Monday, March 31, 2014

March - This Month in Reading

At the end of February, I wrote that I wanted to read at least 6 books, at least 2 of which were for challenges. I'm happy to say that I exceeded this, reading a total of 12 books, of which 3 were challenge related. Cool! Yes, a lot of these books were not challenge related, but what can I say, in the (paraphrased) words of Oscar Wilde, I can resist anything but (book-related) temptation, ha ha.

Since it's the end of the first quarter of 2014, I think I should take stock of my overall challenge reading.

Back to the Classics Challenge - 2/10 books read
Books on France Reading Challenge - 1/3 books read
Color-Coded Reading Challenge - 2/9 books read
Mount TBR Challenge - 5/60 books read
Planet Earth Challenge - 26/257 books read
TBR Pile Challenge - 3/12 books read

Obviously I'd like to be further along, but considering my poor reading last year, this is great, and I'll take it.

For April, I have made a list of the books I am planning to read, prioritizing challenge books, and I should be able to stick to this list. I would like to read at least another 12 books in April, most (if not all) of which will be for the challenges listed above. Wish me luck!

What's your plan for April reading?

Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2014

How on earth did I miss signing up for this challenge at the end of 2013?! It's hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block, and I am already participating in the Color-Coded Reading Challenge there - so I can only think it was an oversight. This is a great way to track the TBR books I have been trying to make a dent in - and some more incentive to read from my TBR pile rather than checking out NetGalley or the library and adding books to my pile.

I think I will commit to the Mount Kilimanjaro level of 60 books - that seems very doable with my on-hand pile of books and it works well with my other challenges. I am not going to create a list in advance, but I will track the books I read from my TBR pile in this post on an ongoing basis. I'm going to go back to January 2014 for this one, and track the other books here for the rest of the year.

Here's a link to the challenge - have you already signed up? If so, leave me a comment so I'll know you'll be keeping tabs on my progress! :) Thanks again to Bev for hosting another great challenge!


1. The Man in the Iron Mask - Alexander Dumas
2. The Tin Drum - Günter Grass
3. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
4. Late for Tea at the Deer Palace - Tamara Chalabi
5. Our Man in Havana - Graham Greene
6. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
7. The Prince and the Pauper - Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain)
8. 1Q84 - Haruki Murakami
9. Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
10. The Cold War: A New History - John Lewis Gaddis
11. World and Town - Gish Jen
12. The Dark Side of Camelot - Seymour M. Hersh
13. Ilustrado - Miguel Syjuco
14. Lady Chatterly's Lover - D.H. Lawrence
15. The Kingdom of Ohio - Matthew Flaming
16. Hubert's Freaks - Gregory Gibson
17. Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier
18. Bel Ami - Guy de Maupassant
19. The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver
20. Сорока-белобока / The Magpie
21. The Man Who Was Thursday - G.K. Chesterton
22. Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
23. La Canne de Jonc - Alfred de Vigny
24. De Eenzamheid van de priemgetallen - Paolo Giordano
25. The Solitude of Prime Numbers - Paolo Giordano
26. Cities of the Red Night - William S. Burroughs
27. Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë
28. Atonement - Ian McEwan
29. Cold Sassy Tree - Olive Ann Burns
30. Palace of Desire - Naguib Mahfouz
31. Sugar Street - Naguib Mahfouz
32. Leaving Cold Sassy - Olive Ann Burns
33. The Meaning of Night - Michael Cox
34. The Times Anthology of Ghost Stories
35. The Bourne Identity - Robert Ludlum
36. Lost in Shangri-La - Mitchell Zuckoff
37. The Flappers: Vixen - Jillian Larkin
38. The Poison Tree - Erin Kelly
39. The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen - Syrie James
40. Alibi - Joseph Kanon
41. A Carrion Death - Michael Stanley
42. Fall of Frost - Brian Hall
43. Fated - S.G. Browne
44. The North China Lover - Marguerite Duras
45. Emily of Deep Valley - Maud Hart Lovelace
46. The Universe in Miniature in Miniature - Patrick Somerville
47. Being Polite to Hitler - Robb Forman Dew
48. Our Father - Robert Tyler
49. And Only to Deceive - Tasha Alexander
50. Cause for Concern - Margaret Yorke
51. The Detroit Electric Scheme - D.E. Johnson
52. House of Sand and Fog - Andre Dubus III
53. The Devil's Tickets - Gary M. Pomerantz
54. The Memory Room - Christopher Koch
55. Breakfast of Champions - Kurt Vonnegut
56. Three Plays: Blithe Spirit, Hay Fever, Private Lives - Noel Coward
57. A Handful of Dust - Evelyn Waugh
58. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
59. The Importance of Being Earnest - Oscar Wilde
60. Sacred Games - Vikram Chandra

I made it!! Here is the final checkpoint wrapup post:

1. Tell us how many miles you made it up your mountain (# of books read). If you've planted your flag on the peak, then tell us and celebrate (and wave!).  Even if you were especially athletic and have been sitting atop your mountain for months, please check back in and remind us how quickly you sprinted up that trail. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting book adventures you've had along the way. 

My response: I made it all the way up Mount Kilimanjaro, with 60 out of 60 books read, for a total of 5,895 meters/19,341 feet. I just barely made it about an hour ago, and I am thoroughly stoked! I had planned to keep a better pace but I got mightily distracted by ARCs and random books so December was devoted to summiting, and that meant reading 23 books - yikes. As much as I love reading, I don't want to do that again next year, so I will try to keep a better pace!

I encountered a lot of new favorites through this challenge, including a bunch of classics, such as The Grapes of Wrath and Lady Chatterly's Lover, but my proudest moments were completing the 3 foreign language books that had been gathering dust and making me feel guilty for years. In any case, I am ecstatic at removing 60 books from my insane TBR pile, and totally looking forward to setting (and meeting!!) this same goal in 2015.

2. The Year in Review According to Mount TBR: Using the titles of the books you read this year, please associate as many statements as you can with a book read on your journey up the Mountain. 
Describe yourself: Lost in Shangri-La
Describe where you currently live: World and Town
If you could go anywhere where would you go?: The Memory Room (if I could get more memory capacity there! :) )
Every Monday morning I look/feel like: The Man in the Iron Mask
The last time I went to the doctor/therapist was because: I had Hay Fever
The last meal I ate was: The Grapes of Wrath as part of my Breakfast of Champions
When a creepy guy/girl asks me for my phone number, I: tell them I'm into the Solitude of Prime Numbers
Ignorant politicians make me: feel I have Cause for Concern
Some people need to spend more time: beating The Tin Drum
My memoir could be titled: Bel Ami
If I could, I would tell my teenage self: don't worry, you'll be Leaving Cold Sassy
I've always wondered: about The Importance of Being Earnest

The Stranger You Know - Jane Casey

The latest DC Maeve Kerrigan book is a corker! As usual, once I started reading, I had a terrible time putting this book down for any reason. The central mystery kept me guessing throughout the book. My admiration for some of the characters only deepened over the course of this book (and my dislike for some only hardened) - saying more than that would be giving away too much of the story, but I can tell you I found it very satisfying. I love the way the title both hints at the events in the book but also points out how even people we think we know well can keep us guessing. It's going to seem like a very long wait until the next book in this series appears! This series is definitely recommended.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Last Girl - Jane Casey

My latest series addiction continues apace! Book 3 of this series is every bit as entertaining as the previous two, I'm happy to report. I feel the need to extend some appreciation to DI Josh Derwent, a character that's somehow repellant and at the same time totally lovable. The often-hilarious banter between Derwent and Kerrigan is something I really enjoy. Normally I'd be moaning about a long wait until the next book in the series is released, but I happen to have book 4, so I get to indulge my addiction ASAP, and save the moaning for at least another day. Hooray!

The Word Exchange - Alena Graedon

"I don't want to live in a world where we destroy words - where words have no meaning anymore.... For years, decades, our memories have slowly been replaced by the memories of machines."

As someone who loves language, words, books, and reading, this book really appealed to me when I saw it on NetGalley. It's a dark dystopian story that's kind of a fable about how technology can destroy our ability to use words effectively, as well as a thriller about how words can be repurposed by people in power to subjugate "the rest of us." I enjoyed the alternate-future setting and found the story absorbing and chilling at the same time.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Ghana Must Go - Taiye Selasi

Stumbled on this book and was drawn to the title for 2 reasons - I had an acquaintance in college who was originally from Ghana, and I could use this book for my ongoing Planet Earth Challenge. I really liked the way the author was able to show how family behavioral patterns can repeat themselves across generations. I also admired her ability to show how the actions of one family member can cause issues that ripple through time. At times the writing got a little too close to what this awesome article calls out as pretentious, but the story kept me reading and I wanted all the characters to get some kind of happiness or resolution.

In reality, I am not sure that 75% of the book took place in Ghana, so right now I am wavering about whether to include it in the challenge or not; since I'd say at least 50% did, I might include it for now and then replace it if I find a book that adheres more closely to my challenge criterion.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Night Listener - Armistead Maupin

Do you ever get what I like to call "book hangovers?" I used to get them all the time when I was younger - I'd finish a book, but my mind would be absorbed by and somewhat "stuck" in the world of the book, and it would be hard to transition back into real life. I don't get them too often any more, but this book gave me a doozy. When I finished the book, I felt really out of it and all I wanted to do was think about the book and the events that had transpired. I actually had some things I had to do and I was super resentful that I couldn't just concentrate on what I had just read. And then I found out it's based on a true story - ! There is so much to continue thinking about here.

I have enjoyed the books I have read so far from the author's Tales of the City series, but in this book he blew me away with his ability to create an almost unbearable level of suspense and intrigue. The skillful narration was amazing - the narrator felt so real, so fully realized, to me, even though at times I wanted to slap some sense into him. Recommended.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Reckoning - Jane Casey

The new addiction continues - I had to lay hands on this book ASAP and I did! And I wasn't sorry - it was definitely as addictive as the first DC Maeve Kerrigan novel. The only "criticism" I can come up with is to stop having a "romantic subplot" be the source of drama, as it seems silly - but that's my own personal bias showing. In all, this was another great crime/mystery novel and I stand by my dual assertions that 1) this would be a great TV series and 2) this is a great series for crime/mystery novel or series fans. Recommended.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Burning - Jane Casey

Readers, I have a problem. It seems I can't resist the offer of a "read now" selection on NetGalley that sounds intriguing. Despite my huge TBR pile, after reading the NetGalley email description I downloaded this book on a whim, and now I have a problem - it's part of a series and I am hooked!

This was a great read. I immediately took to the character of DC Maeve Kerrigan, as well as many of the other characters that I look forward to seeing in the next books in this series (two of which are already available, thank goodness, and one more coming very soon). The first chapter hooked me and I had a tough time putting the book down once I started. This was an intriguing mystery (or two) well told, and I loved reading a crime novel from a UK point of view, as I have loved many UK-based police shows such as the fantastic Prime Suspect series, starring the fantastic Helen Mirren. This is another series I could easily see making a great TV show - I'll start checking the BBC America schedule regularly. If you're a fan of well done crime/mystery fiction, or just looking for a new series to get hooked on, try this one. Recommended.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Our Man in Havana - Graham Greene

How did I ever get this far in life without devouring every book Graham Greene ever wrote? I know I remark on this each time I read one of his books, but I can't believe how much I enjoy them, and that I went for so long without reading any at all. This one was highly entertaining, and I can't wait to read another one - although I don't happen to have any on hand, so I will probably have to wait for a large dent in the on-hand TBR pile until I can make that happen again, unfortunately. Highly recommended.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Tommy's Tale - Alan Cumming

Alan Cumming is a favorite actor of mine, but apparently I have been WAY out of the loop on his recent career, since I somehow missed this book, which was first published in 2002 (!). I spotted it on the Library Sale shelves, ascertained that the author was, indeed, THAT Alan Cumming, and figured his talents were sure to extend to writing a novel.

I wasn't wrong; this was a fast, enjoyable read that is admittedly not for prudes of any sort*. I admit that there were things about the main character that baffled me, but he wasn't unlikeable even so. Now I have to catch up on a bunch of shows and movies I've apparently missed - sorry AC!

*If you watch HBO shows you're probably OK, if not, you might want to have your pearls handy for clutching ;)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Late for Tea at the Deer Palace - Tamara Chalabi

This was another of my Borders Last Days books, which was languishing on my TBR Pile until I prioritized it for reading in the TBR Pile Challenge this year. I'm not sure why I put off reading it, since once I started, I had a very difficult time putting it down. The author skillfully tells the story of her family within the story of the modern nation of Iraq. What I knew about Iraq prior to reading this book couldn't have filled a thimble on a good day, but now I feel like I have more knowledge of the country's origin, history, politics, etc. - I'm a little less ignorant than I was before I read this fascinating memoir and biography.

Something interesting to me is how in every country there is at least one political group that seems to  want to mobilize people who have little power, often using fear of the new/different, and use these people to "overthrow" the government in one way or another - but then replace the previous regime with a repressive government that really isn't much different than what was overthrown. It's a lesson we'd all do well to study as it happens again and again - maybe we can figure out a way to combat it. The subtitle of this memoir is The Lost Dreams of My Iraqi Family and that sums things up nicely - the author's family went through a lot, although they have managed to retain their status as wealthy people, while the majority of people who find themselves in the midst of war and turmoil do not have options. In any case, I recommend this fascinating and well written book.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Book Blogger Hop

Hello everyone, and Happy Hop Day! Welcome to my blog.

The Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. Here's this week's question:

Do you have a schedule set for blogging and reading time? Or do you not have a set time and just let it happen?

My response:

I have been struggling to set aside some dedicated reading time since the new year, with limited success. At the end of December I had all these big plans to set up a more dedicated schedule, but it hasn't worked, for many reasons, but I think the main one has been laziness :(

In general, I don't blog on a regular schedule, I just add my review whenever I happen to finish a book. I do post a wrap-up post each month where I take stock of my progress for that month and set goals for the next month's reading (which I may or may not reach, but that's another blog post!). I try to participate in these hops regularly, as I enjoy them and I enjoy seeing other book blogs, but I can't even manage to do that every week.

Are you more disciplined than I am? Any suggestions, tips, and tricks are most welcome in the comments! :)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Here and Now - Ann Brashares

I'm a sucker for fish-out-of-water stories and books about time travel, which are usually fish-out-of-water stories, at least in part. So when I got an email saying I'd been pre-approved to read this book on NetGalley and I read the description, I eagerly downloaded this book.

The author did a nice job of showing us how the characters develop through the story, and I really liked the two main characters quite a bit. The community rules and some other details were chilling and fascinating, and I wouldn't have minded learning more about them. The plot moved along nicely, although there were a few smaller things that happened in the book that didn't make a lot of sense to me. But all in all I found this to be a thought-provoking read. If you enjoy time-travel books, read this one and then leave me some comments so we can discuss it!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Burn - Monica Hesse

This book did a great job of building on the world set up in Stray, in addition to furthering it. I actually reversed my feelings on one of the characters, which is unusual and was well done in the book. I also enjoyed the way the story unfolded, answering many questions raised in the previous book.

This book arrived last weekend but I wasn't able to start it until this weekend. Once I started it was very difficult to put down. Now I'm sorry that it's over - and I wonder what may be coming up in the future for the characters in this book.