of book - it was light and pleasant and a quick, easy read with a likable main character that didn't behave in oddly incongruent ways just to create drama and etc. I have far too many other books and challenges to read the other books in this series in the near future, but I wouldn't refuse to read them someday either.

Welcome To My World - Johnny Weir

Got this book - with an autograph, no less - for $1 at Borders on one of its last shopping days. It was a fast read, and the writing was engaging. I enjoy skating but I don't know that much about it, and it was interesting to read some of the behind the scenes information about the skating world.

Thousand Pieces of Gold - Ruthanne Lum McCunn

This is a book I have had on the TBR shelves for a while and hadn't gotten around to reading because I was afraid it would be depressing, even though I was intrigued by the subject. I was wrong, the story of Lalu Nathoy/Polly Bemis was at times scary but it was also hopeful and I enjoyed this book, despite some serviceable but mildly clunky writing. It made me want to read more about Lalu/Polly.

The Secret of the Ruby Ring - Yvonne MacGrory

What a delightful kids book! I really enjoyed this book, and I think I would have loved it if I had read it as a kid originally. It was a great way to learn about daily life for the majority of people in the 1800s (i.e., the servant class, as opposed to the wealthy), and it was yet another book that made me deeply grateful for not having been born in that era when most people could expect nothing more than a lifetime of physical work to keep a few wealthy people comfortable. Highly recommended.

The Phantom Tollbooth - Norton Juster

I think I read this book when I was a kid but I'm not 100% sure, so I took the opportunity to read and/or reread when it appeared on the Library Sale shelves. It's a kind of delightful kid book that is enjoyable to read as an adult. Recommended.

On Green Dolphin Street - Sebastian Faulks

I'm never quite sure what to make of infidelity-based love stories. That said, I enjoyed this story and the writing, and I liked the main characters. I'm not sure why the Cold War setting was chosen, this is a story that could have taken place at any time; maybe it was to highlight the effects of war on veterans in their post-war lives. I guess I can do some Googling and find out. The title refers to a song by John Coltrane and/or Miles Davis, and I like both of them, so it was nice to read about jazz from that era when it was contemporary and it was possible to go the Village in New York City and see some of these jazz greats in person. I'd read more by this author.

Kabul Beauty School - Deborah Rodriguez

This was a difficult book to read, because it's so sad to think about how difficult, hopeless, and scary some people's lives are. This would be a great book for someone who has grown up in a privileged way in Western society and still complains about how awful their life is - I bet most of those whiners couldn't survive a single day in the life of any of the Afghani women in this book. The author is an American woman who went to Afghanistan and ended up starting a beauty school in a culture that has been ravaged by a long war with Russia and then a terrifying rule under the Taliban. I could understand why the author felt so strongly about helping the Afghani women, I felt for them too, and their stories were heartbreaking. However, the author is a bit too much of a baby boomer for me - sometimes she does things that are driven by her hippy-dippy idealistic thought process but are not necessarily wise choices in a culture that is extremely conservative, and vastly different from Western culture, etc. I hope to someday hear an update with good news about the women in this book. They are strong and they are survivors and I hope they continue to survive, and thrive.

Uglies - Scott Westerfeld

I have been hearing about this book in other reading blogs and etc., so when I found a copy on the Library Sale shelves for 50 cents, I was happy to buy it to see what it's all about. When I got into it, I had to laugh - not another YA distopian trilogy! But I enjoyed the book as a fast read with an intriguing story, and I'd definitely read the other books in the trilogy.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman - Haruki Murakami

I managed to snag this book for about half price at Borders, and I was very happy, as it was one of the few books I haven't read by him. I have complained in the past that I'm not a big fan of short stories, and I'm not, but for some reason I really like Murakami's stories. They seem more self-contained than stories by other writers, more complete, and I don't find myself wanting more too often - I feel like the story is just the right length. This collection seemed to have less overtly fantastical elements, and many of the stories seemed more realistic than the stories in The Elephant Vanishes, but maybe it was just more subtle. It will be interesting to see which stories stay in my mind over time. Right now my favorites are "Chance Traveler," "Hanalei Bay," "The Kidney Shaped Stone," and "A Shinagawa Monkey," but who knows which ones will end up being my favorites the next time I read this. Highly recommended.

Monday, October 31, 2011

October - This Month in Reading

Well, this month did not go so well for me with reading. I was really busy with work in the first half of the month, and for some reason the second half didn't go so well for reading either. I wasn't able to read very much at all - I only managed to read 5 books in October. I was hoping to read more than 15 books overall and read at least one book for each challenge, but clearly that didn't happen. Oh well! On the plus side, I did manage to catch up on War and Peace - hooray! I am now on track to finish the challenge right on schedule, and I'm really happy about that. I also read one of my TBR Pile Challenge books, London, and I really enjoyed it, so I made some headway in that challenge, so that was good too. In my defense, I had to read quite a bit of War and Peace this month, and London was a Harry Potter-sized 800+ pager (ha ha), so those did involve a lot of reading - so I was reading all along this month, it just doesn't seem like I did much when you add up the books.

For November, I want to:

  • Stay on track with War and Peace - all caught up as of Nov. 30
  • Read 1 book for the TBR Pile Challenge (I have 3 books left to read to complete the challenge, not counting the 2 alternates) - read 1 Nov. 25, 2011
  • Read 2 books for the Forgotten Treasures Challenge (I have 4 books left to read to complete Level 3, the bonus level) - read 1 Nov. 20, 2011/read 2 Nov. 30, 2011
  • Read 2 books for the Color-Coded Reading Challenge (I have 4 books left to read to complete the challenge, and I have 3 out of the 4 books purchased [during my Borders Closing Madness Buying] and ready to read - I just have to read them!) - read 1 Nov. 16, 2011/read 2 Nov. 20, 2011
  • Read 2 books for the GLBT Reading Challenge (I have 4 books left to read to reach 15 books read for this challenge, which was my goal, but I would also like to read a few more if possible to have 15 different authors) - read 1 Nov. 19, 2011/read 2 Nov. 28, 2011
  • Finish 1 book for the Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge (I have 2 books left to read to complete my planned 3 books for this challenge, and I'm actually halfway through one of his books, I just ran out of time to finish it in October, unfortunately. I'm also hoping to snag a copy of 1Q84 to use for this challenge, that would be great) - read Nov. 6, 2011
  • Finish 2 books for the Read Outside Your Comfort Zone Challenge (I have 8 left to read to complete the "Exploring the Unknown" level I signed up for. Luckily I have a couple books for this on hand, but I still might not reach that level now that I look at the list... I will try!) - read 1 Nov. 19, 2011/read 2 Nov. 28, 2011

November reading will be tricky for me because - drumroll please - I am actually going on a vacation for the first time in a LONG time. I can hardly wait!!! I will definitely be bringing books with me, but you know how that is - sometimes you are just too busy having fun to read. I'm hoping to have tons of fun and still read some, and I guess we'll see.

How was your reading in October? Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

London - Edward Rutherfurd

I got this book at a library sale several years ago and then it sat on my to-be-read shelf until I finally made it something of a priority by adding to my official TBR Pile Challenge list in January. Once again, I wish I hadn't waited so long to read it, I really enjoyed it! It's a book that spans the history of London, from Roman times to the present day (well, present when the book was published in 1997). I enjoy history when it relates to everyday life, i.e., when I can understand things like what people did all day, how they lived, how they worked, what they ate, what they wore, what they did for fun, etc., and this book is exactly that kind of history. I found myself very absorbed by the stories that followed some family lines through history, and it was a great way to brush up on or learn about historical events. I also enjoy being someplace and thinking to myself about how I am often standing on streets or going into buildings that have been used for a long time, and feeling a connection to the people in the past in this way. For that reason the last chapter almost had me in tears. I think the author might feel the same way I do about history.

The book is dedicated to the curators and staff of the Museum of London, a wonderful museum I was lucky enough to visit, coincidentally around the time this book was originally published. I loved the museum and I always highly recommend it to people visiting London, and I am very much hoping to get back to it soon. Now I'll add this book to the visiting-London recommendation too. In fact, I wish I could have read it before I visited London, but at least when I go back I might be able to remember some of what I read. I'd also read other books by this author, apparently he has written other books about other places/cities. They'll probably have to wait until I am able to clear some existing to-be-read books but they're on the list. I highly recommend this book!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

My Ántonia - Willa Cather

Willa Cather is another writer I feel like I should have read a long time ago and never managed it, so when I found this book on the trusty Library Sale shelves, I happily paid the 50 cents to fill in this gap in my reading. I really enjoyed this book. I think it was more of a character study than a novel almost; the characters felt very real and alive. The description was gorgeous, and made me long for a time machine so I could go back and see Nebraska as it is described by the author. I'll make it a point to get to more of Cather's writing, but again it might have to wait until I have cleared more of my to-be-read books.

Oh, and in an intriguing twist that hearkens back to my July reading theme,  this book has a minor episode featuring a tramp whose meager personal effects include a copy of the poem "The Old Oaken Bucket," which became a popular song that was parodied by my obsession, Nat M. Wills, "the Happy Tramp." As the book was originally published in 1918, a year after Wills' death, it is possibly a reference to him... serious food for thought and research!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Book Blogger Hop/TGIF

Another lovely Fall Friday! Welcome to my blog, I hope you enjoy your stay!

Book Blogger Hop

This week's question:

What is your favorite spooky book (i.e. mystery/suspense, thriller, ghost story, etc.)?

My response: Great question! I like mysteries and I love true crime books and books about serial killers, but  I don't often read truly spooky books. This year, however, I found a great one: 

Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman

It's a truly creepy, suspenseful, and gothic (the literary genre, not the dress-in-black-and-listen-to Bauhaus kind), and I absolutely loved it. I highly recommend it! It's a great book to read this month. I ran out and bought myself a copy on the day it was released, and I'm planning to reread it closer to Halloween for a fun spooky experience.

And of course because I love to make lists even when I am supposed to choose only one thing, another book that I discovered this year is another new favorite: 

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

It's another gothic book, this one more a mystery/suspense story. I thought it was fantastic and I'm dying to read The Moonstone by the same author.

And an old favorite that is creepy as all get out is:

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi

The true story of the Manson Family killings, it's truly frightening and should make you double check that you locked your doors at night. 

This week's question:

Show & Tell: Where do you grab a book and get lost in it? Show us your favorite spot you like to read.

My response: I sometimes read in bed, but more often I read in my living room, on the sofa. 

I move the lamp closer to the sofa for better light (if I need it) and curl up and get lost in a good book!

Where do you like to get lost in a book?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Glass Castle - Jeannette Walls

I don't know what to say about this book. I admire the author's inner strength, intelligence, and fortitude, and obvious writing talent, but I couldn't help but be irritated by her (understandable) need to seemingly apologize for so much of her parents' behavior - which was horrible. I'm not sure there is a word in English that conveys just how horrible I think her parents were. They were people who never should have been in the same room with a child, let alone had 4 that they basically refused to take care any kind of care of. I don't care how the parents grew up - I'm tired of bad behavior being excused by a bad past - they should have done better for their children. I'm amazed that the author was able to end up being very successful based on her appalling childhood, and I am glad that she seems to have escaped it. In fact, maybe growing up the way she did made her more determined to succeed than she would have been if she had had the other extreme of bad parenting, today's "helicopter parents" that smother their children... who knows. This book really made me angry the whole time I was reading it and now I am desperate for a palate-cleanser - I hope I can choose one from my enormous stack of Borders bargains!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I'm with Fatty - Edward Ugel

I'm not sure what to think of this book. It's billed as some kind of weight-loss memoir, but I think the author has much deeper addiction problems than just weight gain. There were some amusing turns of phrase and etc., but overall I found the narrator irritatingly cranky and annoying. And maybe it's his privileged background, but I can't help but feel like his problem is a uniquely first-world issue that's kind of dismaying in a larger context, especially for someone who comes from a wealthy family, who is married to a woman from a wealthy family, and has the resources to have a personal trainer, and a nutritionist, and a gym membership, and prestigious cooking classes from a world-class chef, etc. It's too much like Malled for its own good. The good news: it was one of my (many) $1 Borders books.

The Hiding Place - Corrie ten Boom

I first read this book as a child and I have reread it at intervals ever since. It's an amazing story about one family's resistance activities in Nazi-occupied Holland. I just recently discovered that their home is now a museum and can be visited - I can hardly wait to see it!

Friday, September 30, 2011

September - This Month in Reading

Dear readers, this month it is time for some confessions. :-( 

Confession 1 - Remember back in January when one of my goals was to read the books I had lying around, and thereby declutter as well as read? Well, I'm sure you have noticed that I am an incurable cheap-book buyer, and I have a tendency to take a chance on a cheap book. So all along, I have been taking in random 50 cent Library Sale books here and there, which I shouldn't have done, but in the words of Oscar Wilde, "I can resist anything but temptation." So I have to confess that more books have been coming in than going out. Sigh. 

which brings me to.....

Confession 2 - I kind of went nuts during the last days of Borders closing. Like, I had a totebag stuffed full of books and my arms full of books and couldn't stop grabbing them nuts. But this was during the very last days, when all books (what was left there, anyway) were $1 or less (all books were either 90% off or $1, so if a book was originally 5.99,  a buyer paid 60 cents; if a book was originally $10 or more, a buyer paid $1). Seriously, how could I resist that???? In 2 days I brought home about 75 books. On the plus side, I will not need to go to the library any time soon.... and I didn't break the bank or anything. And many (if not all) of these books will be donated to a good cause once I have read them, so they will be read and enjoyed (I hope) by many others. But yeah, it was a little nutty. 

Confession 3 - this is probably something of a let down after that last one, but this month I officially invoked the "Life's Too Short" Principle and gave up on a book. I don't like to do that, and I make every effort to finish a book I've started, but this one just got me at the wrong time and it is making me twitch with irritation on every page, so I think it's best for my blood pressure and sanity if I just give it up and set it free to find a reader that appreciates it. Because of Confessions 1 and 2 I have too many other books waiting to be read and I can't justify slogging through something annoying instead of reading one of the bazillion books I have accumulated. 

Now on to the positive stuff! 

I didn't get to read as much as I wanted to this month, but I did read a total of 15 books, so I was OK with that. I had also set a goal of trying to read one book for every challenge, and I did not quite make that goal but I came close, reading at least 1 book for each challenge except the Haruki Murakami Challenge. I did manage to stay away from the library, which was good. I am still behind on the War and Peace Challenge but I did get a little father ahead, so there is hope. 

One positive result of my Borders spree is that it made me feel conscious of the books that are already on the designated to-be-read shelves, so many of my reads this month were from those books, and I feel good about finally getting through some of those books. 

For October, aside from enjoying autumn/fall at all times, I would like to read more than 15 books, read at least one book for each challenge, and catch up on War and Peace, no ifs, ands, or buts. I am going to create a separate post to use to keep track of the challenge reading for October, as that seems to work well for me. 

How was your reading for September?

Someone Killed His Boyfriend - David Stukas

I finally find a nice, light, quick read after trying a couple times recently and I get to count it for the GLBT Challenge - hooray! This was a fluffy book that had a decent murder mystery, and I liked the main characters. And yes, as with all books, there were a few typos here and there, but fewer than a lot of other books I have been reading, so that was good. Apparently there is at least one sequel and I'd definitely read it for a fast, light read (rather than trying another chick-lit book, I think I have learned my lesson!).

Book Blogger Hop/Follow Friday/TGIF

Happy Friday everyone, it's a beautiful, cool, autumnal Friday where I am, I hope it's a great day where you are! Welcome to my blog!

Book Blogger Hop

This week's question is a really great one:

In honor of Banned Books Week, what is your favorite “banned or frequently challenged book”?

My response: Before I even looked at this year's list, I knew that one of my favorite books of all time, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, would be my response. I do have to say that one of the more recent editions includes some passages that I think Anne herself would be horrified to know were published for all the world to read - they were intended to be private and I'm sure she never wanted others to read them. But that does not take away from the value of this book in making the Holocaust accessible to young people. I went on to read a lot about the Holocaust because of this book, and to try to understand how it happened. It made me think and feel and sparked research - exactly what literature has the power to do!

And because I can never give one response to any question, I have to add that I also loved The Hunger Games, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Catcher in the Rye, Brave New World, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, and Push, among other books on that list I have read. I'm surprised the Harry Potter books aren't on the list this year, I guess because the series is complete the people who like to ban books have moved on to other issues. 

This week's question:

What book that hasn't been turned into a movie (yet) would you most like to see make it to the big screen, and who would you like cast as your favorite character?

My response: This is really difficult to answer. I'd love to see Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde made into a movie, but I have no idea who to cast! 

This week's question:

Banned Books: How do you feel about the censorship of the freedom to read? Do you think the education system needs to be more strict on what children are exposed to in books?

My response: I believe in freedom of speech, and that extends to a freedom to read books that might have "controversial" content. In fact, I find that some of the books on the ALA challenged/banned list are banned because one person is upset by the book - but the problem is, each person's idea of what is upsetting is totally different. If we banned a book because it upset one person, there would be no books in the library at all. I am sure I could find something to be upset about in every single book I have ever read. Literally. It could be a word I don't like, a typo, an idea that I think is upsetting, whatever. 

A good example of what I am talking about is the book Water for Elephants. I read this a couple years ago and I found that the animal cruelty in the book upset me quite a bit. (This did not, however, make me think that other people did not have the right to read this book and have their own opinions.) I accepted that it was part of the story and was probably (unfortunately) true to the time period in which the story is set, so I dealt with it. When I saw this book on the ALA list for this year, I assumed that animal cruelty would be mentioned as a reason for banning it, but no - it was the dreaded S-E-X, which is funny to me because I don't even remember that aspect of the book! So you see, every single book can be upsetting for someone. Banning books is not a solution, as there are always more books and more reasons to get upset about things. 

As for schools, this is tricky, because once again, it's hard to choose materials that won't upset someone. I guess the schools just have to do the best they can to screen materials for age appropriateness if they are to be used in the classroom. Life is not all roses, and should not be portrayed that way, and kids these days are WAY more exposed to adult-level ideas through TV, movies, video games, etc., so "protecting" them from things like bad language is often a case of "too late." I say this with certainty because I was a classroom teacher for a couple years, and many of my seventh-grade students were watching "South Park" and every R-rated movie you could name (often on cable TV), and all with their parents' permission, I  might add. So allowing kids to discuss a book that spoke to them, or that presents an idea that is uncomfortable, in a guided classroom setting is a good thing if done well. 

I think very controversial issues might be better used in high school, where older teens could probably form more mature opinions, and using "controversial" books (such as Brave New World and some of the others on the list) might open students' eyes to issues in our society. If parents have a legitimate complaint, it should be listened to, but no school should allow one parent with an agenda to dictate what every student is allowed to read in the school. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Anglophile - Laurie Gwen Shapiro

When will I stop impulsively buying chick-lit type books just because they are on the Library Sale shelves and only 50 cents? Once again I was hoping for a light, pleasant, fast read and instead got... well, not a book I disliked, but a book that just puzzled me. Like Elegance, the main character behaves in a way that makes no sense quite a bit of the time. At times, it seemed like there were things that happened just for the sake of having some sort of conflict rather than any logical reason. And there are strange/incorrect turns of phrase here and there that left me wondering why an editor hadn't corrected them - are there no editors anymore? Don't books get edited or proofread before publication these days? One interesting aspect of this book was an (apparently real) constructed language called Volapük that was intended to be used for international business in the late 1800s. I had heard of Esperanto but had never heard of Volapük so I found the (too few) parts of the book that dealt with that interesting.

The Bastard of Istanbul - Elif Shafak

This was an enjoyable novel about a Turkish family and an Armenian family, and how their lives intersect. There was a touch of magical realism here and there that I thought very much enhanced the story. I liked the characters, even the less lovable ones, and reading about Istanbul, especially because I took a Turkish language class last spring so it was nice to blend what I learned with reading about the people and country. It did make me hungry for Turkish food though, luckily there is a place near my house that serves many of the things talked about in the book so I think I will be having some delicious börek or kofte for dinner tonight!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

What an amazing surprise this book turned out to be for me. I picked it up from the Library Sale book shelves for 50 cents a few years ago, but put off reading it for fear that it would suffer from what I call "Charles Dickens Syndrome" - it would ramble on and seem boring to me. I added it to my TBR Pile Challenge list and STILL put it off until I needed a book for the Color Coded Reading Challenge and this would work for both.

I can't believe what an idiot I was! I loved this book! It kept me in suspense and I just wanted to read it and discover all the solutions to its mysteries. I had a hard time putting it down. It was anything but boring, rambling, or repetitive and I fully enjoyed it. I will definitely be reading other books by Wilkie Collins, particularly The Moonstone, but that might have to wait a while as I have a lot more books currently piled up needing to be read. Highly recommended.

Follow Friday/TGIF

Hello everyone, and thanks for coming by my blog! One note, if you have come here before and followed me and I have not followed you back, it's probably because the follow feature wouldn't show up for me when I went to your blog. If this is the case, please let me know in the comments so I can follow your blog. And now on to the Friday fun!

This week's question:

Do you have a favorite series that you read over and over again? Tell us a bit about it and why you keep on revisiting it.

My response: I have to say off the top of my head that I love Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series. I couldn't possible do it justice trying to explain what it's like, but it's full of allusions to books and authors and clever wordplay and it makes me laugh while telling a really creative story based around books and reading that I really enjoy. It's fun to reread because I catch more little things I previously missed each time I read.

I also enjoyed The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series and have reread that once, I suspect I'll read it again at some point as well. I really like the character of Lisbeth Salander, and I think Stieg Larsson did a good job of making her sympathetic and at the same time prickly and sometimes unlikable. And I wish I had her memory and computer skills :)

And of course I have reread Harry Potter multiple times, it's such an engrossing story with great characters and a wonderful magical world.

Lastly I would probably say I devoured all the Nancy Drew books as a child, and I have a few books from the series that I've picked up in the last few years, and they are fun to reread now and then - partially because they are simple and comforting, I guess.

This week's question:

Reading Challenges: Did you sign up for any this year? How has your progress been?

My response: I can honestly say that this blog began specifically because of reading challenges I signed up for in January. I just wanted a place I could keep track of the challenges and log the books I read. I started with Roof Beam Reader's To Be Read Pile Challenge, and since then I keep finding challenges to join so now I have several, as shown below. The Hogwarts Reading Challenge ended June 30th, and as I reported, I won that challenge - I'm still really happy about that :) 

Overall my progress has been OK so far, I have more or less kept up with all of them except for the War and Peace challenge - I'm still fairly far behind with that one but I hope to catch up. 
  • TBR Pile Challenge - read 6 out of 12 books, and will probably finish a 7th today
  • 100+ Books Challenge - read 130 books so far in 2011
  • The Buck Stops Here Challenge - I am 1 book away from achieving Level 4 (bonus level) - it will probably happen today
  • The Forgotten Treasures Challenge - 6 books away from Level 3 (bonus level)
  • War and Peace One Chapter A Day - very behind on this one, but working on catching up :(
  • The Hogwarts Reading Challenge - completed 30 June, and won :-) 
  • Read Outside Your Comfort Zone Challenge - I said I'd read between 16 - 20 books for this one, and so far I have read 8 books, so I still have some reading to do here
  • The Color Coded Reading Challenge - I have read 4 out of 9 books for this one, and will have another one that I will most likely finish today (and yes, it's one book for multiple challenges)
  • GLBT Reading Challenge - read 10 out of 15 books
  • Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge - read 1 out of 3 books 
It's been really fun to participate in all of these challenges this year, and I have definitely read a lot of books I might not otherwise I have read, which is always a good thing! 

How are your challenges going? 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Jinny Williams Library Assistant - Sara A. Temkin and Lucy A. Hovell

Another discarded book, this one from a county library, that I found on the Library Sale shelves the same day as Miss Library Lady, so of course I had to have this book too. This book was another look into the past, specifically small town New Jersey life circa 1962. I enjoyed it for what it was, and there's not much more to say about it except for this wonderful quote about the library:

"He can't grasp how I feel about books and the library, and the hush and marvel of it . . . everything in the world you want to know, right there between covers! All the wonderful thoughts and beautiful deeds. The old books with their dark covers and thin paper, and the new ones with their bright dust jackets. The people who simply must read all the new books, and the determined old people ... who are catching up and reading all the classics they promised themselves they'd read someday, when they found time. Why can't I make him see?"

Friday, September 16, 2011

Miss Library Lady - Ann McLelland Pfaender

Talk about a forgotten treasure - I think this book is the definition all around. I found it on the Library Sale shelves and was immediately drawn to it, as I love vintage children's books and have a small collection that I shouldn't have, but can't resist having. Then I opened it and saw "DISCARD" written inside and I felt terrible! Seeing a book that was discarded from a library (in this case from a school library) makes me feel so sad! I know that realistically no library can keep a copy of every book ever published, and that older books are not necessarily of interest to kids (and this book was originally published in 1954), etc. etc., but still.... I hate to see a forgotten and neglected book. It makes me wonder about the book - was this some kid's favorite book? Did some child become a librarian because of reading this book? It was obviously read, as it has dog-eared pages and etc., so somebody must have enjoyed it.

I enjoyed it myself, it was a pleasant, light story that went in an unexpected direction that was still enjoyable. It's funny how much the books from this era give one the feeling of nostalgia for a simpler time that probably never really existed. It's nice to visit it for a short time in books though.

Book Blogger Hop/Follow Friday/TGIF

Welcome and Happy Friday! Enjoy your stay on my blog, and if this is your first visit to my blog please leave me a comment so I can follow your blog.

Book Blogger Hop

This week's question:

“As a book blogger, how do you introduce yourself in your profile?”

My response: Not very well, I'm afraid! I first started this blog just for my own purposes, as a place where I could keep track of what I thought was going to be one reading challenge this year (ha!) and also a place to catalog the books I read. As I've mentioned before, I have a bad memory, and although I can usually remember books I've read a couple years ago I got halfway through a book before I realized I had read it before years ago - oops!! So I never thought about this blog as a place for marketing myself, or anything other people would read, etc. Now that I've been participating in blog hops and networking, I guess I better get a better profile up soon!

This week's question:

It's that pesky magic book fairy again! She has another wish: What imaginary book world would you like to make a reality?

My response: Oh, there are so many possible answers to this! I'd love to have Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series come to life and be able to visit books of all kinds. I'd also like to visit any of Haruki Murakami's surreal places in many of his novels. The setting of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream would be interesting - who wouldn't want to bump into Puck at least once? I'm sure there are many more I'm not thinking of, maybe I'll add some later if I think of them.

This week's question:

Book Disappointments: Have you ever come across a book you were so stoked to read, but it failed miserably in your eyes?

Disclaimer: These are my opinions only, and I don't mean to trash these books - I know lots of other people like these books and that's fine, we all have different tastes/opinions! Also - there may be minor spoilers of a sort, so please read my response with that in mind! :-) 

My response: Definitely! One of the main books that comes to mind is The Time Traveller's Wife - I had heard so much about it and was very interested to read it but found it very disappointing. The main character was just so selfish and stereotypically "wet blanket woman," complaining so much and solely focused on having a big wedding and having a baby at the expense of anything else (including her relationship with her love interest) that I just couldn't relate. 

Another such book was The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova. I had really enjoyed The Historian so I assumed this book would be as good, but it wasn't. It desperately needed an editor, it was way too long and repetitive, banging the reader over the head with some points, and the payoff was not equal to the buildup.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Elegance - Kathleen Tessaro

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. Maybe I'm just not used to chick lit type books, but for some reason I didn't take to this book as much as I wanted to. I love makeovers and stories about people who are able to change their lives for the better, so I was hoping for a light read about something like that. Instead there is a lot of angst and actual mental problems and illnesses, which I didn't expect at all.

Overall, I didn't dislike this book, but I didn't love it either. I wanted to like the main character but some of things she did in the book were so stupid it just annoyed me - it didn't seem realistic. Maybe the author was trying too hard to create a book that would translate well into a screenplay or something. Also, there were some times in the book that appear to be flash-forwards, but these were done clumsily so that it left me feeling vaguely confused about the time that elapses in the course of the book.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

One of our Thursdays Is Missing - Jasper Fforde

Again, I have to confess to having taken an inordinately long time to read this book despite wanting to very much. As always, it was worth the wait. Now, of course, I want to go back and read the whole series again... but with so many other books piling up, I can't do that in good conscience right now. Sigh. Maybe 2012 can be the year of the favorite book reread! I so love Jasper Fforde. I only recently became aware of the Fforde Ffiesta, held in Swindon, and I wish I could go in 2012... I'll have to see, maybe I can swing it, it would be so incredibly fun.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Pardon My French: Unleash Your Inner Gaul - Charles Timoney

I stumbled on this book in a local dollar store, hardback and in perfect condition, and costing, yes, $1.00. It looked intriguing and as I studied French in high school and college it appealed to me as it's meant to help someone understand French as it's actually spoken. I really enjoyed this book, and I think it would be invaluable to a native English speaker who intends to travel, live, or work in France, or if you've studied French and would like to branch out by learning more commonly used words and phrases. The writing is clear and the explanations and examples are sometimes hilarious. Recommended.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Six Degrees of Separation - John Guare

Not sure what to make of this play - I guess because it was originally written and published in 1992, it's about Baby Boomers, and how the way they view the world makes them vulnerable to con artists that approach them just the right way. Also, just as with Less Than Zero, I am never sure what to make of the theme "some really wealthy people are searching for a deeper meaning in life than parties and spending money." If you're that wealthy, JUST DO SOMETHING! What am I missing? It's not like you are slaving away at some 9 - 5 job getting mediocre pay and then have to come home and clean the house etc. - find something meaningful to do with all of your money and time. Or some of your money and time. If I had that kind of money, I could fill up my days with classes and learning and reading and travel and research projects and I could certainly find meaningful ways to spend money for charities I support - even if it was anonymously. Maybe I am missing the point entirely, if so, please enlighten me!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Less Than Zero - Bret Easton Ellis

I first read this book when it was originally published and I didn't remember being impressed with it then, but when I got some books from a neighbor and this was among them I figured I'd give it a read and see if my perspective may have changed. In a word - nope. I guess am missing the Bret Easton Ellis appreciation gene or something - I feel like I can't grasp the point of his writing. On the plus side, the book does mention Tab soda several times, so that made me happy.

Taggart - Louis L'Amour

Here's a book I read just for the Read Outside Your Comfort Zone Challenge. I was lucky and found a few westerns on the free book exchange shelves at the office, and I'll be honest, I chose the book with the fewest pages. This book wasn't bad, I can see why he is a best-selling author - this would be a good book for someone who is not a big reader. Like the characters in the book, it carefully rode through my mind and left no real trail behind it. It wasn't as bad as I was afraid it was going to be, but it wasn't a book I am likely to read again or think much about now that I've finished it. I enjoyed it for what it was and it satisfied my needs for both the challenge and as a reader.

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch - Alison Arngrim

This was an enjoyable, fast read. Like most people of my age, I watched Little House on the Prairie as a kid, and it was interesting to read about what things were like on the set. Apparently Alison Arngrim does standup comedy, and now I think I'd like to see her show.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Blue Boy - Rakesh Satyal

I stumbled on this book while making yet another trip to Borders and thought it looked intriguing, and I was right. This was a well-written coming-of-age story about the titular boy. I enjoyed the narrator and in some ways could identify with his feelings of being alone in the world and not fitting in anywhere. There were some very funny moments, balancing the sad and bittersweet moments. It was interesting to be able to learn about Indian culture as well, although all the talk of curry and saag and paneer and etc. made me crave murag makhni and saag wala gosht. I would love to read more about the title character, which is the mark of a good book in my mind. Recommended.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi

This graphic novel made a strong impression on me - I really felt that the art style enhanced the story, and in fact I would not want to read an all-prose, novel version of the events depicted - I think this format told the story in a very powerful way. Now I just wish I had the second book so I could continue my reading right away. I keep thinking about the events depicted and the characters and they are really alive in my mind. Highly recommended!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Book Blogger Hop/Follow Friday

Another Friday means more blog hopping/following goodness! If you're a first time visitor, welcome! My reviews are deliberately short because I try to avoid spoilers and giving away too much about the books I read whenever I can. I love to read and will read anything interesting and I'm always looking for recommendations of good books! If you've visited here before, welcome back and thanks for stopping by! :)

Book Blogger Hop

This week's question is perfect for me!

“What are you most looking forward to this fall/autumn season – A particular book release? Halloween? The leaves changing color? Cooler temperatures? A vacation? (If your next season is other than fall/autumn, tell us about it and what you are most looking forward to in your part of the world!)”

My response: ALL OF THE ABOVE!! As I have mentioned before many times, in fact in the last post I made, autumn (fall) is my very favorite season. I truly love everything about it! I love the cooler temperatures (summer is too hot for me), I love wearing sweaters and jackets and the beautiful mittens/gloves my pal E.D. has made me, I love the beautiful fall colors, I love to see the trees with their incredible red, yellow, orange, and gold leaves. I am a little bit obsessed with pumpkins and I love going to an actual pumpkin patch to pick some out for jack-o-lanterns around Halloween, and I adore Halloween (although I don't usually dress up and go out, which is sad because every year I want to!). I'm also a little obsessed with acorns and they are all over the place in fall and that makes me really happy. My favorite national holiday is Thanksgiving and that's coming up soon now. I'm also planning a vacation for later this fall, but I don't want to talk about it in case I jinx it, as the planning has been going very slowly :)

In a book-related fall happening, I can't wait to get a real copy of Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman on September 6 (just a few days away!). I LOVED this book when I found it on NetGalley and I'm dying to get a real copy so I can read it again. If you are a fan of the paranormal you might love this book too, you should check it out!

This week's question:

If you could change the ending of any book (or series), which book would you choose? Why and to what?

My spoiler-free response: I'd change the ending of The Kite Runner - not so much what happens, but I'd cut the book short. I think the book goes on a bit too long and it would work better as an ending if it were cut shorter. I wouldn't make the ending "happier," just stop the story at what I think is a more natural point.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

August - This Month in Reading

At the end of July, I set a goal for August to try to read at least one book for each of the remaining challenges I signed up for, including catching up on the War and Peace Challenge, and I banned myself from the library. I did manage to stay away from the library, so that was good, but on the other hand I took a few trips to Borders and came home with discounted books, so.... I still have a growing TBR pile - ouch! I think I am an incurable bookaholic! 

I did manage to catch up on the following challenges: the TBR Pile, Forgotten Treasures, Buck Stops Here, GLBT Reading, and Haruki Murakami Challenges. Hooray! I did not manage to read a book for the Read Outside Your Comfort Zone or Color Coded Reading Challenges, nor did I get caught up with War and Peace. All in all I only read 13 books this month, which was much lower than I wanted. 

So for September, I would like to again read at least one book for each challenge (and maybe 2 for the challenges I missed this month), and get caught up with War and Peace. I'd also like to stay away from the library; I have SO MANY books now waiting to be read I really need to read them instead of bringing even more books into the house. It's getting really crazy here - books are invading every room, which is not a bad thing, but they all want to be read and I only have so much time. I will also keep track in this post again, that worked really well last month. 

Before I go, 2 exciting things are happening tomorrow:

1) AUTUMN OFFICIALLY BEGINS (in my mind; I consider September 1 the first day of autumn/fall), so my favorite season is finally here, and I intend to enjoy every minute of it.

2) Those Across the River is officially available in less than 5 days (Sept. 6)! I can hardly wait to get my hands on a real copy of this book. 

How was your reading this summer? 

READING CHALLENGES FOR 2011 - 1 book for each (except where noted)

The Forgotten Treasures Challenge - 1 book read as of 9/9/2011
The Buck Stops Here Challenge - 1 book read as of 9/9/2011
War and Peace One Chapter a Day (catch up)
Read Outside Your Comfort Zone Challenge (2 books) - 1 book read as of 9/9/2011
The Color Coded Reading Challenge (2 books) - 1 book read as of 9/23/2011
GLBT Reading Challenge - 1 book read as of 9/7/2011
Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge
The TBR Pile Challenge (2 books) - 1 book read as of 9/23/2011 - 2 books read as of 9/25/2011