Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 - The Year in Reading

Well, I had another reasonably productive reading year. I managed to read a total of 81 books, which is not bad, but far less than I had planned. Here's a quick recap of the goals I set last year and how I did:

  • Read more in general. This didn't work as well as I might have hoped. I read about half the books I managed in 2011, but at least I did read. 
  • Read more classic books. I think I did OK with this, but of course didn't read as many as I would have liked. 
  • Clear the TBR pile once and for all. I can't even type this with a straight face - Mount TBR still looms, but I'm still chipping away at it! 
  • Read 2 books in foreign languages. This is a big disappointment for me. I did start both the books I have on hand though - it's just very slow going for my rusty language skills. I'll keep this for next year. 
  • Explore some new series. I kind of did this but didn't read enough to really get into the other series I was hoping to check out. Maybe I can work on this for 2013. 
  • Read at least one book by each of the new authors I discovered and loved this year. No need to elaborate, this didn't happen. Luckily a whole new year is coming up to redeem this! 
  • Read more quality overall. I think I did OK with this.
  • Complete all my reading challenges. I definitely did this one - HOORAY! So I met one goal from 2011, ha ha. 

So here are some more modest goals for 2013:

  • Read more than 81 books. I think it's doable, I just need to do it!
  • Read more classic books. I made sure there were a few on the TBR Pile Challenge list to ensure this! 
  • Finish the 2 foreign language books. As I wrote above, they're both in progress, so this is doable.
  • Complete all my reading challenges. I did this 2 years in a row, so I know I can do it again in 2013. I'll do a separate post tomorrow listing the challenges and etc. 

Once again, I wish my readers all the best in 2013. I hope you have a wonderful year full of books! :-)

December - This Month in Reading

Another pathetic reading month. I had a busy work month, which ate up a lot of time, and then the holidays took over. I did, however, make last month's goal, which was to finish the TBR Pile Challenge - hooray!! So I finished all my challenges this year again, which is great. I'll do a quick yearly wrap-up post shortly. But for next month, I'd like to read at least one book for each challenge I've signed up for, keep track of my ongoing Planet Earth challenge, and otherwise reduce the TBR pile. I know that a good part of January is going to get messed up with work again, so I'm hoping I can work around that and still get in a lot of reading before that really hits.

Snow - Orhan Pamuk

I miss snow. I grew up with stereotypical snowy winters and it just doesn't snow much where I live now, and around this time of year I miss it. (OK, I don't miss shoveling.) There is nothing better than a winter night, when it gets dark by 5 pm and snow is falling in big flakes. Taking a walk and having the snow fall through the glow of streetlights is magical. So while reading this book I was able to picture the snow vividly, and the way it shuts down a town when it has been falling for a long time; the way it softens sounds and enhances the glow of artificial light. That did a lot to contribute to reading this book, as it provided a backdrop for imagining the events as they take place. I suspect that if I knew more about Turkish I would have picked up on the relationship between the main character's name, Ka, the Turkish word for snow (Kar) and the name of the town in which the book takes place, Kars, as I suspect there is some interesting wordplay there that is lost in translation - maybe I can Google it. All in all this felt like a slow book; it felt like watching snow fall. I enjoyed it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

1001 Books You Must Read...

I have seen this list all over the Internet and decided to finally pay attention to it. I had read some of these books before starting this blog, and others I have read since 2011. I have seriously mixed feelings about this list - there's no Shakespeare, but I'm supposed to read everything ever written by Don DeLillo? It omits two of my favorite classic books - Anne Frank's diary and McTeague by Frank Norris, but lists everything ever written by Douglas Adams (and I adore Douglas Adams, so I have no problem with him being on this list, but - really?). I am too lazy to link the reviews from the past couple years, and there aren't that many, but starting in 2013 I'll add review links as I read. Some of these happen to be on hand so there is hope that I will read them in the next couple years. I do confess that there are books on this list I will most likely never read, but who knows. It's still interesting to keep track. I might add books too :-)

UPDATE, January 2014: I have removed the list and replaced it with multiple posts with these lists in January 2014. I won't link to them here, because if you're reading this post, you either already saw those posts, or I trust you can find them without much to-do. :-)

FURTHER UPDATE, later in January 2014: I removed the replacement lists because they took up a lot of space and the more I thought about the lists the stupider (that's a word, right?) they got. Lists like this are all over the Internet so if I feel the need I can find them and etc. etc., but cluttering up my blog with nonsense seemed like a big waste of time. I'd rather actually focus on real classic books and literature and other books I read just for fun, not some random, arbitrary list. Sorry for all this back and forth on this topic, and on with the reading!

Color-Coded Reading Challenge 2013

Another fun challenge that will be reprised in 2013 - double hooray!!! I really enjoy this challenge, which is hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block. The rules have been changed slightly this year, allowing shades of colors - that should make things interesting! I know I have a couple books on hand for this, it will be interesting to see which others I might be able to snag off Mount TBR and use as well.

Here are the rules:

*Read nine books in the following categories.

1. A book with "Blue" or any shade of Blue (Turquoise, Aquamarine, Navy, etc.) in the title. - The Bobbsey Twins on the Deep Blue Sea - Laura Lee Hope

2. A book with "Red" or any shade of Red (Scarlet, Crimson, Burgundy, etc.) in the title. - Years of Red Dust - Qiu Xiaolong

3. A book with "Yellow" or any shade of Yellow (Gold, Lemon, Maize, etc.) in the title. Goldengrove - Francine Prose

4. A book with "Green" or any shade of Green (Emerald, Lime, Jade, etc.) in the title. Green Hills of Africa - Ernest Hemingway

5. A book with "Brown" or any shade of Brown (Tan, Chocolate, Beige, etc.) in the title. Brown Girl, Brownstones - Paule Marshall

6. A book with "Black" or any shade of Black (Jet, Ebony, Charcoal, etc.) in the title. Black and Ugly - T. Styles

7. A book with "White" or any shade of White (Ivory, Eggshell, Cream, etc.) in the title. - The White Hound of the Mountain and Other Irish Folk Tales - Thomas J. Kiernan

8. A book with any other color in the title (Purple, Orange, Silver, Pink, Magneta, etc.). - The Secret of the Silver Dolphin - Carolyn Keene

9. A book with a word that implies color (Rainbow, Polka-dot, Plaid, Paisley, Stripe, etc.). - Rainbow Soup - Brian P. Cleary/Neal Layton

I'll be posting books as I read them during 2013. Can't wait! 

TBR Pile Challenge 2013

I know it's a bit early, but Roof Beam Reader is hosting the wonderful TBR Pile Challenge again for 2013 - hooray!! I love this challenge, it has really helped me clear some TBR pile books. My pile seems to just grow and grow and grow, so this is great motivation to keep it from getting completely insane. I read all of the books on my list in 2011, and I'm on track to do the same for 2012, so I'll be happy to do this again in 2013.

I have some books in mind but I'll post the official list later this month once I get some breathing room from work insanity.

Without further ado, in no particular order, here are the books I'm going to read for this challenge in 2013:

1. Snow Falling on Cedars - David Guterson (1994) - read December 2013
2. A Crack in the Edge of the World - Simon Winchester (2005) - read December 2013
3. 1Q84 - Haruki Murakami. (2011) This is a totally embarrassing entry on this list. I got this as a Yuletide gift in 2011 and I didn't immediately start it as I was hoping to use it as a reward for reducing the TBR pile but time got away from me this year and I didn't read as much as I wanted. I need to read this book ASAP as it's been staring at me from the TBR pile for a year now.
4. The History of Danish Dreams - Peter Høeg (1995/1996) - read December 2013
5. Neanderthal - John Darnton (1996) - read April 2013
6. The Toughest Indian in the World - Sherman Alexie (2000) - read April 2013
7. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1866) - read December 2013
8. Inferno - Dante Alighieri (14th Century) - read December 2013
9. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole (1980) - read December 2013
10. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane - Katherine Howe (2009) - read April 2013
11. Emma - Jane Austen (1815) - read May 2013
12. Exit into History: A Journey Through the New Eastern Europe - Eva Hoffman (1993) - read December 2013

1. My Endless War . . . And My Shattered Dreams - Sonia Kaplan (2004) - read December 2013
2. The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver (2009)

Moby-Dick - Herman Melville

I know I was supposed to be reading this a chapter a day, with the goal to be to finish the book on December 31, but work has been insanely busy and it's only going to get worse in the next 2 weeks, so I decided to rally and finish early. It turns out that I somehow miscalculated the number of chapters, so I would have finished a few days sooner than I had planned anyway.

But I ramble. (I think Melville wore off on me!) I have no idea what to say about this book. I know it's considered a classic of Western literature, and as an English major it should be intensely embarrassing that I haven't read it before now (and it is, believe me), but .... Melville's rambling style was not completely annoying - I actually enjoyed it when he employed things that seemed like stage directions, but the overwrought passages were a bit too much for me. I suspect that I should have paid more attention to this back in college (coughcough), as discussions of the allusions and symbols might have been more up my street in those days - I have gotten much more practical in my "advanced" years, ha ha. So I didn't hate this book, but neither did I love it. Once again I am forced to say that I would have preferred to read this in a college level class (OK, I confess, I was supposed to when I was actually in college and couldn't get past the first few chapters, and luckily was able to skate by... I'm not proud of this at all, and don't recommend it, but neither can I take it back) for the discussion it might have provoked. All that said, I would rather discuss it as an adult than the complete idiot (who thought she knew it all, ha ha) I was back in college. So I appreciated it for what it was, and I am glad I can now say I have finally read this book.

If you're a Melville fan please feel free to set me straight in the comments! :)

Friday, November 30, 2012

November - This Month in Reading

Just when I think I can't read any *less* in a month, here is November 2012! First, let's just get this out of the way: I can't believe it will be December 1 tomorrow. It really seems like just yesterday that I was writing a blog entry about 2011's overall reading on December 31. So this month was not good for me in terms of reading - work has been insane with no end in sight until January (no, I do not work in Santa's workshop, ha ha). Life conspired to keep me from reading.

On the plus side, I met last month's goal, which was to read the last Mixing It Up Challenge book, and at least 1 TBR Pile Challenge book. I thereby officially finished the Mixing It Up Challenge - hooray! That was a fun challenge that I would like to do again. I also managed a book for the TBR Pile Challenge, leaving me with 2 books - 1 that is in progress and the other that is in progress as a chapter-a-day read, so both are on their way to completion. This is my last challenge for the year, so I am on track to complete all 4 of this year's challenges before the end of the year. So that is good news!

So for next month, knowing that reading time is going to be scarce :(, I would like to finish the TBR Pile Challenge books. I'd love to manage a TBR Pile Challenge alternate book as well, but frankly at this point I'll settle for just finishing the challenge!

How was your reading this month? Are you ready for December?? :-)

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Portable Dorothy Parker - Dorothy Parker (Edited by Marion Meade)

Dorothy Parker is a writer whose work I have been meaning to read for ages now, so when I found a copy of this book at half price during the Borders going out of business sale I eagerly purchased it. What an amazing writer Mrs. Parker was! Her writing was able to evoke such clear images in my mind, even in a very short story. Although there was the celebrated humor she is still well known for, there was a lot of emotion as well. Many of her short stories absolutely skewered the kind of self-centered, narcissistic, toxic person I cannot stand, and it felt good to know that there is someone else who has taken note of such horrors and served it up in a dish as entertaining as it was cold. To be fair, there were a couple too many stories that seemed to have a woman pining for a man, and although I enjoyed the poetry selections included in this volume I preferred the short stories and reviews. As with many of the books I have read in the past almost 2 years now, I am really glad that I read this now, as an adult with a lot of life experience, although I still wish I had read it sooner - if that makes any sense. Highly recommended.

A nice side note is that I have now officially completed the Mixing It Up Challenge - hooray! That was a really fun challenge and I hope to do it again next year!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Cold Mountain - Charles Frazier

Ouf, what a sad and depressing book! I'm sure this is a serious failing on my part but I did read with interest the parts of the book that dealt with how hard people had to work to get a single meal. In today's day and age, when my next meal is never farther than the nearest supermarket (if it's not already in my home, purchased from said supermarket) it seems like such a lot of backbreaking work to get the simplest meal.

But I digress. I enjoyed reading this book more than I thought I might, given its Civil War setting (a period of history I've never had much interest in), as the writing itself carried me along as it was enjoyable and not the pretentious claptrap I had feared it might be. However, at times, it felt very much like the subject matter underneath the writing was such hard work that I marveled at my will to keep going. More than once I questioned the purpose of such heavy writing; I guess it is very much true to life, and to the period in which it is set, and in fact mirrored the journeys of the main characters. On that level it was a definite success as it made me feel a kind of existential despair at a very low level in the background as I read. Not 100% sure what to make of it but I'm glad I read it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October - This Month in Reading

I think this month was the worst one yet in terms of the number of books read - a measly 3. In my own defense, the first one was more than 900 pages as a paperback, and the second was more than 400 pages and about scientific subjects, not necessarily my strong suit, so I did read a lot, just not a lot of different books. I did get behind on Moby-Dick but I know I can catch up ASAP.

Another positive was that I wrapped up the Around the World Challenge this month. I read 11/12 books, so even though I was ultimately unsuccessful in finding a book set in The Gambia, I'm counting this as a success overall since I read an alternate book as well. Of course, if I find a book for The Gambia before the end of the year I'll read it to complete the challenge - if you know of one, please let me know in the comments!

Last month, my goal was to read at least 4 books, preferably one for each remaining challenge, or at least 2 TBR books and the last 2 Mixing It Up books. I did manage to read 2 TBR Pile Challenge books, one of which doubled as a Mixing It Up book, so that was good. In fact, here is my current challenge status:

TBR Pile Challenge - currently 9/12 books read; 1 in progress as a chapter a day read, so 2 more to go!
Around the World Challenge - completed, 11/12 books and 1/2 alternates read as of October 2012.
Mixing It Up Challenge - currently 15/16 books read - 1 more to go!
Color Coded Reading Challenge - completed.

For November then, I'd like to read the last book for the Mixing It Up Challenge and at least one of the TBR Challenge books. 

Happy Halloween everyone! I hope you enjoyed a good spooky book or two this month! 

A Dark Enchantment - Roland Vernon

Another Library Sale book that worked for one of my Around the World Challenge countries, Greece. I enjoyed it on its own merits.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson

I am terribly embarrassed that it took me about 10 years to read this book. I think it's partly because science interests me but on the other hand is so often rendered as hopelessly dry and plodding that it's easy to lose interest in reading about it. This book did go a long way toward making scientific concepts understandable to someone like me, but didn't necessarily inspire me to become more scientific - but that's a failing on my part rather than the author's. Overall I suspect I'll turn to this book when I need a refresher on some of the topics presented, and I'd like to see an updated version (which I think is in the works - ?) since things seem to advance so quickly now I'd be interested to see what may have changed since this book was originally published. Recommended.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Autobiography of Henry VIII - Margaret George

Apparently the saying "the third time is the charm" is true. I have had this book on my shelves for at least 5 years now, and I even started it twice before, but failed to make much headway and it would end up back on the shelf. Enter the TBR Pile Challenge! I vowed to read this book this year for the challenge, and was worried that based on my past failures I would have a hard time with it. So imagine my surprise when I was fascinated and had a difficult time putting the book down! I'm not sure if it was the charm of October/autumn, or maybe my having read some related books about Henry VIII last year,  but whatever it was, it worked.

I will confess the book sagged a bit at the end for me; I think it was a deliberate stylistic choice, as it illustrated the slowness of age and infirmity that seemed to overtake the king in his later years. It could also be that in a 900+ page book, one would get tired of a first-person narrator regardless of who it was. In any case, I am glad I finally conquered this book and even more glad that I enjoyed it. Recommended.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

September - This Month In Reading

September was a dismal month for reading in terms of volume, although I did manage to read the four books I intended to read at the end of August, one for each reading challenge even, and a spare just for good measure (ha ha). So although I wanted to read more (as usual), for once I managed to fulfill last month's reading prediction - hooray! I managed to finish the Color-Coded Reading Challenge, and I'm very close to finishing a couple others - let's recap:

1. The Color-Coded Reading Challenge - 9/9 books read - challenge completed! Hooray!
2. The Around the World Challenge - 10/12 books read, plus 2/2 alternate books read; 10th book is about halfway finished, and 11th book probably won't happen - I can't seem to find a book set in the Gambia :-(
3. The Mixing It Up Challenge - 14/16 books read; 2 other books are on hand and are crossovers for the TBR Pile Challenge so that will be good
4. The TBR Pile Challenge - 7/12 books read; 0/2 alternate books; with only 3 months left in 2012 I will have to step up my reading for this challenge! I am on track to finish Moby-Dick at the end of 2012 by reading it one chapter at a time, so that leaves 4 books to be read over the next 3 months, and at least 2 of them are large-ish.

All in all, I'm pleased with this overall progress.

So for October, possibly my favorite month of the year, my goal is to read at least 4 books, preferably one for each remaining challenge, or at least 2 TBR books and the last 2 Mixing It Up books so I can finish these challenges on time. In the meantime, I will keep searching for a book set in the Gambia because I don't like to leave that one book unread. I already know that the first week of October will be crazy at work, which means fewer reading minutes, but I hope I can use the rest of the month to make up for this and read, read, read!

How was your reading this month?

The Devil Drives: A Life of Sir Richard Burton - Fawn M. Brodie

Got this book from a sketchy street vendor in Philadelphia, and I was so happy to find it, as I had read a little bit about the amazing linguist, anthropologist, and explorer Sir Richard Burton (not to be confused with the actor Richard Burton), and thought he was undoubtedly one of the most intelligent and interesting people who have ever lived, and I wanted to read more. Sadly, I placed the book on the shelf and there it sat. My desire to learn more about this amazing man somehow got eclipsed by..... life, I guess! I think part of the reason I may have been reluctant to read this book was that it was written in the mid 1960s and sometimes books like this, particularly from that era, can be dry and pedantic and dull, and I didn't want this amazing man to get buried in a boring book. The mid-60s was also rife with "Freudian analysis" of everything, which can be extremely tiresome as well. So thank goodness for RoofBeam Reader's TBR Pile Challenge! I put this book on the list this year and managed to finish it just in time to count it for September - hooray!

I am happy to report that I very much enjoyed the book. The writing was not dull at all, it was very readable and although it maintained an academic tone it wasn't boring as I had feared. Also, the Freudian nonsense was not epidemic through the entire book. Before reading the book, I had a rather negative opinion of Burton's wife, and this book actually made me a little bit more sympathetic to her (but just a little). As an undisciplined language junkie, I was very interested to read about how he mastered 40 languages (including dialects) - turns out discipline is a main ingredient, ha ha. Once again, I am glad I read this book and annoyed at myself for taking so long to do it. Recommended.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Captain Alatriste - Arturo Pérez-Reverte

At the Borders last days sales, I got a copy of a book in this series, but it's one of the later books, so I had to read the previous books and hence got this from the library. I enjoyed this book, it had just the right amount of swashbuckling adventure and court/political intrigue. The setting is 17th-century Spain and I love historical fiction (and costume dramas on film/TV) so this was a fun, fast read. Recommended.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Battle Royale - Koushun Takami

Stumbled across this on my beloved Library Sale shelves, and knew it was something of a precursor (maybe you could call it an ancestor) of The Hunger Games, so I picked it up. You can definitely see where Suzanne Collins may have gotten the original idea for her series from this book, although her series is not at all a carbon copy. (Side note - do people still use this reference now that carbon copies are not often used?) A violent story set in a dystopian Japan, I enjoyed this fast-paced quick reading brick of a novel, and I must say, despite not being a huge horror fan, I would like to see the movie based on this someday. If you're a fan of contemporary horror authors you will most likely enjoy this book. Recommended (but not necessarily for the faint of heart).

Young Goodman Brown and Other Tales - Nathaniel Hawthorne

When reading books for the Color-Coded Reading Challenge, I try to choose books that use the titular color as a color, i.e., The Man in the Brown Suit, but had to make an exception because believe it or not, brown is not a common color in book titles - or at least not common in book titles on my TBR pile and/or in my library! So it was that I ended up reading this book of short stories. I had read a few of these stories in school/college - The Minister's Black Veil, The Birthmark, etc., but the majority of these stories were new to me. Once again I have to say I wish I could have read these in a discussion group; it would be fascinating to discuss the themes. My new favorite has to be The Artist of the Beautiful (it's on Project Gutenberg if you want to read it as well; I know I'll be re-reading it in the near future!). Recommended.

With this book, I have officially completed this year's Color-Coded Reading Challenge. I really like this challenge, it's a fun way to discover books I might not otherwise encounter. Thanks to Bev for hosting it again! There is still time to register for 2012 if you want, so go check it out! If you're still reading for this challenge, feel free to comment with good books you discovered for next year, since I will definitely be participating as long as Bev hosts. :)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Man Who Went Up In Smoke - Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

The second book in the Martin Beck series. I managed to get copies of the first, fifth, and ninth books in this series, so I have to hit the library to read the others so I can read the books that are officially part of "Mount TBR." I enjoy these mysteries, I find I am not able to predict the solution but the solution is always there and it's very plausible but well hidden. There is an air of melancholy about the books that I like too. Recommended.

Friday, August 31, 2012

August - This Month in Reading

August was not as good of a month for reading as July was, but I still made some progress on my challenges, so I am satisfied overall, although of course I wish I could have read more. I also got very very close to reading all of the library books I had to take out to make serious headway on many of my challenges, which is a good thing. I exceeded my goal of five books and read at least one book for 3 out of my 4 challenges, but did not make my goal of reading at least one (and possibly two) for the TBR Pile Challenge.

All in all, here's how my challenges stand as of today:

1. The Color-Coded Reading Challenge - 8/9 books read; 9th book is about halfway done
2. The Around the World Challenge - 9/12 books read, plus 2/2 alternate books read; 10th book is about halfway finished, and 11th book is here from the library and needs to be read
3. The Mixing It Up Challenge - 13/16 books read; 3 other books are on hand and 2 of them are crossovers for the TBR Pile Challenge so that will be good
4. The TBR Pile Challenge - 6/12 books read; 0/2 alternate books; I need to get going on this one!

One exciting thing I did this month was to start reading Moby-Dick one chapter at a time. That method worked great for me for reading War and Peace last year, so I decided to apply it to this TBR Pile book  and I think it's going to work really well.

For September my goal will be to read a total of four books - one for each challenge, no exceptions. I'd really like to complete as many of these challenges as I can in September and then get really serious about the TBR Pile Challenge. My non-reading goal is to celebrate the official coming of my favorite season, Fall (Autumn), which in my mind starts on September 1. Summer is my least favorite season so I am always happy to bid it au revoir. I'd rather bid it adieu but, alas, I know it will be back next year. :)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sangoma - James Hall

The subtitle of this book is My Odyssey into the Spirit World of Africa and it's just that - an American man's experiences training to become a sangoma, a spiritual healer, in Africa. An unusual story to be sure, and I enjoyed hearing about this aspect of Swazi culture, which I admit I know nothing about. Having never been to Africa it seems like a fascinating place.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Black Opera - Mary Gentle

Found this book in the library, was intrigued by the description, and needed a book for "black" for the Color-Coded Reading Challenge so I took the plunge. I liked the main character a lot, the premise is fascinating, the setting colorful, the operatic talk was a good insight into what makes a good story/opera, and yet... there was something missing. One of my favorite movies is Amadeus, and while reading this book I kept having flashes to the scene in which the emperor tells Mozart his latest opera has "too many notes." This book had "too many notes" - too many words; a page of description when a good paragraph would have sufficed.

I have noticed a trend recently to ensure that each and every book is more than 300 pages, and mostly more than 400 pages, maybe to justify the insanely expensive prices of paperback books. I think this book, although enjoyable and fascinating, was just slightly inflated and would have been better served by being somewhat shorter. This also goes for Beautiful Disaster, which could have (and should have) been reduced by at least half, as well as other books I've read recently. I think the overall story of this book, which was complex and fascinating, would have been better served by a slightly tighter edit to remove some of the needless repetition. All in all though I did enjoy this book and I'd read other stories by the same author.

Beautiful Disaster - Jamie McGuire

Saw this book mentioned in a NetGalley email and thought the description sounded intriguing, and  I needed a book for the "romance" category for the Mixing It Up Challenge so I thought I'd take a chance. I must preface this review with the disclaimer that I am absolutely not the target market for books of this kind. Having said that, this book was OK, but fell prey to the fatal flaw of most Hollywood romantic comedies: the premise seems interesting and funny and full of possibility but the reality is a standard silly romance that should have been a 100 page Harlequin book aimed at precocious 10 year olds. It even has the cliche of what film critic Roger Ebert calls the "Idiot Plot Misunderstanding" - a stupid misunderstanding that could be cleared up in a 2-minute conversation but to create "drama" the minor misunderstanding is not cleared up promptly (as opposed to something that would actually be dramatic and interesting). So to recap, this book is absolutely not aimed at me, and it was OK for what it was.

Seychelles - Sarah Carpin

This book was a travel guide, but was more of a cross between a book of the history of the islands and a tourism guide than a straight travel guidebook. It was also full of beautiful color photographs that made me want to book a trip immediately... after I've saved some money, as the government of the Seychelles has wisely ensured that travel there is a bit expensive, so as to deter the casual tourism that can overrun a popular destination and ruin fragile natural beauty like coral reefs.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

In The Woods - Tana French

When I started this book, I immediately fell in love with the narrator, the writing was great, and I was excited to have found a book I could fall in love with. Sadly that did not entirely come to pass - although I enjoyed the book overall, the middle sagged a bit. The ending didn't necessarily live up to my expectations, but on the other hand, maybe this was more true to life in a murder investigation than the neat and tidy wrap up most fictional mysteries provide (and I'm not someone who needs everything to be wrapped up in a mystery, or needs a happy ending, etc.). There was a character that I think I figured out sooner in the game than I was supposed to, although again I'm not sure if that was deliberate on the part of the author in order to make the narrator an unreliable narrator, or if it just happened. All this said, I would read the author's other books. I thought the writing was beautiful and I look forward to reading more of it.

Plum Wine - Angela Davis-Gardner

The author was able to bring the horror of the Hiroshima bombing, and the feelings of survivors, to life for me as a reader, and reading this book made me want to read some nonfiction about that experience to learn more about this subject. Recommended.

Story Time - Edward Bloor

What a charming story! I really enjoyed this YA novel, and its well-written characters. Like The Mysterious Benedict Society, it was nice to read a story about intelligent young people and an adventure they have. I'd definitely read the author's other books. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July - This Month in Reading

I finally picked up the pace in July, and managed a whopping 13 books, more than any other month so far in 2012. At the beginning of the month, I decided that since I needed to go to the library, I may as well read as many books as possible for my reading challenges this year, and I managed to read multiple books for the Around the World Challenge, so that was good. I also managed to read a book for the Color-Coded Reading Challenge, and a couple for the Mixing It Up Challenge. I failed to read one of my TBR books, but at least I got more caught up on my other challenges.

I also corrected my error and started the Planet Earth Challenge, which should be fun.

For August, I would like to again concentrate on reading specifically for my challenges with the goal of finishing as many of the challenges as possible by the end of August, so that I can once again stop going to the library and concentrate on reducing my massive TBR pile. I will set the official goal at five books , however, one for each challenge plus an extra from the TBR Challenge.

How was your reading this month?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe - Sophie Warne

Another travel guide. This one also had a lot of useful information about the countries, some of Africa's smallest. Apparently Gabon is a place where people can observe gorillas in the wild, which would be an amazing experience, as well as view all sorts of wildlife over all kinds of terrain, from beach to mountains. ST&P seem fascinating if small; I think that would be the charm of a visit. Very comprehensive guides overall.

4,000 Days - Warren Fellows

The subtitle of this book is My Life and Survival in a Bangkok Prison and after reading this I can't believe he, or anyone else for that matter, survived this ordeal. I have never been inclined to commit crimes in general or to smuggle drugs in particular, but even if I were, reading this would scare me straight. It was a gripping book overall.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Planet Earth Challenge

I am a total dummy.

I recently realized that what I was trying to accomplish with the Around the World Challenge I set for myself for 2012 would have been better done using my enormous TBR pile and simply keeping track of the countries that serve as the settings for the books I read. Instead, I ended up going to the library, which led to reading non-TBR-pile books that aren't for challenges, the purchase of more irresistible 50 cent Library Sale paperbacks (which swells my TBR pile rather than reducing it), etc. etc.

To remedy this situation, I decided to create another, similar challenge, which I'll call the Planet Earth Challenge. This challenge will be to keep track of the countries that serve as settings for the books I read, with the goal of someday reading a book set in each country on the list of world countries I used for the Around the World Challenge. To qualify, a book must have at least 75% of its action take place in the country I'm claiming for it; for example, although a small part of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo takes place outside of Sweden, at least 75% of the book is set in Sweden, so I'd use it for my Sweden-set book.

I am not quitting the Around the World Challenge, but I am going to fold those books into this challenge by counting them for this as well.

To make this somewhat fair, I will allow myself to go back to January 2012 and count the books I've read so far this year for this challenge, since the Around the World Challenge was originally begun in January 2012; 2011 books will not count.

I'll keep track of the books for this challenge in this post, using the number of the country on the list, so the numbers will be all out of order until I read them all!

As always, feel free to join me in this, or let me know if you've been doing something similar so we can  compare notes!

This is the site I used as my list of countries.

15. Australia - Lights Over Emerald Creek - Shelley Davidow

31. Botswana - A Carrion Death - Michael Stanley

45. Cayman Islands - Cayman Islands - Tricia Hayne
46. Central African Republic - Culture and Customs of the Central African Republic - Jaqueline Woodfork

49. China - Years of Red Dust - Qiu Xiaolong

63. Cyprus - Othello - William Shakespeare

65. Denmark - The History of Danish Dreams - Peter Høeg

71. Egypt - Palace of Desire - Naguib Mahfouz

82. France - The Man in the Iron Mask - Alexandre Dumas

86. Gabon Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe - Sophie Warne

94. Greece - A Dark Enchantment - Roland Vernon

109. Hungary - Ballad of the Whiskey Robber - Julian Rubinstein

111. India - Sacred Games - Vikram Chandra

113. Iran - Embroideries - Marjane Satrapi
114. Iraq - Late for Tea at the Deer Palace - Tamara Chalabi
115. Ireland - In The Woods - Tana French

121. Japan - Plum Wine - Angela Davis-Gardner

132. Laos - The Merit Birds - Kelley Powell

147. Mali - White Leopard - Laurent Guillaume

172. Nigeria - Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe

176. Norway - Sophie's World - Jostein Gaarder

184. Peru - Touching the Void - Joe Simpson

193. Russia - Snowdrops - A.D. Miller

202.  São Tomé and Príncipe - Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe - Sophie Warne

206. Seychelles - Seychelles - Sarah Carpin

215. Spain - Captain Alatriste - Arturo Pérez-Reverte

221. Swaziland - Sangoma - James Hall
222. Sweden - Let The Right One In - John Ajvide Lindqvist

225. Taiwan - Taroko Gorge - Jacob Ritari

227. Tanzania - Green Hills of Africa - Ernest Hemingway
228. Thailand - 4,000 Days - Warren Fellows

235. Tunisia - Benny and Omar - Eoin Colfer
236. Turkey - My Name Is Red - Orhan Pamuk

238 +. Tuva - The Blue Sky - Galsan Tschinag

243. United Kingdom
243a. England - The Coma - Alex Garland
243b. Wales - How Green Was My Valley - Richard Llewellyn
243c. Scotland - The Blackhouse - Peter May

256. Zambia - In My Family Tree - Sheila Siddle with Doug Cress

Chicken with Plums - Marjane Satrapi

Couldn't resist completing my Marjane Satrapi reading. Another wonderful book that I wish had been 100 times longer. You know you love a book when all you want to do is keep experiencing it! I just found out I missed an opportunity to see the author live here in April - aaarrrrggghhh! I'm so sorry I missed that. Oh well, I can content myself with the books and hope that there is a next time and when it comes I'll be more in the loop. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ballad of the Whiskey Robber - Julian Rubinstein

Found this book while searching for books set in Hungary for the Around the World Challenge. I hadn't heard of the Whiskey Robber before reading the book, which is a fascinating account of Attila Ambrus, who robbed banks and eluded police in Budapest in the 1990s. I will say that I was surprised by some clunky turns of phrase I didn't expect, but the story was engrossing and it left me wanting to learn more about the events and people described.

Babycakes - Armistead Maupin

What can I say, I've been in the mood for more stories about these characters, plus I have the latest book in the series on my TBR pile, so I have to read the preceding books to catch up and read that one. I still wonder if Baby Boomers really smoked this much pot and etc. in the 80s, but otherwise I enjoyed this book.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist - Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Don't judge me, reader, I often pick up random books at the library on a whim, and this is one of those books. I think I'm too old for these teenage-drama books, but I'm not exactly the target market, and I'm sure if I were I would have liked this book quite a bit. It was a fast read that was pleasant enough, and now I can choose to see the movie if it comes on cable.

Embroideries - Marjane Satrapi

Felt compelled to get this book so I could continue to experience the author's art and writing after finishing Persepolis 2 and wanting more. Another fascinating graphic novel I can highly recommend.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cayman Islands - Tricia Hayne

I did not intend to read travel guides when I thought up the Around the World Challenge, but as I am having trouble finding books for some of the countries I chose I picked up a couple such books so I can fulfill my challenge, and this book was one of them. Of course, if I manage to find a different book that is set in the Cayman Islands in 2012, I'll read it, but for now this will have to do.

While not a novel or a nonfiction book set in the Cayman Islands, etc., this book did have a nice summarized history of the islands. I have to say reading this book did make me want to visit these islands, and I'm not a tropics/heat/beach person at all. Of the three islands, I think it would be nicest to visit the smallest and least developed, Cayman Brac, as it would provide the least crowded snorkeling sites, and less crowded bird watching opportunities, etc. So maybe someday I'll take a vacation there and have the challenge and this book to thank.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How Green Was My Valley - Richard Llewellyn

I admit this book was chosen because I had heard of it and I needed a book with "green" in the title for the Color-Coded Reading Challenge. Aside from the title, I knew nothing else about it, but now I know it's a book about a Victorian-era Welsh family of coal miners, who are living through a time of great upheaval in terms of the beginnings of the labor movement and unions, and workers trying to improve their working conditions, pay, etc. I found the book to be more absorbing and compulsively readable than I thought I would, and I enjoyed the narrator's voice. The writing has some beautiful turns of phrase and imagery, although it got just a little bit ponderous now and again. I also enjoyed the Welsh rhythm to the narration, although of course its written in English. Welsh is a really cool language; if you need proof, go to YouTube and search for "Ioan Gruffydd on Graham Norton speaking Welsh" and see for yourself. Overall I am glad I read this book and I would recommend it as a classic.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Persepolis 2 - Marjane Satrapi

These books are never long enough for me - they are so absorbing I could read them for hours and hours. As with the previous volume, the deceptively simple artwork makes the content powerful. I will have to explore the author's other works and prioritize the film version. Highly recommended.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs

This book was all over book blogs last year, and I was intrigued but I had so many other books to read I put off adding my name to the library hold list to read it. Now that I have been back at the library for my challenges, I decided to add my name to a now much shorter list. I love, love, love vintage photographs, particularly weird ones and particularly photos from the very late 19th/very early 20th century, so this book's use of them as illustrations was right up my street, and I loved that. The story was not at all what I had expected, but I enjoyed it, and I suspect there will be a series of books with these characters and I will definitely read them. I very much enjoyed this book and I believe I would have loved it as a young adult as well. Recommended.

Culture and Customs of the Central African Republic - Jacqueline Woodfork

When I thought up the Around the World Challenge for myself, I didn't think it would be that hard to find a book set in every country on Earth. I pictured myself reading a lot of novels, with most (I hoped) written by authors from the countries I chose at random. Well, that is not how things have happened - it's a LOT harder to find books set in smaller countries than I would have thought!

Which brings me to this book. I was lucky enough to get this book through the library, and although initially I was hoping for a novel, this book turned out to be interesting. I enjoyed learning about a country I previously knew nothing about (except that it was in Africa). Apparently it is part of a series of similar books, but unfortunately none of the other books in the series are about any of the other countries on my list. Although I did enjoy this book, I have to say I was surprised that the main city in the CAR, Bangui, which is mentioned a lot throughout the book, is not pictured on the map of the CAR that is included in the book - ? I had to look it up on Google Maps to see where it is located. Also, I would have liked to know a little about the author - is she from the CAR? Has she lived there? Studied the country extensively? The book doesn't say. Overall though I am glad to make some progress with my challenge and to learn about a country that is not much talked about it seems.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Further Tales of the City - Armistead Maupin

I meant to sneak this book in last month since it's not technically for any challenges, but didn't quite make it. Another entertaining book about characters I like. Yes, there are still really far-fetched things that happen, and everyone is always smoking dope (although if that is accurate, it explains a lot of the entertainment produced in the late 1970s - early 1980s), but it's a fun, fast read. Also, I snagged the most recent book in this series at Borders so I need to read the other books so I can read that one from the TBR pile. Recommended.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

June - This Month in Reading

As I thought, this month was bookended (no pun intended) by some very busy weeks at work, which seriously cut into my reading time. The good news, however, is that I managed to make my goal of reading one book for each of my 4 reading challenges - hooray! I even managed to sneak in a second book for my Around the World Challenge, and a sixth book for no good reason. So 6/4 is much better than making a goal of 10 and only getting to 6 :-) 

I'm hoping July is less busy and that I can read more, but for now I am going to make July's goal the same - to read one book for each challenge (and a few more if possible). Last year I had my special reading theme in July, and I was hoping to repeat it this year, but frankly I have too many TBR books I need to read so I will look forward to repeating it next year instead. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

In My Family Tree: A Life with Chimpanzees - Sheila Siddle with Doug Cress

Came across this book while searching for books for the Around the World Challenge. The author has a chimpanzee sanctuary in Zambia, and this book tells the story of how the sanctuary began with a single chimpanzee and has grown over the years. I found it fascinating, although it is very hard for me to read about cruelty to animals, and the fact that most of the chimpanzees were victims of terrible cruelty before coming to the sanctuary was hard to read about. I'm so thankful that there are people in the world like the Siddles that help animals in need.

Tales of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

This was an enjoyable and entertaining book. My copy is an undated edition I found in an antique shop that is obviously old and has a handwritten name and a 1921 date inside, so I assume it is from that time period. I am not sure how the Holmes stories were originally published; this book has 6 stories: "A Study in Scarlet;" "A Case of Identity;" "A Scandal in Bohemia;" "The Red-Headed League;" "The Boscombe Valley Mystery;" and "The Sign of the Four." I now know about the seven percent solution and who the Baker Street Irregulars are, and I'm looking forward to reading more Holmes stories. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

What a fun book this was! I stumbled on it when I was searching the online library catalog for books for my challenges and I couldn't resist the premise, plus the pervasive 1980s references. Although I've never had the hand-eye coordination to play video games, I enjoyed reading about games I remember being around (and a lot I wasn't familiar with). This book was almost impossible to put down once I started reading and it was a really fast, fun read. Highly recommended.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Benny and Omar - Eoin Colfer

When I thought up my personal Around the World Challenge, it didn't occur to me that it would be so hard to get books set in some of the countries on my list! I picked this one up for Tunisia, and I was happy that it was written by the author of the Artemis Fowl series, since I have read and enjoyed most of those books. I didn't dislike this book, but I didn't like the writing as much as that in the Artemis Fowl series. Omar speaks in a bizarre patois that he supposedly picked up from TV, which seems somewhat unrealistic and gives a sort of Max Headroom feeling to the dialogue, and the other narration is done in a slangy Irish voice that would have been much harder for me to follow had I read it when I was younger and had had less exposure to slang and general everyday speech patterns from Ireland than I have now. The Benny character was somewhat unlikable but I think that was actually a realistic portrayal of a 12 year old boy, and I didn't dislike the character overall, although he could be frustrating. All in all though I found it a quick easy read, and I'm glad I got another challenge book read!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas - John Boyne

This book was a deceptively fast read but was very powerful. I liked the straightforward, clear writing style  that really underscored the semi-unreliable narration. I have been avoiding the movie for years now but now I am more interested to watch it, to see how they adapted the book for the screen. Highly recommended.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Amberville - Tim Davys

One of the many things I love about browsing a bookstore is the ability to stumble on a book that you absolutely love. OK, in this case it was more like I picked this up because it was there on the crazy Borders last day shopping spree I did, but just because the "browsing" happened at 50 miles per hour doesn't mean the end result isn't the same - I now have a new author to love, and a new book that I am head-over-heels in love with. This book was amazing! It's a hard-boiled noir-style story with sentient stuffed animals as the characters. It's actually not even half as weird as that sounds. It's a great story well told and I can't wait to read the other books in what will eventually be a quartet. HIGHLY recommended.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

May - This Month in Reading

At the end of April, my goal was to read 10 books and to work on my challenges. I did manage to read 10 books in May, but these books only contributed to one challenge. So a mixed result for sure.

I already know June is going to be a busy month for work, which always drastically cuts into my reading time :( , so June's goal is going to be to read 4 books: 1 for each challenge, period. Of course, if I read more that will be great, but this way I will most likely meet my goal.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams

This book was a blast from the past! I loved this series when I was younger, as well as the BBC series that was made a few years later. I managed to get a book that has all five of the books in the series at Borders so I can reread the entire series at my leisure. It's still an amusing satire and I look forward to rereading the other books as soon as I can make some room on the TBR pile. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Murder at 40 Below - Tom Brennan

My sister-in-law sent me this book, which is a compilation of 10 crime stories from Alaska. As a huge fan of the TV series Forensic Files, I also enjoy a good true crime book now and again and this didn't disappoint. I enjoy reading and learning about how law enforcement catches violent criminals, and also trying to figure out why criminals commit crimes, particularly violent crimes against other people. And I had no idea that the famous "Birdman of Alcatraz" had committed the crime that got him sent to prison in Alaska, so it was very interesting to read about him. Recommended.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Candide - Voltaire

How is it possible that I have never read this book before now? Strangely, I saw a stage production of a musical version of this book when I was a young adult but remember very little of it, so it didn't amount to any kind of spoiler(s) while reading. I really liked the satiric tone and the jabs Voltaire took at prominent entities of his day, and the descriptions of horrific events are done in such a way as not to be too awful... although they're not exactly wonderful. The overall tone saves the day. I'd love to discuss this in a college-level class or a good book club, I suspect it could spark some spirited debate. I will have to read more by Voltaire as soon as I get some room in the TBR pile. Highly recommended.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Save the Deli - David Sax

This was one of the more than 70 books I got for a song on one of the last days Border's was open for business - I paid a whopping 40 cents for this book. While reading it, I was in a constant state of hunger based on the descriptions of the delicious deli food. I love deli food, and I haven't really had any authentic deli food in years. It's so sad to think that so many family-owned and -operated delis are going out of business thanks to the ongoing "mallification" of America (and other parts of the world). Why people pack those horrid corporate chain restaurants is beyond me. It's so disappointing that the world is basically becoming an open-air Mall of America (which is awful, in case you're wondering). I'm glad that there are some people who are dedicated to preserving a wonderful cuisine and providing a quality product. This book, although originally published in 2009, has a listing of delis around the US and some international delis too. Makes me want to get in the car and hit the nearest one right now (although I will probably do some research to make sure the place hasn't closed in the past 3 years). Save the deli indeed!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Vaclav & Lena - Haley Tanner

A coincidental third book in what turned into a mini-theme of Russian characters. I enjoyed this book and especially liked Vaclav, while feeling very deeply for Lena as well. I liked the way many of the characters had irritating aspects to their personalities, just as people we love do in real life - it made the characters seem very real. Recommended.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Snowdrops - A.D. Miller

Not sure what to make of this book. I don't feel as sympathetic for the narrator as I'd like to, so I'm not sure the author convinced me to think the best of him - or maybe that was never the point. I appreciated the Moscow setting and the description of winter, which I miss. Overall a melancholy story that I liked but felt unsure of at the same time.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Borrower - Rebecca Makkai

What an amazing book. I managed to snag a copy at Borders' Last Days sale, and I am so glad I did. I loved this book. It even made me cry not once but twice, which is amazing because I'm not a crier AT ALL. I can't form any coherent thoughts about it right now but it's highly recommended.

Security - Stephen Amidon

Picked up this book on the Library Sale shelves, as I liked the cover. Yes, I judge books by the cover sometimes, although I don't let covers limit my reading. I enjoyed the characters in this book and I liked the way that the story unfolds through characters that don't have first-hand knowledge of the main events that take place. I'd definitely read this author's other books (at such time as I can get my TBR pile under control!). Recommended.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Awakening - Kate Chopin

Another book I read many years ago, in this case either high school or college, and found at Borders' Last Days sale and eagerly took the opportunity to reread at my leisure. The story was every bit as good and satisfying as I remembered, and in fact I suspect I got a lot more our of it now, as an adult with more life experience, than I probably did the first time I read it. I liked that nothing was cut and dried and events unfolded in what I felt was a very realistic manner. The copy of the book I purchased included some short stories which were very well done and enjoyable as well, and in fact many seemed to cover the same themes. I would love to discuss these stories at a college level or in a good book group - or with a fellow reader in the comments here even! :-) Highly recommended.

The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

I read this book as a kid, and came across a copy at the Library Sale and felt the urge to reread it. It's a nice story and has just enough intrigue and suspense to keep the reader going throughout. The characters are also refreshingly complicated, and not simple one-note creations - I like how the author is able to let us in on their motivations and the reasons behind their attitudes and actions. Highly recommended.

Monday, April 30, 2012

April - This Month in Reading

I had a post written and then some kind of technical problem occurred, and it disappeared. I am too lazy to type it again, so I will say that I fell short of my end-of-March reading goal of 10 books, managing only 8, but on the plus side I did read a book for each challenge, including my Around the World Challenge, so at least I finally got that started.

For May I have to read at least 10 books, because my insanely large TBR pile is not getting smaller at the rate I would like, and I miss reading! So that plus continuing to work on the challenges will be my goal.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Of Ducks and Universes - Neve Maslakovic

First heard of this book on another book blog I enjoy, Project Author, and thought I sounded intriguing, so I asked for it as a Yuletime gift. I was not disappointed, this is a really fun book. I really liked the narrator a lot, and in fact I hope that someday we get another book about him. The premise was fascinating if a little mind-bending at times, and it seems to allow for an infinite number of possible new plots and characters, etc. I liked the story threads that were tied together, and the references to other authors' works (that I now want to check out). All around, a great read and highly recommended.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Timequake - Kurt Vonnegut

Not 100% sure what to make of this book. It seems like a mixture of autobiographical elements with some quasi-surreal fiction elements which is actually rather entertaining, even if it is somewhat perplexing. It's almost like an expanded essay or speech, more than a novel; or a speech that has been intermingled with a novel. In any case, I enjoyed reading it and getting a glimpse into the mind of a celebrated American writer.  I still have many more Vonnegut works to read and it will be interesting to see how this stacks up.

The Devil in the White City - Erik Larson

As a fan of the turn of the 20th Century and of Chicago, I was interested to read a book about events that took place in the late 1890s. I knew nothing about the World's Fair held in Chicago in 1893, and the story of how the fair came to be was interesting, but ultimately the interwoven story of Dr. H.H. Holmes, a serial killer, was more interesting to me in general. Apparently there are other books written about this man and his crimes, and I may seek them out when I have gotten more of a handle on my TBR pile. In any case, this was a well researched book and I enjoyed reading it. Recommended.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

This book might have been a favorite for me if I had read it as an adolescent or college student. Even so, I liked it quite a bit more than I anticipated I would, and I do wish I had read it sooner (it's been on the TBR shelf for a long time). I think I feared that it would be depressing but it wasn't, even though it definitely depicted what we might call clinical depression nowadays very vividly and realistically. Apparently it was originally written in the late 1950s and frankly any woman who wasn't depressed back then was lucky indeed. I doubt that there has ever been a truly wonderful time to be a woman throughout history, but I think the mid-20th century must have been particularly difficult, because there was an illusion of possibilities that didn't really exist. Recommended.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

True Grit - Charles Portis

What an amazing book! I confess that as much as I try to read a book that's been made into a movie before I see a movie, quite often I fail. In this case, I haven't seen the original movie, which stars John Wayne, but I have seen the excellent Coen Brothers version of this book, and I immediately loved the character of Mattie Ross. I can say the book more than lived up to my expectations and only enhanced my love for this character. Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Touching the Void - Joe Simpson

The subtitle of this book is The True Story of One Man's Miraculous Survival and it's just that - a gripping account of a mountain climbing accident and the miraculous survival of a man who was thought to be dead. The writing was well done and made me, as the reader, able to imagine the excruciating circumstances of the author's struggle to survive a life-threatening accident and its aftermath.

Yellow Crocus - Laila Ibrahim

Found this book on NetGalley and it was a perfect fit for the Color Coded Reading Challenge, so I let it jump over some of the other TBR books. I enjoyed the story of two women, one a free white woman and the other an African American slave, whose lives are entwined. It was an enjoyable, fast read, despite descriptions of pregnancy, labor, childbirth, and nursing that were a little intense for me (I don't have kids). It made an interesting companion read to To Be a Slave, as a fictionalized account of life in the southern US when slavery was still practiced.

My Name Is Red - Orhan Pamuk

Another book I got at a substantial discount at Borders last September, this is the first book I have finished for my Around the World Challenge - hooray! Set in Istanbul in the late 1500s, the story that unfolds is told in alternating first-person accounts by various characters and even, sometimes, inanimate objects. I really enjoyed this narrative structure, as it felt like a natural way for the story, which is part murder mystery, part love story, and part a description of how art was viewed by people in this time and place, to unfold. I have another book by the same author as one of my TBR Challenge books, and now I'm looking forward to getting to that sooner rather than later. Recommended.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

March - This Month in Reading

March went much better for reading than January and February. Last month, I wrote that I wanted to read at least 10 books, including at least 1 book for the TBR Pile Challenge and the Mixing It Up Challenge and at least 2 books for the Color Coded Reading Challenge and my personal challenge, the Around the World Challenge. The good news is I did meet some of these goals - I read a total of 12 books, including 1 each for the TBR and Mixing It Up challenges. I also managed to read one book for the Color Coded challenge, but I wasn't able to finish the first book I managed to start for my personal challenge - it'll have to be the first book for April.

So for April, I need to work on my Around the World Challenge. I might have to hit the library for some books for the challenge, since I don't have many for the listed countries on hand, unfortunately. Overall, I'd like to read at least 10 books, including at least 2 for the World challenge, and at least 1 for the other challenges.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen

This book was recommended to me by a couple of reader friends, so when I found a copy on the Library Sale shelves, I eagerly grabbed it. Sadly, I can't say I enjoyed it as much as my pals apparently did. On the positive side, some of the dialogue was outstanding - it perfectly captured the manipulative, circular way midwestern people of a certain age speak, to the point where I could picture people I have known in my life that spoke in exactly this way. I did finish the book, as I was curious enough about what would happen that I didn't give up. On the other hand, much of the writing was pretentious claptrap; this book could have been half as long. Some of the things that happen are pointless and implausible. Three or four of the minor characters were so loathsome to me I was honestly hoping they'd come to some bad end as a catharsis. So all in all I can't recommend this book, unfortunately.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Through the Looking-Glass - Lewis Carroll

The second Alice adventure, and another book I wish I had read as a child, as I would have liked it quite a bit. The wordplay and the poems are a lot of fun, even if some of the references are a little archaic to modern ears. All in all a fun couple of books.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

Somehow I managed to never read this book before now, which is a shame - I would have loved this as a kid. When I saw it on the Library Sale shelves, I eagerly purchased it so I could remedy the situation and read this book. A wonderful story and a quick, fun read.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding

This book was a reread, I first read it back when it was originally published. It's funny how one's memory plays tricks - it wasn't exactly like I remembered. I suppose my brain conflated the movie with the book, plus it's been many years. Now that I am a bit (ahem) older than the character of Bridget, I definitely identify with her feeling hapless a lot of the time, and the other half of me wants to give her a shake and tell her to stop being silly. This was a quick read that served well as a palate-cleanser for the rest of the month's reading.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The House of the Scorpion - Nancy Farmer

This was a YA book that didn't quite hit the mark for this not-so-Y-adult reader. The desert setting didn't appeal to me (a personal preference, I know). Much of the subject matter has been recycled from other, better books/films. I felt like it could have been half the length, and it seemed to ramble in places. The writing was clunkier than I expected, as the writer has won multiple Newbery Honors and usually books so honored are well written. Not sure what to make of it. It was a quick read, however.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Ice Queen - Alice Hoffman

I'm no longer sure how I came into possession of this book; I think it was from my office's book exchange shelves (which are no longer there, unfortunately!). This was a quick read with some interesting characters and circumstances but I am not sure it will live in my mind at all. I think I would have rather heard more about a character who is not seen/heard from much in the book than some of the others, and I'm not sure what to think about some of the events that take place, but maybe it's just my limitations as a reader.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Finny - Justin Kramon

Another Borders Last Days book, this was a pleasant read. On the first few pages I wasn't sure if I would like Finny or if she was too bratty for me, but ultimately I liked her quite a bit. I think some of the characters were better fleshed out than others but that didn't diminish my enjoyment of the story.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

To Be a Slave - Julius Lester

This was a disturbing book, as it's a compilation of first-hand accounts of what slavery in the U.S. was like, from the words of the slaves themselves. It's a difficult read but an important one. Most countries have things in the past that are embarrassing now, in the early 21st century, but it's important for us to understand how things used to be so we can attempt to keep improving.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Tenth Man - E. William Podojil

I found out about this book through The Eelhouse, a wonderful B&B in one of my favorite cities on earth, Amsterdam. Apparently the Eelhouse is a setting in the book, and one of the characters is based on the owner. Overall I enjoyed this book, it was a serviceable thriller that didn't have any more clunky dialogue or typos than many current "bestsellers." I liked the way the author fleshed out the characters and I didn't mind some of the more far-fetched things, as they are part of a thriller and make it more enjoyable. I liked his characterization of a serial killer, and how he portrayed the psychology of that character.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Coma - Alex Garland

This was a puzzling book, a quick, compulsive read. I feel like some of the images will stay with me and I'll be thinking them over for a while. The author wrote the screenplay for the excellent zombie movie 28 Days Later and I can see echoes of that movie in this book. The illustrations, which seem to be in the style of woodcuts (if they aren't actually woodcuts) added a lot to the story as well. I'd definitely seek out the other books by this author.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Man in the Gray Flannel Skirt - Jon-Jon Goulian

I was prepared to dislike the author and his memoir, to roll my eyes at his privileged upbringing and his unsettled life. However, I was unable to dislike him; I found myself really enjoying his voice, his sense of humor, and his way of describing events from his past. He seems to be trying to answer a two-part question in this book, namely "why am I the way I am and what's the point of it all?" I can't answer the second part, as I don't know either. I will, however, take a stab at the first part and say, you are the way you are, i.e., the titular man in the gray flannel skirt, because you knew that your family loved and supported you. They may not have understood or agreed with everything you have done over the years, but deep down you know that they care and that they love you. Not all of us are that lucky (I certainly wasn't) but I'm happy that you were/are, and I enjoyed your book. And if you ever figure out the second part of your question, please let me know!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ugly to Start With - John Michael Cummings

This was my first-ever commissioned review, and I am happy to say that I can highly recommend this book, a collection of short stories. As I've said, I'm not usually a fan of short story collections, because as a reader I usually want to spend more time with the characters. This book solved that problem neatly by sharing the same narrator and characters, so the overall effect was of an impressionistic novel. Of the stories, my favorites were the eponymous "Ugly to Start With," which I found to be a heartbreaking depiction of disappointment and broken dreams, and "The Scratchboard Project," which beautifully illustrated the inner lives of two characters in describing their behavior. The title of the latter story also perfectly describes what happens during the story (I don't want to elaborate in case of spoilers). The narrator was sympathetic, and I think the author skillfully lets us in on his motivations and feelings so that we can understand why he does what he does, even if it sometimes doesn't appear to make sense to others. I will definitely seek out the other writings of this author. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February - This Month in Reading

Another underachieving reading month has gone by! Not sure why there is such a sluggish start to my reading year.

Last month I wanted to read at least 10 books, and at least one for each challenge except for my personal challenge, for which I wanted to read two books. I did not meet these goals.

What I did manage to do:

  • Read 7 books (not 10, but better than 0)
  • Read a book for the TBR Pile Challenge
  • Read a book for the Mixing It Up Challenge

What I need to do next month to get caught up:

  • Read at least 10 books - for real this time!
  • Read at least 1 book for the TBR Pile Challenge and the Mixing It Up Challenge
  • Read at least 2 books for the Color Coded Reading Challenge and my personal challenge, the Around the World Challenge

I did read some books this month, but I have to pick up the pace or I will not manage to make my reading goals. I think I have to shake things up or something - I definitely have plenty of books and some challenges I am enjoying, so I just need to get more reading done somehow. I think I will try scheduling the reading time into each day in March. Maybe a change will yield some results!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Sisters Brothers - Patrick deWitt

I was drawn to this book because of its amazing cover, and was able to snag a half-price copy at Borders' closing sales. I really enjoyed this book; I very much liked the narrator, and the author has the knack of making what would otherwise be entirely repugnant characters sympathetic - or at least more sympathetic than they maybe deserve. Highly recommended.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Short Girls - Bich Minh Nguyen

This was another book I picked up at Borders' Last Days sales, and I really enjoyed it. I liked the way the third-person narrative alternated between the sisters, and I liked both of their characters very much, even when they did things I didn't necessary like. I'd like to read more about them. Highly recommended.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Stolen Innocence - Elissa Wall with Lisa Pulitzer

The subtitle of this book is My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs, and as with the previous book, that sums it up well. This book appalled me, as I simply cannot understand how someone can stand by and allow someone to abuse their children. I just can't. I applaud the author for being strong enough to break free from the cult she was born into, and I'm glad that so many of her siblings have also managed to do so. I hope she can have a wonderful life now, and I'm sure she will, as she is a strong person.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Heroes of the Holocaust - Allan Zullo and Mara Bovsun

The subtitle of this book is True Stories of Rescues by Teens and that sums it up well - it's a collection of stories about ordinary European teenagers who risked their lives helping Jewish people during World War II. It's a nice testament to the idea that one person can make a difference. Aimed at young readers, this book would be great for a student who had just read Anne Frank's diary, or learned about the Holocaust, and wanted to know more. Recommended.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Taroko Gorge - Jacob Ritari

Stumbled on this book at one of the crazy Borders Last Days sales, and it was definitely worth reading. I enjoyed the different voices of the narrators, and the story kept me going, even though something that happened still has me wondering why it happened. All in all an enjoyable, fast read.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sophie's World - Jostein Gaarder

This was an interesting book and a relatively painless way to get a good overview of the history of philosophy, yet another subject I know nothing much about. I confess I do wish to read something a bit lighter on the mind for my next book, however!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson

Why isn't Shirley Jackson talked about more often? It must be because she died relatively young and many years ago; it certainly isn't because she isn't a great writer. I am not sure anyone does creepy as well as she does. I remember reading "The Lottery" in school and loving it, and I have no idea why I didn't go on to read more of her writing, but at least I can make up for lost time now. I found this book at a local high school's summer book sale a couple years ago, and never managed to read it until now, and as often happens with my TBR books I'm sorry I waited so long. I think this book will be buzzing around my mind for the next several days. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January - This Month in Reading

This month was not an auspicious start to this year's reading! Work and life busyness meant that I managed a measly 6 books, well under the 10 to 15 I had hoped for. On the plus side, I did read a book for 3 out of the 4 challenges I am doing, so that was good at least.

Needless to say, for February I would like to read at least 10 books, and at least one for each challenge (2 for the Around the World Challenge to make up for not getting to one this month!). I'll keep track of that here, that seems to work well. How was your reading this month?

More Than a Hiding Place - Emily S. Smith

This is a nonfiction book about Corrie ten Boom, whom I mentioned in a book review from 2011. I was lucky enough to visit Corrie's home, also called "the Hiding Place," in Haarlem in November 2011, and it was amazing to actually be in the home I'd had read so much about. Our guide even allowed us to step in to the actual hiding place, a very small and narrow place that was never breached by the Nazis it was meant to impede. This book is loaded with actual photographs of the ten Boom family which were wonderful to see, as I'd never seen them before. I purchased it at the house in November, and only wish it had been written sooner so I could have seen the photos, some of which are of the people who successfully hid from the Nazis in the house during the time they hid there.

Fire! The Beginnings of the Labor Movement - Barbara Diamond Goldin

This is a small book for kids, part of the "Once Upon America" series of historical books, which take a historical story/concept and make it relatable for young readers. I enjoyed this book, as short as it was it was a good introduction to the need for the labor movement and the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire at the beginning of the 20th Century and I am sure I would have enjoyed the book if I had read it when I was young.

Roseanna - Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

I resolved to read some book series this year, and the Martin Beck series by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö is one of them. I found out about this series when I found one of the books in a thrift shop for about 50 cents. The book caught my eye because the cover looked vintage (it's from approximately 1970) and I enjoy a good crime novel, so I picked it up. Of course it wasn't the first book in the series, but I got lucky and stumbled on Roseanna on the Library Sale shelves and was able to at least get started. The next several books might have to come from the library.

I enjoyed this book overall, it was a decent police procedural, and because it was originally written in 1965 things moved at what even now is probably a more realistic pace, with letters taking longer to reach their destinations, people having to use public pay telephones, no cellphones/email, etc. Martin Beck is rather stoic as a character, and I don't feel like I know him very well but on the other hand he is sympathetic, and I do want to read more about him.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Books $1 and Under for 2012

I think I'd like to keep track of the inexpensive books I read through this year, as it was fun to do so for the Buck Stops Here Challenge last year.

1. Othello - William Shakespeare (50 cent Library Sale book)
2. Roseanna - Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (50 cent Library Sale book)
3. Fire! The Beginnings of the Labor Movement - Barbara Diamond Goldin (Borders last days book; paid approximately 50 cents)
4. We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson (<$1 high school book sale book)
5. Sophie's World - Jostein Gaarder (free book from neighbor)
6. Heroes of the Holocaust - Allan Zullo and Mara Bovsun (50 cent Library Sale book)
7. The Man in the Gray Flannel Skirt - Jon-Jon Goulian ($1 Borders last days book)
8. The Coma - Alex Garland ($1 Borders last days book)
9. To Be a Slave - Julius Lester (50 cent Library Sale book)
10. The Ice Queen - Alice Hoffman (free book from office book exchange shelves)
11. The House of the Scorpion - Nancy Farmer (free book from neighbor)
12. Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding (50 cent Library Sale book)
13. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll (50 cent Library Sale book)
14. Through the Looking-Glass - Lewis Carroll (50 cent Library Sale book)
15. The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen (50 cent Library Sale book)
16. Yellow Crocus - Laila Ibrahim (read for free through
17. Touching the Void - Joe Simpson (either free from office book exchange shelves or a 50 cent Library Sale book, I can't remember which)
18. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath (free book from friend)
19. The Devil in the White City - Erik Larson (free book from neighbor)
20. Security - Stephen Amidon (50 cent Library Sale book)
21. Save the Deli - David Sax (40 cent Borders last days book)
22. Candide - Voltaire (50 cent Library Sale book)
23. Murder at 40 Below - Tom Brennan (gift from sister in law)
24. Story Time - Edward Bloor (50 cent Library Sale book)
25. Plum Wine - Angela Davis-Gardner (50 cent Library Sale book)
26. In The Woods - Tana French (50 cent Library Sale book)
27. Beautiful Disaster - Jamie McGuire (read for free through
28. A Dark Enchantment - Roland Vernon (50 cent Library Sale book)
29. Cold Mountain - Charles Frazier (bought from coworker's moving sale for 5 cents)
30. Moby-Dick - Herman Melville (50 cent Library Sale book)
31. Snow - Orhan Pamuk (50 cent Library Sale book)

Othello - William Shakespeare

As an English major, I have read many Shakespeare plays and seen many performed in the theater, but strangely I had never read nor seen Othello, and now, having read it, I can't imagine why not. It seemed relatively short, and was a quick read with a heartbreaking plot, clear villain with clear motives, guileless heroine, etc. Seems like it would be an easy choice for a class assignment, and I would have liked to have written a paper on it and discussed it in a classroom setting. As it is, I'm glad I have read it now. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Blue Place - Nicola Griffith

Apparently I was rather good in 2011, as I got a few books as Yule gifts, including this one. As you know, I inadvertently read the second book in this series first, and I felt compelled to read the others rather soon, so they leapt to the top of the TBR Mountain, as I couldn't bear to wait. This book didn't disappoint at all, I found it impossible to put down, and now I can't wait to read the next book, which happens to be perched atop "TBR peak" right now.

Y'all know I don't normally write "reviews" beyond oblique references and opinions, so as to prevent spoilers and such, but I have to say I love the main character of this series, Aud. I don't often wish I could know a fictional character in real life, but Aud is someone I wish I could know as a person. Another that comes to mind is Ida from Brighton Rock, whom I wished was my slightly older sister; someone protective but not smothering, who would be fun to hang out with but take you seriously when you wanted/needed that. I think Aud is like that too - I feel like she'd help me be more of a grownup, more mature, wise, aware, practical; she wouldn't put up with my nonsense too much but would let me get away with it because she's not judgmental. Then again she'd probably never want to be friends with someone like me in the first place - but that's another type of blog, ha ha. Sufficient to say that I am a big fan of her as a character and of the series and now I think I'll go see what happens next. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cumulative List of Books Read in 2012

Although I didn't join an official challenge for this in 2012, I would like to try to read 200 books this year, and I will keep a cumulative list of all the books I read in this post, as I found that a great way to track my reading when I was doing the 100+ Books Challenge.

1. Let the Right One In - John Ajvide Lindqvist
2. The Blue Place - Nicola Griffith
3. Othello - William Shakespeare
4. Roseanna - Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö
5. Fire! The Beginnings of the Labor Movement - Barbara Diamond Goldin
6. More Than a Hiding Place - Emily S. Smith
7. We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson
8. Sophie's World - Jostein Gaarder
9. Taroko Gorge - Jacob Ritari
10. Heroes of the Holocaust - Allan Zullo and Mara Bovsun
11. Stolen Innocence - Elissa Wall with Lisa Pulitzer
12. Short Girls - Bich Minh Nguyen
13. The Sisters Brothers - Patrick deWitt
14. Ugly to Start With - John Michael Cummings
15. The Man in the Gray Flannel Skirt - Jon-Jon Goulian
16. The Coma - Alex Garland
17. The Tenth Man - E. William Podojil
18. To Be a Slave - Julius Lester
19. Finny - Justin Kramon
20. The Ice Queen - Alice Hoffman
21. The House of the Scorpion - Nancy Farmer
22. Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
23. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
24. Through the Looking-Glass - Lewis Carroll
25. The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen
26. My Name Is Red - Orhan Pamuk
27. Yellow Crocus - Laila Ibrahim
28. Touching the Void - Joe Simpson
29. True Grit - Charles Portis
30. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
31. The Devil in the White City - Erik Larson
32. Timequake - Kurt Vonnegut
33. Of Ducks and Universes - Neve Maslakovic
34. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
35. The Awakening - Kate Chopin
36. Security - Stephen Amidon
37. The Borrower - Rebecca Makkai
38. Snowdrops - A.D. Miller
39. Vaclav & Lena - Haley Tanner
40. Save the Deli - David Sax
41. Candide - Voltaire
42. Murder at 40 Below - Tom Brennan
43. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
44. Amberville - Tim Davys
45. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas - John Boyne
46. Benny and Omar - Eoin Colfer
47. Ready Player One - Ernest Cline
48. Tales of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
49. In My Family Tree: A Life with Chimpanzees - Sheila Siddle with Doug Cress
50. Further Tales of the City - Armistead Maupin
51. Culture and Customs of the Central African Republic - Jaqueline Woodfork
52. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs
53. Persepolis 2 - Marjane Satrapi
54. How Green Was My Valley - Richard Llewellyn
55. Cayman Islands - Tricia Hayne
56. Embroideries - Marjane Satrapi
57. Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist - Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
58. Babycakes - Armistead Maupin
59. Ballad of the Whiskey Robber - Julian Rubinstein
60. Chicken with Plums - Marjane Satrapi
61. 4,000 Days - Warren Fellows
62. Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe - Sophie Warne
63. Story Time - Edward Bloor
64. Plum Wine - Angela Davis-Gardner
65. In The Woods - Tana French
66. Seychelles - Sarah Carpin
67. Beautiful Disaster - Jamie McGuire
68. The Black Opera - Mary Gentle
69. Sangoma - James Hall
70. The Man Who Went Up In Smoke - Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö
71. Young Goodman Brown and Other Tales - Nathaniel Hawthorne
72. Battle Royale - Koushun Takami
73. Captain Alatriste - Arturo Pérez-Reverte
74. The Devil Drives: A Life of Sir Richard Burton - Fawn Brodie
75. The Autobiography of Henry VIII - Margaret George
76. A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson
77. A Dark Enchantment - Roland Vernon
78. Cold Mountain - Charles Frazier
79. The Portable Dorothy Parker - Dorothy Parker (Edited by Marion Meade)
80. Moby-Dick - Herman Melville
81. Snow - Orhan Pamuk