Monday, December 31, 2012

Finishing the Series Reading Challenge 2013

Hosted by: Socrates' Book Reviews
Dates: 1 January - 31 December, 2013
See the challenge announcement / sign-up page here

I had almost decided not to sign up for this one in 2013, since I wiped out in the 2012 edition. But I think I'll give it one more go.  I'm signing up at Level One (Complete one series): I still need to finish up the Mrs. Malory mystery series by Hazel Holt (2 books to read), so that's the one I'll concentrate on.  But if I finish that series, I have quite a few others I can work on (see my series blog for the various lists).  And during the year I'll be tracking my progress on my challenge blog, HERE.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2013 Mystery/Crime Reading Challenge

Hosted by: Amy @ The Crafty Book Nerd
Dates: 1 January - 31 December, 2013
See the challenge announcement / sign-up page

This one seems like a natural for me -- most of my reading generally consists of mysteries and suspense novels.  Challenge participants can read any book, group of stories, or any author, just so long as they're from the mystery genre. You don't need a blog to participate, and there's no set number of books to read. At the end of the year, you'll receive a rank depending on the amount you read:
  • 5 books= Detective 
  • 10 books = Sergeant 
  • 15 books = Lieutenant 
  • 20 books = Captain 
  • 25 books = Chief 
  • 30+ books = Sherlock Holmes
Of course, there's no way I'll ever be Sherlock Holmes, but I'm pretty sure I should be able to make it to Sergeant, or maybe even Lieutenant.  Just have to see how things go.  During the year, I'll be tracking my progress on my challenge blog HERE.

Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge 2013: Scattergories

Hosted by: Bev @ My Reader's Block
Dates: 1 January - 31 December, 2013
See the challenge announcement / sign-up page

The goal here is to read mystery/suspense novels published before 1960.  Bev has come up with a list of 30 categories, and participants will read a minimum of 8 books (or 4 books in the mini-challenge) which fall into 8 different categories.  Read all the guidelines and see the list of categories on the challenge announcement page, HERE.

I debated about this one for a while, since it's a little more structured than the challenges I usually attempt -- I really do better when I don't have too many rules to follow.  But after thinking it over a bit, I realized there was no way I could pass up this challenge.  I love vintage mysteries, and there are hundreds of them on my TBR list.  However, I'm going to hold off on choosing categories until I can do a survey of the vintage whodunits I've already got on my shelves -- might as well read the books I've already got. Right?  Except for that freebie "Get Out of Jail" category -- I'm pretty sure I'll be using that one.

During the year I'll be tracking my progress on my challenge blog HERE.

2013 Pre-1960 Classic Children's Books Reading Challenge

Hosted by: Kimberly @ Turning the Pages
Dates: 1 January - 31 December, 2013
See the challenge announcement / sign-up page HERE

The goal here is to read classic children's books: any number, but only participants who read/review at least one book per month will be eligible for the challenge giveaway.

Some of the guidelines:
  • All books must have an original publication date of 1960 or earlier.
  • All formats are allowed
  • Books must be at least 60 pages in length
  • Re-reads are OK
I love kiddie lit!  There's a massive amount of children's literature I've always intended to read, and this sounds like a great way to nudge myself into doing something about it.  There's no rule about making advance lists, but here are some titles I'm thinking of (subject to change, of course):
The 13 Clocks. James Thurber (1950)
Anne of Green Gables. L.M. Montgomery (1908)
Beezus and Ramona. Beverly Cleary (1955)
Black Fox of Lorne. Marguerite de Angeli (1957)
Five Children and It. E. Nesbit (1902)
Half Magic. Edward Eager (1954)
Hitty Her First Hundred Years. Rachel Field (1929)
The Hundred and One Dalmatians. Dodie Smith (1956)
Magic by the Lake. Edward Eager (1957)
Magic or Not? Edward Eager (1959)
Miss Hickory. Carolyn Sherwin Bailey (1946)
Mistress Masham's Repose. T.H. White (1946)
Stuart Little. E.B. White (1945)
Tom Sawyer, Detective. Mark Twain (1896)
The Well-Wishers. Edward Eager (1960)
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. L. Frank Baum (1900)
...and the list could go on and on.  Now I just need to get reading.  During the year, I'll be tracking my progress on my challenge blog HERE.

2013 European Reading Challenge

Hosted by: Rose City Reader
Dates: 1 January 2013 - 31 January 2014
See the challenge announcement / sign-up page HERE

Read books by European authors, or books set in European countries.  There are five levels of participation:
  • Five Star (Deluxe Entourage): Read at least five books by different European authors or five books set in different European countries. 
  • Four Star (Honeymooner): Read four qualifying books. 
  • Three Star (Business Traveler): Read three qualifying books. 
  • Two Star (Adventurer): Read two qualifying books. 
  • One Star (Pensione Weekender): Read just one qualifying book.
I'm gonna go all out here, and sign up at the Five Star "Deluxe Entourage" level.  I don't have a firm idea of what I'll read, but these are a few books I'm considering:
A Death in Vienna. Frank Tallis (Austria)
Ignorance. Milan Kundera (Czech Republic)
Istanbul Passage. Joseph Kanon (Turkey)
The Old Devils. Kingsley Amis (Wales)
Stone Virgin. Barry Unsworth (Italy)
Whatever I read, I'll be tracking my progress on my challenge blog (HERE).

2013 Middle East Reading Challenge

Hosted by: Maphead
Dates: 1 January - 31 December, 2013
See the challenge announcement/sign-up page here

The goal here is to read as many books as you like, related to the Greater Middle East area (or MENA--Middle East/North Africa).  Books can be fiction or nonfiction, and there are four levels of participation:
  1. Tourist (1-5 books)
  2. Diplomat (5-10 books)
  3. Foreign Policy Specialist (10-15 books)
  4. Scholar (15 books or more)
Books can be written by Middle Eastern authors, take place in the Middle East, or be concerned with the Greater Middle East; and they can deal with either contemporary or historical Middle Eastern issues.

This challenge sounds like a good way to expand my reading horizons a bit.  I'll be signing up at the Tourist level -- I should be able to manage at least one to five books.  Some possibilities I'm thinking about:
  • Clea. Lawrence Durrell (I've read the first three books of the Alexandria Quartet, but somehow never got around to this one)
  • Martyrs' Crossing. Amy Wilentz
  • A Woman in Jerusalem. Abraham Yehoshua
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran. Azar Nafisi
Of course, that list is subject to change. Whatever I do end up reading, I'll be tracking my progress on my challenge blog (HERE).

Thursday, December 27, 2012

New Reading Challenges for a New Year

Yes, I know I really didn't do all that well with the reading challenges I signed up for in 2012 (you can see the sad assessment here).  But that hasn't discouraged me.  A new year is on its way and it's bringing lots and lots of absolutely irresistible challenges to play with.  And since I'm such an addict, I'm not even gonna TRY to resist.  These are the ones I'm signing up for right now.

Dates: 1 January - 31 December 2013
See the announcement/sign-up page here

This is always one of my favorite challenges, and one I might actually do pretty well with.  I'm signing up for Level 2 ("Victorian Reader"), so I'll be reading five books.  And I'll be tracking my progress throughout the year on my challenge blog HERE.

Hosted by: The Book Vixen
Dates: 1 January - 31 December 2013
See the announcement/sign-up page here

I really need this challenge, since my reading record for 2012 was so dismal.  Hoping this will help get me back on track.  Signing up at Level 2 again ("Out of Breath"), so I should be reading 6-10 more books than I read this year -- that would put me back at the 50 books per year rate I usually aim at.  I'll be tracking my progress on my challenge blog HERE.

Hosted by: Beth Fish Reads
Dates: 1 January - 31 December 2013
See the announcement/sign-up page here

Another one of my favorites from 2012, so I'm really happy to see this offered again.  Tracking my progress on my challenge blog, HERE.

That's the lot, so far. More to come.... But you knew that!

Friday, December 21, 2012

2012 Reading Challenges: The Wrap-Ups

OK, I think it’s probably best that I just accept defeat (a certain amount, anyway), and admit I’m very unlikely to finish any more books in 2012. Or get any more reviews written. So I suppose it’s also time to go ahead and zero out all the reading challenges I had going this year.

2012 was not a bad year for me in most areas -- in fact, it was generally satisfying and even exciting. But all that excitement meant that my reading definitely took a hit. Didn’t get anywhere near my 50-book goal, and actually read even fewer books than I read in 2011. But, looking at my challenge blog, I realize that I actually came pretty close with some challenges -- and did manage to finish the reading goals I’d set myself in a few of them.

But reviews -- that’s a whole ‘nother problem. Around mid-year, I sort of stopped posting reviews -- just didn’t have time for them. For a while there, I thought I might be able to play catch-up in December. Yeah, right. That is definitely not gonna happen. So... here come the wrap-ups, in alphabetical order.

Signed up at the "Series Novice" level (3 books)
Actually read 2 books; no reviews.
  1. A Man Lay Dead. Ngaio Marsh (Inspector Alleyn series) 
  2. The Warden. Anthony Trollope (Chronicles of Barsetshire)

Signed up at the "Conversationalist" level (4-6 books)
Actually read 2 books; no reviews.
  1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Stieg Larsson 
  2. The Trial. Franz Kafka 

Books read, 7; no reviews. See my list of books read HERE.

Trying to finish the Mrs. Malory mystery series by Hazel Holt; needed to read 3 books to finish the series; only read one, no review. 
  1. Mrs. Malory and No Cure for Death 

I did a little better with this one. Signed up at the “Daring and Curious” level (5 books), actually finished the required number of books, and even posted a few reviews!  See my list of books read (with links to reviews) HERE.

Signed up at the “Pike’s Peak” level (12 books); read 12 books. See my list of books read (with links to reviews) HERE.

Signed up at the first level (12 books); read 12 books. See my list of books read (with links to reviews) HERE

Committed to read 15 new authors; read 10. See my list of books read (with links to reviews) HERE.

Signed up at the second level (“Trying” -- 15 books); read 15.  See my list of books read (with links to reviews) HERE.

    Signed up for “The Journey” (at least one book); read one book. No review.
    1. Seven-Day Magic. Edward Eager 

    Signed up at the Peril the Second level (two books), combined with Peril on the Screen.
    Read 5 books.  Also watched a hefty batch of TV shows/movies.  See my lists HERE.

    The goal was to read at least two books, and watch or listen to any number of Victorian-themed shows, music, etc. Read 2 books:
    1. The Solitary House. Lynn Shepherd (novel set in the Victorian Era) 
    2. The Warden. Anthony Trollope (written during the Victorian Era; first published 1855) 
    Watched 3 movies/TV shows:
    1. The Prestige (2006; film; based on the novel by Christopher Priest) 
    2. Queen Victoria's Empire (2001; PBS; 4-hour documentary series) 
    3. My Brilliant Career (1979; film; based on the novel by Miles Franklin) 

    Goal was 6 books from 6 categories. Read 6 books.  See my list of books read (with links to reviews) HERE.

    I also had a couple of challenges going at LibraryThing (see my 2012 Fifty Book Challenge, and my 12 in 12 Challenge), and one at Good Reads, none of which I actually completed. (Sigh.)

    And that’s a wrap!

    Just one final thought. Even though I didn’t do as well as I’d have liked in 2012, that hasn’t put me off reading challenges. No sir-ee! I’m hoping the coming year will be a much more normal reading year for me, and I’m already checking out the new reading challenges for 2013!

    Thursday, December 13, 2012

    Booking Through Thursday: Contemplation

    This week, BTT asks:
    So … you’ve just finished reading a book. For the sake of the discussion, we’ll say it was everything a book should be—engaging, entertaining, interesting, thought-provoking. The kind you want to gush over. The question is—do you immediately move on to your next book? Or do you take time to contemplate this writerly masterpiece and all its associated thoughts/emotions/ideas for a while first?  
    I guess I'm not very contemplative. At least, when it comes to reading matter. Since I've usually got two or three (or more) books going at any given time, I don't generally spend a lot of time contemplating each one as I finish it.

    Not that I don't give some thought to the books I read, or discuss them with my husband and friends, or research other books by the same author.  I do.  But once I come to the end of a book, no matter how much I've enjoyed it -- I move on.

    Tuesday, December 11, 2012

    Teaser Tuesdays: Santa Clawed

    This week my teaser lines come from a book I read a few years ago -- Santa Clawed by Rita Mae Brown, part of her Mrs. Murphy mystery series. I've been looking for something with a Christmas theme, and realized I didn't remember "whodunnit" in this one, so I gave it a quick reread.

    In case you're not familiar with the books, you need to know that Mrs. Murphy is a cat belonging to Mary Minor ("Harry") Haristeen, postmistress in the tiny village of Crozet, Virginia.  Harry has a talent for solving mysteries -- and a habit of getting herself involved in dangerous situations requiring the aid of Mrs. Murphy and Harry's other pets, Tucker (a Corgi) and Pewter (another pussycat). In this snippet, the critters have once again come to the rescue by attacking the villain:
    "Mrs. Murphy, Pewter, let...go," Harry commanded....
    Mrs. Murphy ripped out her claws. Pewter, knowing she had to as well, did, but not without the satisfaction of noticing some tiny bits of flesh dangling from them. (p.229)
    Oooh, nice kitty! Guess you just can't take the jungle out of the cat.

    Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

    And please feel free to leave me a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in your comment here.

    Thursday, December 06, 2012

    Booking Through Thursday: Records

    This week, BTT asks about record-keeping:
    Do you keep a list of the books you’ve read? How? In a journal? Through one of the online services? If so, WHY? To keep good records for future reference? To make sure you don’t accidentally reread? If not, why not? Too eager to move on to the next book? Too lazy? Never thought to bother?
    What a lovely question -- I'm so happy you asked!  List-making and reading have always been two of my favorite ways to pass the time, so you can be sure I've always kept lists of the books I've read.  In fact, a couple of years ago, I decided to put together a "life list" of all the books I've gone through since I first started reading, several centuries ago.  Seemed like a daunting task until I discovered I'd kept a pretty thorough record over the years -- most of my diaries have lists in the back, detailing my reading through the year, with titles and authors, and even (in some cases) dates when the book was read.  See -- I've always been a geek for record-keeping.

    These days, I mostly use the internet to keep track of my reading: I keep a cumulative listing on my blog (see this year's pitiful list here), and also lists at LibraryThing and GoodReads.  (Also have a Shelfari account, but I haven't kept up with that one for a couple of years now.) And I guess the WHY would be just for my own amusement.  I know I'll enjoy the list in a few years' time -- I like being able to look back and see what I was reading each month. And, as I said, I'm a fiend for record-keeping and list-making, so mostly I do it for fun.

    Sunday, December 02, 2012

    Capsule Review: Elephants Can Remember

    Written by Agatha Christie
    First published 1972; 224 pages

    This was actually a re-read: It was one of the first Christies I read many many (MANY, MANY!!!) years ago. I've been gradually reading (or re-reading) all the Hercule Poirot novels that feature his mystery-writing friend Ariadne Oliver, and this is one of those.

    In this novel, Mrs. Oliver is asked by a Mrs. Burton-Cox to discover the truth about a crime that happened in the past – a murder involving the parents of Celia Ravenscroft, the girl who is about to become engaged to Mrs. B-C's son. At first annoyed by the request, Ariadne soon becomes curious and starts interviewing people about the murder, and of course eventually calls upon her good friend Hercule Poirot for help.

    Like most of Christie's works, this one has a long line-up of characters. It also involves a number of plot devices familiar to her readers – including mistaken identity, adoption and illegitimacy, and a pet dog who, as Poirot says, may be "more intelligent perhaps than the police."

    I usually find the idea of investigating an ancient crime rather tedious. It takes away all the immediacy of the drama. And at the end of the book, after the mystery has been solved and everything is wrapped up, I did indeed find myself coming to a sort of "so what" moment which was a bit of a let-down. So I'd say while it's still a good read and I enjoyed it, it's definitely not the best example of Dame Agatha's work.

    Capsule Review: Tyrannosaur Canyon

    Written by Douglas Preston
    Forge Books, 2005; 398 pages

    Another ripping yarn by the master.  This thriller from the incredibly prolific Douglas Preston starts with the Apollo 17 mission to the moon, and leaps from there to the American desert Southwest and the death of a prospector who has just made a major, and possibly earth-shaking discovery. Another traveler passing by stops to help the dying man and is caught up in the frenzy spurred by the mysterious discovery. Soon Tom Broadbent (the passerby) and his wife are running for their lives and trying to figure out what's going on and who they can trust.

    Just a typical day in the life of a character in a Douglas Preston novel, of course.  I love his stuff -- so nice just to abandon all concept of reality and immerse myself in the action. This one has a little bit of everything -- as the publisher's blurb says:
    A moon rock missing for thirty years... 
    Five buckets of blood-soaked sand found in a New Mexico canyon... 
    A scientist with ambition enough to kill... 
    A monk who will redeem the world... 
    A dark agency with a deadly mission...
    The greatest scientific discovery of all time... 
    Now how could I not love that?

    Capsule Review: The Dovekeepers

    Written by Alice Hoffman
    Simon & Schuster, 2011; 500 pages

    Publisher's Description:
     Nearly two thousand years ago, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert.  According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman's novel is a spellbinding tale of four extraordinarily bold, resourceful, and sensuous women each of whom has come to Masada by a different path. Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father, an expert assassin, never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her young grandsons, rendered mute by what they have witnessed. Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and expert marksman who finds passion with a fellow soldier. Shirah, born in Alexandria, is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power. The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets — about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.
    I enjoyed The Dovekeepers much more than I expected I would. Before this, I'd only read one other book by Alice Hoffman -- Practical Magic.  I liked that one a lot, too, but it was a very different sort of work. I'm not usually attracted to historical fiction dealing with this period or subject matter, so I was surprised at how addictive this was. And even though it's something of a chunkster, I finished it in just a few days -- also unusual for me.  This is one I'd definitely recommend.

    Capsule Review: The Horned Man

    Written by James Lasdun
    W.W. Norton & Co., 2002; 193 pages

    Publisher's Description:
    Lawrence Miller—an English expatriate and professor of gender studies—tells the story of what appears to be an elaborate conspiracy to frame him for a series of brutal killings. We descend into a world of subtly deceptive appearances where persecutor and victim continually shift roles, where paranoia assumes an air of calm rationality, and where enlightenment itself casts a darkness in which the most nightmarish acts occur. Written with sinuous grace and intellectual acuity, The Horned Man is an unforgettable excursion into the lethal battleground of desire and repression. 
    Strange book, but an enjoyable read. Nothing is what it seems in the story of Lawrence Miller, English expat and professor of gender studies at an American college, who develops an obsession with the mysterious Bogomil Trumilcik, a former lecturer at the same college. Is Trumilcik really out to frame Miller for murder, or is the whole story one man's descent into madness? The mystery and paranoia keep building right up to the book's final pages.

    One of my favorite passages comes early in the novel, when Miller realizes there's something strange about the configuration of furnishings in the office he's been assigned:
    As I looked at the computer on its cumbersome desk, I was struck for the first time by the arrangement of furniture in that part of the room.  The two oversized desks had been pushed together in such a way as to contain, I realized now, an enclosed space at their center. How large it might be I couldn't tell from the outside, but I was suddenly curious.

    I went over and pulled at one of the desks. Nothing budged at first, and it wasn't until I heaved at it with all my strength, bracing my foot against a raised rib on the side of the other desk, that I was able to slide it a few inches. I peered in through the gap: there did seem to be a sizable space in there. I prized the desks far enough apart to squeeze inside. (p.49)
    And so begins all the craziness to come....

    I've been meaning to read this one since it first came out, and I'm really glad I finally got around to it.

    Capsule Review: A Fall of Moondust

    Written by Arthur C. Clarke
    PAN Books, 1964; 206 pages

    First published in 1961; Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel. In the book, the Dust-cruiser Selene has been buried beneath the Moon's Sea of Thirst, trapping the crew and passengers under many feet of deadly dust. Plot revolves around efforts to come up with a way of getting to the Selene and getting everyone out before the cruiser is destroyed or loses its oxygen supply. A really good "hard" science fiction tale that seems only slightly dated. There's an appealing you-are-there, almost documentary feel to the novel. My only quibble is that sometimes the sci gets in the way of the fi -- that is, character development tends to take a backseat to all that technical detail. Still, a good, fast read.

    Reading Reports: Playing Catch-up

    Where reading is concerned, 2012 has been a frustrating year for me.  Real life has intruded much more than I'd planned, what with moving from Virginia to Texas, house-hunting and house-buying (and house rehabbing), reconnecting with family and old friends, and just generally having my existence turned upside down. It's been a fun experience, but hectic -- hasn't left me much time for reading, and almost none for reviewing.  Consequently, I haven't been doing a very good job of posting regular reading reports on the books I have read.

    So, since the year is rapidly drawing to a close, I've decided to post a number of "capsule" reviews of some of the books I've read this year, but haven't reviewed -- a few very short (very short) lines about each work, mostly just a brief description and a word or two about how I felt about it.  I think that should be doable, and then I can start next year's reading with no guilty "hangover" from this year.

    So here's the first catch-up review:

    The Inn at Lake Devine
    Written by Elinor Lipman
    Vintage Contemporaries, 1998; 253 pages

    Publisher's Description:
    It's 1962 and all across America barriers are collapsing. But when Natalie Marx's mother inquires about summer accommodations in Vermont, she gets the following reply: "The Inn at Lake Devine is a family-owned resort, which has been in continuous operation since 1922. Our guests who feel most comfortable here, and return year after year, are Gentiles." For twelve-year-old Natalie, who has a stubborn sense of justice, the words are not a rebuff but an infuriating, irresistible challenge.
    In this beguiling novel, Elinor Lipman charts her heroine's fixation with a small bastion of genteel anti-Semitism, a fixation that will have wildly unexpected consequences on her romantic life. As Natalie tries to enter the world that has excluded her--and succeeds through the sheerest of accidents--
    The Inn at Lake Devine becomes a delightful and provocative romantic comedy full of sparkling social mischief. 
    Great little book! I read Lipman's The Ladies' Man a few years back and really loved it, and I've been wanting to read more by her ever since. I was hoping that first experience wasn't just a fluke, and I'm delighted to say it definitely was not. This tale of how an introduction to antisemitism at an early age affects the life of a young Jewish girl and all those around her is gorgeously written, moving and amazingly funny as well. Lipman is becoming one of my favorite writers -- I'm wondering if I dare try a third sample.