Saturday, January 31, 2015

January - This Month in Reading

This was the best January in terms of books read that I've had since I started this blog in 2011 - I read 21 books this month. For the sake of comparison, here are the previous years' January numbers: 

2014: 2 books
2013: 3 books
2012: 6 books
2011: 13 books

At the end of December, I wrote that I wanted to read one book for each challenge, and that I was hoping to read an overall total of 10 books, and I managed that handily, with the exception of the Harlem Renaissance Challenge, which I am on track to get started on in February. Here's a quick challenge report:

Back to the Classics Challenge - 2/12 books
Mount TBR Reading Challenge - 6/60 books 
Read It Again, Sam - 1/12 books
TBR Pile Challenge - 3/12 books
Diversity on the Shelf Challenge - 3/7 -12 books
Color Coded Reading Challenge - 2/9 books 
Books in Translation Reading Challenge - 2/10 - 12 books
Banned Books Challenge - 2/3 - 5 books that have been banned or challenged
French Bingo 2015 - 2 books read; need a minimum of 5 books to get Bingo
LGBT Reading Challenge 2015 - 6/3 - 10 LGBT books (many of these were part of a series so I will be reading more in order to branch out)
Harlem Renaissance Reading Challenge - 0/6 - 10 books

I think all that reading in November and December really got me in the habit and now I'm on a reading roll. I have no idea why other Januarys were such slow reading months - I suppose it had to do with stuff like work being busy and other things taking precedence over reading. I'm glad this year is off to a better start, and I would like to keep the momentum going, so I'm going to make the same goal for February - read at least 1 book for each challenge at a minimum. I also have a couple NetGalley reviews I need to complete, etc. so I'm sure I can make this happen. 

How was your first month of 2015 reading? 

The Days of Anna Madrigal - Armistead Maupin

Since I happened to have this book on hand I didn't hesitate to read it ASAP. It's a fitting entry into this beguiling series that has carved itself a permanent niche in my consciousness. I even shed some tears at the end of the book, which is unusual for me (I'm not much of a crier) - and not for reasons you might expect. I guess these books make me react to the idea of people getting the chance to be who they really are and to have a real chance at happiness. These books make me sentimental for something, but I'm not really sure for what exactly - I guess they make me sentimental for "home" in the sense of someplace each person can feel loved and happy and comfortable and (at least mostly) understood. And they make me feel sad for people who don't get that chance.

OK I'll stop my pseudo-philosphical ramblings now, and I'll close with this observation: "Amber waves of evil" would make a great tag line for something. Oh, and I am now impatiently waiting for the next part of the series...!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Mary Ann in Autumn - Armistead Maupin

This installment in the Tales of the City series is a return to form in more ways than one. Although I very much enjoyed the first person narration of Michael Tolliver Lives, and the chance to experience an entire book in this series through a single character's eyes (not to mention one of my favorite characters, so that was a plus), it was good to be able to visit so many different characters again in this book.

Sadly I can't say a lot about this book without immediately venturing into spoiler territory. I will say that it is touching and funny and surprising. Maupin has a way of spinning a tale that is masterful, and  I can't help but sit back and admire what he did in this book. Recommended.

Now I can't wait to dig in to the next installment, which is less than a meter away from me at the moment. However, after I finish that I'll be in a crisis, anxiously awaiting the next book in this series that has seriously hooked me.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Repeat - Neal Pollack

Who doesn't have at least one moment they wish they could go back in time and do differently? Among so many other moments, I personally would love to wake up as a freshman in college, preferably before registration had started, with all the memories I have now of course, and do a lot of things over (different major, different classes, etc.). So when I saw this book on NetGalley, I found the premise irresistible.

This book was a funny, fast read that explored the plot concept well. While I was reading, the writing style made me feel like I was hearing the book being narrated aloud, like movies such as Amelie or The Big Lebowski that have third-person narration in parts. There were some ooky passages here and there I could have done without, but they were undeniably true to life. The main character seems to be something of a slow learner schlub but he's someone you can't help rooting for at the same time. If you find the infinite time loop concept intriguing, and/or you are a fan of Hot Tub Time Machine and Groundhog Day, you will enjoy this book. Recommended.

As a side note, I desperately want to go to The Sideshow restaurant ASAP - I should Google to see if it's real.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Shape of S--- to Come - Steve Lowe & Alan McArthur

As you may have guessed by the title, this book is a look at the future - or more specifically, the future as it looked from 2012 (ha ha). The book covers topics such as one of my favorite things, robots (I want a talking robot so much - and I do in fact feel ripped off because as a child I was certain we'd have talking robots like C-3PO by now). It also covers more practical topics such as energy and food, which are increasingly problematic as our population increases and our climate changes.

But don't be put off by my lackluster description! Although the book covers serious topics, it does it in a highly comedic manner, and is rather funny. The tone of the book reminded me of comic shows I see on BBC America, for example Top Gear or The Graham Norton Show - it's breezy and irreverent. This book is a fast read and an enjoyable look at the future. It would be fun to reread it in another 10 years to see how accurate it turns out to be. The authors apparently have a series of similar books that I suspect are great fun; I'll have to add them to my virtual TBR list. Recommended.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Seeker - Arwen Elys Dayton

I enjoyed this YA book, the first in a new series. In looking around the Internet, I see a lot of reviews where the reader was hopelessly confused by this book, and I don't really get that; I didn't have too much trouble figuring things out as I read. I was able to put two and two together for the most part. I enjoyed the narration, which takes on the point of view of various characters, so we learn about their varying motivations and backstories and piece together the story that way. The overall story is fast-paced and had an original premise.

Having said all that, I must ask - do we describe an Asian person's eyes as "slanted" in 2015? That description seemed jarring to me, but maybe it's just me. One other thing - YA authors, PLEASE stop the love triangles. Please. It's become too much of a cliche. It's starting to feel lazy.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Michael Tolliver Lives - Armistead Maupin

Having just read the previous book in this series, which was published in the late 1980s, I can't imagine how anticipated this book, which was published in 2007, must have been. I can imagine so many Tales of the City fans freaking out when they heard that there would be another book after 20 years - I know I would have been totally excited.

And I don't think this book would have let any of those fans down. It's a departure from those books, being a first-person narrative that focuses on a single character, but aside from that what really struck me was the difference in how frank and open the book was compared to the books that were published decades earlier. So much has changed since the 6th installment in the 80s - and that is reflected in this book. We get updates on what has transpired in the past 20 years - the good and the bad - and it's really good to be back with these characters, who seem very real to me at this point. I can hardly wait to get to the next installment, which is part of my TBR Challenge list for this year. Recommended.

Goodbye, Columbus - Philip Roth

Found this book on my office book exchange shelves, and I recognized the author's name as being someone I had heard of but had never read before. The book then gathered dust on the TBR pile for a while until I made it a part of the Back to the Classics Challenge this year.

I actually made a slight error when I chose the category for this book - I used the "person's name in the title" category, but after reading the titular novella, I realized it refers to the city of Columbus, Ohio, and not a person with that name. Whoops! However, some quick research shows that that city was named after Christopher Columbus, so it is technically a person's name... Karen K., if you are reading this, I can swap this book's category with the "novella" category, as my chosen novella, Steppenwolf, is evidently a nickname, so let me know. Until then I will just leave it as is.

And now on to an actual book review!

This book is actually made up of the novella-length story "Goodbye, Columbus" as well as 5 additional short stories, although I didn't figure that out until I started reading. I can see that Roth's writing would have been a hit when it came out. It's very frank and the writing is very naturalistic. I would love to discuss the themes - it seems like Roth is working through the experience of being Jewish in America after World War II, and issues like assimilation, the aftermath of the Holocaust, general suburban life and the generation gap of young people vs their parents in the post-war era, etc. Of all these stories I think I liked the title novella, "Defender of the Faith," and "Eli the Fanatic" the best. I'd love to hear from other readers of these stories so feel free to leave a comment for discussion! In any case, I think I will add Portnoy's Complaint to my mental TBR list so I can explore more of this author's work. Recommended.

I'm also claiming this book for the Color-Coded Reading Challenge, under the "any other color" category - I think this qualifies for violet/mauve/purple, don't you?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress - Dai Sijie

I discovered this book when I was looking through all the banned books materials at the American Library Association's website and decided to randomly choose it as a book to meet this challenge. I'm really glad I did, as I discovered that this book was originally written in French (the author is from China originally, but now lives in France and writes in French) and it was made into a movie (which I will have to make a point of seeing), making it eligible for the French Bingo Challenge and the Diversity on the Shelf Challenges too.

As I've said before, one reason I like joining reading challenges is because I so often find cool books that I would otherwise not have heard of, like this book. It's a short book and it was a deceptively fast read, but the themes of censorship (yes, it's kind of ironic that a book with that as one of its themes is itself a victim of censorship), and the transformative power of good literature, are deep and well done. I know that I will be thinking about this book for a long time, asking myself exactly what the relationship between Balzac and the titular seamstress is - anything more I say will venture into potential spoiler territory. Sufficient to say this book is highly recommended and I would love to discuss it with anyone else who has read it!

If you're curious, the ALA banned/challenged books report for 2004 - 2005 has more info about the banning of this book.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sure of You - Armistead Maupin

This was evidently meant to be the last book in the Tales of the City series, and after reading it I can see that - this is the most "serious" volume of the entire series, the one that has the least amount of silliness and the most realistic relationships with the characters. For that reason I probably liked it the most so far; the farfetched hijinx of the first couple books have given way to serious issues of the mid/late 80s, including of course AIDS. This book too also shows the more serious relationships that have developed as the characters have grown, matured, or maybe in some cases they just got older. Had I read these books when they were initially published, I would be disappointed that the series was over, but luckily there are 3 more books I can't wait to get my hands on - hooray! So now I am looking forward to the continuing adventures of the current and former denizens of 28 Barbary Lane. Recommended.

Wynter #1 - Guy Hasson/Aron Elekes

This was a seriously striking sci-fi/dystopian comic. The storyline immediately drew me in, and it was complemented beautifully by the artwork. I don't read a lot of comics, because I love reading and they usually don't have enough words for me, but this one is a wonderful example of how to do a comic correctly: the comic format was perfect for this story, as the artwork enhances and helps tell the story, rather than just being an illustration. Much like Persepolis, I can't imagine this story being told in a traditional book format. And it's always nice to see a female protagonist with some spirit.

You can read this comic for free if you follow New Worlds Comics on Twitter, and I highly recommend that you do so! I am dying to see what happens next, so I'm going to check my book budget and grab the next couple installments. Recommended.

Making Up for Monday

I'm a day late for this one, but hey, better late than never, right?

This week's question is great: 

What character in a book would you like to sucker punch in the face?

My response:

I have several I can think of off the top of my head, so here they are in no particular order:

-Claude from The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I'd love to send him flying across the barnyard.

-Kathy from House of Sand and Fog. Just ugh.

-DC Kerrigan's creepy neighbor in Jane Casey's series - he needs a couple punches, but I'd settle for one good one.

-Lucius Malfoy from Harry Potter. I doubt I have to explain that choice too much.

Which characters would you like to sucker punch?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Harlem Renaissance Reading Challenge 2015

2015 Harlem Renaissance Reading Challenge

I'm so happy that The Dusky Literati is hosting this great challenge again this year. Last year I joined at the lowest level, but this year I am going to aim higher and sign up for the Garveyite level of 6 - 10 books. I want to read more books by Langston Hughes, among other authors that I looked into last year but ran out of time with too many other challenges. This challenge does involve books that aren't  currently on my TBR pile, but that's OK; I am feeling good about my reading so far this year and I am just going to make more time for this.

Please leave any book recommendations in the comments!

1. The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man - James Weldon Johnson
2. The Complete Fiction of Nella Larsen
3. The Ways of White Folks - Langston Hughes
4. Native Son - Richard Wright
5. Black No More - George Schuyler
6. Infants of the Spring - Wallace Thurman

Sunday, January 18, 2015

January Reread - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon

This book is the first in a new feature on this blog, that of rereading a book that found its way on to my TBR pile, but remained unread because I felt guilty about rereading a book when there were so many other new-to-me books on the pile gathering dust. My TBR pile is finally under control in a way it hasn't been since my Borders Last Days sales book buying frenzy, thanks in no small part to both the TBR Pile Challenge and the Mount TBR Challenge, in addition to a lot of other challenges I've done in the past 4 years, so I felt now was a good time to clear these reread books away one per month.

I originally read this book around the time it was first published (2003), and I loved it. It seemed to really give the reader an experience - it encapsulated why I love a good book, which is that you can experience the inner life of another person. In this case, the person is someone who is a truly "unreliable narrator," in that their neurology makes it difficult to relate to other humans' emotions, so the reader is left to suss out much of the book using inference and reading between the lines. It makes the story much more funny, and sad, and touching. I'm glad I found this nice copy on the Library Sale shelves and brought it home, as I enjoyed it just as much the second time, and I will hang on to this copy for the time being. Highly recommended.

Edited to add: I was looking for something else and noticed that this book made the American Library Association's Books Challenged or Banned list for 2010 - 2011 and for 2005 - 2006 - so I am claiming this book for that challenge too.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Merit Birds - Kelley Powell

I liked this YA book set in Laos, a setting I don't encounter much in my reading. The use of multiple narrative threads was effective, and helped the reader understand some of the cultural differences between one of the main characters, who is from Canada, and the others, who are native Laotians. The story was not what I expected at all; it went in many different directions than I would have thought but that made it seem more realistic to me, since life is rarely lived in a simple narrative. The author did a nice job of integrating social issues into the story while not sidetracking the overall plot with preachy rhetoric or anything like that. Because I cared about the characters, I cared more about the social issues than I otherwise might have, if that makes sense. I will say that the ending was a bit abrupt, but that's not that big of a deal. Recommended. 

I'm using this book for the Color Coded Reading Challenge, since this year we can use book covers that display color as well as book titles. Obviously, this one will be for "red" - I think it's a striking cover and I like it a lot. I would definitely be drawn to this book at the bookstore or library.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sticky Branding - Jeremy Miller

Although I have never been too terribly interested in business and sales and economics and all that, I do find marketing interesting, so when I saw this book on NetGalley I was immediately intrigued. Unlike some business type books, where the writing gets bogged down in jargon and/or sales rhetoric, this book was well written, with clear, concise writing. I'm an examples person - I learn best when you tell me something and then give examples, and this book had a lot of good real world examples from real businesses to illustrate the author's points, as well as exercises to do if you are developing your own brand. All in all I found this to be an enjoyable book, and after reading it, I feel like I learned something. I'd definitely recommend this book to someone who was looking to develop a brand, and if someday I ever do own my own business, I'd definitely use this book as a reference. Recommended for readers who have an interest in business and marketing.

Double Take - J.K. Pendragon

This was an inventive and explicit short book that delved into nontraditional... well, nontraditional everything, including setting and characters. The story was done well and I liked the setting, as it added a nice visual backdrop to the plot. The main character is sympathetic but I would love to know more about xyr - maybe there will be more Teka stories to fill in the background. It seems like there is a lot of possibility for expansion in this fictional world. Recommended for adult fans of erotica.

LGBT Challenge 2015

It took me a while, but I finally found another LGBT reading challenge, and I know I will be reading books that will fall in this category, so I'm going to join just this one more challenge for 2015. This challenge is hosted by Niji Feels - here's a link to the signup post. I'm going to sign up for the Genre Hopper level, committing to reading 3-10 LGBT books from any genre this year, and since I've already read one and have more planned, I know I will be successful. As always, I will keep track of the books I read for this challenge in this post.

Please feel free to leave any recommendations for books to read for this challenge in the comments!

1. Significant Others - Armistead Maupin (LGBT author, characters, themes)
2. Double Take - J.K. Pendragon (LGBT author, characters, themes)
3. Sure of You - Armistead Maupin (LGBT author, characters, themes)
4. Michael Tolliver Lives - Armistead Maupin (LGBT author, characters, themes)
5. Mary Ann in Autumn - Armistead Maupin (LGBT author, characters, themes)
6. The Days of Anna Madrigal - Armistead Maupin (LGBT author, characters, themes)
7. Gracefully Grayson - Ami Polonsky (trans main character)
8. The Human Agenda: Conversations about Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity - Joe Wenke (LGBT activist author, conversation partners, themes)
9. The Kissing Contest - Francis Gideon (LGBT author, themes)
10. Infants of the Spring - Wallace Thurman (possibly LGBT author, characters)
11. The Necromancer's House - Christopher Buehlman (LGBT characters)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Significant Others - Armistead Maupin

This is the 5th book in the Tales of the City series, and I think I liked this one the best so far. The overall plots were the most realistic of the books, and this book was able to bring out some of the more serious issues in the mid-80s without losing its overall charm. Parts of the story made me laugh really hard, and parts were very touching and sad. There are definitely characters I like more than others, but even the less likable ones seem very human. Maupin is a good writer; I enjoy his Tales and I am looking forward to finishing this series this year (and then anxiously awaiting more).

Monday, January 12, 2015

Making Up For Monday

It's been a while since I participated in this fun meme, hosted by Tiffany at An Avid Reader, A Wannabe Writer, and it's Monday, so it's high time I get back in the game!

This week's question is a good one:

What was the worst movie adaptation of a book that you have seen?

My response, off the top of my head:

Memoirs of a Geisha: I love this book, and I was disappointed with the film adaptation. I didn't think it really captured the spirit of the book, despite being decent, if too modernized to my eyes, to look at. I would have preferred more historically accurate art direction.

The Great Gatsby: I'm not sure there has ever been a really great film of this book. I've seen the Robert Redford version, but it was ages ago so I don't really remember it. I haven't seen the most recent version - when I heard the music was modern rather than accurate to the period in which the book takes place, I was disappointed, as I love the music of the early 20th century. I might check it out someday though just for kicks.

The Golden Compass: I read this book many years ago and I don't remember being impressed with the movie - although I don't have a strong memory of either, to be honest. Maybe I should reread this book and read the rest of the series if I ever clear my TBR Pile!

Which movie versions of books have you shaking your head?

I'm on Twitter!

Hi all, I decided to join the 21st Century and create a Twitter account, so if you have one too, please let me know so I can follow you. My Twitter name is @DilettanteBkwm, so feel free to follow me if you like - I will follow back. And if you have any recommendations for good bookish Twitter accounts, please let me know that too! I can't promise I will be super active there, but I thought I'd give it a try and see how it works. #nowIhavetofigureouthowbesttousehastags #idontthinkthisisitLOL

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Wish After Midnight - Zetta Elliott

This YA book would be a great read for young adults today. The author creates a sympathetic main character and the writing is strong. It really puts some first world problems in perspective. All the characters seemed to be very human, having good and bad sides. That said, I would wish for a sequel or another related book so that we can find out more about the other characters in this book and what happens to them. I'd definitely check out the author's other books.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

French Bingo 2015

OK, one more reading challenge for 2015. This challenge, which is hosted by Emma at Words and Peace, is another one that should fit in with my established reading goals and TBR pile and etc., so I'm going to go for it. I have never done a reading challenge that has the form of "bingo" so this will be interesting! I might just try to fill it all in. Here's the bingo card (let me know if you can't see it as it means I did something wrong):

Update December 30, 2015: BINGO!!! I marked off the squares I have covered and reuploaded the image below:

I will keep track of the books I read for this challenge in this post as usual.

I completed Emma's Books on France Challenge last year, although I think I neglected to post my reviews on her site - duh! In any case, I am looking forward to reading more books having to do with France, and several that are actually in French if I play my cards right. Merci encore à Emma pour un autre défi!

1. A3 - Historical Novel Set in France - Between Two Fires, Christopher Buehlman (novel set in France in 1348)
2. C3 - French Book Made into a Movie - Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Dai Sijie (novel originally written in French [Balzac et la petite tailleuse chinoise], made into a movie in 2003)
3. B5 - With the Eiffel Tower on the Cover - Mac in the City of Light, Christopher Ward (novel has the Eiffel Tower and other Paris sights on the cover)
4. D2 - With a French City/Region in the Title - Mac on the Road to Marseille, Christopher Ward (novel with Marseille in the title)
5. B1 - Nonfiction about France - Hidden Child of the Holocaust, Stacy Cretzmeyer (true story set in Vichy France)
6. E2 - Translated from the French - The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (book translated into English from the French; has also been translated into hundreds of languages worldwide)
7. C1 - By a French Author in the 1900s - Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (book written and published in the 1940s)
8. D3 - Written by a French Author in the 1800s - Les Misérables, Victor Hugo (novel by French author first published in 1862)
9. A4 - Play by a French author - Tartuffe, Molière (play written in 1664 by famous French playwright)
10. A2 - By a French Author before 1800 - The Cid, Pierre Corneille (play first performed in 1637, written by famous French playwright)
11. B4 - By a French Author after 2000 - The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery (book originally published in 2006 in France)
12. C2 - Romance Set in France - Chéri, Colette (story is about a romance between the title character and his lover)
13. D1 - With a French Word in the Title - A Year in the Merde, Stephen Clarke (obviously has a French word in the title)
14. A5 - By a French Female Author - The Last of Chéri, Colette (one of the most famous French female authors)
15. E1 - Mystery/thriller set in France - The Rhetoric of Death, Judith Rock (mystery set in 1680s Paris)

Friday, January 9, 2015

Between Two Fires - Christopher Buehlman

Not sure where to start with my review of this book. Something about it defies an easy review. The scene was set well, and I liked the main characters quite a bit. I truly feel as if I have visited France in the middle ages. Part of me can't stop thinking about some of the horrific images conjured up in my mind thanks to the author's gift of description.

Compared to the narrator of the previous book, which I raved on about here, the writing in this book is slightly more - well, "casual" is the best word I can come up with to describe it, although I'm not sure it conveys what I'm really trying to say. There was some great dialogue, some of it actually hilarious, which contrasted nicely with the otherwise tense atmosphere of the story.

This book would be great for horror fans, historical fiction fans who are OK with horror, and I think Game of Thrones fans would like it too (disclaimer - I haven't read those books yet, so I'm really talking about HBO's show). I am not usually a horror fan, but this author won me over so hard with his first book that I make an exception for his well written books. I think this book will live in my mind for a while. Recommended.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

2015 Reading Challenges

I just realized that I have been busily signing up for reading challenges left, right, and center, and I better make a master list of these challenges so I can see them all in one place, lest I forget one or something equally stupid. So this is a list of all the challenges I have signed up for so far in 2015, with links to my initial blog posts about the challenges, and the number of books I need to read to fulfill each challenge. Each linked blog post has the signup information for the challenge and my list of books that I have read for the challenge itself.

Back to the Classics Challenge - 12 classic books

Mount TBR Reading Challenge - 60 books from TBR Pile

Read It Again, Sam - 12 rereads

TBR Pile Challenge - 12 TBR Pile books with 2 alternates

Diversity on the Shelf Challenge - 7 - 12 books with diverse main characters

Color Coded Reading Challenge - 9 books with color in the title or on the cover

Books in Translation Reading Challenge - 10 - 12 books translated from another language

Banned Books Challenge - 3 - 5 books that have been banned or challenged

French Bingo 2015 - minimum of 5 books to get Bingo

LGBT Reading Challenge 2015 - 3 - 10 LGBT books

Harlem Renaissance Reading Challenge - 6 - 10 books by Harlem Renaissance authors, or about the Harlem Renaissance

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Doll's House - Henrik Ibsen

One of the many reasons I studiously avoid spoilers is for situations such as my reading of this play. I had heard of the play, of course, but I had never read it nor had I seen a stage production of it. Before I read it I knew nothing about it except that it is considered a classic and it was originally written in Norwegian.

Reader, I am so glad I knew nothing going in, because I was really stunned by what I read. When I started reading, I began to expect the story to go in a certain way based on my preconceptions of a play originally written in 1879. In fact, the story turned my expectations on their head and the ending left me gobsmacked. This is such a "contemporary" play that if my copy of it hadn't been included in a book that was originally published around 1900 I would have assumed the play was written in the mid-20th century at the earliest. And this is the power of going into a book "blind" and letting it wash over you - you're free to be gobsmacked at the end of it all.

If you haven't read this play you should go over to Project Gutenberg, as I suspect they've covered it, and check it out; it's a short read and well worth the reading, if only to marvel at. I suspect it influenced a lot of other writers. The background of the play and its origins are fascinating too. Now I really must read some more Ibsen, once I clear off this crazy TBR pile once and for all. Highly recommended.

Banned Books Challenge for 2015

I must stop signing up for reading challenges - but I just keep running across more challenges that sound so fun and that I know I can meet with my current TBR pile and my other current challenges, so I justify all these sign-ups that way. To be honest, I have avoided a few challenges that look really, really, cool and fun just because they won't help me with my ongoing TBR pile reduction plan, so I feel OK caving in to others, like this great one. As an avid reader I am glad to take part in this challenge and to reflect on censorship while I read. I am so thankful every day that I am able to read just about any book I want to read, and I wish everyone had that same opportunity.

This challenge is straightforward - it's reading banned and/or frequently challenged books. The challenge is hosted by Christine at Buckling Bookshelves, and the signup post has a lot of great resources for determining books that have been banned or challenged - and you won't believe some of them, particularly the classics! I'm going to keep it simple and sign up for the Trouble-Maker level of 3 - 5 books to ensure success - I have already seen several of my planned books on various lists, so I'm sure to be successful. What are your recommendations for me for this challenge? I'd love to start a list, so please feel free to leave a comment!

As always, I will keep track of the books I read for this challenge in this post as I go along.

1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon (appears on the ALA Challenged or Banned books list for 2010 - 2011 for "foul language" and for 2005 - 2006 because "the book could 'pollute' young minds" - ???)
2. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress - Dai Sijie (appears on the ALA list for 2004 - 2005 because it's "sexually explicit and inappropriate")
3. Native Son - Richard Wright (appears as #27 on ALA's most frequently challenged classics list; has been challenged multiple times for being "sexually explicit and violent")
4. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood (#88 on the ALA's most frequently banned/challenged list)
5. 1984 - George Orwell (#9 on the ALA's list of most frequently challenged classics)
6. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie (#1 on the ALA list of frequently challenged books)
7. The Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank (has been challenged since its original publication as being a "hoax" by Holocaust deniers; has been challenged for being "depressing" - see this link for some details)
8. The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition - Anne Frank (challenged multiple times for being "pornographic" and "inappropriate" etc. - here's a link to one article about this, there are many more!)
9. Women in Love - D.H. Lawrence (#75 on the ALA list of the most frequently challenged classics)
10. Tartuffe - Molière (was banned from being produced by the King of France; was considered offensive and frequently banned/challenged in its time)
11. The Eighth Day of the Week - Marek Hłasko (all books by this author were banned for many years in Poland by the government)
12. Lord of the Flies - William Golding (#8 on the ALA list of the most frequently challenged classics)

2015 Books in Translation Reading Challenge

Books in Translation Reading Challenge hosted at The Introverted Reader
Image courtesy of hywards at

I simply can't resist this challenge, mainly because I know a lot of the books I have listed for other challenges are translations, so I'll definitely be successful. I'm going to sign up for the Linguist level of 10 - 12 books, and I'll keep track of the books I read in this post as I go along. Should be a fun challenge, thanks so much to The Introverted Reader for hosting it!

One note: I read the books listed in their English-language translations unless otherwise noted.

1. A Doll's House - Henrik Ibsen (play translated from the original Norwegian)
2. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress - Dai Sijie (translated from the original French)
3. The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales - Franz Xaver von Schönwerth, translated by Maria Tatar, edited by Erika Eichenseer (collection of stories translated from the original German)
4. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (translated from the original Russian)
5. Anne Frank: A Portrait in Courage - Ernst Schnabel (translated from the original German)
6. The Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank (translated from the original Dutch)
7. Journal - Anne Frank (French translation from the original Dutch)
8. Treasures from the Attic - Mirjam Pressler with Gerti Elias (translated from the original German)
9. A Personal Matter - Kenzaburo Oe (translated from the original Japanese)
10. The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (translated from the original French)
11. Blindness - José Saramago (translated from the original Portuguese)
12. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up - Marie Kondo (translated from the original Japanese)
13. The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition - Anne Frank (translated from the original Dutch)
14. Steppenwolf - Herman Hesse (translated from the original German)
15. Amberville - Tim Davys (translated from the original Swedish)
16. Les Misérables - Victor Hugo (translated from the original French)
17. Lanceheim - Tim Davys (translated from the original Swedish)
18. Torquai - Tim Davys (translated from the original Swedish)
19. Yok - Tim Davys (translated from the original Swedish)
20. Tartuffe - Molière (translated from the original French)
21. The Eighth Day of the Week - Marek Hłasko (translated from the original Polish)
22. The Bookseller of Kabul - Åsne Seierstad (translated from the original Norwegian)
23. The Cid - Pierre Corneille (translated from the original French)
24. The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery (translated from the original French)
25. Chéri - Colette (translated from the original French)
26. The Arabian Nights - translated by Sir Richard F. Burton (stories originated in many different countries; this collection translated from Arabic versions)
27. The Last of Chéri - Colette (translated from the original French)
28. Fathers and Sons - Ivan Turgenev (translated from the original Russian)

The Atheist's Guide to Christmas - Edited by Ariane Sherine

Ok, this is a bit late in the season and all, but I'm a procrastinator so maybe I'm just really, really early for next year, ha ha. Despite the title, this book is not so much a "how-to" type guide as a collection of funny and sometimes touching stories, anecdotes, and short essays. Some are downright absurd and puzzling, which I loved. This is well worth a read - recommended.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Across the Bridge of Ice - Ruth Fox

I really enjoyed this great sequel to the first book in the series, The City of Silver Light. We have a new narrator in this book, and while I miss the previous narrator's voice, it's fun to read the story from another perspective, and it allows this story to build on the events from the first book, bringing things together and answering some questions while raising others. The story is cleverly done and I cannot wait to find out what happens in the final part of this trilogy. Is it too selfish to wish for more books? Maybe some prequels? I'm not ready to be satisfied with just one more book about Shar just yet. Recommended.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Color Coded Reading Challenge for 2015

Just realized I had neglected to actually join this reading challenge for this year, so here is my official entry post! It's hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block, and here is a link to the challenge at her blog so you can sign up too. This year there is a new aspect: the color can be part of the title or be the dominant color for the cover of the book (for the "implies color" category the image implying color should dominate the cover). This is a fun addition to the challenge. It seems that a lot of the books I end up reading for this challenge have the actual color in the title, I guess I am sort of literal that way, but it's always fun to find books for each category. Here are the categories:

Read nine books in the following categories.
1. A book with "Blue" or any shade of Blue (Turquoise, Aquamarine, Navy, etc) in the title/on the cover. - A Beautiful Blue Death - Charles Finch

2. A book with "Red" or any shade of Red (Scarlet, Crimson, Burgandy, etc) in the title/on the cover. - The Merit Birds (Red cover with black lettering and design elements)

3. A book with "Yellow" or any shade of Yellow (Gold, Lemon, Maize, etc.) in the title/on the cover. - Amberville - Tim Davys

4. A book with "Green" or any shade of Green (Emerald, Lime, Jade, etc) in the title/on the cover. - Berlin Noir - Philip Kerr (Green-tinted black and white photo and green type on cover)

5. A book with "Brown" or any shade of Brown (Tan, Chocolate, Beige, etc) in the title/on the cover. Eat Chocolate, Lose Weight - Will Clower, PhD

6. A book with "Black" or any shade of Black (Jet, Ebony, Charcoal, etc) in the title/on the cover. Black Earth - Timothy Snyder

7. A book with "White" or any shade of White (Ivory, Eggshell, Cream, etc) in the title/on the cover. - The Ways of White Folks - Langston Hughes

8. A book with any other color in the title/on the cover (Purple, Orange, Silver, Pink, Magenta, etc.). - Goodbye, Columbus - Philip Roth (Violet/Mauve cover with black and white lettering)

9. A book with a word that implies color (Rainbow, Polka-dot, Plaid, Paisley, Stripe, etc.). - The Girl in the Polka-dot Dress - Beryl Bainbridge

I'm looking forward to this challenge again this year - I always dig up some interesting books along the way. Leave me a comment if you have any book suggestions for the categories! 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Landline - Rainbow Rowell

After I read the author's other books and found them reasonably enjoyable, I put myself on the waiting list at the library for this, her latest book. The waiting list was long enough that I figured it would be a while, which was a good thing, since I had so much reading to do in November and December. So imagine my surprise when I got the email in late December from the library telling me the book was ready for me to pick up. I had to just laugh, since I already had 23 books just for a single challenge to read in December, so this one would have to wait, and luckily that worked out perfectly. So now I have read it and on to the review!

Well, I have mixed feelings about this one. On the plus side, there was some very funny dialogue and lines that made me laugh. I liked some of the peripheral characters a lot, and in fact would like to read a book about them. However, on the down side, I didn't love the main characters. Neither character of the main couple seemed pleasant to be around - one seemed annoyingly pushy and type A to me, and the other seemed perpetually grumpy and dissatisfied and/or emotionless and like a big barrel of NO FUN. So that made it hard to care about what happens to them. So I found the book to be a quick, easy, light read but lacking in emotional connection for me. 

It did make me appreciate my wonderful Mr. K that much more though! 

Diversity on the Shelf Challenge 2015

My Little Pocketbooks

I like to think that I have a reasonable amount of diversity on my bookshelf, and my TBR pile, so I am going to join this challenge, which is hosted by My Little Pocketbooks, and make sure of that. :) I know I already have some books that will work for this challenge, and I will definitely be reading others, both by chance and by design, so I am going to sign up for the Second Shelf level of 7-12 books (you can go up if you read more, so that will be my ultimate goal). As always I will keep track of the books I read for this challenge in this post throughout the year. 

You can sign up here, so please do and then come back and leave me any book recommendations you might have!

1. A Wish After Midnight - Zetta Elliott (Author of color/main character has African and Panamanian heritage)
2. The Merit Birds - Kelley Powell (Story told from multiple points of view, including that of multiple Laotian people)
3. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress - Dai Sijie (Author of color/all characters are of color)
4. The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man - James Weldon Johnson (Author of color/main character has African heritage/story is about race and class in American society)
5. The Complete Fiction of Nella Larsen (Author of color/main characters of color/stories are about race and class in American society)
6. The Ways of White Folks - Langston Hughes (Author of color/main characters of color/stories are about race and class in American society)
7. Native Son - Richard Wright (Author of color/main character of color/book is about race and class in American society)
8. Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years (Authors of color/book is autobiography of two women of color)
9. My Best Everything - Sarah Tomp (Main character/narrator has Hispanic/Latin heritage)
10. Nobody's Family Is Going to Change - Louise Fitzhugh (Main characters are African-American)
11. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie (Author of color/main characters of color/story deals with race and class in the U.S.)
12. The Hero's Walk - Anita Rau Badami (author of color/book set in India with Indian characters)
13. This Is Where it Ends - Marieke Nijkamp (multiple narrators, some with Hispanic heritage)
14. A Personal Matter - Kenzaburo Oe (author of color; all characters are of color)
15. A Free Man of Color - Barbara Hambly (main character African American; most characters have African heritage; story has to do with race and class in American society in 1833 New Orleans)
16. Black No More - George Schuyler (author of color; characters of color; story has to do with race and class in 1930s American society)
17. My Day in Heaven with My Lil' Sister - Quest Delaney (autobiographical memoir by author of color)
18. The Souls of Black Folk - W.E.B. Du Bois (collection of essays about race and class at the beginning of the 20th Century by author of color)
19. In the Company of Wolves: Thinning the Herd - James Michael Larranaga (main character has Native American heritage; several Native American characters)
20. In the Company of Wolves: Follow the Raven - James Michael Larranaga (main character has Native American heritage; several Native American characters)
21. Infants of the Spring - Wallace Thurman (author of color; book is about race and class in American society)
22. The Bookseller of Kabul - Åsne Seierstad (book is about Afghan family)
23. The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery (one of the main characters is Japanese)
24. The Arabian Nights - translated by Sir Richard F. Burton (all stories take place in the Middle East, China, India, etc.)
25. The Pearl - John Steinbeck (story takes place in Mexico and most characters are native Mexicans)

TBR Pile Challenge 2015

This will be the 5th year in a row that I have participated in this great challenge, hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader. It's really made me conscious of my book buying habits, and I've toned it down considerably since 2011, plus no large national bookstore chains have gone out of business in the meantime, necessitating a trip to the closing store on one of the last days when all books are like $1 each and as such COMPLETELY irresistible. So that definitely helped!

But back to the challenge. This year, I decided to choose some books that have been gathering dust on my pile because they are the later books in a series, and I refuse to read a series out of order. I tried in the past but I always felt like I was missing something big and it's just easier for me to do things in order - it's how my mind works. So in many cases I will be at the library reading previous books so that I can finally clear TBR pile books.

Without any further rambling or ado, here is my 2015 list!

1. A Case of Two Cities - Qiu Xiaolong (2006). Another of my Borders Last Days Sales books that I have been putting off - because it's the 4th book in a series. I loved Qiu's Years of Red Dust, so I am really looking forward to this series.
2. Berlin Noir - Philip Kerr (1989 - 1991) - read Sept. 2015
3. The City & The City - China Miéville (2009) - read Sept. 2015
4. Between Two Fires - Christopher Buehlman (2012) - read Jan. 2015
5. Auschwitz - Laurence Rees (2005) - read Jun. 2015
6. A Personal Matter - Kenzaburo Oe (1969) - read Sept. 2015
7. The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet - Arturo Pérez-Reverte (2003). Yet another Borders Last Days grab, this is part of a series, so I will have to read some books to be able to get to this one. I did read the first book in this series, so I just have to hunt down a few more to make this one happen.
8. The Hero's Walk - Anita Rau Badami (2001) - read Sept. 2015
9. Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, A Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy - Elizabeth R. Varon (2003) - read May 2015
10. Blindness - José Saramago (1995/first published in English in 1997) - read Oct. 2015
11. A Wish After Midnight - Zetta Elliott (2010) - read Jan. 2015
12. Mary Ann in Autumn - Armistead Maupin (2010) - read Jan. 2015

1. Don't Look Now - Daphne Du Maurier - read Oct. 2015
2. A Free Man of Color - Barbara Hambly - read Sep. 2015

New Blog Name - The Dilettante Bookworm

I'm happy to announce my new blog name - The Dilettante Bookworm! provides the following definition of dilettante: "a person who takes up an art, activity, or subject merely for amusement" and that applies to me - I love to read books and study random subjects just for pleasure, not to make a living or something.

I'm conveniently overlooking the rest of the definition: "...especially in a desultory or superficial way; dabbler" but sadly that sometimes applies too; if I had unlimited time and money things might be different, but for now I'm content to dabble in whatever I find interesting. And there are so many interesting things in this world! I guess I'm a dilettante because there are so many things that interest me in life. Yes, that's much more positive :)

So now in my fifth (!) year of book blogging, I have a blog name I won't look askance at every year, thinking, "I should really update or change that name - but to what?" I am not going to change the URL so it will still be - so there shouldn't be a need to update bookmarks or anything.

If anyone knows an easy way to center the blog name, please let me know in the comments, as I couldn't figure it out!