Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014 Reading Goals

I haven't really posted a "Best of 2013 List" because I've done a lot of that in various wrap-up posts.  I'm not sure you really need to hear again how much I loved Anna Karenina.  But I will repeat myself about Dancing Goddesses because I only just read that, so--people!  Dancing Goddesses is fantastic!

I just went back and looked at my goals for 2013, and here they are:

Work on my Classics Club list.  Check!

Keep reading my TBR pile. Check!  Now I have a WHOLE NEW TBR pile of books I got this year and haven't read yet...

Work on whittling down my Amazon wishlist of books I want to read. Check!  It's longer than every anyway, but I did get quite a few titles off.

NOT count titles.  Check!  I have no idea how many books I read this year, though it's probably fewer than last year because I tackled a bunch of chunksters.  I also do not know the breakdowns between fiction/non-fiction, male/female authors, library/owned books, or anything else.  Not a clue.
NOT pressure myself to post.  I think I did OK with this.  I did usually enjoy posting, which was the point, and I very frequently put off posting in favor of reading, which was probably good.

NOT join every challenge I see.  Um.  Well, I see a lot of challenges, and I only joined about 10.  Yeah, total fail there, but I did enjoy the challenges and several were good for me.  I had the same intentions for 2014--I think I'll cut back, be minimalist....and here I am with 10 again, not even counting Classics Club and the Non-Fiction Project.

I'm really looking forward to a lot of the reading I've got planned for 2014.  Arthurian literature!  Russians!  History!  Whee!  I don't know that I have a lot of changes to the list above; I'm still going to work on those same things and I'm still going to avoid counting anything.

Eirik the Red

Eirik the Red and Other Icelandic Sagas, ed. Gwyn Jones

I've had this little old collection of sagas sitting on my bookshelf for years--longer than I had realized, in fact, since inside it I found a receipt from Black Oak Books (now sadly closed), dating from 1995.  I probably bought it on a date with the guy who is now my husband.  Like the Tolstoy  book I just read, it's an old hardbound Oxford World Classics title from the 1960s, very small and engaging, but with the price cut out of the book jacket.

This is a collection of  eight sagas about Icelandic people--mostly their feuds--and one "saga of times past."  The historical sagas are careful-sounding records that give lots of detail about exactly where farms were and just who owned them, and the stories contained in them all sound like the Hatfields and the McCoys.  A feud will start with something small and escalate very fast, until it all ends in someone's manor going up in flames with everyone inside it.  It's honestly kind of depressing.  But Eirik the Red does get a saga too, about how he settled Greenland and then people tried to live in Vinland, but the Skraelings were too tough and scary.  That's quite a good one, and "Gunnlaug Wormtongue" was interesting too.

I really much preferred the saga of times past, which was about King Hrolf and his champions.  Each champion got a story to himself, and then they all went to war and died gloriously, rather like Scandinavian knights of the Round Table.  These stories were more fantastic and featured enchantments and magic weapons and Odin in disguise--much more fun than dreary feuds.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase

Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud

I've been hearing a lot about this new series by Stroud, so I'm glad my mom borrowed a copy for me.  She described it as a middle-grade Ghostbusters, which is about right.  I've never read Stroud before, and this was a really fun read--I can't wait to read more about Lockwood & Co.!  Also, the title--The Screaming Staircase--is pretty excellent and reminds me of old Three Investigators stories.

The story is set in contemporary London,  but a London in a world that experienced a huge upsurge in hauntings, starting about 50 years ago.  Thus technology and society have evolved to deal with the malevolent ghosts that appear every night, and since only talented children can sense the Visitors at all, ghost-hunters are all very young--though usually on teams led by adults.

Lucy can hear and see Visitors, but she's a bit down on her luck and is relieved when Lockwood hires her as an assistant.  Lockwood is a great character, manic and reckless but a good leader when he stops to listen.  Their tiny outfit can hardly compete with the big companies.  Then they tackle a really angry murder victim, and are sent off on a mysterious job in a very haunted mansion, and it all gets interesting.

It's a fun story and I think nearly every 12- and 13-year-old of my acquaintance would love it.  I certainly did.  I think this is officially a middle-grade book for 10 and up, but I'd err on the older side for a lot of kids, since it's pretty gruesome.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Nennius' Historia Brittonum

History of the Britons, by Nennius.

I thought I would get a little jump-start on my Arthurian Literature Challenge and take a peek at Nennius.  He was a Welsh 9th-century monk who may or may not have actually written this history, but the history does seem to show that it was written in Wales and not in Anglo-Saxon territory.

I was surprised to see how very short this history is.  I was reading it on my tablet so I don't know exactly, but it must only be about 50 pages long.  It's easy to read, and here I was all this time, thinking it would be quite long and difficult.

Nennius tries to prove that the Britons are descended from princes of Troy.  Trojan ancestry was the best there was, so everyone wanted to prove that they too had an illustrious ancestor from Troy.  The Britons claimed a prince named Brutus who named the island after himself (dodgy at best, I know, but I love this stuff).

The famous mention of Arthur comes about three-quarters of the way through the book, and consists of maybe two pages.
Then it was, that the magnanimous Arthur, with all the kings and military force of Britain, fought against the Saxons.  And though there were many more noble than himself, yet he was twelve times chosen their commander, and was as often conqueror.
After that we get a list of battles, the last of which is at the hill of Badon.  Note that Arthur is not a king here--he's not even very high up in the ranks of nobles.  He is a great general and warrior, but not a king.

I haven't looked at Gildas yet, but as far as I know he's the only earlier s
ource for this information, and he doesn't mention Arthur at all.  I'll have to take a look!

Twenty-Three Tales by Tolstoy

Twenty-Three Tales by Leo Tolstoy

I found this great little book of Tolstoy at work.  It's one of the old Oxford World's Classics titles, back when they were tiny little hardbound volumes (price, 8s. 6d.).  I don't think it exists anymore as an Oxford title--they have probably changed it around quite a bit--but this old book is a collection of 23 short stories or tales.

Many of these stories are moral in tone, and offer a philosophy of life that extolls the Russian peasant way of life.  A simple life working the earth, without wealth or luxury, each producing what he needs, is the ideal here, and many of the tales predict dire consequences to people who get too greedy.  Several are retold folktales, or else folktale-like stories.  Some of them are some of Tolstoy's own favorites, such as God Sees the Truth, But Waits, and A Prisoner in the Caucasus, and were written as teaching stories for children.

The flavor is overwhelmingly moral, pastoral, and pleasant.  They are nice to read.  They are also easy to read and would probably be a good introduction to Tolstoy, unless the reader is turned off by the preaching.  Because honestly it is pretty preachy, but I enjoyed it anyway.  If you read it one story at a time instead of all at once, it would probably be fine.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Arthurian History and Literature: Suggestions

I'm getting all excited about starting the Arthurian Literature Challenge!  I hope you are too.  One or two people have mentioned that they might like to read some non-fiction analyzing the Arthurian tradition, but aren't sure what a good book would be, so it's time for Howling Frog Library Services to swing into action and offer a few titles. 

It's not as easy as I had expected to find books chronicling the development of Arthurian literature, though histories of 5th-century Britain abound (see below).  The titles I have found are quite expensive and mostly owned by universities, so I hope you can  get them through ILL at your friendly neighborhood public libraries.  Oxford and Cambridge have competing companions to Arthurian literature, both of which look quite interesting, so now I want them both.  And King Arthur: Myth-Making and History is another fairly scholarly take on how the idea of Arthur changed over time.

Books looking into the historical roots of the Arthurian legend are easier to find.  Everyone wants to find the real Arthur, it seems!   Britain AD, by Francis Pryor, looks to be an interesting book about the "Dark Ages" in Britain (I don't love the term 'dark ages').  Although the subtitle pushes the King Arthur angle, I get the impression that the book is really about Britain as a whole and is not primarily focused on Arthur.  Still, it looks just fine--although the TV program tie-in makes me a little suspicious.  Last time I read a history book that was linked to a TV program I was not all that impressed.  Alternatively, The Reign of Arthur by Christopher Gidlow looks very similar, but focused on the Arthurian legend.  So pick either one, or a different book altogether.  Geoffrey Ashe's The Discovery of King Arthur is an older text, but a landmark; I read it years ago and found it interesting.

One very famous history book is Leslie Alcock's classic Arthur's Britain.  It's highly regarded and available from Penguin.  It's also about 40 years out-of-date, and a lot has happened since it was published in 1971, so it may not be ideal, but it looks fascinating and well-written, and I am planning to read it this year.  Alcock ran an excavation of Cadbury Castle, so he would certainly know some wonderful stuff!

Jessie L. Weston wrote a famous seminal work on the Holy Grail tradition called From Ritual to Romance.  I read it last year and you can see my thoughts here.  The Dancing Goddesses book I just read tackled many of the same themes, so I've been thinking about it.  Weston is out-of-date these days, but she was hugely influential for most of the 20th century and is very worth reading.

See you soon!

Friday, December 27, 2013

European Reading Challenge 2014

Rose City Reader is continuing to host her European Reading Challenge in 2014.   Same rules as last time, so go check it out.

I have been wondering for a few days if I should sign up for this at all, but it is, after all, a freebie for me.  I enjoyed seeing how many different countries I could get, and am currently reading my last title for the 2013 challenge, a collection of Icelandic sagas.  So what the heck, right?

I will probably not collect as many titles in 2014, though.  Between all the Arthurian, pre-1440, and Russian literature I have planned, I probably won't be able to fit in a lot of geographical Euro-variety as well.  I will get 5 titles, though, so I am signing up for the Five-Star level of 5+ again.

Winter's Tales

Winter's Tales, by Isak Dinesen

I read this book of short stories slowly, about one per day maybe.  I remember enjoying them very much in college.  Now I think I liked the Seven Gothic Tales a little more, but these were great too.  I will have to read Last Tales to finish out the collections that go together (in my mind, anyway).  I remember one very striking story in that collection.

These stories are mostly set in or partially in Denmark.  They are a little simpler and mostly don't have the complicated frames that are so characteristic of Dinesen, and they are (I think) marginally more realistic, but they are still mysterious, Romantic, aristocratic to the point of obsession, and carry that particular Dinesen feeling she does so well.  "Sorrow-Acre" and "Peter and Rosa" were my own favorites, but looking back over the list of stories now, they were all very good.

Dinesen always seems to be to be--well, not behind her times exactly, but something of a throw-back.  She was old-school.  It is hard to believe that she started writing in the 1930s; she did her level best to live about a hundred years before that.  She must have used Almqvist and Goethe as inspirations and ignored anyone later than about 1850 or so.  It makes her very interesting to read.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everybody--hope yours is full of good books and good company.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dancing Goddesses

Dancing Goddesses: Folklore, Archaeology, and the Origins of European Dance, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber

One of my all-time favorite books is Women's Work: the First 20,000 Years, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber, a historian who specializes in archaeology, linguistics, and textiles.  It's all about the development of fabric--spinning, weaving, wool and flax, stripes and tweeds, and so on.  When I found out that she has a new book out about European folk magic, dancing, and story, I couldn't wait to read it.  I had a very happy week reading it, I can tell you!

It's a huge book that covers a wide swath of Eastern Europe and Russia, so it's hard to summarize, but I will try to sum up: over these areas, historians find many commonalities in folk dancing and belief.  We find a widespread belief in female spirits that have something to do with fertility, with water, and with dance; they are both dangerous and beneficent.  In Russian, they are rusalki; in Greek, nymphos; Barber chooses an outdated term, willies, to name them by because it is not particularly national. 

These are the spirits of girls who died before they became mothers.  Like their live counterparts, they like to play with each other in the woods and streams, and they love to dance.  They also have a store of unused fertility, so the idea is to persuade them to shed that fertility where it will help the living--in the fields.  We find, therefore, innumerable ways to keep them happy and doing good work, rather than making them angry.  Barber piles on the evidence and searches far back in time to find the early roots of these folk beliefs.  She also closely analyzes a Russian folk tale, the Frog Princess.  I really enjoyed these chapters, where she searches for the roots of stories. 

The Frog Princess dances and performs magic
 All of this really brought home to me the old preoccupation with fertility.  For Neolithic people trying to scratch out a living from the earth, fertility was the overriding concern.  Rain falling in the right way, crops growing, babies being born---all were of absolute, life-or-death importance, and so there were innumerable little folk-magic ways to encourage these things.  Embroidering the right motifs at the collar and sleeves, wearing the right clothes, doing the correct dances, all did their bit and reminded the spirits of what needed to be done.  In case of disaster--say, a drought--there were ceremonies to really make it obvious to the spirits what they should do.  It's all completely fascinating.

 Wonderful book.  I just love Barber's research and writing.  I hope you enjoy it too.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Harlem Renaissance Challenge

I know I said I wouldn't join any more challenges, but Deseree at Dusky Literati posted one I just can't ignore.  I can't post the whole thing here, so go take a look.  Deseree says:

The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned the 1920s. At the time, it was known as the “New Negro Movement”, named after the 1925 anthology by Alain Locke. The Movement also included the new African-American cultural expressions across the urban areas in the Northeast and Midwest United States affected by the Great Migration (African American), of which Harlem was the largest. Though it was centered in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, in addition, many francophone black writers from African and Caribbean colonies who lived in Paris were also influenced by the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance is generally considered to have spanned from about 1919 until the early or mid-1930s. (Source: Wikipedia)
Last year I read quite a few books by authors of the Harlem Renaissance and in 2014, I want to delve deeper.
Details of the Challenge:
  1. This reading challenge runs from 1 January 2014 to 31 December 2014 (books read prior to January 1, 2014 do not count towards the challenge). You can join anytime before November 1, 2014
  2. Read fiction and non-fiction books by and about authors and other personages associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Feel free to expand to black writers from Africa and the Caribbean during this timeframe. The goal is to really immerse yourself in this era. For a list of books related to the Harlem Renaissance, check out the Harlem Renaissance listopia at Goodreads OR books from my personal library tagged ‘Harlem Renaissance’ on LibraryThing.
  3. Books can be any format (print, ebook, audio)
  4. Re-reads and crossovers from other reading challenges are allowed
  5. You can choose your books as you go or create a list in advance
  6. I will put up a post for reviews at the beginning of January
 I will just sign up for Level 1, 1-5 books.  My library has a couple of really nice collections of novels from the 1920s and 30s, which tempted me earlier in the year.  Here's my chance!

The Long Ships

The Long Ships, by Frans Bengtsson

Folks, this book is fantastic.  Now you know, so you will go out and read it too, right?

This is the life story of Red Orm, who is captured as a teenager and ends up joining a Viking raiding ship as an equal.  So his years of adventure begin, pillaging, fighting, being captured as a slave, working as a bodyguard...Orm travels around the Europe of 1000 AD and even meets up with a few eminent people.  I was happy that he spent quite a bit of time at the court of Harald Bluetooth.  Eventually Orm even travels to Kiev.

The really wonderful thing about this book is that Frans Bengtsson gives an amazing picture of life a thousand years ago, and he does it amazingly convincingly.  As far as I can tell, Bengtsson really understood how Vikings thought.  (Not that I would know, but he sure is good at conveying that impression and I think he knew his stuff.)  The whole time, I felt convinced that people were really like that much of the time.

This is a really violent story, as you might expect.  There is a lot of smiting, and everyone thinks of it as good entertainment, or really funny.  So if you're sensitive about violence you probably shouldn't read this story, but I think it's a good portrait of the world at the time.  There was so much fighting and feasting and drinking, in fact, that I was reminded of a joke some friends had long ago, about the Vikings' favorite song.  It was sung to the Irish Washerwoman tune and simply went

There'll be fighting and feasting and drinking and fighting
And fighting and feasting and drinking and fighting
And fighting and feasting and drinking and fighting
And fighting and feasting and drinking and fighting...

Anyway, this was a really great book.  I highly recommend it.  

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Classics Club Readathon

The Classics Club is holding its 2nd Annual Readathon!  And for once, a readathon will be happening at a time when I actually have a chance of participating.  In fact, I'll need a readathon, with all the events I'm signed up for in January!*  So I am signing up, and I hope you will too.

The readathon will be on Saturday, January 4, starting at 8am EST, which is 5am in my time zone.  I think I will probably not get up that early, nor will I stay up until 5am the next day!  But I will try to spend as much time as possible reading.

*In January, I have committed myself to the Children's Literature Event, the Vintage SF Not-A-Challenge, the Eugene Onegin readalong, and Long-Awaited Reads Month, plus the CC will be focusing on Shakespeare/Elizabethan England.  It's ridiculous and I can't wait.  I already have a pile of old SF titles and LAR books waiting.

Mount TBR Wrap-up

Time for the final Mount TBR post.  Bev says:  

Wow. We're almost done with 2013 and it's time to get ready for the Final Mountaineering Checkpoint. Where does the time go? I'm ready to hear how all our mountain-climbing team members have done out there on Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, Mt. Everest....whichever peak you've chosen. Checkpoint participation is absolutely voluntary and is not considered necessary for challenge completion.

For those who would like to participate in this checkpoint post, I'd like you to at least complete the first of these two things.  And if you feel particularly inspired (or generous about humoring me this holiday season), then please do both.

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 24 books and hit my goal of the Pike's Peak level.  Here they are:

  1. Anna Karenina, by Lev Tolstoy
  2. The Middle Window, by Elizabeth Goudge
  3. The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James 
  4. The Souls of Black Folk, by W. E. B. DuBois
  5.  The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
  6. The Chemical History of a Candle, by Michael Faraday
  7. Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper 
  8. Botchan, by Natsume Soseki 
  9. The Echoing Green, by Gillian Avery 
  10. Making Their Own Peace, by Ann N. Madsen 
  11. In the First Circle, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 
  12. Black Sheep, by Georgette Heyer 
  13. The 13th Element, by John Emsley
  14. The Forgotten Man, by Amity Shlaes 
  15. St. Thomas Aquinas/St. Francis of Assisi (biography by G. K. Chesterton) 
  16. A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth 
  17. When Ladies Go A-Thieving, by Elaine Abelson 
  18. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius 
  19. The Stranger, by Albert Camus 
  20. Bible and Sword, by Barbara Tuchman
  21. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas 
  22. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand 
  23. Far From the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy 
  24. The Little Flowers of St. Francis 
I had some pretty great reads this year!  And some really long ones, too.  Many of my chunkster titles were also books that had been sitting around for some time.   Most of the chunksters were also my favorites: Anna Karenina, First Circle, Suitable Boy...and I will also include Bible and Sword, which was great.

I tried to do Bev's #2 game, but it was impossible with these titles!

The Little Flowers of Saint Francis

The Little Flowers of Saint Francis

I picked this book up a few years ago; I'm always attracted to medieval texts about saints (or anything else really), but then I don't get around to reading them.  Since I read a biography of Francis earlier this year, I thought I'd read this too.  It took me a while, though; it's written in a semi-Biblical style that makes the going a little slow, and the homilies are a little hard to read patiently.

The first half of the book is lots of short chapters about incidents in St. Francis' life, starting of course with his conversion, and then narrating lots of little stories about him and his followers.  The second half is more of a continuous narrative that tells about events from the time that Francis gained his famous stigmata.  He lived with them for a couple of years before dying, and from then on the story is about his canonization and the lives of two famous disciples, Friars Juniper and Giles.  A last section contains homilies of Friar Giles.

So I am finishing the year knowing a lot more about St. Francis of Assisi than I knew before.

This is my final Mount TBR title for 2013.  That noise you hear is me finishing this challenge by squeaking in at the last minute.  That pretty much does it for my challenges this year; I even read enough essays (if you count that I sometimes read several essays and then put it on one line), though I forgot to blog about a couple of them. 

Classic Children's Literature Event 2014

Last year, Amanda at Simpler Pastimes and I ran the Children's Literature Event together.  This year, Amanda is doing it on her own, but I'm certainly still participating and I'm excited about Amanda's plans!  She will be hosting a readalong of The Wizard of Oz, which indeed I have not read for years (though when I was a kid, we read the books and didn't watch the movie). 

We are also all encouraged to read whatever children's classics we want to read and share our thoughts.  I'm going to read Where the Red Fern Grows, because I have never read it.  We'll see what else happens too--after all, my house is filled with children's books, so that's no problem.

Check out Amanda's plans, and grab her gorgeous buttons for your blog.  She is so talented at making beautiful images, and I am always envious of that.  She's got Wizard of Oz font, how cool is that?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

TBR Pile Challenge Wrap-up

Adam at Roof Beam Reader wants to know how we all did with his challenge.  Actually he already knows I finished, but a wrap-up post seems in order, so here we go:

I managed to read all 14 titles on my list, 12 picks plus 2 backups. I really enjoyed most of them and was very glad to have read them, with the exception of Last of the Mohicans, my candidate for Unreadable Book of the Year.  Some of them were less fascinating than others, but on the whole I'm happy.

Here is the master list:
  1. The Souls of Black Folk  (2/27)
  2. The 13th Element (7/12)
  3. Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper (4/21)
  4. St. Thomas Aquinas/St. Francis of Assisi (biography by G. K. Chesterton) (8/5)
  5. The Middle Window
  6. The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (3/15)
  7. The Forgotten Man (7/30)
  8. Making Their Own Peace (6/22)
  9. The Echoing Green (5/21)
  10. The Chemical History of a Candle (3/16)
  11. Botchan, by Natsume Soseki (4/25)
  12. When Ladies Go A-Thieving (9/19)
  1. Meditations (Marcus Aurelius) (10/17)
  2. Bible and Sword (11/18)     
I finished November 18.

The Decline and Fall of Europe

The Decline and Fall of Europe, by Francesco M. Bongiovanni

Bongiovanni is convinced that Europe has got some serious problems, in the forms of over-bloated bureaucracy and regulation in the EU, a single currency that is supposed to work for too many different economies,
far too much governmental debt/taxation/benefits, cultural reluctance to change, and demographic decline.  He dedicates chapters to each of these issues--and more-- and especially concentrates on explaining complex financial situations to the layperson.

Bongiovanni is a believer in the concepts that originally sparked the idea of the European Union:  "[the] unification project launched by eminent and creative thinkers after the Second World War based on the idea that Europeans should find better things to do than to keep slaughtering each other."

...but he believes that Europe has gone off the rails and is headed for trouble. While he would like to see change, and he writes to do what he can to convince Europeans of his case, he has no expectation of success.  In the end, he is expecting Europe to drift into poverty.

What was most interesting to me in this book is that Bongiovanni is himself European and has lived and worked in Asia, but not in America.  Unlike most of the books that I see on the current state of Europe, Bongiovanni is not American and has little concern with the US; when he compares Europe to other areas of the world, he focuses on Asia.  He's not writing from the usual perspective that I see, which is nice for me. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Back to the Classics 2014

Participating in Sarah's Back to the Classics Challenge is now a tradition for me, but Sarah is currently too busy with library school and the rest of life to keep hosting, so Karen at Books and Chocolate is taking over!  Yay Karen! 

At the official sign-up post (which you should read and join), Karen says:
The challenge will be very similar to the way Sarah created it.  Like last year, there will be six required categories that all participants must complete.  Everyone who reads and reviews six eligible books and writes a wrap-up post will automatically be entered into the drawing for an Amazon gift card for $30 (U.S) or a choice of book(s) from The Book Depository.

There will also be five optional categories.  Participants who finish three of those will also get an additional entry into the prize drawing;  those completing all five categories will get two more entries, for a total of six.

I am making one slight change, other than varying the book categories.  I'm a little stricter than Sarah regarding the definition of a classic.  In my opinion, a classic is a book that has endured for some reason ; therefore,
I am defining a classic as a book that was published at least 50 years ago.  Therefore, any book published after 1964 is ineligible. 

Here are the rest of the guidelines:

  • All books must be read in 2014.  Books started prior to January 1, 2014 are not eligible.  Reviews must be linked by December 31, 2014.
  • E-books and audiobooks 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 MARCH 1, 2014.  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 can easily add up your entries for the prize drawing! 
And finally. . . . The 2014 categories: 

  1. A 20th Century Classic -- The Makioka Sisters.  Then I'll have to read it!
  2. A 19th Century Classic -- Mill on the Floss?  Little Dorrit?  Small House at Allington?  So many choices...
  3. A Classic by a Woman Author -- Hm, I'm thinking The Custom of the Country, by Edith Wharton.
  4. A Classic in Translation  If English is not your primary language, then books originally published in English are acceptable. -- Russian challenge = no problem.  Dead Souls, for choice.
  5. A Wartime Classic  2014 will be the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I.  Any book relating to a war is fine -- WWI, WWII, the French Revolution, the War of the Worlds -- your choice. -- August 1914, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, maybe?  Scary...
  6. A Classic by an Author Who Is New To You  -- How about Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh?  I've never read Waugh.
Optional Categories:
  • An American Classic -- Maybe a play!  Our Town, or Glass Menagerie, something like that.
  • A Classic Mystery, Suspense or Thriller -- I'm sure I'll come up with something...
  • A Historical Fiction Classic.  This is any classic set at least 50 years before the time when it was written.  For example, Margaret Mitchell published Gone with the Wind 70 years after the end of the Civil War; therefore, it is considered a historical novel.  A Tale of Two Cities and The Scarlet Letter are also historical novels.  However, older classics set during the period in which they were written are not considered historical; for example, the novels of Jane Austen. Goodness, that will take some thinking.
  • A Classic That's Been Adapted Into a Movie or TV Series.  Any period, any genre!  This is practically a free choice category.  Yes indeed!  That will be easy.
  • Extra Fun Category:  Write a Review of the Movie or TV Series adapted from Optional Category #4.  This can be any adaptation -- does not have to be adapted before 1964.  For example, if you chose Pride and Prejudice, you could review any adaptation -- 1940, 1980, 1995, 2005, etc.  However, this must be a separate blog posting -- no fair just mentioning it in the book review!  Sounds fun!
I plan to do all the categories and have listed my possible books (or puzzlement about what to read) in black.  Don't hold me to it, though!

The Killing Moon

The Killing Moon, by  N. K. Jemisin

I don't really keep up with the SF/F publishing world, so I missed the arrival of N. K. Jemisin on the scene a few years ago.  Luckily for me, Eva recommended her the other day, so I went looking.  I was going to try to get The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but my library only owns The Killing Moon, so I got that.  And it is a pretty fantastic book, everybody, so if you are at all interested in fantasy, I recommend it.

In the holy city of Gujaareh, peace is the law.  Everyone knows their place in society and does not leave it. Priests use magic drawn from dreams to heal most sicknesses and injuries, and there is no crime, because any kind of crime is punished by death.  The Hetawa, servants of Hananja, don't just heal, they also kill--they offer peace to the dying and enforce death upon the corrupt. 

Nijiri is a young acolyte training to be a Gatherer; his mentor is Ehiru.  Ehiru has been assigned to Gather Sunandi, an ambassador from the neighboring kingdom of Kisua; she has been judged corrupt.  But Sunandi has learned of a political conspiracy that makes use of the Hetawa and portends devastating war.  Erihu needs to find out the truth and uncover the power behind a series of secret murders...

The story is gripping, and the characters well-drawn.  I really liked the society--partly inspired by ancient Egypt--and the world, which is a moon orbiting a gas giant (as if on Io or Europa), so that the planet dominates their night sky, their culture, and their religion.  Neat ideas, but Jemisin does not spend time showing them off (a mark of skilled SF/F writing).

The ending is distinctly creepy, or was so to me.  I am wondering if Jemisin meant it to be, or if I'm seeing something that she didn't mean to be there, because the summary of the sequel's plot seems to imply otherwise, but I think she meant it to be creepy.  If you've read The Killing Moon, please weigh in with your opinion on this burning question!

This is fantasy for grown-ups, though.  There are themes that in my opinion make the book more for older teens or adults.  I wouldn't give it an R rating, but...PG-16, yes.

I plan to read the sequel for sure, and then see if I can get other Jemisin books.  It looks like a new story is due out soon.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Persuasion, by Jane Austen

I just love Persuasion. I've read it several times by now, and the mystery I read put me in the mood to read it again, so I did.

I love how Anne Elliott is an older heroine, who has learned and matured from her trials. I think she might be the only Austen protagonist who does not go through a moment of humiliating self-discovery (is that right? Wait, maybe Elinor Dashwood?) that leads to her change and improvement. She has already been there, and instead she's in a phase of life where she is ready for a life of her own, but she really thinks her chance is over. All she can look forward to is long years of putting up with her father and sister and keeping her opinions to herself. She has had much of her hope and spirit squashed out of her and is now "faded and thin."

When Anne meets up with Captain Wentworth again, nearly 8 years after she refused to marry him, they both get another chance. Wentworth has been full of resentment and has to let go, while Anne becomes prettier and even younger as she begins to find herself again. I don't mean just that she learns to hope that she can still have Wentworth; she finds more congenial company and is able to be more herself as well.

When I read Sense and Sensibility several months ago, I was struck by how much work Elinor does to keep things running smoothly. She spends all her time and energy on social harmony--holding Marianne up, smoothing over rude actions and disagreements, keeping people happy. Anne Elliott spends much of her time on this too. Keeping Anne's sister Mary happy is a full-time job, and Anne also trains the children, keeps her head in a crisis, and makes the plans that keep things going. The fact that she has to do this shows what unhappy society she lives in; the Crofts and the Harvilles can make happy homes for themselves without extra help. I do think, though, that Austen sees the Crofts and Harvilles as exceptions and the Musgroves and Elliotts as more typical.

If you've never read Persuasion, you're in for a treat.  It's a quiet book, but really wonderful.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Murder Most Persuasive

Murder Most Persuasive, by Tracy Kiely

This is the third mystery in the Elizabeth Parker series, but I've never read the others.  Elizabeth is a Jane Austen-loving gal who accidentally gets embroiled in mysteries and solves them while her friends warn her not to meddle.

Elizabeth's family gets involved this time, though, when a body is discovered under the swimming pool of their former property.  The body turns out to be Michael, who disappeared 8 years ago after embezzling a million dollars from the family business.  Or, maybe he didn't, since he seems to have been dead the whole time after all.  Police investigation brings Elizabeth's cousin's former love back into her life, but the cousin is a suspect.  Enter Elizabeth and her knack for putting clues together!

It's a reasonably good mystery, with a bunch of complicated family connections.  All the cousins and aunts and stepmothers had me confused some of the time, but most of the characters are easy to distinguish.  The hook for this series is the Jane Austen love, which I didn't even get when I checked the book out.  Elizabeth and her aunt are forever quoting Persuasion at opportune moments, which is actually a really nice plus.  So many "I love Jane Austen" stories swoon over the men and the dresses, and don't do much else.  Then, the story also echoes the plot of Persuasion.  The suspected cousin is a modern Anne Elliott, with the detective Joe as Captain Wentworth.  And Elizabeth's sister Kit is Mrs. Charles Musgrove to the life, which is amusing and distressing at the same time.

I presume each of Elizabeth's other adventures riff on a different Austen novel.  It so happens that I got the Persuasion story, and come to think of it Persuasion is one of my favorites, so I read that too.  I'll tell you about that tomorrow.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Chunkster Challenge 2014

I enjoyed the 2013 Chunkster Challenge so much that I've just got to sign up again.  This time, Vasilly is hosting the 2014 Challenge, and she has changed the rules a little bit:

Welcome to the 2014 Chunkster Challenge! I’m your host, Vasilly

Wondering what’s a chunkster? A chunkster is an adult or YA book, non-fiction or fiction, that’s 450 pages or more. 

Rules for this challenge:

  • Audio books and e-books are now allowed. You want to listen to a chunkster on audio? Be my guest. 
  • Essay, short story, and poetry collections are allowed but they have to be read in their entirety to count.
  • Books may crossover with other challenges.
  • Anyone can join.
  • You don’t have to list your book ahead of time.
  • Graphic novels don’t count. Sorry guys but reading a chunkster graphic novel isn’t the same as reading a non-graphic chunkster.

I’ve been thinking long and hard about the levels of participation that have always been a part of this challenge. This year we’re going to try something new: there won’t be any levels

Don’t get me wrong. This is still a reading challenge. Challenge yourself without being locked in to a certain number. If you didn’t read any chunksters in 2013 and want to change that in 2014, come up with a number and try to read that amount. 

I understand that chunksters can be a bit intimidating. My goal is to encourage as many people as possible to give chunksters a try. We all love short books because we can get through them in a sitting or a few days. It’s different with chunksters. With chunksters, you have to slow down and take your time. The Chunkster Challenge is all about having fun and reading good books.

I am going to sign up for 6 books and see how far I get.  I already have several planned, so it shouldn't be too hard, right?