Monday, December 31, 2012

Around the World Wrapup

I had a lot of fun putting all my books on a map this year.  I'm about to take it down from the sidebar, so here is the final map for 2012, with just about 200 books on it.  It's been a good year of reading, and let's hope 2013 is a great year for all of us.

Are you ready for the Children's Literature Challenge?

I can't believe our event starts tomorrow!  December got away from me a bit, as I'm sure it did for many of you.  I'm looking forward to kicking off 2013 with some great children's literature.  Amanda at Simpler Pastimes has put up a great post of book recommendations, which I am reprinting here with her permission.  The comments are Amanda's, but I have put my own in on some titles in green italics.    She asks for further recommendations to be added to her comments, so head over and put your two cents in.

Amanda will be hosting a readalong of George MacDonald's wonderful story The Princess and the Goblin.  She also wants you to simply read whatever children's classics you choose, post about them, and link up at a page she will provide at the first of the month (tomorrow!).   Meanwhile, I'll be writing posts about lesser-known children's authors and their works--or just special favorites of mine that I can't resist! 

  1. Tales of Mother Goose – Charles Perrault (France) – A collection of fairy tales even older than those of the more famous Grimm brothers; some are original to Perrault while others are based on folktales or stories from France and Italy. They include some of the most famous fairy tales such as “Sleeping Beauty” and “Little Red Riding Hood,” and were probably originally intended for an adult audience.
  2. Grimm’s Fairy Tales – Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (Germany) – The best known collectors of fairy tales, although their original interest was in a scholarly preservation of oral stories.  For a complete edited collection, go for the Jack Zipes edition.  If you want to read the stories to a young child, Wanda Gag's wonderful "Tales from Grimm" is the right place to start.  But my own favorite is the one I read a zillion times as a kid--the Junior Illustrated Library edition.
  3. The Swiss Family Robinson – Johann David Wyss (Switzerland) – My mom read this to my brother and I when we were little – all I recall of it is that it introduced to me the fascinating idea of tree-top living.  I've never read it at all, but my 9-year-old is reading it right now!
  4. Fairy Tales – Alexander Pushkin (Russia) – As best I can tell, the best-known Russian fairy-tales.  These are lovely.  I have all 6 in one book, and one in a fancy edition illustrated by Bilibin.  Pushkin originally wrote them in rhyming verse, and you will often find them translated into English verse too.  You can also look for Arthur Ransome's "Old Peter's Russian Tales," which is a collection of his favorite stories--they are not exact translations or anything, but retellings from memory.
  5. Fairy Tales – Hans Christian Andersen (Denmark) – If you only know “The Little Mermaid” from the Disney movie, Andersen’s original will be quite the surprise. And this is only one of the well over 100 stories which he wrote.  I think I'll have to devote a day to HCA.  Since I once lived near Odense, I have many Andersen-themed souvenirs!
  6. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass – Lewis Carroll (England) – I don’t know if I’ll ever understand the Alice books, but they are certainly fascinating.
  7. Eight Cousins – Louisa May Alcott (U.S.) – An alternative to the better known Little Women, its sequel is Rose in Bloom.
  8. Black Beauty – Anna Sewell (England) – Probably the best-known horse story ever written, it has been very influential.
  9. Heidi – Johanna Spyri (Switzerland) – One of many hand-me-down books I read when I was little, but all I remember are Heidi, her grandfather, and a goat. Or two.  I read it aloud to my girls once.  It's very very long.  A nice story!
  10. Pinocchio – Carlo Collodi (Italy) – I’ve heard tell that Collodi’s Pinocchio and Disney’s are rather different. True or not, if you visit Collodi’s hometown of Florence, Italy, you can find Pinocchio figurines all over the place.  VERY true.  Collodi's tale is pretty dark.  Recommended!
  11. The Happy Prince and Other Tales – Oscar Wilde (Ireland) – I was surprised a few years back to learn that the short story “The Selfish Giant,” which I remember from childhood, was by none other than Wilde.
  12. The Blue Fairy Book – Andrew Lang (Scotland) – I devoured the Andrew Lang fairy books when I was in fourth and fifth grades; they contain fairy tales from all over the world. This was the first.  I did too!  I collected them all after college.
  13. The Jungle Book – Rudyard Kipling (England) – I’ve read just enough of this to know that the Disney movie is only a portion of the original. I find chapter 9, “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” unforgettable.  I own two copies and have never read it.  Maybe it's time?
  14. Seven Little Australians – Ethel Turner (Australia) – I discovered this title while researching suggestions – it has apparently remained popular for over 100 years.  I read this a couple of years ago!  I liked it overall, but the ending is a real shock.  We name my mom's chickens after literary characters, and one chicken is an Aussie breed so she is named Judy, after this story.  Another popular Australian classic is "The Magic Pudding."
  15. The Reluctant Dragon – Kenneth Grahame (England) – I perhaps have Grahame to blame for my fondness for dragons.  A lovely book, don't miss it!
  16. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum (U.S.) – The first of a fourteen book series. I actually preferred Ozma of Oz when I was little, but the first book is the best introduction to Baum’s Oz.
  17. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm – Kate Douglas Wiggin (U.S.) – I was surprised by the similarities to the later Anne of Green Gables, but found Rebecca adorable on her own merits. (I read this last year.)
  18. Peter Pan – J.M. Barrie (Scotland) – The play came first, but Barrie adopted his own play into a novel a few years later.
  19. The Railway Children – E. Nesbit (England) – I haven’t read any Nesbit, but have seen her highly recommended.  I was lucky enough to grow up on Nesbit, and I think she is wonderful.  Expect a post from me about her!
  20. A Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett (England) - One of my absolute favorites from childhood. I loved Sara’s powers of imagination.
  21. Emily of New Moon – L.M. Montgomery (Canada) – You may know the more famous Anne of Green Gables, but have you tried the Emily books? This is the first in a series of three.  I do love these, and they're especially good for a literary girl--but these are definitely creepier than the Anne stories.
  22. Pollyanna – Eleanor H. Porter (U.S.) – Although I’ve seen the 1960 movie several times, I forgot that it was based on a book until I started researching children’s classics.  I've never read it.  American children's classics are a category I have shamefully neglected.
  23. Winnie-the-Pooh – A.A. Milne (England) – It’s been so long since I’ve read this I have no memory of it. But if we’re to be consistent, I have to say I imagine it differs from the Disney version!  Yep!  Whimsical and fun.
  24. The Adventures of Tintin (various titles, although some are post 1960) – Hergé (Belgium) – Fun adventure stories in comic-book form – the three which were adapted into the 2011 movie are The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn, and Red Rackham’s TreasureI grew up on these too.  They are great adventure comics and a favorite in our house.  Another great Euro-comic tradition is the Asterix books!
  25. Little House in the Big Woods  – Laura Ingalls Wilder (U.S.) – This entire series is a long-standing favorite of mine. Little House in the Big Woods is the first, but you can’t go wrong with any of them.
  26. Mary Poppins – P.L. Travers (England) – I’ve never read the Travers series, but I would love to know how this compares to the well-known movie.  Oh!  You should read them!  They are very different.  I love the book Mary Poppins, who is vain, cross, impatient, and always denies the evidence.  I'm planning a post on P. L. Travers.
  27. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien (England) – A long-standing favorite of mine. It just had its 75th birthday, and with part 1 of the movie in theaters, if you don’t know the original, there’s never been a better time to start. (I posted on this recently.)
  28. The Little Prince – Saint-Exupéry (France) – Probably the best-known French title I’ve come across (at least in the U.S.) – I’ve had a copy for years but have yet to read it! A favorite of college students everywhere, right?  I am not a huge fan, but I will admit that I love the bit about the drawing of the elephant.
  29. Five on a Treasure Island – Enid Blyton (England) – An author I’ve heard of but never tried.  Possibly the quintessential author of British children's adventure/friendship books?  She never really became well-known in the US.  We have a few.  Harry Potter owes a lot to Blyton stories!
  30. Pippi Longstocking – Astrid Lindgren (Sweden) – I’ve seen mixed opinions on this title, but it is probably the best-known Swedish title in the U.S.
  31. The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily – Dino Buzzati (Italy) – I discovered this title while researching the list–it’s only be recently translated into English, but if the author sounds familiar, he’s best known for the grown-up novel The Tartar SteppeI have a copy I had my daughter read, but maybe I should actually read it myself...
  32. Misty of Chincoteague – Marguerite Henry (U.S.) – I was never horse-obsessed, but for some reason I read quite a few horse books. Henry won the Newbery Medal for the later King of the Wind, but this title is the one I remember. (And it did get a Newbery Honor.)  I was very horse-obsessed, and I had most of these.
  33. The Little White Horse – Elizabeth Goudge (England) – I’ve yet to read Goudge, but I’ve seen her highly recommended on blogs.  I love Goudge!  Look for a post soon.
  34. Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White (U.S.) – My favorite White, The Trumpet of the Swan, falls outside the date range for the event, but all of his books are wonderful.
  35. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis (Ireland) – The first and most famous of the series of seven books. Some advocate a chronological reading of the series (starting with The Magician’s Nephew), but I prefer the order they were originally published. And with its wintery setting, this one is perfect for January!  So it is.  I agree about reading them in the publishing order, too.
  36. The Witch of Blackbird Pond – Elizabeth George Speare (U.S.) – My favorite book/author when I was in 5th grade.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Nightingale Wood

Nightingale Wood, by Stella Gibbons

I love Cold Comfort Farm, so I was happy to get my hands on another Gibbons novel.  This story is set in the late 1930s and is a more typical novel than CCF was; I quite enjoyed it.

Viola Withers is the protagonist--she's a very young and penniless widow, and she has to go live with her in-laws in their stultifying home.  No one is happy, and the only thing to look forward to is the charity ball.  Meanwhile, her sisters-in-law have troubles too, and so does the wealthy family down the lane.   In true Gibbons style, everyone is a real and flawed character, and they all have some adventures.  It's a lot of fun.

I'm not describing it very well, but it's a clever and enjoyable read.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Greek Classics Challenge Wrapup

All right, fellow Greeklings, it's the end of 2012 and time to wrap up the Greek Classics Challenge.  Did you meet your goal?  Write up a post, put the link in the comments, or just tell us all about it here.

 I read a bunch of things--I did manage to get to the final level--and though I wanted to read more, I am pretty happy.  I got quite a few plays read, and some philosophy.  I am not pleased that I didn't manage to finish Herodotus, and I have this beautiful Thucydides on my shelf--I'm sad I didn't get to that.  I still plan to read those things, though.  Thucydides is very intimidating to me; I read it in college and didn't understand a word.  I never do well with battles, really, especially in ancient wars.  (I tried to read Caesar's Gallic Wars last year and gave up in despair; it was incomprehensible and boring too.  And it's supposed to be easy!)

Here are the titles I read:

The Oresteia, by Aeschylus
Theogony, by Hesiod
Works and Days, by Hesiod  
Antigone, Oedipus the King, and Oedipus at Colonus, by Sophocles
Herodotus' Histories: Book I, Book II, Book III, Book IV,
Aristophanes: The Peace, The Birds, The Frogs
The Symposium, by Plato
Euripides: Alcestis, Medea, Iphigenia in Tauris, 
Aristotle's Rhetoric
Plato's Republic 
Herodotus' Histories (more!) : Book V, Book VI,
Orestes, by Euripides

 If anyone is left, tell me how you did!

Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror

Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror, by Chris Priestly

This is a children's book of sinister, creepy stories.  I think there is definitely some Jamesian influence here!  (Heck, the uncle is named after James, don't you think?)  The kid goes to visit his Uncle Montague every so often, and hears his stories about various artifacts around the house.  He thinks they're fiction....but are they?

It's illustrated in a very Gorey-like style, and I should think it is in many ways an imitation of Bellairs' stories for children, and other things of that sort.  

I expected to like this book, but I think it crosses a line.  It would be better as a teen book or something, and I did not give it to my kids.   I did not enjoy it as I thought I would.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Electra and Orestes
Orestes, by Euripides

I haven't managed to finish Herodotus, but I thought I'd round out the year with another Euripides play.  Somewhere, recently, I saw someone comment that Orestes is a very misogynistic play, and I thought I'd see for myself.

The play opens as Orestes is being tormented by the Furies for killing his mother, Clytemnestra.  His sister Electra is caring for him, Helen is present (and very selfish and shallow she is), and all of Argos has turned against their royal family--what's left of it.  Euripides has changed the whole tenor of the play by setting the story in his own day; instead of mythic standards of morality that pave the way for the law of man, Orestes lives in a society with an established system of law.  He could have accused his mother in court, but instead he killed her himself, and now his city is going to put him to death for murder.

Orestes is not going to put up with that, though.  As the play continues, we slowly discover that Orestes is just a murderous criminal.  He, Electra, and Pylades plan to murder Helen and take her daughter Hermione hostage in order to escape.

Everyone in this play is a horrible person , except for the innocent young Hermione.  None of them have any real decency, and it just gets worse.  I don't see how anyone could reasonably call the play misogynistic on the grounds that the women characters are awful, because they're all awful.  Yes, Orestes says "I can never have my fill of killing whores," but by then he's been revealed as the worst of the bunch.

The ending is completely bizarre.  In the midst of the killing frenzy, Apollo appears, and in a horrible parody of a deus ex machina he decrees what will happen: Orestes (the psychopath) will marry Hermione and become king of Argos, Pylades (the murderous schemer) will have a happy marriage with Electra (the embittered, who cares only for her brother), and Helen (the vain and shallow) has become a goddess, a star to guide sailors home.  It's a disaster.  Even a god can't fix this mess, and the resolution is no such thing.

This is one of Euripides' last plays, written not long before he exiled himself to Macedon.  He was disillusioned and bitter with Athens.  Perhaps this was his way of predicting disaster to the city, with its history of war with other Greek states.  Maybe he's saying that corruption and bloodlust has set Athens on a road to destruction, just like the house of Atreus.

Not a very cheerful end to my year of Greek literature, actually.  Maybe I can find time in the next few days to read something else?

Lost Magic

Lost Magic, by Berthe Amoss

I saw this recommended as a wonderful read on a blog a while back and put it on my wishlist.  It was a decent story, but to me it wasn't great--it's probably one of those books that makes a big impact if you are 10 or 11 and read it at just the right time.

Waif is a girl on her own.  She can do small tricks, which she has to hide so as not to be taken for a witch, and she is directionless until she gives shelter to a woman who has the knowledge of herbs.  This woman teaches Waif her knowledge, and before long Waif has a real name and a real job in the castle.  That comes with a lot of peril, though, and soon she has to flee, taking her young charge with her.

It's all set in the medieval era, though one where magic and changelings are real.  One great element in this book is that the setting is quite realistic--Waif is essentially homeless, and she is cold and hungry and dirty most of the time, and so are lots of other people.  It all feels right, which I really appreciated; it's not prettified.

A pretty good story which is worth reading or giving to your kid if it happens to be at your library.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Essay Reading Challenge 2013

CarrieK at Books and Movies has been hosting an essay challenge for several years.  I've never run into it before, and now I think I'll give it a try.  Carrie says:

Welcome to the fifth annual Essay Reading Challenge! If you’re an avid essay reader, or just want to expand your reading horizons a bit, this is the challenge for you. If you’re thinking, “What would I read?” – check out this post: Recommended Reading for the Essay Challenge – and “Why read essays?”
~ This challenge runs from January 1, 2013 through December 31, 2013.
~ If you read a book of essays, that book can also apply to any other challenges you are working on.
~ To sign up, choose a goal of reading 10, 20, or 30 essays, and then write a challenge post.
~ Copy your challenge post’s link into the Mr. Linky on this main challenge page.
~ You don’t have to list your essays ahead of time – just have fun reading throughout the year.
~ This main challenge page will stay in my header for the whole year. Come back and link any reviews you write.
~ In the past, I have offered a giveaway prize for participants. Since our financial situation is still uncertain, I have decided not to offer a giveaway this year.

I quite like to read essays, so this will be fun.  I'm just going to go for 10, and I'll try to choose classic-y type material for most of it--with room left for frivolity!

Narrative Poem Reading Challenge 2013

Lemon Tree (aka Listra) at Half-Filled Attic says:

I have always loved narrative poems. I do, I like them. But somehow reading narrative poems is more challenging than reading normal poems or normal narratives. Looking at my TBR list, there are many narrative poems that I promise to read, both from the Classic Club's Project, and also from my own curiosity.
So, to share the joy of reading narrative poems, I'd like to propose a challenge: What about reading narrative poems in 2013?

I know that some of you must have joined several reading challenges by now. It can be hectic, reading all those book in a year. To make sure that everybody has fun instead of burden, instead of giving a number of poems you have to finish, I'd just give the levels of reading. Feel free to read just as much as you can. The point of all this is having fun, anyway.
Levels of reading:
  • Homer (< 4 narrative poems)
  • Orpheus (5 – 8 narrative poems)
  • Muses (9 – 12 narrative poems)
  • Apollo (> 12 narrative poems)
  • You don't have to follow this blog to participate (though I would love it if you do).
  • The challenge will start on January 2013 and end on December 2013.
  • Only narrative poems will be counted. If it's just a good poem, but not a narrative poem, it doesn't count (though I would happily read your reviews about poems).
  • The length of the poems may vary, from long epics such as Illiad and Odyssey to Poe's The Raven. Don't worry about it. If you read a collection of narrative poems, you may write a review for each poem or as a group of it. But please put all reviews in the master post that will come later on.
  • Please put the button in your blog.
  • You don't have to choose your books now, so have fun along the year.
  • Please sign up through the Linky below. 

    I am not a huge fan of narrative poems, or poetry in general (I try!  I do!  I just fail a lot), so this will be my nutritious, educational, good-for-me challenge.   At the moment my problem is that all the things I can think of to read are hugely long and intimidating, like Marmion or The Faerie Queene.  So I shall sign up for the Homer level and see what happens!

Back to the Classics 2013 Challenge

I still have some more challenges that I want to join, so don't think I'm done.  I've just been too busy sewing stuffed chickens to write up posts.  (The chicken, by the way, was a great hit.  Also the stuffed owls.  Certain readers may enjoy knowing that one owl is now named Mintchoc!)

Even though Sarah is now very busy with library school, she's still going to run her challenge.  She says:

You asked for it....   so here you go!  I am now formally announcing the Back to the Classics Challenge 2013!!  This is the third year in a row for this challenge, and I hope that you are ready!  

I am making a few small changes this year, including requiring less categories to complete.  Wait, did I say *requiring*?  Yes, I did.  This year will feature 6 required  categories that all participants must complete.  Then, I will have additional categories that those super-motivated participants can choose to complete if they'd like.  All reviews must be linked on the appropriate pages again, and those will be listed on the left hand side of this page.  When you've finished, you will also need to link a wrap-up post.  Everyone who completes the 6 required categories and the wrap up post will be entered to win a $30US gift card or choice of book(s) from The Book Depository.  Any one who completes 3 categories from the optional list will earn one additional entry into the prize drawing.  Any one who completes all 5 categories from the optional list will earn two additional entries into the prize drawing.

  • All books must be read in 2013.  Books started prior to January 1, 2013 are not eligible.  Reviews must be linked by December 31, 2013.
  • E-books and audio books are eligible!  Books can count for other challenges you may be working on.
  • If you do not have a blog, you may link your review from Goodreads or other publicly accessible online format.  
  • Please sign up for the challenge using the linky below BEFORE SEPTEMBER 1, 2013. Please link to your sign-up announcement post (if possible/applicable)
  • You do not have to list your books prior to starting the challenge, but it is more fun that way :)  You can always change your list at any time.  You can read the books in any order (including mixing in the optional categories at any time)
  • You can decide to attempt the optional categories at any point (you can also bow out of the optional categories at any point as well).
  • Please identify the categories you've read in your wrap up post so that I may easily add up your entries for the prize drawing!  


The Required Categories:

  1. A 19th Century Classic
  2. A 20th Century Classic
  3. A Pre-18th or 18th Century Classic
  4. A Classic that relates to the African-American Experience - This can be an African-American author, or a book relating to slavery, civil rights, or African-American culture.
  5. A Classic Adventure
  6. A Classic that prominently features an Animal - This can feature animal characters or animals in the title (real or imagined)
Optional Categories:

    A.  Re-read a Classic
   B.  A Russian Classic
   C.  A Classic Non-Fiction title
   D.  A Classic Children's/Young Adult title
   E.  Classic Short Stories - collection must include at least 3 short stories by the same author, or at 
                                              least 3 stories collected together by genre, time period, etc.

As in years past, I just want to take a moment and let you know that especially for the purposes of this challenge, I do not subscribe to any set definition of a Classic. I think that anyone looking to participate in this challenge already has their own personal definition that works best for them.  If you are choosing to include a title that you feel may be questionably described as a Classic, please just explain your position in your review.  

As always, I hope you have fun with this Challenge!  Good Luck! 

I love these categories and I'm excited about doing this challenge--it was lots of fun this year and I plan to have just as much fun in 2013.  I don't even know what I'm going to choose for most of these categories, but here are my picks so far:

1. The Mill on the Floss
2. The Custom of the Country
3. ?
4. The Souls of Black Folk and The Ways of White Folk
5. ?
6. ?

A. ?
B. Dead Souls
C. Roll, Jordan, Roll maybe?
D.  Something will appear, no problem!
E.  A collection of Chekov's short stories

52 Books in 52 Weeks Wrapup

Time for another wrap-up post!  Robin wants to know:

1) How many books did you read this year?

I'll be at 200 or so by year's end.

2) Did you meet or beat your own personal goal?

I joined the 150+ Challenge just for fun, but I was pretty sure I would hit it with no problem.  Number goals are not really my thing.  

3) Favorite book of 2012? (You can list more than one or break it down by genre)

There were lots, and I'm not even sure how to pick.  For sure:
And There Was Light
Doctor Zhivago 
The Book of the City of Ladies
Madame Bovary
Periodic Tales
Behind the Beautiful Forevers

4) Least favorite book of 2012 and why?  

I probably didn't finish it, whatever it was.  I know there were some like that but no longer have them in my brainspace.  Of the books I finished and blogged about, I'll go with The Romance of the Rose.  The first third was fine, but Jean de Meun--I would like to have a few words with you.

5) One book you thought you'd never read and was pleasantly surprised you like it?

The Phantom of the Opera for sure!  I would not have read that if it hadn't been in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen challenge and I was quite surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  It's a good book, read it!

6) One book you thought you'd love but didn't?

Er. I can't really think of one--there must have been several but I probably didn't finish them.  Life is way too short to read very many books I don't like, unless I have a compelling reason for it.

7) One book that touched you - made you laugh, cry, sing or dance. 

Bab: a Sub-Deb had me in tears of laughter, does that count?

8) Any new to you authors discovered and you can't wait to read more of their stories?

A bunch! 
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Edith Wharton
Laini Taylor
Rhys Bowen 
Eugene Yelchin
Tsitsi Dangarembga
Lissa Evans
Katherine Boo
Alethea Kontis         

9) Name the longest book you read?  Shortest? 

Longest: either The Romance of the Rose or The Good Soldier Svejk, which I'm a bit more than halfway through now.  I also started this really great book called India: A Sacred Geography that is hugely long, though probably not as long as Svejk.  Fun fact: something I learned in the India book helped me just two days later while I was watching a Hindi movie.

Shortest: I don't even know.  Hesiod's Works and Days?  Solzhenitsyn's Warning to the West?

10) Name the most unputdownable book you read?

 Gee, I don't know.  I'll go for Alethea Kontis' Enchanted.  Oh, and Atlas of Love, though my reaction was mixed.  I loved most of it, but thought the Katie character was so unrealistic that it overshadowed the whole book for me.

11) Book that had the greatest impact on you this year?

And There Was Light, by Jaques Lusseyran.

12) What book would you recommend everybody read?

And There Was Light, by Jaques Lusseyran.  Read it!

13) Share your most favorite cover(s)


These two, plus the Bloomsbury covers that I never get to actually see in real life.  Also the Penguin English Library paperback covers, but I only have one and I haven't read it yet.

14) Do you have a character you fell in love with? 

Hm, I can't think of any right now.   You mean like Mr. Darcy fall in love or just anybody I liked a lot?  I don't usually do the Mr. Darcy thing...oh, I did quite like Thomas Venn and poor Clym from Return of the Native.

15) What was your most favorite part of the challenge? Did you do any of the mini challenges?

I didn't do mini-challenges this year, but I do plan to in 2013.  I just like talking with everyone about what we're reading!

What are your goals for the new year?  To read more non fiction? To dip your toes into a mystery or a urban fantasy?  What book are you most looking forward to reading in 2013? 

To focus more on classics and on the books on my wishlist and TBR pile.  That pile contains these books that I'm really looking forward to:

In the First Circle
Anna Karenina
The Mill on the Floss
Far From the Madding Crowd (I'm more willing to read Hardy now that I've survived Return of the Native)

Thanks to Robin for a great year of reading!  Robin puts a lot of work into this challenge and it's just wonderful for many people.

Monday, December 24, 2012


Merry Christmas everyone!  I have lots of booky things to tell you, but it can wait.  I finished all my sewing, but not all my wrapping.  I made a stuffed chicken!  I made a toadstool house!  And three fuzzy owls--but not two woolly hedgehogs, though I was very tempted.  Now it's time to enjoy my family and the day.  Hope you do too.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

TBR Final Check-in

Bev at My Reader's Block has asked for a final check-in.

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

I read 25 books and got to the Mt. Vancouver level, which is twice as high as I had originally planned.  I really enjoyed most of the books (OK, not The Communist Manifesto) too.

2. Using the titles of the books you read this year, please fill in "My Life in Books 2012":

One time at band/summer camp, I:  found a Haunted Dolls' House
Weekends at my house are: Nightmare Abbey
My neighbor is: Doctor Thorne
My (ex) boss is: The New Road to Serfdom
My ex was:  The Man in the High Castle 

My superhero secret identity is:  Peer Gynt
You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry because:  I appear in the Book of Beasts
I’d win a gold medal in: Winking at the Brim
I’d pay good money for:  A School for Scandal
If I were president, I would:  be A Golden Legend
When I don’t have good books, I:  look at A Distant Mirror
Loud talkers at the movies should:  Disappear (like Mr. Dixon)

Thanks, Bev, for hosting this fun challenge!  I'm looking forward to next year.
  1. The Story of an African Farm, by Olive Schreiner
  2. The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick
  3. The Book of Beasts, trans. T. H. White
  4. Mr. Dixon Disappears, by Ian Sansom
  5. Nightmare Abbey, by Thomas Love Peacock
  6. The Haunted Dolls' House and Other Stories, by M. R. James  
  7. The New Road to Serfdom, by Daniel Hannan 
  8.  Doctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope
  9. Winking at the Brim, by Gladys Mitchell 
  10. Lovely is the Lee, by Robert Gibbings 
  11. A Collection of Essays by George Orwell
  12.  Erewhon, by Samuel Butler
  13. Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson 
  14. Decameron, by Boccaccio
  15.  Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
  16. Twenty Years A-Growing, by Maurice O'Sullivan
  17. The Communist Manifesto, by Marx and Engels
  18.  The First World War, by John Keegan
  19. Peer Gynt, by Henrik Ibsen
  20. The School for Scandal, by Sheridan
  21. The Golden Legend, by Jacobus de Voraigne
  22. A Distant Mirror, by Barbara Tuchman 
  23. The Penguin Book of Russian Short Stories 
  24.  Sciencia, ed. John Martineau
  25. Night, by Elie Wiesel 

The Cricket on the Hearth

The Cricket on the Hearth, by Charles Dickens

For the Christmas challenge I chose one of Dickens' short Christmas novels.  We meet a cozy family: John and Dot have been married for just a year, and they have a brand-new baby.  They have several friends, and a neighbor is preparing to marry Dot's best friend May.

Then a Three's-Company-esque misunderstanding occurs, throwing everything into confusion, and it gets straightened out at the end.  I wasn't really all that impressed with the story, but it was OK.

I don't quite understand why everyone seems to have a cricket living by the fireplace.  Did crickets just come in and spend the winters in warm spots?

The Prisoner of Heaven

The Prisoner of Heaven, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I have a large pile of posts to write up, but I've been busy getting ready for Christmas.  How is everyone finding the time to write blog posts this week??

I finished this trilogy about the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.  The three books are not chronologically ordered and they jump around, so you don't have to read them in any particular order.  This last one, though, does link the different storylines together.

Once again, Barcelona is not a place where anyone is happy.  Once again, women are beautiful objects but not much more.  Daniel Sempere, who was a teenage boy in Shadow of the Wind, is now a grown man, married with a little boy, and he narrates part of the story.  The real protagonist is Fermin, who has been a constant through all three books.  Here we find out his story--some of it, anyway.

It was better than The Angel's Game, and pretty interesting, but overall I'm not thrilled with the trilogy.  The quirky writing that caught my interest at first didn't seem to stay that way.  It was good to explore a new author, but I don't think I'll be reading more.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Wishlist Challenge

I was hoping to find something like this!  Uniflame at Uniflame Creates is hosting a wishlist challenge:

Read 12 books (one for every month of the year) that you would like to read, but don’t already have on your shelves. 

1. The challenge runs from January 1st, 2013 to December 31st, 2013.

2. You are to read 12 books from your current wishlist. If you don’t have a list anywhere, write down books that you are eager to read, that you don’t own yet, and choose 12 books off that list.

3. If you can’t find a book that’s on your wishlist (your library doesn’t have it, or you don’t want/can’t buy it) then you can use another book. But: you are not allowed to include any NEWLY added books for this challenge. So, whatever your list is now, that’s it. I.e. you can’t read amazing things about a book on someone else’s blog, decide you want to read it, then read it for the Wishlist Challenge. The opposite is true: you want to read something for the Wishlist Challenge, so you go to your wishlist, find a book that was on that wishlist before January 1st, 2013, and read it for the challenge.

4. You can overlap with other challenges, as long as you read books that were on your wishlist before January 1st, 2013.

5. Sign up here by leaving a comment with a link to your announcement post for this challenge.

6. When you’ve read your 12 books, come back here and leave a comment with a link to your final post about the challenge. Make sure you’ve done this by January 15th, 2014.

I have 102 books on my "library" wishlist at Amazon right now.  I think 12 is the minimum of books I should try to read--that list needs whittling down!  I can't possibly write them all down, but here are 20 or so from the top:

  1. Shadow on the Mountain
  2. Napoleon's Buttons
  3. The Violinist's Thumb
  4. Reached
  5. The Coming of the Third Reich
  6. A Kid for Two Farthings
  7. Shopping for a Better Country
  8. Nightingale Wood
  9. Bloodlands
  10. Lavinia
  11. The Penelopiad
  12. Alys, Always
  13. The Beauty and the Sorrow
  14. The Book of Not
  15. Seven Lies About Catholic History
  16. Full Tilt
  17. The Rivals
  18. Tales from Ovid
  19. The Secret River
  20. Keynes Hayek
  21. Elizabeth and Hazel
  22. The Morville Hours
  23. An Evening of Long Goodbyes

TBR Challenges

I've got two TBR challenges to join this year.  I'm joining up with Bev at My Reader's Block for the second year, and I'm also joining Adam at Roofbeam Reader.  They're very nearly the same thing, but the more the merrier, and anyway there are differences!

Bev says:

I don't have a TBR shelf. Oh, no. I have "Mount TBR"...actually a whole mountain range.  And it doesn't matter that I've just spent the last year working on my mountain range with the Mount TBR Reading Challenge.  They just keep on sprouting up.
So, once again, I plan to concentrate on reading primarily from my own books this year. And you're invited to join me in knocking out some of those books that have been waiting in the wings for weeks....months...even years.

Challenge Levels (I've adjusted the levels just slightly this year):

Pike's Peak: Read 12 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Blanc: Read 24 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Vancouver: Read 36 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Ararat: Read 48 books from your TBR piles/s
Mt. Kilimanjaro: Read 60 books from your TBR pile/s
El Toro: Read 75 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Everest: Read 100 books from your TBR pile/s
Mount Olympus (Mars): Read 150+ books from your TBR pile/s

And the rules:
*Once you choose your challenge level, you are locked in for at least that many books. If you find that you're on a mountain-climbing roll and want to tackle a taller mountain, then you are certainly welcome to upgrade.

*Challenge runs from January 1 to December 31, 2013.

*You may sign up anytime from now until November 30th, 2013.

*Books must be owned by you prior to January 1, 2013. No ARCs (none), no library books. No rereads. [To clarify--based on a question raised last year--the intention is to reduce the stack of books that you have bought for yourself or received as presents {birthday, Christmas, "just because," etc.}. Audiobooks and E-books may count if they are yours and they are one of your primary sources of backlogged books.]

*You may count any "currently reading" book that you begin prior to January 1--provided that you had 50% or more of the book left to finish in 2013.  I will trust you all on that.

*Books may be used to count for other challenges as well.

*Feel free to submit your list in advance (as incentive to really get those books taken care of) or to tally them as you climb.

*A blog and reviews are not necessary to participate. If you have a blog, then please post a challenge sign up and link THAT post (not your home page) into the linky below. Non-bloggers, please leave a comment declaring your challenge level--OR, if you are a member of Goodreads, I will once again put together a group for the challenge there. Feel free to sign up HERE.  And, finally, I am contemplating a review tracker for this year.  I will post a link if that works out.

I'm signing up for the Mount Blanc level of 24 books.  I made it to 25 this year so I think I can do it!

Adam's challenge is more stringent.  He says:

This is my fourth year hosting and participating in the annual “TBR Pile Challenge.”  It started after I realized I had such an issue buying books but never reading them (not because I don’t read – but because I have so many!).  So, year after year, books would sit on my shelf, untouched, and I would end up reading newer ones first.  I realized I was missing out on a lot of great books because I let them sit there gathering dust instead of reading them as I bought them.

The Goal: To finally read 12 books from your “to be read” pile (within 12 months).
1. Each of these 12 books must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for AT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2012 or later (any book published in the year 2011 or earlier qualifies, as long as it has been on your TBR pile – I WILL be checking publication dates). Caveat: Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the “can’t get through” pile.
2.  To be eligible, you must sign-up with Mr. Linky below – link to your list (so create it ahead of time!) and add updated links to each book’s review.  Every listed book must be completed and must be reviewed (doesn’t have to be too fancy) in order to count as completed.
3.  The link you post in the Mr. Linky below must be to your “master list” (see mine below).  This is where you will keep track of your books completed, crossing them out and/or dating them as you go along, and updating the list with the links to each review (so there’s one easy, convenient way to find your list and all your reviews for the challenge).  See THIS LINK for an idea of what I mean.  Your list must be completed by December 31st, 2012.
4. Leave comments on this post as you go along, to update us on your status. Come back here if/when you complete this challenge and leave a comment indicating that you CONQUERED YOUR 2013 TBR LIST!  Every person who successfully reads his/her 12 books and/or alternates (and who provides a working link to their list, which has links to the review locations) will be entered to win a $50 gift card from or The Book Depository!
5. Crossovers from other challenges are totally acceptable, as long as you have never read the book before and it was published pre-2012!
*Note – You can read the books on your list in any order; they do not need to be read in the order you have them listed. As you complete a book – review it, and go back to your original list and turn that title into a link to the review - that will keep the comments section here from getting ridiculously cluttered.  For an example of what I mean, Click Here.
Here is my master list:
  1. The Souls of Black Folk
  2. The 13th Element
  3. The Last of the Mohicans
  4. St. Thomas Aquinas/St. Francis of Asissi (biography by G. K. Chesterton)
  5. The Middle Window
  6. The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
  7. The Forgotten Man
  8. Making Their Own Peace
  9. The Echoing Green
  10. The Chemical History of a Candle
  11. Botchan
  12. When Ladies Go A-Thieving
  1. Meditations (Marcus Aurelius)
  2. Bible and Sword      

52 Books in 52 Weeks

It is high time that I start officially joining up to the challenges I've picked out.  The lovely Robin is hosting her 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge for the 5th year!  This challenge is actually the one that got me to start blogging in the first place (so that I could join it), and this will be my 4th year.  Robin says:

2013 52 Books in 52 Weeks

Are you ready for another round of Reading 52 books in 52 Weeks? Whether you are just joining in or continuing on for another round, the rules are very simple. The goal is to read one book (at least) a week for 52 weeks. Make the year easy and casual or kick it up by exploring new to you authors and genres. Challenge yourself to read at least some classics or delve into that chunkster (more than 500 pages) you always wanted to tackle. The goal is to read 52 books. How you get there is up to you. 

Since this is our 5th year, I challenge you to a 5/5/5 challenge. Read 5 books in 5 Categories and/or 5 Genres. I have several mini challenges to make it fun:

A to Z challenge: Read books alphabetically by title and/or author.

Canadian Mini Challenge - read non fiction or fiction authors

C.S. Lewis: Read the works of C.S. Lewis

Chunky Mini Challenge -books more than 500 pages

Dusty Mini challenge: Limit buying new books for 1 - 4 months and read 4 to 12 or more books gathering dust on your shelves prior to 2013.

Inspiration Reading Project - Faith based or the Classics.

Mind Voyages: Explore the Hugo and Nebula winners, take side trips through the different decades reading the nominees.

Well Educated Mind: Explore the classics in five categories: Fiction, Autobiography, History/Politics, Drama and Poetry.
The mini challenges and weekly challenges are optional, Mix it up any way you like. 

  1. The challenge will run from January 1, 2013 through December 31, 2013. 
  2. Our book weeks begin on Sunday. 
  3. Participants may join at any time. 
  4. All books are acceptable except children books. 
  5. All forms of books are acceptable including e-books, audio books, etc. 
  6. Re-reads are acceptable as long as they are read after January 1, 2013. 
  7. Books may overlap other challenges. 
  8. Create an entry post linking to this blog. 
  9. Sign up with Mr. Linky in the "I'm participating post" below this post. 
  10. You don't need a blog to participate. Post your weekly book in the comments section of each weekly post. 
  11. Mr. Linky will be added to the bottom of the weekly post to link to reviews of your most current reads.   

I will be joining the 5/5/5, Dusty, Chunky, and Inspiration mini-challenges.  I usually like to read some Lewis, so I'm up for that too.  I'm aiming for 10 chunksters, 12 dustys, and 10 inspiration books (that is, about religion).

My tentative chunksters:
  1. Anna Karenina
  2. In the First Circle
  3. A Suitable Boy
  4. Our Mutual Friend
  5. The Small House at Allington
  6. The Forgotten Man
  7. In the Steps of the Master
  8. The Mill on the Floss
  9. Far From the Madding Crowd
  10. Roll, Jordan, Roll
 I don't know if I'll get the others written down or not, but this will do for now.      

Mixing It Up Wrapup

Ellie at Musings of a Bookshop Girl is wrapping up her Mixing It Up Challenge.  I went for the highest level and read 16 books:

  • ALL THE TRIMMINGS AND A CHERRY ON TOP: Going for gold with the full 16!
1. Classics  The Old Curiosity Shop, by Charles Dickens
2. Biography And There Was Light, by Jacques Lusseyran
3. Cookery or food A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg
4. History A Distant Mirror: the Calamitous 14th Century, by Barbara Tuchman
5. Modern Fiction: Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
6. Graphic Novel/Manga Feynman, by Ottaviani and Myrick
7. Crime/Mystery Hopjoy Was Here, by Colin Watson
8. Horror The Haunted Dolls' House and Other Stories, by M. R. James
9. Romance  Midnight in Austenland, by Shannon Hale
10. SF/Fantasy  The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick
11. Travel  Lovely is the Lee, by Robert Gibbings
12. Poetry/Drama The Merchant of Venice, by Shakespeare
13. Journalism/Humor Henrietta Sees It Through, by Joyce Dennys
14. Science/Natural History Why Darwin Matters, by Michael Shermer
15. Children's/YA Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor
16. Social sciences/Philosophy  Unnatural History, by Mara Hvistendahl

I had a lot of fun with this challenge!  Thanks to Ellie for hosting this year. 

Quo Vadis

Quo Vadis, by Henryk Sienkiewicz

This title made it onto my Classics Club list when I was asking around for Polish classics.  "You mean besides the obvious choice of Quo Vadis?" someone asked, and I replied, "What's Quo Vadis?"   Answer:  Quo Vadis is a lot like Ben Hur, in that it's a very Victorian novel set in early Christian times, with lots of excitement to keep readers interested.   But it's set entirely in Rome, with action at Nero's court, and features St. Peter and St. Paul.

We have two wealthy Romans: Marcus Vinicius, a young military tribune just back from the wars, and his uncle Gaius Petronius, a (really historical) famous arbiter of taste with close ties to Nero.  Vinicius desires to possess Lygia, a beautiful young maiden who is the daughter of a defeated tribal king.  She is a royal hostage and has been raised by a nice Roman family.  (The Lygian tribe lived in Poland, so she's a native Pole!)  The two men scheme to get Lygia installed as Vinicius' mistress, but Lygia is a Christian and she has other ideas of what is right. 

The story winds through the streets and royal courts of Rome, and there's plenty of intrigue and excitement.  Nero and Poppaea play a large part; we meet Peter, Paul, and the followers of Christ.  The great fire of Rome (where Nero fiddled, only he didn't) is the central event of the novel, and then, as we know, Nero decided to blame the whole thing on the Christians.

Ancient Rome was a very violent place (a book I really liked called the Romans 'kindergarteners with knives'), and this book doesn't leave that out.  It winds up being more violent than The Hunger Games.  So don't give it to your 10-year-old, but an older teen might really enjoy it if she can handle the language, which is full of thees and thys.  It is a devoutly Christian book, of course.

(I still don't have any other Polish classics, by the way, so if anyone has a suggestion, let me know.)


Miracle: and Other Christmas Stories, by Connie Willis

I re-read this collection every couple of years--I just really like it.  There's a very nice variety here: a funny one about a new-age Spirit of Christmas Present who only approves of recycled gift cards, a weird one about a pod-people style alien invasion, a heartbreaker about a lonely dad in a bookstore, a classic cozy mystery (with a twist), and even an Epiphany story.  But my very favorite is "Inn."  Makes me cry every time.

Be sure to read the introduction, which has a nice bit about how difficult it is to write original Christmas stories and the vast oversupply of Christmas stories that are either horribly depressing or horribly schmaltzy:

...the Christmas-story writer has to walk a narrow tightrope between sentiment and skepticism, and most writers end up falling off into either cynicism or mawkish sappiness.

And, yes, I am talking about Hans Christian Andersen. He invented the whole three-hanky sob story, whose plot Maxim Gorki, in a fit of pique, described as taking a poor girl or boy and letting them "freeze somewhere under a window, behind which there is usually a Christmas tree that throws its radiant splendor upon them." Match girls, steadfast tin soldiers, even snowmen (melted, not frozen) all met with a fate they (and we) didn't deserve, especially at Christmas.

Nobody, before Andersen came along, had thought of writing such depressing Christmas stories....

In the twentieth century, the Andersen-style tearjerker moved into the movies, which starred Margaret O'Brien (who definitely deserved to die) and other child stars, chosen for their pallor and their ability to cough. They had titles like All Mine to Give and The Christmas Tree, which tricked hapless moviegoers into thinking they were going to see a cheery Christmas movie, when really they were about little boys who succumbed to radiation poisoning on Christmas Eve.