Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Victorian Challenge

The Victorian Challenge (hosted by Alex) runs from January 1 to June 30, 2009. There are four reading levels to choose from, and you can select books written during the Victorian period, or books set in that period, or even books about that period (including biographies).

I'm going with the second reading level ("a walk in Hyde Park") and choosing four books with the Victorian Era as their setting.

Here's my list:
  1. Angels & Insects, by A.S. Byatt
  2. The Master, by Colm Toibin
  3. Mistress of Mellyn, by Victoria Holt
  4. Mortal Love, by Elizabeth Hand
And a few alternate titles, in case I get really ambitious:
  1. The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins
  2. The Woman In White, by Wilkie Collins
  3. Affinity, by Sarah Waters
  4. The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff
  5. The Dante Club, by Matthew Pearl
  6. The Warden, by Anthony Trollope
You can sign up by visiting the challenge announcement page here here.

The Romance Reading Challenge 2009

Naida (from The Bookworm) is hosting the Romance Reading Challenge 2009 which runs from January 1 to December 31. Basically, the idea is to read five novels that fall within the broad spectrum of romance literature. You can read all the guidelines and sign up by visiting the challenge announcement page (here).

For this challenge, I'm going to be reading five Gothic romance novels – mostly 20th Century, but I think I'll start with Jane Austen. Here's my list (subject to change, of course):

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen
Daughter of the Stars, by Phyllis A. Whitney
Mistress of Mellyn, by Victoria Holt
The Stormy Petrel, by Mary Stewart
One more – possibly another Victoria Holt, or something by Barbara Michaels.

Or, if I get really ambitious, maybe I'll branch out and try one of the classic Gothics. I've never read The Castle of Otranto, or The Mysteries of Udolpho, or The Monk, or even Wilkie Collins. So I've got a lot of literature to choose from.

The MysteryReaderCafe Reading Challenge 2009

This challenge is actually part of the Mystery Reader Cafe Group at Yahoo.com, but you don't have to be a member of the group to join. Just visit the challenge announcement post by Kari at Another Book On The Stack, to sign up. The challenge runs all year long, and the guidelines are these:
  1. Read a mystery with the word "murder" in the title.
  2. Read a mystery set in your region.
  3. Read a mystery that has been on your shelf for at least a year.
  4. Read a mystery from a "new to you" author.

And here's my list (subject to change, of course):

  1. Murder, She Meowed: A Mrs. Murphy Mystery, by Rita Mae Brown
  2. Santa Clawed: A Mrs. Murphy Mystery, by Rita Mae Brown
  3. A Stitch in Time: A Needlecraft Mystery, by Monica Ferris
  4. Index to Murder: A Miss Zukas Mystery, by Jo Dereske

Challenged Again

Well, after much mulling over, and hemming and hawing, and telling myself it's time to face reality and stop this madness – I'm just gonna break down and do it, already! Yes, folks, I'm signing up for three more reading challenges.

No, but see – here's the deal. These three should be pieces of cake because they allow crossovers with other challenges, and they don't require the reading of huge masses of books; and yet they all three allow me to read more of the kinds of literature I really like to read, and/or nudge me into reading books I would not have looked at otherwise (she said to herself, with a rationalizing and slightly hysterical giggle).

This will bring my total to fifteen challenges, counting my personal "Reading the '90s" challenge. Now while that may seem like a lot (no, no – not at all – it sounds like a perfectly reasonable number), I know there are those of you who are signed up for thirty or more (oh, yes – you know who you are) which makes my fifteen look like a pitiful showing.

So I'll be taking on The Romance Reading Challenge 2009, The Victorian Challenge, and the 2009 Mystery Reader Cafe Reading Challenge. I'll do separate posts about each of them as soon as I get my book lists together. Now you guys have just got to stop coming up with these enticing new challenges! And I really, really mean that!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year's Message

Happy New Year to all!

And I just want to say a brief thank you to everyone who's visited my blog (make that blogs) during the year – especially you wonderful people who've left comments and book recommendations. I've met so many great bloggers during this past year – the experience has been much more rewarding than I ever could have predicted when I started out. You guys are amazing!

Best wishes to all of you and your families – I hope 2009 brings peace, prosperity, and lots of good times (and good books) your way.

Tuesday Thingers: Familiarity

This week Wendi of Wendi's Book Corner is taking over the TuesdayThingers reins (thanks, Wendi!), and wants to know how familiar we are with the various areas of LibraryThing:

What area [of LT] are you most familiar with? What area is your favorite? What area are you curious about? Are there any that you have not really looked at?

Well, I suppose my favorite area would have to be the Your Library part of LT. After all, that's why I joined up in the first place – to catalogue my library and keep track of my book-buying. I'm still in the process of adding all the books we have in storage, so I'm still using the Your Library, Add Books, and Tags areas fairly often.

And I think the area I use most often is my Profile page. That's generally the page I look at first when I come to LT. I have a link to it on my blog. My Profile page has links to my favorite groups and my reviews, so I've found it a handy way of navigating around LT. I usually check the Home page once in a while, too, but I've never really thought it had much of anything very useful on it.

There are a few Groups that I check out from time to time (Early Reviewers, Bloggers, and 50 Book Challenge among them), but lately I haven't really been "hanging out" with any of them. In the past, I've found the ARC Junkies group to be a great source of info on available ARCs. But since I've started cutting back on the number of advanced copies I request or accept, I haven't been keeping up with the discussions there.

As for areas I'm not familiar with – well, I'm sure there are lots of those, and I'm curious about all of them. Tuesday Thingers has introduced me to many LT features I knew nothing about – that's one of the reasons I keep coming back.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Sunday Salon: A Little Romance

I actually did a little reading today. As I said last week, my reading schedule has been really thrown off by all the Christmas activities I've been indulging in lately. So it felt very good to get back to doing some reading again, even though it was very light reading.

I'm thinking of signing up for Naida's Romance Reading Challenge – mainly for old time's sake. In my distant youth I was a huge fan of Gothic romances, and read many Victoria Holts and Mary Stewarts. But I gave it up sometime back in the late 1970s when the bodice-ripper craze came in. But, as Naida points out in her challenge guidelines, a lot of literature qualifies as "romance," and there are a few authors who really transcend the label of romance-writer. So for the last couple of days I've been sampling a few books to see if I still feel the same attraction. And one – Daughter of the Stars, by Phyllis A. Whitney – has, I believe, got me hooked again, even though I've only read a couple of chapters. The book is set in Charlottesville and Harpers Ferry, so it's familiar territory for me; and Whitney is a writer I've never read before. I definitely intend to read this one, so I've put it on my list for the Winter Reading Challenge.

OK, long story short – I just might break down and join another challenge. Actually, there are several more I'm eyeing (the Victorian Challenge really looks tempting) – even though I'm signed up for almost a dozen already. Now, I know to some of you who are involved in thirty or so, twelve challenges sounds like nothing. But I'm a slow reader, and not as well-organized as I'd like to be. So keeping track of all those challenges is part of the challenge for me!

But I think the whole point of joining the challenges is to give myself a little nudge to keep on reading. So the thing I think about is not how many challenges I'm involved in, but how many books I've got on my roster. I didn't quite make my goal of 50 books in 2008, but I'm going to come close (after all, the year still has a few days to run). And I'm hoping to do at least that well next year. Right now I've got 45 books on my list for 2009, and so far all the challenges I've joined allow crossovers, which means I'll be using many of the same books for several challenges. So while it may look like I'm just about to hit the overload point, I'm actually keeping a pretty close eye on my lineup.

So, what do you think? How many challenges is too many? Do you join challenges? Do you think they're a waste of time? And how many of us are willing to admit we join them at least in part to put together the book lists and collect those nifty buttons to display on our blogs?

Short Story Reading Challenge Completed

The Short Story Reading Challenge, hosted by Kate at Kate's Book Blog, is coming to an end this month, so I thought I should post my wrap-up. I didn't do as well with this challenge as I'd hoped. Even though I chose the "custom option" and didn't really have any set number of books to read, I had intended to get through at least three volumes of stories, but only managed two.

I concentrated on ghost stories, and read The Penguin Complete Ghost Stories of M.R. James [see review], and My Fantoms, by Theophile Gautier [see review]. The M.R. James book was one I'd had on my TBR list for many years, and the Gautier collection was an ARC I received through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program. I enjoyed both of them – well, I've always loved a good ghost story. Or even a bad ghost story, for that matter.

And while I wasn't as successful as I'd like to have been, it was one of my favorite challenges of the year. Thanks to Kate for hosting, and to all the other participants for their great reviews and recommendations.

The Winter Reading Challenge

The Winter Reading Challenge sounds like it should be painlessly doable. Hosted by Robin of My Two Blessings, it started December 21st (so I'm a little late arriving), and runs until March 20, 2009. Books can be fiction or non-, and e-books and audiobooks are allowed. Overlaps with other challenges are OK, too, which means I can read some of the books I'd be reading anyway.

Participants can choose any number of books they think they can read during the run of the challenge. In the 2007-2008 Winter Reading Challenge, I read five books – so that's what I'm aiming for this time. But I'm adding a second list, just in case I manage to push myself a little farther. Together, they represent quite an eclectic mix.

My Primary List:
Santa Clawed, by Rita Mae Brown
Crewel Yule, by Monica Ferris
Daughter of the Stars, by Phyllis A. Whitney
Cover Her Face, by P.D. James
Drawers and Booths, by Ara 13 (an ARC)

My Secondary List:
The Master, by Colm Toibin
The Wench is Dead
, by Colin Dexter
The Great Victorian Collection
, by Brian Moore
The Double
, by Jose Saramago
Three Junes
, by Julia Glass

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The 2009 TBR (Lite) Challenge

Well, now that the Christmas madness is pretty much over (except for all the after-Christmas sales shopping, of course), it's time to get back to thinking about next year's reading, and next year's reading challenges. I know it looks like I'm throwing caution to the wind and signing up for every challenge that comes my way. But in reality, I'm trying to be pretty careful in choosing – I'm looking mainly for challenges that will allow me to read some of the books I've already got planned for 2009. Along with a few that will encourage me to step outside my usual comfort zone a little, of course.

One challenge that I'm definitely joining is the 2009 TBR Challenge *Lite* ("For those who love the original TBR Challenge, but need a little less 'pressure' on their reading"). It starts January 1 and runs through December 31, 2009. There are three different levels of participation:

OPTION A: read 6 books in 12 months ~ your list of books CANNOT be changed, but you are allowed to have an “Alternates” list to choose from (like in the Original TBR Challenge).

OPTION B: read 6 books in 12 months ~ you CAN change your reading list throughout the year.

OPTION C: make up a list of however many books you think you could get read in 12 months, as long as they are from your TBR stack/list, and then read them between January 1st and December 31st. You must have at least 3 books on your list.

And the other general guidelines are these:
  • You are allowed to overlap with other challenges
  • Audiobooks are allowed
  • e-Books are allowed, but must still be books that you’ve wanted to read for at least 3, or more, months
  • You should still have a list of books posted somewhere for others to see
  • You don’t have to read your books in the order you put them on your list
I'm choosing Option B (6 books in 12 months) – I think that's the safest choice for me. I'm sure I'll be reading at least six books next year, and with Option B, I can make changes if I need to. Here's my list (at least for now):
  1. Cover Her Face. P.D. James
  2. Mortal Love. Elizabeth Hand
  3. Our Kind. Kate Walbert
  4. The Art of Mending. Elizabeth Berg
  5. The Inn at Lake Devine. Elinor Lipman
  6. The Time Traveler's Wife. Audrey Niffenegger
There's also a Yahoo Group for this challenge. To sign up, visit the challenge announcement page here, and leave a comment.

Booking Through Thursday: Wintery Books

This week's BTT topic:

. . . what are the most “wintery” books you can think of? The ones that almost embody Winter?

Actually, the books that first come to mind are mostly children's books for some reason. I suppose The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the obvious choice – what with its snow-covered land of Narnia and its White Witch. But the two books that I thought of immediately were The Bobbsey Twins, and The Happy Hollisters and the Ice Carnival Mystery.

I think I must have read just about all the Bobbsey Twins books at one time or another when I was growing up. And the twins were always going to ski resorts and snowy camps and having snowball fights and building snow forts. Most of my books were passed down to me by my older cousins, so the illustrations of Nan, Bert, Flossie and Freddie all done up in their snowsuits and stocking caps were very reminiscent of the opening scenes in "It's a Wonderful Life."

I discovered The Happy Hollisters fairly late in my youth – I think I was already ten or eleven by the time I read the first book. But I loved it, and went on to read several others. I was an only child, so the idea of a family of five kids intrigued me. Also, I've always loved mystery novels, and each of the Hollister books involved a mystery of some sort. And I think The Ice Carnival Mystery stuck with me mainly because of the cover – two of the Hollisters sitting on giant ice sculptures. For a kid growing up in south Texas, that was tremendously exotic.


As to wintery books for grownups, I'm sure I've read some, but nothing really jumps out at me. Maybe because now that I'm all grown up and living in a place where we really do have a winter, I prefer to read about less snowy climes. I've probably blocked out all memory of wintery books. Have to wait for the spring thaw, when my brain warms up – then maybe something will come to me.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays!


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tuesday Thingers: Holiday Gift-Giving

So this might or might not be the last gathering of the Tuesday Thingers – well, it has been a little like a weekly gathering, hasn't it? And I know we're all grateful to Marie for hosting it all this time – she's managed to keep it going much, much longer than I thought it would at first. It's been fun, but a lot of work, I know. And I'm not really sure how many more changes can be rung on the theme of Library Thing features. It seems to me we've covered just about everything!

Anyway, time for this week's topic: Holiday gift-giving. Do you give books for the holidays? Did you participate in LT's SantaThing, either this year or last, or in other blogging gift exchanges? Were you happy with what you received?

I suppose my answer to the first question would be a qualified yes. I do give books as gifts. I love to receive them and I love to give them, too. But in recent years, for one reason or another, we've started giving mostly gift cards. And some of those are usually bookstore gift cards. But not all – as I've said a couple of times lately, I do believe in matching the gift to the receiver, so if my giftee is not a reader, I'll probably look around for something else he'd like.

About the LT SantaThing. Actually, I didn't even know about the SantaThing until it was nearly over. If I'd found out about it sooner, I might have participated – I love choosing books, and checking out the libraries of other LTers, and getting books in the mail (well, who doesn't love that?), so it sounds like it might have been just my cuppa tea. (Ah, the things that might have been!) It's a cute idea, and I hope LT does it again next year.

So, that's that. One more thank you to Marie for all her hard work all these months. And a Merry Christmas to all. And Happy Reading in 2009!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Musing Mondays: Christmas Book Buying

The MM topic for this week is, appropriately enough, about giving and receiving books at Christmas:

In these last few days before Christmas, I’m sure there are plenty of us scrambling to get our last minute shopping done. Are you buying any books for friends or family (or even yourself)? Do you expect to receive any bookish gifts from others - books, or book-related?

Just answered a similar question for Booking Through Thursday last week, so this might be a little repetitious. In the past, I've frequently given books as Christmas gifts – especially to our nieces and nephews and little cousins. I think it's important for kids to receive books at Christmas, and isn't that exactly what aunts and uncles are for?

But we live far away from most of our family now. And long-distance gift-giving was making me so frazzled every year, I finally made the switch to gift cards last Christmas. Yes, I know – that's the coward's way out, but it saved what's left of my sanity, so I think it's probably the way of the future around here. And, actually, most of the gifts we receive from friends and family this year will probably be in the form of gift cards, too – which allows me to feel a little less humbuggy.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Sunday Salon: Christmas Dry Spell

I haven't put in an appearance here in the Sunday Salon for several weeks now. And I really don't have any business taking up everybody's time today, since my reading has been confined to the Book World section of the Washington Post (very nice review by Michael Dirda, of small presses that publish fantasy, mystery, and horror books). And a lot of blogs, of course.

The entire month of December has been almost bookless for me. In fact, I don't think I've finished a single book this month – although I've got several going at the moment. And this remarkable dry spell has mostly been caused by the fact that I've been doing so much Christmasing, I just haven't been able to settle down long enough to get a lot of reading done. With all these Christmas movies to watch on the tube, and several Christmas jigsaw puzzles to put together, the printed page has been getting short shrift around here lately.

But as soon as all the holiday turmoil subsides, I fully intend to get back to reading up a storm. And to spur me along, I've been joining reading challenges right and left. In fact, if there's a competition for getting oneself involved in the most challenges, I could probably compete. I'm already signed up for nine or ten of them, and there are at least three or four more that look really tempting.

Didn't I say something about cutting back on reading challenges in 2009? Hmmmm. No, that obviously must have been some other, much more sensible blogger.

So, I'll let everybody get back to their real reading, and I'll get back to my Christmas flicks. Still haven't watched Prancer or The Man Who Came to Dinner or How the Grinch Stole Christmas yet.

But I've got Rita Mae Brown's new Mrs. Murphy mystery, Santa Clawed, coming from Amazon probably tomorrow, and I'm eagerly awaiting it. So I might still get in some reading before the holidays are gone. Just in time to end that dry spell.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to Sunday Saloners everywhere!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Treat & Generosity

Today there are two BTT topics.
What is the best book you ever bought for yourself? And, why? What made it the best? What made it so special?

Do you give books as gifts? To everyone? Or only to select people? How do you feel about receiving books as gifts?

Of course I give books as gifts. Well, to be honest, these days I'm more likely to give bookstore gift cards rather than actual books. But I consider that the same thing – and, yes, I know a lot of people wouldn't agree with me there. But in the past, before the appearance of gift cards, I've given many books as gifts. Especially to our nieces and nephews. In fact, one of our grand-nephews only really knows us as the aunt and uncle who gave him that great dragon book that one year. We really need to see our kinfolk more often.

Personally, I love to receive books as gifts – whether it's a book I know I'm going to be interested in, or something unfamiliar that the giver chooses for me. But would I give books to everyone? Probably not. I always try to match the gift to the "giftee" – if I know someone isn't a reader, I don't think I'd be likely to buy him/her a book. I believe gift-giving should make both the giver and the recipient feel good about the experience.

The second set of questions is harder for me to answer. I've been buying books for myself for a long time. Trying to single out any one book as the best one, for whatever reason, is pretty much impossible. I suppose the first book I ever bought for myself would be the most special book, since it started me off on a lifelong book-buying habit that has inexpressibly enriched my life. Unfortunately, my memory of that first title has receded into the ancient mists, and I have no idea what it might have been. But whatever it was, it was definitely the best book I ever bought for myself.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tuesday Thingers: LT Home Page

First of all, I want to say a big thank you to Marie for coming up with Tuesday Thingers and hosting it all this time – I never have been able to see how she does it. Who would have thought LibraryThing could have inspired so many interesting topics to mull over? I can understand the burnout issue, and I'm not surprised she needs a rest. Great job, Marie!

Now, to today's questions:

The LT Home Page feature. How are you liking it? Or not? Do you go here when you log into LT or do you use your profile page more?

Actually, I don't look at my LT home page very much at all. I use the profile page almost exclusively as my interface – that's where I go when I log into LT. I just never have found the home page very useful. Now and then I'll check out the "From the Blogs" feature to see if there are any updates there. And occasionally I'll look at the "On This Day" column. Which is how I found out today is Jane Austen's birthday, hence the photo. Happy birthday to Jane!

Monday, December 15, 2008

20 in 2009 Challenge

I seem to have gone a little insane today. I've been joining reading challenges right and left. But there's one more I want to get in on, and that's the 20 in 2009 Challenge. Participants are asked to read a total of 20 books in 2009.
The rules are:
  • You must create a progress page, which will be updated each time you complete one of your 20 books.
  • You can read as many books as you want by an author or in the same series.
  • If the book is a re-read, it must be from a year ago.
  • If you begin the book in 2008 and finish it in 2009, it does count for this challenge.
  • The following do not count: comics, catalogs, manga, journals.
  • You must link back to this challenge with one of the buttons provided or one that you make for your own personal use.
  • If you intend to participate, leave a comment on the main entry stating so. You will then be added to the participants list.
  • Everyone who successfully completes the 20 in 2009 challenge will win a small award graphic to display on their website
To read more and sign up, visit the dedicated blog for the challenge.

This one seems pretty doable, since I'm almost positive I can read at least twenty books in 2009, and I hope to read quite a few more than that. I've created my progress page here. And I think I've probably already started reading for the challenge, because I know I've got at least two books going that I won't finish until sometime in the new year!

2nds Challenge, 2009

J. Kaye at J. Kaye's Book Blog is hosting the 2009 2nds Challenge, which runs from January 1st to December 31st, 2009. These are the rules:
  • Anyone can join. You don't need to have a blog to participate.
  • Read 12 books by authors that you have only read once. It doesn't have to be a series.
  • You can join anytime between now and December 31, 2009. Don't start reading until January.
  • You may list your chosen books any time during the year. Change the list if needed.
I'm joining this one. It should tie in nicely with several other challenges I'm planning to work on next year, including my personal "Reading the '90s" challenge.

At first glance, I thought this would be a tough one for me. Generally, if I like an author, I tend to read another book by him/her right away. So I wasn't sure I could come up with twelve likely writers. But after I thought about it for a while, I ended up with a fairly substantial list of authors to choose from. So my final twelve will probably include some of these names:

Margaret Atwood
John Bellairs
Saul Bellow
A.S. Byatt
Nancy Clark
Pat Conroy
Michael Crichton
Amanda Cross (Carolyn Heilbrun)
Penelope Fitzgerald
Michael Frayn
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Graham Greene
Alice Hoffman
Garrison Keillor
Stephen King
Allen Kurzweil
Elinor Lipman
David Lodge
Jay McInerney
Steven Millhauser
Iris Murdoch
Walker Percy
Philip Roth
Susan Sontag
Josephine Tey
Scott Turow
John Updike
Carols Ruiz Zafon

To read more about the challenge, and to sign up, visit the challenge announcement page.

Musing Mondays: Reading on the Go


This is my first Musing Mondays post. MM is hosted by Just One More Page. Here's this week's topic:

I always like to have a book with me at all times – call it a nerdy grown-up security blanket – and rarely do I leave the house without slipping one into my bag (even if I KNOW I’m not going to have a chance to read it). Do you take a book with you? Do you take whatever book you’re currently reading, or do you have a special on-the-go book? And do you have a preference for a these types of book (paperback, hardback; short stories; poetry etc)?

Good questions. And my answer is: I guess it depends on where I'm going. If I'm just heading out for a quick shopping trip, or an evening in a restaurant, or a theater or movie – then no, I probably wouldn't take a book with me. Generally, I only take a book if I know I'm going to have down time, when I can get some reading done: visits to the doctor and dentist and hair cutter; waiting in line to get my driver's license renewed; anytime I'm traveling by bus, rail, or air. On occasions like these, I definitely pack a book. And I suppose it's usually just the book I'm reading at the time – unless that happens to be too heavy to carry around.

The last great take-a-book-along opportunity was Election Day back in November. I stood in line for nearly three hours, waiting to cast my vote, and I was really happy I'd remembered to stash a book in my handbag.

And speaking of handbags, how many of us are willing to admit we shop for purses with book-carrying-capacity in mind? Isn't that the true sign of a hopeless bookworm?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Review: Wish You Were Here

Written by Rita Mae Brown, and Sneaky Pie Brown
Illustrated by Wendy Wray
Published by Bantam Books, 1990, 284 pages

Suspense-Thriller Challenge
What An Animal! Challenge
To Be Continued… Perpetual Challenge

Wish You Were Here is the first book in Rita Mae Brown's series of Mrs. Murphy mystery novels. If you're familiar with the books, you know Mrs. Murphy is a tiger cat, who "owns" the main human character of the books, Mary Minor Haristeen. Ms. Haristeen, called "Harry" by one and all, is the post-mistress in the tiny hamlet of Crozet, Virginia (based, oddly enough, on the tiny hamlet of Crozet, Virginia), thirty-something, and recently divorced. And when she's not sorting mail and gossiping with neighbors at the post office, she lives on a farm just outside Crozet proper, along with Mrs. Murphy and the other pet in the family, a Welsh Corgi called Tee Tucker.

The plot of this first book revolves around a series of murders in the town, with each victim having received a postcard with a picture of a tombstone or cemetery on the front and the message "Wish You Were Here" written on the back. This fact only comes to light because Harry has the bad habit of reading the postcards that come into the post office. Naturally, she immediately sets about conducting her own investigation of the crimes – aided by her pets who are intent on seeing that their human doesn't come to any harm. And, of course, with their heightened senses and ability to go places humans can't, the cat and Corgi are always way ahead of her in solving the murders.

Since this is the first book in the series, we get introduced to a lot of characters who are going to turn out to be regulars in the later novels. Of course, you only know that if (like yours truly) you managed to start the series with one of the later books. I think the fact that I was familiar with the books was probably the reason I was able to figure out who the likely culprit was before the big reveal at the end. And of course it turned out to be just the person I was hoping it wouldn't, but that's all I'm going to say about that! Wouldn't want to spoil such a satisfying read.

I love the Mrs. Murphy books. Harry's a very appealing character, and her animal compatriots have wonderful personalities. There's always a lot of humor in the books, and the relationships and conversations between Mrs. Murphy and Tee Tucker and their animal friends are a delight. Take this little chat Mrs. Murphy has with Pewter, one of her feline pals, as they share a beef bone treat:
"Human beings take forty years to grow up and half of them don't do it then. We're ready for the world at six months."

"We're not really grown up though, Pewter." Mrs. Murphy licked her chops. "I'd say we're fully adult at one year. I wonder, why does it take them so long?"

"Retarded," came Pewter's swift reply.
If you like cozy mysteries, I can heartily recommend the Mrs. Murphy mystery series. And this first book is definitely the best place to start.

Oh, and by the way, the Sneaky Pie Brown listed as co-author is Rita Mae's own cat. As Sneaky Pie explains in her "Author's Note" at the beginning of the book:
I am seven years old and for the duration of my life I have assisted Mother in writing her books. I never minded that she failed to mention the extent of my contribution. Humans are like that, and since they're such frail creatures…, I let it go.

Review: Eva Moves the Furniture

Written by Margot Livesey
Published by Henry Holt and Company, 2001, 232 pages

The title character of Margot Livesey's Eva Moves the Furniture is born under a bad sign. On the morning of her birth, six magpies are spied in an apple tree outside the family cottage in Troon, Scotland. And if that's not discouraging enough, Eva's mother dies that very night, leaving the motherless child to be raised by her aunt and father.

But this isn't Charlotte Brontë or Lemony Snicket – both of the adults dote on the little girl and her childhood isn't, by any means, a series of unfortunate events. In fact, though it takes place between the influenza epidemic that caused the death of her mother, and the upheavals of World War II, Eva's story would be a fairly mundane tale of a young Scottish lass growing up and finding her place in the world – if not, of course, for the "companions."

These two presences, a woman and a young girl, first appear to Eva one day when she's playing with her doll in the garden – although there are hints they may have been with her from an even younger age. Invisible to everyone except Eva, the companions present themselves at unpredictable intervals over the course of her entire life. At first, Eva assumes they've come to protect her – and when they first appear they do seem benevolent. But after a while, that doesn't look so clear-cut. They can be mischievous and malicious as well as kind. And they seem to have an agenda of their own in their plans for Eva's future. They help her avoid disaster on at least one occasion, but they also put her in embarrassing and sometimes dangerous situations.

As World War II begins, a grown-up Eva moves to Glasgow to study nursing and tend injured soldiers. Her life is changed completely by the experience and she falls in love with a handsome plastic surgeon, who wants to marry her. But the companions have followed her in the move away from her childhood home, and Eva must decide whether or not to tell her husband-to-be about their life-long presence. That decision will affect her future and will eventually lead her to guess the identity of her two ghostly attendants.

Eva is an interesting character, and easy to sympathize with, but I found some of her behavior and decisions a little hard to understand or accept. She has a bit of unreality about her that can be unsettling as well as charming – much like the novel itself. This is an odd little book: It has so much of the fairy tale about it, even though it seems very naturalistic as well. I enjoyed it very much. Early on, Eva reveals that the classic Andersen tale "A Little Mermaid" is one of her favorite stories, and was one of her mother's favorites, too. And a lot of Eva's story has the feel of that fairy tale about it – as if she herself, in addition to her companions, might be a visitor to this everyday world, from some distant otherworldly realm.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Time Is of the Essence

This week's BTT topic:
1. Do you get to read as much as you WANT to read? (I’m guessing #1 is an easy question for everyone?)
2. If you had (magically) more time to read – what would you read? Something educational? Classic? Comfort Reading? Escapism? Magazines?
Yes, I suppose just about everyone is going to answer "No I don't" to the first question. That was my first reaction, too. I'm a typical bookworm – when my nose isn't buried in a book I feel I'm wasting valuable time. I could be reading!!!

Of course, if I'm honest about it, I have to admit I really have just about as much time to read as I want to give myself. Since I'm not working anymore, my time is pretty much my own. My real problem is that I have fingers in too many pies, and too many other "interests" taking up my reading time.

But if I did have more time to read – magically or otherwise – I suspect I'd very likely read the same sorts of things I read now. I read for pleasure, so all my reading is already "comfort reading," and "escapism." I already read quite a few magazines, too. And blogs, of course – can't forget those.

It's not lack of time that keeps me from reading as much as I'd like. My real problem is that I generally read much too slowly. And I really shouldn't do that. I know all about speed reading and Reading Dynamics and all that stuff. And with all the editing and proof-reading I've done over the years, I'm able to read rapidly when the need arises. But no matter what Evelyn Wood may have believed, I find I really enjoy reading more (and retain more of what I've read) when I slow down and savor every word.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Teaser Tuesdays: Out on a Lem





Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. The rules are these:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

This week, my teaser sentences come from Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem:

I summoned up all my remaining strength, straining every nerve, and waited for death. I went on waiting. . . I seemed to be growing smaller, and the invisible sky, horizonless, the formless immensity of space, without clouds, without stars, receded, extended and grew bigger all round me. [p. 90; note: the ellipsis in the second sentence is the author's]

Tuesday Thingers: Review Process

Hmmmm. OK – off the subject, but I just noticed this is my 250th post on this blog. Wow, I remember when I thought I'd never get to 100 posts. What a chatterbox.

Moving on.

This week, for the Tuesday Thingers group, Boston Bibliophile has some very interesting questions about the reviewing process:
When it comes to LT (and your blog), do you review every book you read? Do you just review Early Reviewers or ARCs? Do you review only if you like a book, or only if you feel like you have to? How soon after reading do you post your review? Do you post them other places- other social networking sites, Amazon, etc.?
I'm a very slow reader. And I've only been book-blogging for a little more than a year now. So in my case, we're not talking about a mountain of books here. But I do try to review every book I read. Now I don't always make that goal, and sometimes I fall behind (like right now). But I write the reviews primarily to help me remember what I've just read, so I like to do at least a short one for each book.

Do I review only the books I enjoy? Well, I think I've said several times (probably over and over again) that I generally don't finish reading books I don't like. So if it's a book I'm not enthusiastic about, I'm not likely to review it. Unless, of course, I've promised to review it.

I post all my reviews on my blog. I post them as soon as I get them written, and I try to write them as soon as I've finished reading the book. Doesn't always happen that way, but that's the ideal situation. If I wait too long between reading and reviewing, I tend to forget too many of the important bits. So far, the only other place I've posted any reviews has been on LibraryThing. In my LT reviews, I started out just posting a link to the reviews on my blog. But lately, I've started posting the whole review – or (usually) a shorter version of the review, and then a link to the full review on my blog. I try to keep the reviews I post on LT a little shorter and less "chatty" than the ones I post on my blog.

Another question I have about the LT reviewing process is how many is too many? Before you post a review on LT, do you check to see how many people have already reviewed the book? And if there are hundreds of reviews, do you still post your own? I just posted a review of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and noticed that there were already over four hundred reviews of that work. Well, to be expected, I suppose – it was very popular. But I'm wondering if adding to that huge mass of reviews has any benefit besides ego-boosting.

OK, enough ruminating. Well, I said I was a chatterbox, didn't I? Now it's on to post #251!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Existentialism Is Alive and Well and Living in K-Mart

Now and then I run into moments that really do seem like fodder for that novel I still hope to write someday. I never know when or where they're likely to crop up, so I try to stay alert to all possibilities.

Last Saturday, I found myself (much to my surprise) shopping for Christmas tree ornaments at K-Mart. And, as you might expect, there were several dozen tots running around, savaging the artificial trees and crunching the fragile glass decorations underfoot. Well, four-year-olds can be adorable but deadly, as we all know.

So there really wasn't anything unusual about seeing this little kid clinging to his mother's jeans and yelling at full throttle. It was just the sentiment he was expressing that made the whole thing seem just slightly bizarre. The little dear was screaming "I want something! I want something! I want something!" over and over and over and over and over…

Nothing else. Just, "I want something! I want something! I want something!"

His mother kept showing him things, trying to distract him with the shiny tinsel and colorful baubles. But he was having none of it – just went on shouting "I want something! I want something! I want something! I want something!"

He was still screaming when I left the store. And he never said what it was he wanted.

Just a spoiled pre-schooler with an over-indulgent (and possibly deaf) parent? Or a runny-nosed metaphor for ourselves at this point in time? (Wow! And somewhere Rod Serling spins in his grave.)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A Little Closure, a Little Planning Ahead

I've been neglecting this blog this week. Shame on me. But I have been posting everyday on my other blog (Joysweb) – just as an experiment, after discovering NaBloPoMo. So I haven't been going completely blog-free. More like blog "lite."

Well, December is chugging right along, and if it behaves the same way Decembers usually do, Christmas will be here before we know it, and then suddenly we won't have 2008 to kick around anymore. So I've been doing the natural thing – looking around for reading challenges to join in 2009! And also coming to the sad conclusion that I'm going to have to declare defeat in a couple of the challenges I attempted in 2008. Bummer.

No reflection on either of the challenges, their hosts or participants. It's just that I realize I probably won't have time to get around to reading the remaining books on those lists by the end of this year.

First, the Young Readers Challenge. I was supposed to read a dozen books for that one, and ended up reading eight. So, not total defeat. And it was such a fun challenge, that I'm not too upset about not reaching the finish line. Many thanks to Becky for hosting – I'm not sure how she juggles all those reviews and challenges, but it's a good thing for all us book freaks that she manages it.

I feel a little more regret about admitting my failure in the Man-Booker Challenge. It was one of my favorites – and the books on my list are all books I still hope to read eventually. But I'll never get the three remaining titles read by the end of this month. Plus, there's the very sad fact that the challenge host, Dewey (of The Hidden Side of a Leaf), is no longer with us. And every time I think about the challenge, I remember that. I didn't have the personal relationship with Dewey that a lot of bloggers had, but her death has affected us all, in many ways. She'll be missed.

That leaves me with just one challenge "ending" in 2008 – the Suspense-Thriller Challenge. But technically, that one continues on throughout 2009. So even though I may not make my 2008 goal, I'm still planning to complete all the "required" reading by challenge end.

And that brings me to future challenges. I've already signed up for a couple of new challenges starting in 2009: the Lost In Translation Challenge, and the Read Your Own Books Challenge. In looking for enticing challenges, I'm trying to concentrate as much as possible on those that will allow me to read books I'm already planning to read next year. That way, I can enjoy the challenge and whittle down that enormous TBR pile at the same time.

I have two other goals for my reading in 2009. First, I want to read more "foreign" literature. For me, that will mean literature in translation – since, like most Americans, my only reading language is English (or a version of it, anyway).

And my other long-term goal is to catch up on a lot of the books I missed out on during the 1990s. For some reason I had slipped into a non-reading phase during most of the decade. I think the Internet was probably mostly to blame for that – web surfing took up all my spare reading time for many years. I've recovered a bit lately, thanks mostly to those challenges. But there are a bunch of books from the '90s I want to read now. So I'm going to start my own personal "Reading the '90s" Challenge – for 2009 and beyond!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Herding Cats: Challenge Wrap-Up

I know I've neglected this – the challenge ended with the month of November. That's the 342,745 Ways to Herd Cats (tl;dr) Challenge, which began back in May (see the original announcement here). I think it was a great idea, and I'm glad to see that it looks like it's going to be repeated in 2009.

I ended up reading four books on the challenge list:

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper
The Grey King by Susan Cooper
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Before the challenge, I'd only read one other book by any of the authors. That was Over Sea, Under Stone, also by Susan Cooper. The challenge allowed me to read two more books in her Dark Is Rising sequence, plus it introduced me to two brand new authors. So I consider that a real success.

I want to thank Renay at Let's Get Literate! for hosting, and all the other participants for coming up with such interesting suggestions for books to read. And I'm already looking forward to Herding Cats 2: Attack of the Hairballs!

Booking Through Thursday: 5 For Favorites

This week's BTT topic is favorite/least favorite authors:

1. Do you have a favorite author? / 2. Have you read everything he or she has written? / 3. Did you LIKE everything? / 4. How about a least favorite author? / 5. An author you wanted to like, but didn’t?

I guess the first three questions are pretty easy for me. Yes, I have a favorite author – Barbara Pym. Yes, I've read everything she wrote; or at least, everything that's been published. I'm assuming, like all writers, she left a stash of material that's never been released; and I keep hoping for a new posthumous publication to come along. But it's been almost thirty years since Pym died, so I suppose it's probably an empty hope.

Yes, I've liked everything I've read.


After Dear Barbara, my favorite author would probably be Anthony Powell. And I've read almost everything he wrote. I think there might be one novel (or possibly two) I haven't gotten to yet, and I believe they've published his journals now. Haven't read those. He was a little more prolific than Pym, so there's more to tackle. And I've liked everything I've read by Powell, as well.


As for authors I don't like – yeah, I'm sure I've got quite a few. But I don't think I could single out any one least favorite. Among present-day writers, there are some really awful examples out there – so narrowing it down that much would be difficult. And authors I've wanted to like, but didn't? Again, lots of candidates: James Joyce and William Faulkner prominent among them.

Hmmmm. It seems both my top favorite writers are Brits (oops, sorry – English). You'd think I could find a fellow American to list, now wouldn't you?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Teaser Tuesdays: Mrs. Murphy Digs Up a Murder

This week, my entry is from Rest In Pieces, by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown:
The hand easily pulled out of the ground. Then she noticed that it had been severed at the wrist, a clean job of it, too, and the finger pads were missing. [p. 62]
How's that for a teaser!

To read more teasers, or do some teasing yourself, visit mizB's Should Be Reading blog.



Tuesday Thingers: Most Popular

Wow, these Tuesdays are coming around awfully fast, aren't they? This week, the Boston Bibliophile has the following questions for the Thingers group:

What's the most popular book in your library? Have you read it? What did you think? How many users have it?

I could have answered this without even looking at the official statistics. The most popular book in my library, by far, is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone – I share it with 37,355 other people. After that, the next two are The DaVinci Code (26,828) and The Hobbit (24,922).

Yes, I've read HP#1, and I thought it was pretty good (see my review). It didn't inspire me to continue on with the series, but if I had come to the books as a child I might have been hooked. I was reading Harry at about the same time I was reading Susan Cooper's Dark Is Rising series, and I found those books much more interesting – so I think that may have influenced me a bit. But, as I say, I'm looking at it from an adult's point of view.

And isn't it interesting that The DaVinci Code is right up there with the Harry Potter books? Ahead of The Hobbit. Even ahead of To Kill a Mockingbird. That must mean something, right?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Written by Mark Haddon
Published by Vintage Contemporaries, 2004; 226 pages

The 342,745 Ways to Herd Cats (tl;dr) Challenge
The Man-Booker Challenge
What An Animal! Reading Challenge

Mark Haddon's debut novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time caused quite a sensation in the publishing world when it first appeared back in 2003. And rightly so. Not only had he chosen to tell his story from the point of view of his autistic 15-year-old protagonist – something even a seasoned author might shy away from. But the story was also a murder mystery, with all the constraints and limitations that genre imposes. And, as all the accolades have since proven, Haddon pulled it off brilliantly.

The novel is the story of Christopher John Francis Boone and his investigation of the suspicious death of Wellington, a neighbor's dog. He comes upon the dead pet late one night, and is at first accused of committing the crime himself. But once that mix-up is straightened out, he decides to conduct his investigation (in spite of the police "caution" and his father's admonitions) and write up his findings as a mystery novel – just like his favorite book, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and just like Sherlock Holmes, the detective he admires. Along the way, however, Christopher manages to uncover some disturbing secrets relating as much to himself and his family as they do to the murdered poodle.

This is an amazing book – I read it straight through without getting sidetracked by any other books, which is not my usual behavior! And it's very much Christopher's story; most of the other characters are shadowy presences on the perimeters of his world. Fortunately, Christopher is a wonderfully complex creation. Although he attends a "special needs" school, he is a genius at mathematics. He has total recall and can draw maps from memory:
My memory is like a film. . . . And when people ask me to remember something I can simply press Rewind and Fast Forward and Pause like on a video recorder, . . . [p. 76]
He knows "all the countries of the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7,057" – he has chosen to give his chapters prime numbers instead of the usual cardinal numbers, because he likes prime numbers. As he says:
Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them. [p. 12]
Christopher can't stand to be touched. Too much noise or commotion sends him into a panic. He hates the color yellow. In conversation, he's very literal and can't really engage in small talk or "chat." And while he relates perfectly to animals (he was very fond of Wellington, and he keeps a pet rat named Toby), he is almost completely without understanding of human emotions. Very much like his hero Holmes.

And, also like Holmes, even with all his problems, Christopher emerges at the end of the book as a very sympathetic, engaging individual. He knows he has limitations, and yet he's also very determined and self-reliant. He even displays a strangely appealing sort of wittiness. Though more than a bit off-center, of course. He's one of those characters who make you feel they're going right on with their lives after you close the book on them.