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.