Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 - This Year in Reading

Well, what a year this has been in reading! I managed to read a grand total of 128 books - not as many as my record 166 from 2011, but still a good, solid amount of reading. And of those 128, a full 60 were books straight off the dusty TBR pile - which is WONDERFUL, and a major improvement. So all in all, I am happy with my reading in 2014.

Another cool thing that happened this year with this blog is that I passed the 500 post milestone - amazing considering I thought I would make a few posts in early 2011 and then quit!

Quick 2014 challenge roundup:

TBR Pile Challenge - managed all 12 of the 12 listed books, plus I read both of my alternates, which is a first for me. Can't wait to do this one again in 2015!
Harlem Renaissance Reading Challenge - I exceeded this challenge by reading 3 books when I signed up for only 1 (to be sure I could complete the challenge). I am hoping this challenge happens again in 2015, but if not, I might do my own mini-challenge, as I'd love to read more books that are in this category.
Color-Coded Reading Challenge - read all of the books for this one, and as usual discovered some cool books along the way. Looking forward to doing this one again in 2015.
Books on France Reading Challenge - exceeded this one too, as I signed up for just a couple books to make sure I could complete it. There's a twist on this one for 2015 that should be fun.
The Planet Earth Challenge - this is my own personal challenge to read a book set in each country on earth. I had a couple books that worked for this challenge this year, but not a lot, but this is a work in progress with no specific due date, so that's OK. I'll keep working on this as I can.

Overall I got off to a slow start on my reading, so for 2015 I'd like to keep a more steady pace

Some changes in store for 2015:

-As of tomorrow, this blog will have a new name! When I started this blog in 2011, I was in a hurry and I couldn't think of a creative name - plus, I'm a procrastinator and I tend to lose interest in things, so frankly I kind of expected to forget about this blog and abandon it after a couple months. Then in 2012, the blog's name was  obsolete, but again I couldn't think of a more creative name so I tacked on "(and Beyond)" and let it go at that. The name has been bugging me for a while now and I finally came up with something new, so stop by tomorrow to see what it is! I'm not going to change anything else about the blog - one big change is enough for now :)

-New feature: Reread of the Month. I have a bunch of books on my TBR pile that are books I read in the past from the library, that I enjoyed so much I ended up buying myself a copy when one became available on the Library Sale shelves. Since these are technically re-reads, even though they are part of my TBR pile, I decided to create a special category for these books and read one per month.

-Summer Language Challenge preparation. I really hope Ekaterina hosts the Language Freak Summer Challenge again in 2015, and if so, I am determined to do a LOT better. So determined that I am planning to challenge myself to really work on this challenge this summer. I have books on hand and the desire to do this, so I can definitely make it happen.

-More series reading. One aspect of my TBR pile is books that are part of a series - but not the first book. I am a stickler about reading a series from the beginning, so many of these books have sat unread waiting for me to chase down the other books to start the series, etc.

So there you have it! I sincerely thank all of my readers, and I wish everyone a happy, healthy, and prosperous year full of books and reading and all good things. See you in 2015!

December - This Month in Reading

This was a completely nutty month in reading for me. At the end of November, I realized that I had to read more than 20 books to complete the Mount TBR Reading Challenge. Since I started this blog in 2011, I've always completed each challenge I've joined, so I rallied and I read a total of 27 books this month, which I think is a record for me.

Speaking of reading challenges, in reading these 27 books, I completed the Mount TBR Challenge and read all 14 books (the main 12 plus the 2 alternates) for the TBR Pile Challenge, which is another first. Amazing!

For January, I would like to read one book for each challenge I signed up for for 2015 so as to stay on track. I already have 2 non-challenge books I will have to complete too, so I'm hoping for an overall total of 10 books. I think I can manage.

How was your December reading?

Read It Again, Sam 2015

I was planning on doing some re-reads in 2015, so I may as well join this challenge too. It's also hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block. I'm going to sign up for the "A Trip Down Memory Lane" level of 12 books, since that works out with my plans. I'll keep track of the books I re-read for this challenge in this post.

1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
2. Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years - Sarah L. Delany and A. Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth
3. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
4. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
5. 1984 - George Orwell
6. Anne Frank: A Portrait in Courage - Ernst Schnabel
7. Anne Frank Remembered - Miep Gies with Alison Leslie Gold
8. The Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank
9. The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
10. The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition - Anne Frank
11. Amberville - Tim Davys
12. Sleeping in Flame - Jonathan Carroll

2015 Mount TBR Reading Challenge

I cannot believe I cleared 60 books from my TBR Pile in 2014 thanks to this challenge - the scary thing is I can do at least that many in 2015 - so I am signing up again! Bev at My Reader's Block is hosting this challenge again (thanks Bev!), so go sign up and clear that pile! I am going to stick to the Mt Kilimanjaro level, another 60 books, as it's very do-able, although this year I *swear* I am not going to get distracted and have to read more than 20 books in 1 month to summit :S

I'll keep track of the books I read for this challenge in this post as I read them during the year. And if you see less than 45 - 50 books on this list in Nov. 2015, feel free to leave me a comment telling me to get busy reading :)

1. A Doll's House - Henrik Ibsen
2. Between Two Fires - Christopher Buehlman
3. A Wish After Midnight - Zetta Elliott
4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
5. Goodbye, Columbus - Philip Roth
6. Mary Ann in Autumn - Armistead Maupin
7. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
8. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
9. 1984 - George Orwell
10. Nobody's Family Is Going to Change - Louise Fitzhugh
11. Maisie Dobbs - Jacqueline Winspear
12. Southern Lady, Yankee Spy - Elizabeth R. Varon
13. Magnificent Obsession - Lloyd C. Douglas
14. Decline and Fall - Evelyn Waugh
15. 44 Scotland Street - Alexander McCall Smith
16. Espresso Tales - Alexander McCall Smith
17. Love Over Scotland - Alexander McCall Smith
18. Anne Frank - A History for Today
19. Hidden Child of the Holocaust - Stacy Cretzmeyer
20. Inside Anne Frank's House: An Illustrated Journey Through Anne's World
21. Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife - Francine Prose
22. Sala's Gift - Ann Kirschner
23. Journal - Anne Frank
24. Treasures from the Attic - Mirjam Pressler
25. The Hero's Walk - Anita Rau Badami
26. Berlin Noir - Philip Kerr
27. A Personal Matter - Kenzaburo Oe
28. A Free Man of Color - Barbara Hambly
29. O Pioneers! - Willa Cather
30. The City & The City - China Miéville
31. Don't Look Now - Daphne du Maurier
32. Blindness - José Saramago
33. Het Achterhuis - Anne Frank
34. Steppenwolf - Herman Hesse
35. Women in Love - D.H. Lawrence
36. Les Misérables - Victor Hugo
37. My Day in Heaven with My Lil' Sister - Quest Delaney
38. Lanceheim - Tim Davys
39. Torquai - Tim Davys
40. Yok - Tim Davys
41. Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn
42. Tartuffe - Molière
43. The Souls of Black Folk - W.E.B. Du Bois
44. The Eighth Day of the Week - Marek Hłasko
45. The Necromancer's House - Christopher Buehlman
46. The Bookseller of Kabul - Åsne Seierstad
47. The Cid - Pierre Corneille
48. The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery
49. Sleeping in Flame - Jonathan Carroll
50. Chéri - Colette
51. A Year in the Merde - Stephen Clarke
52. Billy Mink - Thornton W. Burgess
53. The Arabian Nights - translated by Sir Richard F. Burton
54. The Last of Chéri - Colette
55. The Pearl - John Steinbeck
56. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
57. Travels With My Aunt - Graham Greene
58. Fathers and Sons - Ivan Turgenev
59. Cannery Row - John Steinbeck
60. The Rhetoric of Death - Judith Rock

Sacred Games - Vikram Chandra

Reader, I feel like I have spent the last few days in Mumbai and have only now come back - and I'm not sure I'm ready to return. What an amazing sprawl this book is. There are so many stories here that all seem to intertwine somehow, someway. The writing was of that hypnotic type that creates vivid imagery in my mind as I read, like some grand film playing only for me. I felt compelled to read and I hated to put the book down. Sorry that this review is even more jumbled than usual but I'm still processing the scope of this amazing story. I will have to get to the author's other books as soon as I defeat the TBR pile. Recommended.

With this book finished, I have now completed the Mount TBR Challenge - hooray! The view from the top of "Mount Kilimanjaro" is wonderful :) I have cleared a mind boggling 60 books from my TBR pile this year, and it's finally looking like it will someday be cleared for good - which is kind of shocking, but in a good way. I'll be participating in this challenge again for 2015, and I think I'll repeat this climb, although I will try to keep a steadier pace. :S Or maybe I should just envision a slow and steady descent from the peak?

In related news, I have now completely completed (sorry, but it's true - read on!) the TBR Pile Challenge for 2014 - I have now read all 12 of the 12 main books, plus both of the alternate books, a feat I have never yet managed - wahoo! So I will go ahead and plant the flag of this challenge on top of the mountain while I am here jumping up and down and celebrating.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Back to the Classics Challenge 2015

Karen K of Books and Chocolate is hosting this fun challenge again, with some new categories, and I can't wait! I had a great time in 2014 exploring the classics with this challenge, and I have more on the TBR pile for 2015, as well as some books I am adding to the list because they've been on my mental long-term TBR list for ages. It's fun to figure out which books to use where, as so many would fit in multiple categories. Here are the challenge categories and the books I am going to read for each:

1.  A 19th Century Classic -- any book published between 1800 and 1899 - The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

2.  A 20th Century Classic -- any book published between 1900 and 1965 - Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence

3.  A Classic by a Woman Author - O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

4.  A Classic in Translation - The Arabian Nights translated by Sir Richard F. Burton

5.  A Very Long Classic Novel -- a single work of 500 pages or longer Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

6.  A Classic Novella -- any work shorter than 250 pages - Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse

7.  A Classic with a Person's Name in the Title - Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth

8.  A Humorous or Satirical Classic - Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh

9.  A Forgotten Classic - Magnificent Obsession by Lloyd C. Douglas

10.  A Nonfiction Classic.  A memoir, biography, essays, travel, this can be any nonfiction work that's considered a classic, or a nonfiction work by a classic author - Het Achterhuis by Anne Frank

11.  A Classic Children's Book - The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

12.  A Classic Play - A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen

So there you have it - this should be a very satisfying and fun challenge this year. Thanks to Karen for hosting this great challenge again in 2015! Did you sign up yet? What's on your list for 2015?

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Importance of Being Earnest - Oscar Wilde

This was a hilarious read. The lines are so entertaining that it almost reads like a recitation of Wilde's known witticisms and quotations. Indeed, I believe many of Wilde's best known quotes are actually lines from this play. I can't really say much more without flirting with spoilers, but I highly recommend any writing by Wilde, one of the most talented writers ever to have lived.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame

What an utterly charming book! I managed to never read this growing up, and I so wish I had - it was a lot of fun. The writing made me laugh out loud more than once. I know Mr. Toad is a very popular character, and I can certainly see why; I slightly preferred Mole though, as he seemed like a sweeter, nicer character overall. I truly wish this book was the first in a series, as I'd love to read more stories about these characters. A book well deserving of its status as a classic. Highly recommended.

A Handful of Dust - Evelyn Waugh

Reading this book directly after finishing the Coward plays was sort of a good thing - in fact some of the characters seemed familiar to me from the plays (of course they are not the same, but the characters in both the plays and this book were from similar backgrounds of wealthy English families going to seed as their way of life wanes in the time between world wars). For the first few pages I found myself unconsciously looking for stage directions and wondering how one would depict the narrative portions on the stage.

I must say this book was not exactly what I had imagined it would be before I started it. I have read some Waugh before, but it was ages ago, so I had a vague notion of what the book might be like. The story seemed like a straightforward satirical novel until it took a turn halfway through - I found this shocking and I could not put the book down wondering how it all came out - and I can't say it was entirely satisfying. I don't want to say more lest I create spoilers. However, I would recommend this book and I'd love to discuss it with anyone else who has read it in the comments or otherwise.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Three Plays: Blithe Spirit, Hay Fever, Private Lives - Noel Coward

As you may have guessed from the title, this book contains three plays, but they are all relatively short and I am therefore counting this as a single book. Of the three plays, I would have to say I enjoyed Private Lives the most, although I enjoyed them all. I imagine all of these plays really sing when performed on the stage.

It's amazing to me how talented Noel Coward was; apparently he wrote many of these plays in a matter of days - ! Crazy. As I was reading, many golden-age-of-hollywood movies would spring to mind from time to time, and according to this book's introduction this is because Coward's plays influenced the movies. If someone invents a working time machine in my lifetime, I would dearly love to go back in time and see Coward in action, acting in his own plays - I bet it would have been a truly amazing experience. I'll also make sure to book a ticket to see one of my favorite stars of that era, Clifton Webb, play the role of Blithe Spirit's Charles Condomine on Broadway - what a perfect casting that was. I look forward to reading more by Coward if I can get out from under the TBR pile. Recommended.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Breakfast of Champions - Kurt Vonnegut

One of the things I liked the most about this book is what I guess I have to call the "meta" aspect of the story - the way the fictional story and reality intersected and bounced off each other throughout. I kind of wish I had started reading Vonnegut's books in the order in which he wrote them, but maybe someday if I can tame the TBR pile I can take that on as a project. I think seeing how he uses and re-uses many of the same characters would be interesting. This is another book I would love to discuss in a college-level class (or in the comments, feel free to leave one if you like!).

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Memory Room - Christopher Koch

Not sure what to make of this book. The tagline promises a story that has to do with spying, and it does, although the spying is just sort of mentioned here and there, and is always tangential to the character relationships. If one removed the "spying" element, which isn't much in the forefront to begin with, the story could still take place as it does. I get that the book is meant to be more about the mentality of someone who would choose to be a spy, but I didn't feel like I even got that. I kept waiting for some kind of payoff that never came. Not to mention that one of the characters was unbelievably tiresome to me - I have no patience for people who create drama (unless they are talented playwrights, ha ha). Undecided on this one.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Devil's Tickets - Gary M. Pomerantz

The subtitle for this book is A Vengeful Wife, A Fatal Hand, and A New American Age. This book is an account of a sensational early 1930s murder trial of a wife accused of fatally shooting her husband over a game of bridge (a card game, hence the title - apparently "the devil's tickets" is a pejorative term for playing cards). According to the book, marital discord was rather common in bridge, since married couples often played as partners, which could cause issues if one partner felt the other was causing their team to lose, etc. I personally feel like games should be fun and not stressful, and I have no head for complicated card games - I don't have a good memory, for one thing - so I can't see any appeal to this game at all.

Also entwined in the story of the trial is that of a bridge expert, who used the trial as a publicity tool to successfully sell self-published bridge-related books and magazines. Both these stories were full of big personalities. You don't have to know how to play bridge to read or enjoy this book, but it would definitely help - I know that some of the descriptions here and there would have made more sense to me if I knew things about bridge. I most enjoyed the last third of the book, as it describes the kind of research I love to do. All in all the author really put a lot of detail into the book and it was an interesting window into the lives of people who are not well remembered now but who were nonetheless fascinating.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

House of Sand and Fog - Andre Dubus III

This book was seriously relentless and inspired a feeling of dread the entire time I was reading it. I found one of the characters to be so entirely loathsome that it was hard to read about this person. Although it was a compulsive read, and I didn't dislike it, the overwhelming feeling of heaviness and sadness made it seem like it was a bit too long. A worthwhile read in many respects, but a harrowing one.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Detroit Electric Scheme - D.E. Johnson

This was an enthralling mystery that zipped along at a brisk pace and kept me guessing until the end, although I did start to put things together about halfway through. I liked the narrator a lot, and really liked a couple other characters too - so much that I was upset by some events that occurred at the end of the book. The book is like a film noir, but set in Detroit in 1910, which was right up my alley, as I love that period in history. Some quick research shows that this is the now the first book in a series - so I will definitely have to read the next books to see what happens next. A lucky Borders Last Days sale find, and recommended.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Henni - Miss Lasko-Gross

I loved this clever and relevant allegory. Henni is a highly appealing character, and I was really drawn in to her journey (literal and metaphorical). The art was reminiscent of Persepolis, which I of course loved too. The only complaint I have is that I would very much like to know more about Henni's story, and what happens next - I am definitely hoping for a sequel or a series. This author has a couple previous books, and I will definitely add them to my virtual to be read pile. Recommended.

Plucked - Rebecca M. Herzig

Whenever I hear of some questionable "medical" practice from 100 years ago, such as using X-rays (!) to remove unwanted hair, I shake my head and wonder what people could have been thinking -  but then I also wonder: in 2114, which common practices of today will seem unbelievably questionable? This thought brings me to my review of this book, subtitled A History of Hair Removal. As someone who admittedly conforms (if lazily and inconsistently) to the American custom of shaving one's armpits and calves, I found the book to be fascinating; it's thoroughly researched and full of interesting information and even includes illustrations. One small note: this book centers mainly on hair removal customs in the United States, and I would have loved to know a bit more about the difference between the U.S. and other countries, for example, why it's more common for French women to leave their armpit hair intact. But all in all this was an unusual but intriguing book. Recommended.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cause for Concern - Margaret Yorke

Wouldn't it be nice if all the horrible people who harm others would just disappear? The world would be such a better place. This book was a suspenseful character study, including horrible characters that harm others, that was skillfully put together in such a way that I really enjoyed wondering about how all the pieces fit together. I also appreciated the multiple points of view, as it allowed me to not only understand the thought processes and motivations of a bunch of characters, but care about these characters as well (well, most of them). This was another Library Sale book, and I wasn't familiar with the author before I brought this book home, but I'd definitely read her other books.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

And Only to Deceive - Tasha Alexander

Another Library Sale book that has been waiting to be read - and another book I wish I had read much sooner. I enjoyed this suspenseful novel. The narrator is very sympathetic and I liked her spirit. The story kept me guessing at what was really happening throughout the book. I think there may be a sequel, and I'd definitely check that out. A quick, entertaining read.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Our Father - Robert Tyler

This book was a fast read. I thought the story was well paced and I enjoyed all the different facets of it. I will say that I feel unsure of the author's message in some parts - I'm not 100% of the message I am supposed to take away. Maybe that's deliberate. In any case, the book seems somewhat eerily prophetic. I felt a lot of sympathy for some of the characters, and although I know they are fictional, I would hope that they could find peace and happiness.

Being Polite to Hitler - Robb Forman Dew

Not sure what to make of this book. In may ways it reminded me of this book. It wasn't a plotted story as much as it was a character study, but it seemed all over the place. A lot of the things that happened seemed random and had no real bearing on anything else. I enjoyed parts of it but others didn't make too much sense to me. I'm undecided about this one.

Edited to add: apparently this is part of a trilogy - if I had known that, I would have read the other books first. This may have made more sense to me if I had done that, too.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The City of Silver Light - Ruth Fox

Hague Publishing has done it again. This is an enjoyable YA fantasy book with a winning narrator and an intriguing story. I would have loved this book if it had been published when I was a kid. It's relatable to the "real world" but the fantasy elements are nicely intertwined, which creates a "this could happen to me, how cool" aspect to the story, which I always love as a reader. My only complaint is that it's too short - I wanted to know more about the titular city and the other goings on. Fortunately, there is a sequel so I can dive right in and find out what happens next. This book would make a great gift for that fan of YA/fantasy on your list this year! Recommended.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Universe in Miniature in Miniature - Patrick Somerville

Wow! This is one of those books you stumble on and can't believe you didn't always know about. As I have written (too) many times, I am not the biggest fan of short stories, so this contributed to me letting this book, yet another Borders Last Days find, sit on the TBR pile for so long. Now I can only kick myself for not picking it up sooner, as I fell madly in love with it.

It started with the cover, which has directions for turning the book into a mobile, among other things. The more I read, the more I admired the elegant writing and the more I started to see things come together. Ultimately, this book struck me as being kind of ingenious. The last story did me in though - it sealed the deal in a big way. If I had time, I'd reread this book right now - but that will have to wait. Recommended.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Emily of Deep Valley - Maud Hart Lovelace

It's rare to find a main character that is as sympathetic as the titular Emily in this book. Even though the story is set in 1912, there were parts of it that really resonated with me (or the me that was once 18). I found Emily to be charming and to be the embodiment of the expression "bloom where you're planted." My copy of this book included biographical information on the author, the young woman who was the inspiration for Emily (a friend of the author), and the illustrator, which really added to my enjoyment of the book. A fast, sweet read that I recommend.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The North China Lover - Marguerite Duras

This autobiographical novel was both easy and difficult to read. Told in the 3rd person but written in the present tense, it was almost more like a script, complete with notes for filming. It reminded me a lot of many European films - impressionistic rather than following a concrete plot. People cry and laugh a lot (often at the same time) and there is lots of frank sexuality. That said, now I wouldn't mind reading The Lover (L'amant) or Hiroshima mon amour, and/or reading these books in the original French.

Fated - S.G. Browne

Yet another of the Borders Last Days Sale haul that has finally been read. I enjoyed this lighthearted and irreverent take on fate and destiny (among other things), which also had plenty of room for some more thought-provoking material. The characters were very easily pictured and there were parts that had me laughing out loud here and there. One thing I found interesting was that I wasn't able to discern the author's overall message in some places; this is probably more about my deficiencies as a reader than any kind of defect in the writing. I'd definitely check out the author's other books.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Fall of Frost - Brian Hall

Not sure what to make of this book. I found it as a remaindered book in a local dollar store, and I like Robert Frost's poetry, so it appealed to me and I impulsively bought it and added it to the overflowing TBR shelves to gather a thin film of dust for a couple years. Upon finally getting down to reading the book, I discovered that much like The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, this book is based on known and documented events, letters, sayings, and etc. but it's a novelized version of these events. That didn't bother me, but I can't say I was crazy about the execution, which jumped around in time. The passages about the final events in Frost's life, such as his trip to Russia in 1962, worked really well for me, while a lot of the other parts were too brief and staccato for my taste. All in all though, I appreciated the author's attempt to illuminate the inspiration for Frost's poetry.

A Carrion Death - Michael Stanley

I enjoyed this mystery set in Botswana. It's the first in a series, and I thought the author (actually a team of two) did nice work with lots of interesting twists and turns. There are apparently several other books with the charming and likable Detective David "Kubu" Bengu, with whom I share a liking for opera, regular meals, and good wine. I'll be sure to check those out in the future when I've tamed my TBR pile.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Alibi - Joseph Kanon

This was a page-turning thriller, despite the fact that I didn't much like most of the characters. I believe that that's the point - the point is, during wartime (and maybe all the time), everyone becomes morally ambiguous and people do what they feel they have to do to survive or to win. However, there were times when the (highly unreliable) narrator seemed so incapable of any kind of clear thinking that I wanted to give him a good shaking. The events, as they unfold, do have an organic feel, and there's an overall feeling of doom that pervades the story. That said, this kept me reading and wondering how it would all turn out.

35 kilos d'espoir - Anna Gavalda

I found a local French class that includes reading a novel in French as part of the class, and this was the book chosen for this particular session. This book was really great - it was touching, even when the main character was frustrating. I enjoyed it quite a bit. Although it's a book intended for kids 10 and up, there was still much vocabulary I had to learn, relearn, and look up, including a bunch of slang, so it was sufficiently challenging for me. Unfortunately the timing of this class means that this book is way too late to count for the Language Freak Summer Challenge (LFSC), but it still counts for the Books on France Challenge, so that's good. And I hope there is a session of this class next summer with another book in French so it will count for the LFSC 2015! :)

Et maintenant, ma petite critique en français !

J'ai trouvé une classe de français qui comprend la lecture d'un roman en français, et ce petit livre était la choix pour la session en cours. Ce livre était formidable - c'était touchant et émouvant, même que le personnage principal était frustrant pour moi. Ce livre me plaisait beaucoup :^).

Bien que c'est un livre pour les enfants dès 10 ans, c'était plein de mots inconnus, et aussi beaucoup argot. Donc j'ai augmenté le vocabulaire.

Dommagement, je n'ai trouvé pas la classe avant que j'ai participé avec <<le défi pour les fanatiques des langues étrangères>>, et donc ce livre ne marche pas pour ça, hélas. Mais ça marche pour un autre défi, <<le défi des livres de France>>.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen - Syrie James

This book, written by a Jane Austen scholar, is a lovely pastiche of biography and retrofitted scenes from Austen's novels that creates a fun and touching account of Austen's private life, as revealed by these "lost memoirs." Having just read three Austen novels in the past several years, it was interesting for me to find out more about her real life (much of the book is based on fact) and how, in some cases, her life and the lives of her characters intersected. I think if you are an Austen fan you will enjoy this novel quite a bit.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Poison Tree - Erin Kelly

I think I saw this book every single time I visited Borders in the year or so before it closed for good. I picked it up and put it down many times - it seemed intriguing but I was trying to avoid spending too much money on new books. Flash forward slightly to the last days sales, and there was a copy of this book, so I eagerly snatched it up and took it home - where it sat on my TBR pile until now.

I enjoyed this suspenseful book, a well written psychological thriller. I envy the narrator's ability with languages and I can understand her longing for a more "interesting" life at a young age. I did begin to get a bit impatient during the story, wondering what exactly happened, but overall this was a fast and enjoyable read.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

November - This Month in Reading

At the end of October, I wrote that I wanted to read about 12 books in November - clearing up a NetGalley binge and closing out 2 challenges. In the end, I managed to read 16 books, and I did complete the Color-Coded Reading Challenge, so that was a really good thing.

On the not-so-good list, the NetGalley binge and some other impulse reading choices meant that I didn't do much TBR pile reading - which means I will have to read a whopping 23 TBR pile books in December in order to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro to complete the Mount TBR Reading Challenge. Sigh. It's my own fault and I feel up to the challenge of reading that much, but of course I do wish I were closer to the goal. I have 2 remaining NetGalley books that I am set to review and then it'll be all TBR pile, all the time until I metaphorically plant my flag on the top of the mountain and jump up and down while beaming from ear to ear as I gaze on (at least somewhat) emptied TBR shelves.

Is anybody else settling in to a last-minute challenge binge for December?

The Flappers: Vixen - Jillian Larkin

This was one of the way-too-many Borders Last Days Sales books that found its way onto my TBR pile in 2011 - and I finally managed to read it! It was a light, frothy piece of YA entertainment, with plenty of 1920s-era scandal and intrigue and teen relationships and etc. Evidently a second book was released in 2011 (this one was published in 2010) and I suspect there are more by now too; I'd check them out to see what happens next. The book reminded me of a series on the CW network, and I expect  if you are a fan of that network, you'd really like this book/series.

Since You've Been Gone - Mary Jennifer Payne

This was a touching YA book that tackles some tough subjects. The first-person narration was really effective, as it kept the reader as much in the dark as the narrator, rather than having the reader feel like s/he knows things the narrator doesn't. It's nice to see a young female character that's smart and resourceful. I think this fast-paced read would appeal to a wide audience.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Rainbow - D.H. Lawrence

Found this book when I needed one last read to complete the Color-Coded Reading Challenge. I had enjoyed Lady Chatterly's Lover, so I figured this was a good bet. In the end, I was half-right: I enjoyed half of the book quite a bit, but the other "half" was made up of rambling and belaboring the point. I didn't remember that being the case in Lady Chatterly; but maybe it's deliberate in this book, as this book spans several generations of the same family. Maybe Lawrence is attempting to show, both through the story as well as the actual writing, how things repeat through generations even as things change. One word that repeats over and over is "fecund" or a variation (most often "fecundity"). In the end this word became associated with the physical effects of childbirth and the rearing of an infant in my mind and it started to seem gross to me.

Having now read 2 books by Lawrence, it seems that a common theme is the friction between the everyday/mechanical world and the world of the senses/nature. There is also some inherent conflict in relationships, where the feelings of "love" and/or "infatuation" wax and wane, sometimes in the span of a few hours. This is something I have criticized Tolstoy for doing, because for some reason it bothers me - but maybe that's just because I'm not a complex enough being to appreciate a thought process that is more subtle than my own. Who knows.

As always, I'd love to discuss this book and its themes (both obvious and much less so) in a college/university type class. Or in the comments, if you'd care to leave one! :-)

And with this book, I bid a fond farewell to the Color-Coded Reading Challenge, hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block. I had a wonderful time reading books I may not have otherwise encountered for this challenge, as per usual. I'm looking forward to signing up for the 2015 version (will probably do this in December). Bev also has links to some other interesting looking 2015 challenges that I should ignore and NOT join, but I will take a look at my TBR shelves and see if I can't somehow justify joining them.  Check out her blog and see which challenges you would like to tackle next year!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell

This book was also at the library, so I figured I may as well read it too. I can see why this book gets praised - it tackles teen romance and first love but is balanced with a sensitive portrayal of some tough subjects as well. I am not the target market for this book, but I found it enjoyable enough, and the 1980s setting made me feel very nostalgic.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell

What can I say, this book was at the library and so was I, so I checked it out. It was a fast read for being a thick book. I'm still not sure how I feel about the main character - on the one hand I could sort of sympathize with her a little, but on the other hand she reminded me of an acquaintance from years ago whose timid affect got old very quickly. I am not the boldest extrovert - au contraire, I am an introvert and I can struggle mightily with certain social situations. But even so, more than once I wanted to grab the main character by the shoulders and give her a shake and tell her to get over herself. I would have liked to hear more about some of the other characters too. The story gets repetitive and I think it could have been shorter without losing any of the main events, etc. The dialogue was good and there were times it made me laugh audibly. So although I found this book reasonably enjoyable, it was also something of a mixed bag.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Lost in Shangri-La - Mitchell Zuckoff

Wow, what an amazing story this book tells - and it's all true! This suspenseful story of a plane crash and subsequent rescue effort mounted during World War II on what is now New Guinea is equally horrifying and inspirational, but is above all gripping. The author tracked down a treasure trove of photographs and first-person accounts of the events, including diary entries made by the people involved at the time. What an amazing story. Highly Recommended.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Attachments - Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell is an author I feel like I see a lot on book blogs, so I decided I should check her out. I'm glad I did, this was an enjoyable, light, fast read. Looking forward to reading her other books.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Krabat - Otfried Preussler

Another book I couldn't resist on NetGalley. This was a really enjoyable fairy tale/fable/fantasy that was originally published in 1971. It's based on a Wendish legend, which explains the Slavic-sounding character names. There was a clarity and a simplicity to the writing that reminded me of books I read when I was a kid - the story is straightforward and told well but there is still a lot of mysteries to discover and solve. Recommended.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Billy Bones: Tales from the Secrets Closet - Christopher Lincoln

This book has a cute skeleton illustration on the cover, so I couldn't resist it on a recent trip to the library (don't ask). I love skeletons, skulls, and bones so the concept - a skeleton family that keep secrets in a mansion - was irresistible. The story was fun and I have to make a special mention of the illustrations by Avi Ofer - they were charming and added a lot to my enjoyment of the book. Apparently there is a sequel that I can look forward to reading; I'll have to add it to my list. This was a creative, enjoyable book for young readers. Recommended.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Child's Past Life - Cai Jun

If I had to describe this book in one word, I would have to use the word "spellbinding." It's part ghost story, part revenge tale, part (non-traditional) love story, part murder mystery, and I was absolutely captivated from the first page. The plot is an intricate puzzle that explores the concept of karma and consequences while weaving a supernatural tale that is melancholy and yet hopeful at the same time. Highly recommended.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

I Am Sophie Tucker - Susan Ecker, Lloyd Ecker

I love entertainment from the first part of the 20th Century, and am therefore familiar with Sophie Tucker's music, so when this biographical novel popped up on NetGalley I was excited to read it and hoping it would be great.

In fact, it wasn't great - it was fantastic! I couldn't put this book down. I feel like I spent the day with Sophie Tucker. Although this is technically a novel, it's a fictionalized biography and is full of anecdotes about other famous people and great photos. The writing style is breezy and enjoyable and I laughed out loud more than once while reading. Even if you are not familiar with Sophie Tucker or her music, you will love her by the time you finish this book. Highly recommended.

C.O.W.L. Volume I: Principles of Power - Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, Rod Reis

I really enjoyed this stylish graphic novel. There are some seriously breathtaking images in this book. The  story was compelling and raised some interesting points about how a society always seems to need enemies, and will happily invent some if necessary. I liked how the authors showed the down side of being a female celebrity in this era (the book takes place in 1962) - which isn't all that different than being a female celebrity in 2014, sadly. I'm very curious to find out what happens next. Highly recommended.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Glass Magician - Charlie N. Holmberg

Another reasonably enjoyable book in this creative series. I want a magical bookmark, not to mention some of the other inventive magical things in these books! There's a great story in here, and once again a great deal of creativity, but this time I found myself a little more irritated with the sexism in the book this time. Our heroine is plucky and courageous and intelligent - and cooks and cleans constantly too, because the silly menfolk just can't manage. With that said, I am interested to see what happens next.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Paper Magician - Charlie N. Holmberg

When I read the description on NetGalley, I was immediately intrigued with this book's highly creative and original premise - the author is obviously a very creative person. However, although ultimately I liked the book, I didn't love it like I was hoping I would. For some reason (possibly my reading comprehension), what I perceived as small inconsistencies in the story kept jumping out at me, derailing my reading. This book reminds me of The Magician's Apprentice by Lev Grossman (minus the adult content in that book) - there was something about the writing in both books that pulled me out of total book immersion once too often, interfering with my enjoyment. I liked this book a lot better, but not as much as I was hoping to.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Waistcoats & Weaponry - Gail Carriger

Wow! I just finished this book and I am still reeling. This was another amazing adventure that I couldn't put down once I started reading. I really like how the author keeps expanding and deepening the overall plot in each book - it's getting nice and complicated! What could have been a decent but ultimately frivolous series is instead highly entertaining as well as thought provoking. I cannot wait to see how the next book builds on the events of this one - it should be spectacular. Highly recommended.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Gift of Fear - Gavin de Becker

This book is one I have heard of for ages all over the internet, and I finally decided I just needed to read it already and see what all the discussion was about. The subtitle of this book is Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence and that pretty much sums it up - this book talks about the value of using "intuition" or "gut feelings" to help with personal safety. For example, many of us are socialized to "be nice" at all times, and we are therefore often nice to total strangers. While most of the time this works out fine (and can make society a bit more pleasant for everyone), if someone is creeping you out, even if you can't identify exactly why, it's OK, and it's NOT rude, to remove yourself from the situation. Etc. This book is by now somewhat dated; I assumed it was published much more recently than 1997, but that's OK. It has some interesting info and I'm glad I finally read it.

Friday, October 31, 2014

October - This Month in Reading

October might be my favorite month of any year, being deep into Fall and containing Halloween, which I love. This October turned out to be a decent reading month too, as a fun Fall bonus.

Things that went well:

In September,  I wrote that I wanted to read 6 (or more) books, including finishing off some reviewing commitments and at least 1 more challenge. I actually read 13.5 books (the .5 is a children's book that was mainly pictures, so it took about 5 minutes to read, so I am not counting it as a full "book" even though I thought it was great :) ). I read all of my reviewing commitments so I cleared that slate. I even technically finished the TBR Pile Challenge by reading 3 books I had on that list; right now I have read 11/12 of the official list books and 2/2 alternates. However, I would very much like to read all of the books this year, so I am still calling this challenge open for now.

Things that could have been better:

Confession time again! I kind of went nuts on NetGalley in October, and I now have a bunch of books in the queue that have to be read and reviewed - which will take time away from chipping away at my physical TBR Pile and etc. Sigh. What on earth is wrong with me??!! I am seriously an incurable bookworm or something. I just can't resist interesting books, and particularly if they are free.

So for November, I would like to read about 12 books. I have a list I have made up that I will be trying my best to follow to keep on track. If I manage, I will clear up the NetGalley binge as well as close out 2 challenges (and chip away at the final challenge that has a 31 Dec. 2014 deadline). Wish me luck!

How has your Fall reading been?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Bourne Identity - Robert Ludlum

Another book from the office book exchange shelves that has been collecting dust on my TBR shelves for far too long. This was a serviceable thriller that was a blast from the past due to its 1980 publication date. I love the espionage conducted over pay telephones! The relatively recent movie was obviously updated in this technology as well as the overall plot, which follows the book in a broad sense only.

In doing some research about this book, I discovered that the awesome Golden Earring song "Twilight Zone" was based on this book - I suppose I could have figured that out had I read the book back in the day when it was first published.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Times Anthology of Ghost Stories

Found this collection of short stories a couple years ago on my office's book exchange shelves, and thought it would be a perfect October read. I finally managed to make that happen!

Apparently The Times (presumably of London; this book is a UK edition) held a contest for the best previously unpublished ghost story in 1974. The impressive judging panel consisted of Kingsley Amis, Patricia Highsmith, and Christopher Lee - well known names even now. The winning story, as well as many others that were highly regarded, were then published in this collection in 1975.

By the standards of our times, most of these stories were more on the "creepy" side than what passes for horror, e.g., gore and violence, these days. The winning story, "A Doll Named Silvio," was in fact incredibly creepy, while some of the other stories were almost more sad than scary. All in all this book was a perfect read for the days leading up to Halloween.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Walled City - Ryan Graudin

This is a harrowing, relentless story that is expertly paced - at times I wasn't sure I could stand the tension, and I was compelled to keep reading so I could find out what happened next. I think this book would make an amazing graphic novel - or a film. A real page turner. Recommended.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dear Committee Members - Julie Schumacher

Dear Readers,

I have the distinct pleasure of recommending to one and all this uproarious, yet touching, novel. It is sure to cause much mirth and amusement among its (deservedly large, I fervently hope) reading audience. I myself am still laughing audibly when I recall various witty turns of phrase. As a fellow devotee of literature, languages, and all things now all too often considered superfluous in the face of the single-minded pursuit of filthy lucre, I daresay I was able to see aspects of myself in the plight of our intrepid narrator. In the modern vernacular, I felt his pain, and I must say I very much share his opinion of economics and business.

Despite the effusive praise for this novel's comedic elements, which are ample and entertaining, do not be deceived: there is much depth to this book as well. The reader will empathize with many of the narrator's sentiments, and the humor deftly conceals poignance. In this way, much reward awaits the careful reader.

I hereby urge you to obtain a copy of this book at your soonest convenience and assure you that it will make a splendid addition to any bookshelf.

Best regards,

Anja K, Book Reviewer
Reading 2011 (and Beyond)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Reluctant Vampire - Eric Morecambe

Stumbled on this book on NetGalley and it seemed like a fitting book for pre-Halloween October. It's a light-hearted book for young readers that I think would appeal to them very much - I know if I had read it when I was a kid, I would have enjoyed it. The book includes illustrations that were charming and added to the atmosphere.

I did some quick research, and discovered that the author was a beloved British comedian who died in 1984. This book was originally published in 1982 and there is also a sequel - I may have to search that out so I can see what happened next. A fun little read that took me back to Halloweens and favorite books from my childhood.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Almost Flood - Simon Whitaker, Dante S. Prado

This book had me cackling with laughter the whole time I was reading it. Totally hilarious.

The Meaning of Night - Michael Cox

Readers, I loved this book. All 700 pages of it.

This is yet another of the many (way too many, actually) books I got at Borders' Last Days sales. I was immediately taken by the cover, and was able to get the other book by Cox too, for a pittance. And then both books sat on my TBR pile until I finally added this one to my 2014 TBR Pile Challenge list (have I recently mentioned how much I love this challenge?). And now it has finally interfered with me getting a good night's sleep, as I couldn't put it down at a reasonable hour.

I found it to be instantly engrossing and I felt compelled to read it. I was taken in with the narrator right away; for some reason I desperately wanted to understand him and be on his side, even though I suspected he was actually something of an unreliable narrator. Another book I can't believe I didn't read sooner, but that I'm glad I got to read now. Luckily, I have the sequel, so I can remain immersed in the world of this book a little longer. Recommended.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Curtsies & Conspiracies - Gail Carriger

This is the second book in the Finishing School series, and it's another ripping yarn. It's rare to find a series that is as much fun to read as this one. This book continues the ongoing adventures of Sophronia and her friends (and enemies), while also beginning to explore the ramifications of the clandestine trade being taught at the school - how actions have consequences, sometimes fatal, and how people can seem both good and bad. There are so many fascinating details that I want more information about! I believe there is another book in this series due soon, and I can't wait.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Leaving Cold Sassy - Olive Ann Burns

This book is the unfinished sequel to Cold Sassy Tree. It consists of 15 chapters that the author was working on while she was also battling cancer and congestive heart failure, as well as a wonderful recounting of working with the author written by her longtime editor. It's a shame that the author wasn't able to finish the second book; I would have liked to hear more about some of the characters from the previous book as well as become better acquainted with some of the new characters. The biographical material includes photos of the author's family, which served as inspiration for much of Cold Sassy's residents, and is a wonderful look inside her writing process and how she handled sudden fame in her 60s.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Mount TBR: Checkpoint #3

In true Anja K style, I managed to miss the previous 2 checkpoints, and I even managed to miss the deadline for linking up for this one - LOL! I swear, if someone designed one of those medieval family crest things for me, the motto would be "a day late and a dollar short." (Side note: according to Google translate, in Latin this would be "et denique a pupa a die nuper" - seems much nicer when you can't understand the words, ha ha!)

Even though I am late, I would love to participate in this, so I'm going to claim "Potius mori quam foedari" (better late than never) and go for it.

1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read).  If you're really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you've read correlates to actual miles up Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. 

As of today, October 9, I have read 31/60 books, and 60 books translates to each book being the equivalent of 322.35 feet / 98.25 meters of Mt. Kilimanjaro. So far, then, that means I have climbed  9992.85 feet / 3045.75 meters. Not too bad, but I am only slightly past the halfway mark - better get to reading those TBR books!

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:

I love answering questions, I'm going to do them all, why not?

A. Who has been your favorite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.

This is a good question. As I look over my list for this challenge, I see a lot of books with characters I didn't necessarily even particularly like, even if I liked the book overall. In fact, maybe that's what made me like the book - the characters were like real people in that way.

I will probably have to say that I still think about the Joads from The Grapes of Wrath a lot - especially Ma Joad. I like that she tries so hard to keep the family afloat during such a difficult time. She has a lot of heart.

B. Pair up two of your reads using whatever connection you want to make. Written by the same author? Same genre? Same color cover? Both have a main character named Clarissa? Tell us the books and what makes them a pair.

This is so interesting! I am going to pair up 1Q84 and Catch-22 because they both have numerals in the title. They are also both ostensibly set in the real world but it's not quite realistic. Other than that I don't think they have a lot in common!

C. Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest? Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all?

That would be the Russian-language children's book I read, Сорока-белобока / The Magpie. I bought it in the Soviet Union in the 1980s and then it languished until I regained custody of it last year and read it this summer (with the help of a dictionary and Google Translate - my woefully rusty Russian wasn't up to the task, unfortunately). It was enjoyable for what it was, and I do wish I had read it when my language skills were a bit more up to par :S

Since that was a children's book, it didn't have the same impression on me as a novel would have, so as an alternate response I'll say that I had been meaning to read The Tin Drum since the 80s, when I saw the film version, although I didn't have a physical copy of the book in my possession until 2011. It was worth the wait in that I feel like I have a better appreciation for some of the themes and ideas presented in the book, although my younger self would have thought she appreciated them just fine, thankyouverymuch ;) 

D. Choose 1-4 titles from your stacks and using a word from the title, do an image search.  Post the first all-eyes-friendly picture associated with that word.

Oh how fun! I used's number generator, and here are my results:

12. The Dark Side of Camelot:

Gustave Doré’s depiction of Arthur's mythical castle. I love Doré, this is so cool and spooky looking.

15. The Kingdom of Ohio:

We have a theme on our hands - this is Cinderella's castle from Disney World. I love the cloudy background!

1. The Man in the Iron Mask:

The results for "iron" were images of irons - a bit too literal, so I Googled "mask" and this was the first result - a Guy Fawkes mask. That's pretty literal too, but a more interesting image, I think.

31. Sugar Street:

More literal-ness - some sugar! I like the cool scoop/spoon though.

Sugar Street - Naguib Mahfouz

After finishing the previous volume of this trilogy, I found I wanted to spend more time in Cairo so I decided to read the last book right away to see what became of the family.

Something I meant to mention in my last review is the titles of these books relate to the locations of where family members live, and also then show the reader where the book’s focus is. For example, the first book refers to Palace Walk, the location of the father's house; Palace of Desire is the location of his children's (adult) homes; and Sugar Street follows the lives of the grandchildren's generation more closely. These books obviously show a lapse in time, and the associated societal changes that any society experiences over time.

All in all this was a rewarding trilogy of books and I am happy to have read them.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Palace of Desire - Naguib Mahfouz

This is the second book in the Cairo Trilogy. After I read the first book in 2011, I planned to read the next books in 2012 - obviously that didn't happen, but I prioritized this book and finally cleared it from my shelf.

This volume is set about 8 years after the end of the first book, and shows the slow movement of social change in Cairo in the early 20th century. Where the first book was more about intrafamily relationships, this book was more about the same family's external relationships, including the romantic relationships of the male members of the family, and how these relationships effect the family itself.

One thing I found interesting was that the sons of al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad seemed doomed to repeat his patterns, as if they were compelled to do so, even though they didn't necessarily know much about his life outside their family home. However, the women of the sons' generation seemed to be trying to make small efforts to break out of the established societal strictures, behavioral norms, and patterns. Ultimately this was a personal book that is also about larger subjects. I am hoping to get to the final book soon.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Etiquette & Espionage - Gail Carriger

This is a really fun book, what I think could sincerely be called a rollicking adventure. It ticks all the classic steampunk boxes: airships, goggles, clockwork mechanicals, etc. The story was funny and highly entertaining, and I loved the conceit of the finishing school being a cover for a covert agent training operation. Oh, to keep London hours and have a mechanimal! I am very much looking forward to seeing how all the different facets of the story turn out in the subsequent books of this inventive new series. Recommended.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Cold Sassy Tree - Olive Ann Burns

This book, which is set in small-town Georgia, is one I feel like I have heard of for years and years, but I am not sure exactly why. I found it several years ago on the Library Sale shelves and picked it up for 50 cents, and then for some reason I let it sit until I finally added it as an alternate to the TBR Pile Challenge this year.

Sometimes stories about small-minded small-town people annoy me so much I am afraid I will actually sprain my eyes from rolling them while I'm reading. Being a U.S. Northerner I am also often baffled by Southern customs, etc., as they are not the way I was raised. Toss in the fact that this book is set in 1906, when customs all over the U.S. (and the world!) were vastly different than they are today in many ways, and you have a perfect storm for a real eye-rolling festival.

I wanted to be my usual cranky Northern self while I read this book, and to be sure there were many, many things that gave my optic muscles a good work out from sheer exasperated eye rolling, but I was only able to be cranky about half the time I was reading. The crankier part of me was constantly bothered by the tiresome old fashioned nonsense, including classism and racism and the dreaded "what will people say/think!!!!" etc., which was common for the time period, while the other, more reasonable  half grasped that this book is about how such things change over time, and was interested to see how it all turned out.

Something I found realistic about this book is that all the characters were multi-dimensional; each and every one did things that surprised me during the book, and each and every one had good points and sides that I liked, and bad points and sides I disliked, just like people in real life. There were no one-note characters here - everyone had realistic and complex reasons for their behavior. That was a real asset to the book.

All in all this was an enjoyable look at a year or so in the life of a town from a time and place I can't hope to truly understand, but I didn't mind visiting.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Atonement - Ian McEwan

Even though I prefer to read a book before I see its movie version, I happened to see the film version of Atonement when it was released. For ages afterward I wanted to read the book but couldn't make it happen until I found a copy for 50 cents at the Library Sale and even then it sat on my shelves until I decided to finally get to it the other day, when I needed a smaller book I could carry in my purse for reading on the subway.

Maybe it was because I had seen the movie, so I knew the overall story before I started reading, but I couldn't love this book like I thought I might. I feel like this same story could have been told, without losing any of the emotion, in a book half the length. I kept thinking of this past review while I was reading - "too many notes." Normally I prefer the book to its film version, but in this case the film, with its necessarily confined length (not many movies cross the three hour mark, after all) is probably a better adaptation.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September - This Month in Reading

Well, I have had a fantastic September. I have had a ball finding acorns everywhere, making plans to hit the pumpkin patch, enjoying pumpkin spice lattes, and wishing the local trees would get just a BIT more colorful. (Seriously, trees, get it in gear - it's almost October!) I even managed to read this month!

In August, I set a September goal of 6 books, which included some I had committed to reviewing and a couple challenge books. My plan was to wrap up some challenges this month if at all possible. On the plus side: I read 10 books total, including 2 challenge books, and in so doing I finished the fun Back to the Classics Challenge - hooray!

Speaking of, since 2014 is now 9/12 over, let's do a quick challenge recap just for fun:

Active challenges:
TBR Pile Challenge: 9/12 regular and 1/2 alternates read
Color-Coded Reading Challenge: 8/9 read
Planet Earth Challenge: 27/257 - this has no real deadline, but evidently I need to work on it
Mount TBR Challenge: 27/60 books - or 2653 km / 8703 ft up Mt. Kilimanjaro so far - still quite a bit left to climb!

Completed challenges:
Harlem Renaissance Challenge
Back to the Classics Challenge
Language Freak Summer Challenge
Books on France 2014 Reading Challenge

Not too shabby.

For October, I would like to read another 6 (or more of course) books. I have a couple more reviewing commitments to read, and I'd like to finish off at least 1 more challenge while I continue to revel in all things fall.

How is your autumn/fall?

Frontier Resistance - Leonie Rogers

What a fantastic book! Rather than falling in to the sequel trap of simply rehashing the first book, this second installment in the Frontier series takes that story from the first book and brings it to another level. The author has obviously thought out this imaginative world very thoroughly and carefully, and worldbuilds* very well. We learn more about Frontier as well as the Garsal, Starlyne, and other aspects of the setting and the overall story and find out important information about some of the characters that helps us understand their motivations and actions. At all times I felt like I was reading about a real place the author happens to have first-hand knowledge of.

Picking up exactly where we left off with Frontier Incursion, this book was virtually impossible for me to put down once I got started. I liked how the story built suspense - the first book did this well too, with multiple story threads that you know are going to converge, but it's a nice build up toward that inevitable conflict. The pace is relentless but in a good way - the plotting is well done, with no "bloat" that just bulks up the story with no real purpose.

Once again, my only complaint is that I will have to wait for the next book to see what happens next. On the plus side, while I wait I'll have plenty of time to catch up on all the little chores I recently put off so I could keep reading - ha ha! Fantasy fans, snatch this series up, you won't be sorry.

*I don't think this is a real word, but I'm using it anyway, since it conveys what I am trying to say very well.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë

This is a classic book that I feel like I have always known about, but never managed to actually read until now. A couple years ago I found a cool paperback copy from the mid-60s at my local library's perpetual book sale, and then it sat on the shelf until I signed up for the Back to the Classics Challenge and made it something of a priority.

Having never even seen a filmed adaptation of this book, I knew next to nothing about it before I read it, although I assumed it was something of a love story and that it would be like a Jane Austen book in setting. I can honestly say that this book was not at all what I was expecting. I assumed it would be more of a standard love story, but there is nothing particularly standard about this book. It truly confounded all my expectations. I am not even sure I liked any of the characters at all - most behave at least somewhat badly, but maybe that's very realistic. Instead of a love story, this was more a story about how one person's actions can alter the lives of all of the people around him/her, and how deeply those actions can hurt others. In some ways I do sympathize with a couple of the main characters, even if I don't like them particularly, and yet in other ways I find them to be too annoying to deserve my sympathy. I guess that this book had an effect on me, if it's causing me to think about it this much after I've finished it. I'd love to discuss it with others, so feel free to comment if you'd like to weigh in! :)

Finishing this book brings me to the end of the Back to the Classics Challenge. I really enjoyed this challenge a lot! It helped me not only clear out more TBR books, but delve in to some books I have been meaning to read for far too long. I have definitely furthered my ongoing quest to fill in the gaps I have in my classics reading. Big thanks to Karen K. for hosting this challenge, I look forward to participating again next year!

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Missing - Jane Casey

This is Jane Casey's first novel, and it doesn't feature DC Maeve Kerrigan, one of my new favorite fictional cops. Instead, this is a standalone murder mystery book that was no less a page turner that kept me guessing all the way to the end. Another creepily fitting read for the beginning of Fall.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Last Temptation - Neil Gaiman, Alice Cooper, Michael Zulli

This book is a collaboration between one of the best known names in fantasy fiction, Neil Gaiman, and one of the best known names in rock, Alice Cooper. Throw in some highly talented artists and other comic/graphic novel talent, and you have a perfect Fall book to set the mood for the Halloween season.

This edition of this graphic novel (or is this actually a comic?) is the "20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition" and it's certainly that - it's chock full of extra material including correspondence from Neil Gaiman, early scripts and art, etc. This provides an interesting look at a collaborative process - I wish more books had this kind of background information available.

I can see how this would have scared its target audience when it first came out, and it's no less scary now. The art and the story seemed true to the persona of Alice Cooper. I know this book is based on Cooper's record of the same name; I'm sure the record would make a good soundtrack for reading. This is a great addition to a graphic novel/comic collection.

One note: I had the same problem with this book that I had with Displaced Persons - namely, the lettering was blurry. Once again I solved the problem by enlarging the pages as much as I could, but it was still less than optimal. I'm not sure if the issue is that I'm reading on Adobe Digital Editions and not an actual Kindle, but it was mildly annoying and made me wonder if I were missing out on crispness and clarity in the artwork as well as the lettering.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Cities of the Red Night - William S. Burroughs

This author is infamous, but I hadn't read any of his books until I stumbled on this one on the Library Sale shelves and decided it was a good way to meet part of the Color-Coded Reading Challenge.

What can I say about this book - it was like a 332 page sexual fever dream heavily influenced by drugs. I can imagine it would appeal to the Baby Boomer generation for that reason. I'm sure at the time it was first published (1981) it seemed very radical and shocking, but reading this in 2014, it just seems like so much effort to shock, and no effort to actually tell any kind of story or make any kind of point. Maybe I'm just jaded, spoiled by the societal changes that have happened since 1981, or too stupid to fully appreciate this book. I must say I got rather tired of the word "ejaculated" halfway through. Naked Lunch or Junky might have been better choices for a first Burroughs book; maybe someday I'll read one or the other. Not sure what to say to sum things up; I guess this is a book you'd have to read for yourself, I can't honestly recommend it.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Shuck - R.T. Knickerbocker

A friend recommended this book to me, and they were correct! This was a compulsively readable book - I had a really hard time putting it down. The main characters are highly likable and sympathetic. I don't read a lot of horror or paranormal type books, since so many are poorly written (in my opinion), but this one was well done. If you like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Sanford, and other authors like that, you will enjoy this book. Recommended.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Mrs. Kaplan and the Matzoh Ball of Death - Mark Reutlinger

Oy vey iz mir, what a charming book! It's a highly entertaining combination of Sherlock Holmes and Murder She Wrote seasoned with a healthy dose of Yiddishe culture and language. I wish I could spend the day with these fantastic ladies; I suspect I'd have a hard time keeping up with Mrs. Kaplan's quick mind. I sincerely hope this is the beginning of a series, because I am already wishing for more spirited adventures with this fresh new dynamic duo of sleuthing. Highly recommended.

Displaced Persons - Derek McCulloch and Anthony Peruzzo

This was an inventive graphic novel that tells the tale of several generations of a family in San Francisco. It's also a puzzle that I am still thinking about; I'm still putting together in my mind how some of the pieces fit together. I really liked the concept, and I definitely wanted to spend more time with some of the characters. I think the author did a nice job of showing some of the characters' inner motivations for us, within the constraints of a graphic novel. I suspect you could reread this several times and pick up on more details/pieces of the story each time.

One issue I had is that my digital version was blurry on all the pages that were traditional "comic/graphic novel" pages. The title pages and etc. were fine. I don't have a Kindle, so I read ebooks on Adobe Digital Editions, and I have never had that happen to me before - the images are usually very clear. Obviously, this made it harder for me to read the book, as I had to really decipher some words, and I'm sure the illustrations would have looked better if they had been clear. The only thing that helped somewhat was using the "fit to width" option, as that enlarged the writing, making it a bit easier to read, but it was still blurry. I hope this is just a fluke and that others didn't have this problem, as it detracted from an otherwise enjoyable reading experience.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Nest - Ester Ehrlich

I loved this book.

It's an instant classic. This is a book that kids of this generation will remember as a favorite when they are adults. They'll reread it as adults and still love it.

The main character, Chirp, is a wonderful, fully realized person that reminded me of the kind of characters I used to love in my favorite books as a child (a couple of which are mentioned in this book!). I also felt such a strong sense of empathy for Joey; I so want to just give them both a big hug. As someone who was around as a child in the time period in which the book is set (ahem), it felt very true to that setting, down to the mention of my perennial favorite soda, Tab. I cannot wait to read more from Ester Ehrlich. Highly recommended.

Maddy Kettle: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch - Eric Orchard

What a fun way to kick off my Fall reading! This was a lovely middle grade/YA graphic novel. The story and the characters are charming - they had me at "family owns a bookstore" and the addition of  talking animals cemented my enjoyment. Maddy Kettle is a fun character, and once again I must say it's so nice to see intelligent children, particularly girls, depicted in books. I can see that this has endless potential for expansion as a series, and I look forward to as many books in this series as the author releases. Recommended.

Oh, and now, in addition to a starcat, I would love to add a floating spadefoot toad to my imaginary animals menagerie! :-)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

August - This Month in Reading

Despite it being a stupid, busy summer month I managed to meet my reading goals for August:

-Finish my 2 review books
-Finish the 2 books I was working on for the Language Freak Summer Challenge


Of course, I would have liked to read more books, but between work commitments and personal life commitments it wasn't going to happen this month, so I'm just happy I managed to meet my goals. Careful readers will realize that I posted several reviews on the same day (the last day of August - ahem) but in reality I was just able to carve out some reading time today to finish books I had in progress. Really. Even I can only read so much in 1 day :^) 

For September, I have several review books lined up, and I also need to wrap up a few more of my challenges. I am going to shoot for 6 books, which covers my reviewing commitments and a couple extra for some challenge books. 

And most importantly, long time readers (there must be at least 1 of you, right?) know that in my deranged mind, Fall/Autumn, my favorite time of the year, begins on September 1, which is now in just a few short hours. As always, I am thrilled to see the back of summer and I cannot wait to embrace all things Fall. BRING. IT. ON!!!!! 

How was your reading this summer? 

Frontier Incursion - Leonie Rogers

Hague Publishing has done it again. This company seems to specialize in books that were written in such a way as to be firmly on my wavelength. As a cat lover (I have 2 here at home and I love them dearly, even when they seem to be deliberately preventing me from doing things like typing this post) I was hooked by the beautiful cover, depicting a "starcat" (a fascinating creature from the world of the book). Leonie Rogers is a wonderful writer, she has created a fully realized setting and story that totally captured my imagination. She has a gift for vivid description that made her inventive creations easy to visualize as I read. I really took to the main character, and very much empathized with her throughout the book.

This is yet another book I would have loved if it had been around when I was reading fantasy books as a kid - but that I can still enjoy very much as an adult who had written off fantasy books. Apparently I wasn't reading good fantasy books - and I'm very happy that I am doing so now. The only criticism I have for this book is that it ends - and this is not a big problem, as the sequel is nigh - hooray! Recommended.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers - Paolo Giordano

(This book is sort of a part of the Language Freak Summer Challenge; read on for the review and the explanation. The previous review in Dutch is for this same book - but the Dutch version for both the book and the review :^) )

So at least a year ago, and maybe even more (I am totally embarrassed about that!) my Dutch teacher lent me her copy of this book, in Dutch. I dragged my feet about reading it because I read really slowly in Dutch, and it seemed like it would be hard and take a lot of time. Then I had an idea - I could buy the same book in English, and I could alternate my reading - first reading each chapter in Dutch, and then reading it again in English. This ended up working really well, but I still put both books off and didn't get very far in the reading until this challenge.  

I am at a weird, middle level of Dutch where I can always get the main point when I read in Dutch, but the details elude me. It's like watching a silent, black and white film on fast-forward and then watching a later remake, with color and sound, played at the proper speed. You can get the gist of what's going on from the former, but the latter fills in all the finer details. So it took me quite a while - believe it or not, I have been working on it for most of the summer! - but I finally managed to finish (and yes, it's the last day of the challenge; what can I say!). 

I found this book to be a beautiful character study. I did find the main characters frustrating, but I always felt sympathetic toward them. There's a somber feeling throughout the book, and it made me feel sad a lot of the time, but not entirely hopeless. 

One odd thing about reading the same book but in two different languages is noticing small changes made by the translators. This book was originally published in Italian, so both the Dutch and English versions that I read are translations of that original. When I found small differences, I wondered what the original wording had been in Italian, and the reason for the change - a cultural difference? A word preference on the translator's part? It was something interesting to note while I was reading. 

I'm really sad that this challenge is over for 2014! I didn't read nearly as much as I was hoping to read for it, but I have more books on hand for next year - and knowing it's coming up, I can plan my time better to accommodate more books. In fact, I already have a plan for some of it :) So many thanks to Ekaterina, for helping me finish the Dutch version of this book so I can return it to its rightful owner! 

De eenzamheid van de priemgetallen - Paolo Giordano

(This is the 3rd book I read for the Language Freak Summer Challenge - I did a read-along with the same book in English, so the next post will have my English language review :^)

Dit was het eerste boek dat ik las in het Nederlands. Het boek behoort tot mijn leraar. Ik schaam - nu heb ik dit boek voor meer dan een jaar - ! Ik was bang om het te lezen, want het was moeilijk om te lezen. Bedankt Ekaterina, het boek is nu klaar, en nu kan ik het terug.

Het boek was in het Nederlands, met geen noten voor studenten, als het boek en het Frans (La Canne de Jonc) - ha ha ha. Dus had ik een andere methode voor het te lezen - ik kocht het samen boeken in het Engels, en las voor de eerste keer een hoofdstuk en het Nederlands, en den las ik de samen hoofdstuk in het Engels. Dit werkte heel goed. Ik kan niet in het Nederlands snel lezen, en ik kan niet in het Nederlands ieder woord begrijpen. Dus, het boek in het Nederlands was voor mij als kijken naar een stomme, zwartwit film op "fast-forward" (op "snel"?). Ik kan altijd begrijpen van de belangrijkste idee, maar mis ik de details. Ik vond de fijn details op het boek in Engels. Maar altijd het verhaal ontvouwde eerste in het Nederlands.

Dit boek was een mooi karakterstudie. Ik vond de hoofdpersonen heel frusterend, maar al samen tijden voelde ik veel sympathie. Er was iets somber over het verhaal de hele tijd. Het liet me verdrietig, maar niet hopeloos gevoel. Ik weet dat ik zal denken over het in de toekomst.

Ik ben ook verdrietig dat de "Zomer uitdaging voor de taal-fanatieke" het klaar is! Het was een heel erg leuk uitdaging, en ik hoop dat ik kan het andere keer te deelnemen!

Alstublieft, zag mij mijn fouten! *<|:-)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

La Canne de Jonc - Alfred de Vigny

I finally managed to finish the second book I was working on for the Language Freak Summer Challenge! I found this book on the Library Sale shelves, and as I love vintage books and can always use books in foreign languages for practicing, I eagerly brought it home... where it sat on my shelf unread for several years :-/ Thanks to this great challenge, I have finally managed to read it, and this was a great way to get in some French practice this summer.

My little book was originally published in 1898, but this military story, some of which is apparently loosely autobiographical, was originally published in the early 1800s. My edition was edited by Victor J.T. Spiers, a professor of French at Oxford, and about half of the book is actually notes on the text with helpful translations and grammatical explanations. This book was obviously meant for students of French, and that was equally obviously very helpful for me, as a reader. I think I'm at an intermediate level of French; I can read it reasonably well but I won't lie and say I perfectly understood every word I read. I did, however, always get the main idea, and the notes helped with unfamiliar vocabulary. 

The full title of this book is "La Canne de Jonc, ou La Vie et La Mort du Capitaine Renaud" ("The Malacca Cane [or the walking-stick], or The Life and Death of Captain Renaud"). The titular Captain's life as a military man is fascinating and includes encounters with Napoleon and some interesting philosophy concerning war. I cannot say it was a book I would have eagerly picked up if it had been in English, but from the perspective of someone who is reading a book about the Napoleonic wars after two world wars (and countless other wars, many still raging) I found it to be much food for thought. 

Et maintenant, mon review en français ! 

J'ai lu le deuxième livre pour le défi pour les fanatiques de langues étrangères ! J'ai trouvé ce livre dans la bibliothèque et j'adore les livres antiquaires, et j'ai toujours besoin de livres en des autre langues pour les pratiquer. Mais le livre était sur l'étagère, attendant.... :-/ Mais grâce à ce défi, maintenant, c'est fini, et c'était bon pour pratiquer un peu de français pendant l'été. 

Mon petit livre est de 1898, et c'est une édition destinée aux étudiants de la langue française. La moitié du livre contient les choses utiles (notes de vocabulaire et de grammaire). Je lis français à un niveau intermédiaire; je ne suis pas une menteuse, et donc je ne vous dis pas que j'ai compris chaque mot. Cependant, j'ai toujours compris l'idée essentiel.

Cette histoire militaire, une biographie du Capitaine Renaud (l'homme qui porte la canne de jonc), était fascinant. Il comprenait Napoléon, un Pape, et quelques hommes célèbres militaires anglais, et apparemment, il est semi-autobiographique. de Vigny a inclus aussi de philosophie conçernant la nature de la guerre. Moi, je suis un produit de la 20ème siècle, après deux guerres mondiales et divers autres guerres, et donc j'ai trouvé cette philosophie comme matière à réflexion. 

S'il vous plaît, corregez les erreurs/fautes ici ! :-) 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Don't Forget Me, Bro - John Michael Cummings

This was a touching book about family and loss, and how people hold on to hope. The author has a real ear for authentic dialogue - I always felt like I was overhearing actual conversations when I was reading. The characters were well done, even though many of them are not necessarily appealing, for various reasons - they still interested me and I wanted to know more about what made them tick. When the book was over I wanted to read more, to know what was going to happen. I really like this author, and look forward to reading more. Recommended.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

July - This Month in Reading

July flew by in record time, and really got away from me. :-/

The positives: I read 2 more books for the Harlem Renaissance Challenge, so I completed the challenge at the level for which I signed up - hooray! I also wrapped up the library books so I don't have to step foot inside the library until who-knows-when (not that that's a positive, but anything that keeps me reading books off my physical TBR pile is a good thing these days). At the end of June I wrote that I would read 7 books, and I did, plus 2 more for good measure, so at least I kept to my goal.

The negatives: I was supposed to work on the Language Freak Summer Challenge in July, and although I did work on it a little, I didn't work on it as much as I wanted to, nor did I actually finish any of the books I have set aside for this challenge. :( There were also a couple review requests I just wasn't able to find time for, which is embarrassing.

August is already shaping up to be a busy month, between work and some other commitments that are not super conducive to reading. So for August, here are my goals:

  • Finish my 2 review books
  • Finish the 2 books I'm currently working on for the Language Freak Summer Challenge

That's it!

If I somehow manage to complete all this with plenty of time to spare, I will work on the Language Freak Summer Challenge by reading an additional book, since that challenge ends August 31. If nothing else, I already have several books on hand I can use for this challenge next summer :)

How has your reading been this summer?

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Competition - Marcia Clark

Yet another entertaining thriller, this one with a very topical crime/mystery. A character from the last book that I liked a lot didn't appear in this one, and I hope this character will appear again. Otherwise, the latest book in the Rachel Knight series is an enjoyable summer mystery read that kept me guessing and turning pages as fast as I could.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Isis, Vampires and Ghosts - Oh My! - Janis Hill

Another winning fantasy/paranormal book from Hague Publishing, who were behind Lights Over Emerald Creek. This was another book I know I would have loved had I read it when I was younger. I have always admired ancient Egyptian culture, so obviously the reference to Isis in the title is catnip for me, as well as the ghosts (always a big fan as well), and the vampires (became a big fan in the Anne Rice heyday; not so much a fan of the more recent sparkly kind). The narrator was highly relatable and entertaining, and the story overall reminded me of the few Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes I've seen (I really have to make a point to see more). Another fast-paced, exciting and entertaining story for all fans of paranormal/fantasy books.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Killer Ambition - Marcia Clark

Another page turner! The story kept me guessing, and I really enjoyed the behind the scenes look at the politics of what goes on in a high-profile courtroom trial, particularly with jury selection. Very interesting stuff. Can't wait to start the next book!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Guilt by Degrees - Marcia Clark

Another page-turner! I enjoyed this fast-paced book and I'm looking forward to the continuing adventures of Rachel Knight - especially considering how this book ended. Perfect summer reading.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Nick the Saint - Anthony Szpak

Found this book on NetGalley and couldn't resist the description. The story is a very creative reimagining of the Santa Claus legend. The plot moves along at a breakneck clip and has a lot of inventive elements that I really enjoyed. Apparently there is a sequel in the works, and I sincerely hope that it will be published soon, as I'm dying to find out the further adventures of these characters. Recommended.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Not Without Laughter - Langston Hughes

I have been a fan of Langston Hughes' poetry for years, but hadn't read his prose until now. Wow! I am blown away. I loved this book, which was Hughes' first novel. This is a classic that I can't believe isn't better known (or maybe it is, and I run in the wrong circles, ha ha). When I got to the last page I immediately wished for more, and I was sad the book had ended.

It's sad that so many of the themes Hughes is apparently addressing are still with us today. There is both sadness and happiness in equal measures in this book, which made it feel very balanced even when unpleasant or sad events occur. I will definitely be prioritizing more Hughes novels as soon as I get my crazy TBR pile under better control. Highly recommended.