Tuesday, December 29, 2015

CHALLENGES: The Nonfiction Reading Challenge 2016

I enjoyed the nonfiction challenge for 2015, finding myself reading a greater variety of nonfiction than is my usual habit. However, there are still some books on my shelf that I intended to read and didn't get to. Luckily, The Introverted Reader is hosting a nonfiction challenge again next year.

Similar to last year, here are the rules:

The Challenge:  Read any non-fiction book(s), adult or young adult. That's it. You can choose anything. Memoirs? Yes. History? Yes. Travel? Yes. You get the idea? Absolutely anything that is classified as non-fiction counts for this challenge.

Challenge Levels:

Dilettante--Read 1-5 non-fiction books

Explorer--Read 6-10

Seeker--Read 11-15

Master--Read 16-20

This challenge will last from January 1 to December 31, 2016. You can sign up anytime throughout the year.

You can also link to a review you wrote on another site, such as GoodReads or LibraryThing.

Crossovers with other challenges are acceptable, and feel free to read your books in any format you like.

The Introverted Reader will have a separate post with a linky for reviews and permanent links to both posts in the sidebar.

I'm going to Explorer level once again, shooting for 10 books. Maybe I'll get to those older ones waiting on my shelf this time around!

Links to reviews of the books I read are here:

1. America in the Gilded Age by Sean Dennis Cashman
2. Health and Wellness in 19th-Century America by John C. Waller
3. It Ended Badly. 13 of the Worst Breakups in History by Jennifer Wright
4. Dead Wake. The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
5. An Anatomy of Addiction by Howard Markel
6. 1493 by Charles C. Mann
7. Fiend. The Shocking True Story of America's Youngest Serial Killer by Harold Schechter
8. How the Post Office Created America by Winifred Gallagher
9. Belgium. Long United, Long Divided by Samuel Humes
10. Les Parisiennes by Anne Sebba
11. Chivalry and the Medieval Past edited by Katie Stevenson and Barbara Gribling
12. American Gospel by Jon Meacham
13. The Gene. An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
14. Victoria The Queen by Julia Baird

BOOK REVIEW: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

I’m a sucker for novels about books and book lovers. If there is an epistolary component to the novel, even better. So I was excited to get hold of The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald. This novel contains all the necessary elements. There is a protagonist who works in/owns a bookstore and who is more comfortable in fictional worlds than the real one. She has read widely and so much that she can match the perfect book to sometimes unlikely readers with uncanny success. There are a host of quirky secondary characters with their own problems who are, initially, not readers. However, when introduced to the protagonist’s world view, they find their own lives are enriched, even if their problems are not necessarily solved. And there is a love interest who appreciates the protagonist on her own terms.

The protagonist, Sara Lindqvist, is a young Swedish woman who worked as a clerk in a small bookstore until it closed. She had struck up a correspondence and book exchange with an older American woman, Amy, who lived in the tiny town of Broken Wheel, Iowa. Unbeknownst to Sara, Amy was quite ill. Amy invited Sara to visit, and finding herself with nothing else pressing to do, Sara decides she needs an adventure. She will go to Broken Wheel and meet her friend, as well as all the people Amy has told her so much about. However, when Sara reaches Broken Wheel, she is shocked and dismayed to learn that Amy has just died.

The townspeople rally around their visitor, knowing that this is what the much beloved Amy would want. Sara finds herself lodged and fed, visited by Amy’s friends, and comforted by Amy’s vast collection of books. But Sara needs something to do. When she learns that no one else in Broken Wheel reads, she decides to open a bookstore, even though that is technically a violation of the provisions of her visa.

As she slowly becomes part of the community, she is drawn to Tom, a rather withdrawn and world-weary man who, being handsome and single, is a source of interest to the busybodies of Broken Wheel. They have already decided to pair him with Sara. This causes them both a good deal of embarrassment. Nevertheless, something clicks between them.

Sara is such a sweet character, despite her initial lack of social graces, that the town falls in love with her, with her store, and eventually, with reading. But tragedy is looming: Sara’s visa is about to expire. Can the town find a way to keep her?

Initially published in 2013 in Swedish and translated by Alice Menzies, the novel starts a bit slowly and clunkily, which is something I’ve found in a couple of contemporary translations. But it doesn’t take long for the story to catch hold. (I stayed up way too late on a work night to finish it!) It doesn’t seem very true-to-life; the characters are more types than real individuals, but it has a lovely fairy-tale quality to it. The small town inhabitants are salt-of-the-earth people. Even the outsiders who play the roles of bad guys are not so bad. Conflict comes in the form of the slow death of small town America and the disappearing habit of reading. Rediscovering the joy of books highlights the best qualities in these neighborly folks, and helps to breathe life back into Broken Wheel. For all fans of books about books, this is highly recommended.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott

I had never read any of Louisa May Alcott’s books except for Little Women, which I read long ago and loved. At least, I remember loving it, but I’m afraid to re-read it because I might not like it as much the next go round. Instead, I thought I should try one of her other novels, because she actually wrote quite a few. I chose Eight Cousins.

This was a disappointment. The premise is: a young girl, thirteen years old, is orphaned and must go to live with her great aunts while awaiting the arrival of her guardian-uncle, Dr. Alec. She is quiet, frail, and timid, scared of horses, boats, and noisy boys. This is a problem, since she has seven boy cousins now living nearby, who are noisy and who love boats and horses. Her aunts want to shelter and coddle her. She is sinking fast until her cousins come to cheer her and she sees they are not as terrifying as she feared. (They are extraordinarily chivalrous boys.)

When her uncle appears and takes charge, her life changes. He prescribes healthy food, plenty of fresh air and exercise, and comfortable clothing instead of corsets and tight belts. Shortly, the girl, Rose, grows into a happy, healthy child. All well and good. A sweet if saccharine tale.

But this dated novel quickly takes this moral lesson and pushes it farther. When Rose wants to learn more, to find an occupation (despite being an heiress–just in case she becomes poor and needs to fend for herself) her uncle points her in the direction of housekeeping. There is no higher calling for a young lady and nothing that would please him more. When one of her cousins becomes ill, she nurses him back to health. When another, older cousin, falls in with a bad crowd and falls out with his more stable cousins, it is Rose who brings him back in line. For love of her, to stay in her good graces, these boys will do anything. And Rose discovers that this is what women are for: to take care of boys.

She also pours out her charitable goodness on an orphaned maid in her aunt’s house. The maid is so good-natured and full of gratitude, that she is an inspiration to all- at least, I suppose she is supposed to be the model for the subservient underclass.

The book is a period piece that may have served as an instructive morality tale for children in the late 1880s or early 1900s--and I don’t take issue with the insistence that girls as well as boys need exercise and good food--but it’s difficult to embrace the more stifling messages these days. If these were the lessons girls and boys were supposed to take to heart in those days, I pity them.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman

The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman is my 40th historical novel read this year and it’s a perfect way to wrap things up because it was fantastic! Set in Bristol, London, and the surrounding countryside in the 18th century, it was not an obvious choice for me because the plot centered on street fighting. But don’t be put off by the topic. Freeman is a superb writer who takes you right into the gritty world of poverty, hard-living, vice, and extremes of human nature: good and bad.

There are three narrators. Each is fully fleshed out and very real, as are the secondary characters.

Ruth is our heroine. Daughter of a madam, raised in a brothel alongside her beautiful sister, Dora, Ruth is a scrappy mess. Jealous of her sister’s earning potential, Ruth despairs of ever being able to follow in her footsteps, not understanding the utter awfulness of such a goal. One day, a patron catches her fighting (physically fighting) with her sister. Impressed by her determination and fearlessness, he arranges for her to begin a career of street fighting with his backing. (He essentially owns her.)

It’s a miserable existence: bloody, violent, crude—yet she loves it, craves the excitement, despite her many injuries and losses. Moreover, her indomitable spirit inspires the love of a good man.

The second protagonist is George. The fourth son of a gentleman, George didn’t have much of a future except what he could make for himself. Yet he started with significant advantages: a respected family name and remarkable good looks. He was sent to boarding school where he met and was assigned to room with another younger son, Perry. They became fast friends. Over time, they became lovers. Over more time, George grew caught in a web of mutual dependence that he could not or would not escape. Compared to those who started out with nothing but who built lives for themselves, the self-interested George squandered a life of potential.

Finally, we meet Charlotte, Perry’s sister. Scarred by small pox, she survived the epidemic that claimed Perry’s older brother and made Perry heir to a fortune. Life experiences made her timid. Her scars keep her hidden from society. Her brother’s cruelty turns her cruel in return, but he is her only target. She tries to escape from her prison by marrying, but knows no one but friends of her brother. Perry will not let her have George. She is forced to marry a wealthy (new money) man named Granville.

Granville is a despicable, grasping character. He doesn’t want Charlotte to be unhappy, but he doesn’t want to put himself out to please her. He is absorbed by his own pursuits: gambling on street fighting and visiting his mistress. The mistress happens to be Dora. And Granville is the patron who owns Ruth, pushing her into ever more dangerous bouts.

It’s hard to explain why this novel is so wonderful, when so much of what these people face, or what they do, is unpleasant. The lives of the disadvantaged characters are unbearable to contemplate, and yet, their resilience and determination give them an advantage over the well-to-do, who are horrible people. Street fighting, despite the sordid settings and brutality, lend the fighters a nobility and source of pride in accomplishment, even when they lose.

Freeman’s use of the slang of the gutters, her descriptive settings, her ability to show the psychology of the characters, their suffering and their hopes, bring this tale fully to life. The unflinching way she presents the reality of their lives make this story impossible to put down.

Thursday, December 24, 2015


Lights Under Louisville

Happy Holidays!
I'm not much of a photographer, but, in my defense, this was taken with my phone from the window of a slow moving car inside a large man-made cavern. One of my favorite traditions is going to Lights Under Louisville to see the splashy light displays and listen to the piped in holiday music. It's a bit weird, but it gets me in the holiday spirit.

Enjoy your holidays!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Even though this is the one challenge I didn't manage to complete this year, I'm not deterred from trying again. I love picking out the classics I want to read--and hope that putting them on this list will make me actually read them.

The challenge is hosted by Books and Chocolate, once again. Head on over to sign up. At the end, one lucky winner will receive a $30 prize from Amazon.com or The Book Depository, courtesy of the wonderful host.

Here's how it works:

The challenge will be exactly the same as last year, 12 classic books, but with slightly different categories. You do not have to read 12 books to participate in this challenge!

  • Complete six categories, and you get one entry in the drawing
  • Complete nine categories, and you get two entries in the drawing
  • Complete all twelve categories, and you get three entries in the drawing
And here are the categories for the 2016 Back to the Classics Challenge:

1.  A 19th Century Classic - any book published between 1800 and 1899.

2.  A 20th Century Classic - any book published between 1900 and 1966. Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later.

3.  A classic by a woman author

4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language.

5.  A classic by a non-white author. Can be African-American, Asian, Latino, Native American, etc.

6.  An adventure classic - can be fiction or non-fiction.

7.  A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic. Dystopian could include classics like 1984.

8.  A classic detective novel. It must include a detective, amateur or professional. This list of books from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction is a great starting point if you're looking for ideas.

9.  A classic which includes the name of a place in the title.  It can be the name of a house, a town, a street, etc. Examples include Bleak House, Main Street, The Belly of Paris, or The Vicar of Wakefield.

10. A classic which has been banned or censored. If possible, please mention why this book was banned or censored in your review.

11. Re-read a classic you read in school (high school or college).  If it's a book you loved, does it stand the test of time?  If it's a book you disliked, is it any better a second time around?

12. A volume of classic short stories. This must be one complete volume, at least 8 short stories. It can be an anthology of stories by different authors, or all the stories can be by a single author. Children's stories are acceptable in this category only.

And now, the rest of the rules:

  • All books must be read in 2016. Books started before January 1, 2016 do not qualify. All reviews must be linked to this challenge by December 31, 2016. Links will be posted for each category the first week of January which will be featured on a sidebar at Books and Chocolate for the entire year. 
  • You must also post a wrap-up review and link it to the challenge no later than December 31, 2016. Please include links within your final wrap-up. 
  • All books must have been written at least 50 years ago; therefore, books must have been written by1966 to qualify for this challenge. The ONLY exceptions are books published posthumously.
  • E-books and audiobooks are eligible! You may also count books that you read for other challenges.
  • Books may NOT crossover within this challenge. You must read a different book for EACH category, or it doesn't count.
  • If you do not have a blog, you may link to reviews on Goodreads or any other publicly accessible online format. 
  • The deadline to sign up for the challenge is March 1, 2016.  Please include a link to your original sign-up post, not your blog URL. 
  • You do NOT have to list all the books you're going to read for the challenge in your sign-up post, but it's more fun if you do! Of course, you can change your list any time. Books may also be read in any order. 
  • The winner will be announced the first week of January, 2017. All qualifying participants will receive one or more entries, depending on the number of categories completed. One winner will be selected at random for all qualifying entries. The winner will receive a gift certificate in the amount of $30 (US currency) from either Amazon.com OR The Book Depository, and the winner MUST live in a country that will receive shipments from one or the other. For a list of countries that receive shipments from The Book Depository, click here

So, here are my choices (reviews will be linked when the books are done.):

1. 19th century:  Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
2. 20th century: Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
3. Woman Author: The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
4. Translation: Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
5. Non-white Author: The Living is Easy by Dorothy West
6. Adventure: Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
7. Science Fiction: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
8. Detective Novel: Penhallow by Georgette Heyer
9. Name of a Place in the Title: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
10. Banned or Censored: Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
11. Re-read a classic: Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
12. Short Story Collection: A New England Nun and Other Stories by Mary Wilkins Freeman

Wish me luck!

Monday, December 21, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

Elizabeth Strout is an amazing writer. Olive Kitteridge, Abide with Me, The Burgess Boys—I loved them all. So, of course, I intended to read her latest book: My Name is Lucy Barton, due out in mid-January, 2016. Thanks to Netgalley, I got a sneak preview.

This is the story of Lucy Barton, a writer, who "came from nothing." Nothing refers to her economic situation: her family was dirt poor. It certainly does not refer to the wealth of her experience—painful isolation, the disdain of her classmates, the desperate escape into books and homework, as well as her utter lack of exposure to popular culture in her formative years. This cultural naivete left her bewildered when she ventured out into the larger world. But bravely she did venture out. She met and married a man who, for a while, she loved. And she had two daughters who became her world. From these experiences she found a story to tell.

But Lucy could not escape what she came from. She lacked the certainty that she had been loved by her mother and that confusion haunted her. Loneliness and insecurity followed wherever she went.

The book is centered on a two-month hospitalization that Lucy endured while still a young mother, courtesy of complications of acute appendicitis. For a period of five days, her mother visited and during this time, they talked.

The theme of much of her mother’s conversation was people they had known whose marriages were troubled or ended. Her mother was trying to tell her something without actually saying what she meant. From this visit and their conversations, Lucy came to understand her mother’s flawed but deep love.

Lucy did not go on to a happily-ever-after ending. Her life after her hospitalization was filled with life’s disappointments. A steady state of unhappiness pervades the novel. And yet, Lucy is able to see beauty in small moments and to appreciate kindness as it comes.

As always, Strout is able to create characters of astounding emotional depth. This is a quiet novel comprising vignettes of life that kept me glued to the pages. I found I could both pity and admire Lucy Barton.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

YEAR END CHALLENGE WRAP-UP: Back to the classics challenge- 2015

The 2015 Back to the Classics Challenge was hosted by Books and Chocolate. (They will be hosting the 2016 challenge as well--I'm picking out my books now.)

I'm sorry to say I didn't complete the full twelve classics this year. (The culprit may be my new addiction to Netgalley.) But I'm determined to do better in 2016.

Here are the seven books I did complete:

1. 20th century classic: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

2. Classic in Translation: The Drinking Den by Emile Zola

3. Classic Novella: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

4. Classic with a Person's Name in the Title: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

5. Humorous or Satirical Classic: A Damsel in Distress by P.J. Wodehouse

6. A Forgotten Classic: Sir Nigel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

7. Classic Children's Book: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Thanks again to Books and Chocolate for hosting this wonderful challenge. It's a great incentive to read some of the books I've always wanted to read!

Friday, December 18, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Murder Most Malicious by Alyssa Maxwell

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

Because I’ve read some marvelous historical mysteries recently, I’ve started looking for more. Murder Most Malicious by Alyssa Maxwell follows two sleuths in a post-WWI English manor. The setting attracted me and I was pleased to be approved for this novel by Netgalley.

Lady Phoebe and her lady’s maid Eva are the stars of this fast-moving mystery. Having worked together on homefront projects during the war, and both understanding sacrifice and loss, the two are friends rather than servant and mistress, though Eva shows the requisite reticence to drop all boundaries.

Phoebe’s older sister, Jane, is a beauty whose title, wealth, and good looks attract men in a way that Phoebe can never hope to do. At a family Christmas houseparty, guests have gathered expecting the announcement of an engagement between Jane and the neighboring Lord Henry Allerton. However, Henry is a brute. Jane refuses him. Phoebe overhears a nasty argument.

The next morning is Boxing Day. Eva and a couple of other servants along with a couple of tradesmen in town receive gifts from the manor. In the boxes, each finds a severed finger and a valuable personal item. The fingers and expensive items belong(ed) to Lord Allerton.

Understanding him to be dead, Phoebe and Eva are determined to find the killer, especially after one of the footmen is falsely arrested. (The investigator is incompetent and rude. Fortunately, he has a young Irish assistant who is more open-minded.) They don’t know who can be trusted. Phoebe is concerned that her sister may somehow be involved or, at least, she feels she should come clean about the argument. The other houseguests are also suspect.

The plot twists and turns make this an enjoyable read. It isn’t very hard to guess the likely culprit, but the misdirections help keep the outcome in doubt.

Phoebe and Eva are feisty and determined, and put the clues together cleverly. However, they are, for much of the novel, oblivious to personal danger, which makes some of their actions, particularly Phoebe’s, seem unlikely. In addition, the peripheral characters are flat, filling the usual murder mystery roles without standing out. It keeps the interpersonal relationships less interesting than they would be if the people around Phoebe and Eva were more roundly drawn. Still, in order to keep motives murky and suspicion muddled, the reader needs to be distant from the other characters. This looks to be the start of a series, and now that the reader sees who is to be trusted, it’s likely the supporting players will be fleshed out in future books.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer

It was bound to happen sooner or later: a novel by Georgette Heyer disappointed me. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t the delight I’m accustomed to when I pick up one of this author’s novels.

The Corinthian follows the adventures and inadvertent courtship of Sir Richard Wyndham and Penelope (Pen) Creed.

Sir Richard is a Corinthian—in the Regency period this label is given to a gentleman whose main concern is to always be dressed in the most up-to-date, expensive fashion, with cravat intricately tied, hair styled to perfection in a way difficult to mimic, and to be well-built so the fashion suits him (generally requiring some sort of manly exercise, like boxing in the correct club, while pretending no actual effort.) In fact, the effort to appear effortless is important. He has to properly accessorize (ie. a quizzing glass that he uses to great effect). He must have a wonderful hand with horses, owning the best, and winning at all races he undertakes in his fashionable conveyance. And he must gamble in the best clubs, and win or lose great sums with nonchalance. He is in society, but bored by it. Everything except playing the part bores him. He is a cynic and master of the witty set down.

Richard is all of this and much admired for it. (And this was one of my difficulties with the story. Richard seemed shallow and uninteresting.) However, he is approaching thirty and is not married. He’s never even shown any interest in a female, and his sister and mother are getting impatient. Of course, he needs to settle down and beget an heir. It’s time for him to propose to Melissa Brandon, a pretty woman with the proper family name, who has been waiting for him for years. Their families have a long acquaintance and it’s been more or less accepted that they will eventually marry. Richard is the only one unaware of how settled the issue seems to be.

Richard is anti-marriage because he believes all females of his acquaintance are interested in his money and name, not in him. Still, he dutifully pays a call on Melissa (whose family is deep in arrears with an alcoholic father and two wastrel brothers) only to be informed, by her, that his money is the only thing she cares about. It’s her responsibility to provide for her family. He can continue to live as he does, so long as she gets a hold of his purse.

He does not offer for her, but plods away in a funk and gets drunk.

Fortunately, as he is stumbling home late at night from his club, he comes across a youth escaping from a high window of a home. Richard helps the youth and discovers a girl in boy’s clothes. This is Pen Creed. She is a wealthy heiress, just turned seventeen, who is being bullied into marrying her cousin. She doesn’t like the cousin and is far too independent-minded to be bullied by her aunt. So, she is running away to her childhood home to reconnect with her old friend Piers. Long ago, they said they would marry when the time was right. She hasn’t seen him or heard from him in five years, but she considers the time to now be right.

Aghast, amused, and drunk, Richard decides he must escort her as a protector. They’ll keep Pen dressed up as a boy. Pen has a lively imagination and works up a story of their relationship. And they should travel by public conveyance to throw her aunt off the trail.

Many adventures ensue. The plot involves thievery, trickery, Bow Street runners, a murder, alarmed and misinformed family members—everything is thrown into the mix.

Richard is a complete gentleman the whole time, able to handle anything thrown into their path. Pen is a complete innocent, embroiling them into absurd difficulties by her naive faith in her plans and in Richard. She just doesn’t see bad in the world and has no idea that she has placed herself and Richard in a compromising situation.

The novel should have been more fun than it was. The elements of a typical Heyer novel were all there. Maybe that was the problem: it seemed phoned in. The plot was a little too complicated yet predictable, Richard was a bit too much of a "character"; his personality was swamped by the "Corinthian" role. And Pen was too naive and freshly fun to take seriously. Richard’s patronizing attitude also wore a bit thin.

So, if I had to make a list of Heyer books to read, this would be low on the list, but reading a novel by Heyer is never a bad way to spend the afternoon.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

I Love Libraries Reading Challenge 2016: CHALLENGES FOR 2016

My second challenge for the new year is the "I Love Libraries" challenge hosted by Bea's Book Nook, formerly hosted by Book Dragon's Lair.

My local library is a lifeline for me. For research, they are able to get a hold of just about anything. It's a great way to learn how useful a source may be without buying it. (I can buy it later if I need to keep referring to it.) And, since my bookshelves are filled to the brim, I've started making a conscious effort to use my library more for books I read for entertainment as well. This challenge is great for keeping track of how often I use my library.

For this challenge, use your library to check out reading material - books, magazines, any sort of reading material that you are allowed to check out, physical or digital. The challenge runs January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2016.

The details:

  1. Put a sign up post on your blog and link it here. (Bea's Book Nook)
  2. If you don't have a blog, make a dedicated goodreads shelf (or LibraryThing), make sure it's public, and link it below. 
  3. Any reading material that can be checked out of your library counts - print books, audio books, digital books, magazines, etc. 
  4. As part of your sign up post, briefly write why you like using your library - free books, internet access, a quiet place to work, whatever draws you to the library. If you don't have a blog platform, post it in the comments below.
  5. Write a review - 2 sentences or an essay, whatever works for you, but there is a minimum of 2 sentences. Not sure what to write? How about something like, "The characters were a delight but the story was slow and confusing. It was disappointing." 
  6. There will be a post each month where you can link your reviews. Each linky will run for the calendar year.
  7. Pick a level from the list below. You can move up as needed but you can't move down.
  8. Books may overlap with other reading challenges.
  • board book - 3
  • picture book - 6
  • early reader - 9
  • chapter book - 12
  • middle grades - 18
  • Young adult - 24
  • adult - 36
  • just insert IV - 50

I'm going with early reader (so I don't go too overboard with challenge commitments.)

Here are the books I've read with links to reviews:

1. Dissolution by C.J. Sansom
2. America in the Gilded Age by Sean Dennis Cashman
3. The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
4. The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor
5. Health and Wellness in 19th-Century America by John C. Waller
6. It Ended Badly. 13 of the Worst Breakups in History by Jennifer Wright
7. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
8. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
9. An Anatomy of Addiction by Howard Markel
10. The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante
11. Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom
12. A Friend of Mr. Lincoln by Stephen Harrigan
13. The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins by Antonia Hodgson
14. quiet neighbors by Catriona McPherson
15. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
16. The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry
17. An Irish Country Christmas by Patrick Taylor
18. The Infinities by John Banville
19. The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
20. Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
21. Dancing at the Rascal Fair by Ivan Doig
22. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
23. As Death Draws Near by Anna Lee Huber
24. The Gene. An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
25. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

Monday, December 14, 2015

CHALLENGES FOR 2016: E-Book Reading Challenge

It's December: time to wrap up my 2015 challenges and start thinking about 2016. As a sign of how times have changed, this year I'm entering the e-book challenge hosted by Annette's Book Spot. I'm reading more and more on my ipad apps, especially since signing on with Netgalley, and my e-reader is getting as backed up as my real bookshelf.

So here it is:

Time to clean up those e-readers! (sign up page for the 2016 EBook Reading Challenge!)

Challenge Guidelines:

This challenge will run from Jan 1, 2016 – Dec 31, 2016.

Anyone can join, you don’t need to be a blogger. If you don’t have a blog, feel free to sign-up in the comments at Annette's Book Spot. You can post reviews to any book site (i.e. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Goodreads, etc).

Any genre or length of book counts, as long as it is in ebook format.

You can plan your books in advance or as you read them.

When you sign up in the linky, put the direct link to your post about joining the E-Book Reading Challenge.

Sign-ups will be open throughout 2016, so feel free to join at any time during the year.


1. Bits – 5 ebooks
2. Bytes – 10 ebooks
3. Megabytes – 25 ebooks
4. Gigabytes – 50 ebooks
5. Terabytes – 75 ebooks
6. Empty the Cloud – 100 ebooks

At the beginning of each month there will be a roundup post for you to add your reviews for that month. The linky will remain open for the remainder of the year, so if you forget, feel free go back and add them when you remember.

I'll be going for the Bytes level, 10 books, and I'll list them here with links to reviews.

1. The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
2. The Lion and the Cross by Joan Lesley Hamilton
3. The Vatican Princess: A Novel of Lucrezia Borgia by C.W. Gortner
4. At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
5. Hanging Mary by Susan Higginbotham
6. The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
7. Remember the Ladies by Gina L. Mulligan
8. The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church
9. Happy People Read and Drink Coffee by Agnes Martin-Lugand
10. Mr. Eternity by Aaron Their
11. The Spy of Venice by Benet Bandreth
12. Saint's Blood by Sebastien de Castell
13. The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe
14. The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah
15. And I Darken by Kiersten White
16. Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
17. The Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan
18. Lions by Bonnie Nadzam
19. A Pressing Engagement by Anna Lee Huber
20. An Untimely Frost by Penny Richards
21. The Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders
22. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
23. Les Parisiennes by Anne Sebba
24. The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers
25. Someone to Love by Mary Balogh
26. Chivalry and the Medieval Past edited by Katie Stevenson and Barbara Gribling
27. Death Comes to the Fair by Catherine Lloyd
28. Victoria The Queen by Julia Baird

Saturday, December 12, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth

I heard the buzz a few months ago about the newly released (in the U.S.) historical novel The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth and put it in the "must read" category. Having just completed it (explanation to follow) I have to agree with all the superlatives that have been flung at it. This is a truly original and astounding work of art.

The novel, a tale of England in the days of the Norman Conquest, is narrated by Buccmaster of Holland, a small freeholder whose grandiose self-importance is not supported by any actual influence in his tiny hamlet. When the wars start and England is swarmed by Normans, Buccmaster’s world is destroyed. He becomes a guerilla warrior of sorts, the self-proclaimed leader of a reluctant band of men as broken and defeated as he is.

I had anticipated a more inspiring story of resistance against oppression. But Kingsnorth is more inventive than that. He gives us a painful, horrifying story of violence, selfishness, and hopelessness.

Not content with providing a brilliant account of a frustrated and rather depraved anti-hero, an unreliable narrator whose true nature is slowly revealed over the course of the book, Kingsnorth is determined to immerse the reader fully. For that, he needed to use language appropriate to the time. It was not enough to weed out modernisms, because all our language is too modern. He invented an Old English shadow language and put the whole narration in the mouth of the protagonist. This is a difficult book to read, but worth every bit of the effort.

So here’s my confession. The effort was not mine. We read the book as our family read-along choice. At this point in the evolution of our family’s evening reading-together-time, this means that my husband read the book aloud to me and my teenaged son. (The language got a bit uncomfortable, but it isn’t like my son doesn’t hear worse at school.) Hearing the book is a wonderful way to fall into the rhythm of the language. It took a short while for the pronunciation to gel, and for us to grasp the meaning of the unfamiliar or vaguely familiar words, but once accustomed to Buccmaster’s voice, it became easy to slide into this world that was at once surreal and all too real.

For literature lovers, historical fiction and history fans, this book should be on the must-read lists.



Monday, December 7, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Having so enjoyed Henry James’ lengthy novel, The Bostonians, I thought I could easily squeeze in another back-to-the-classics challenge read—James’ The Turn of the Screw, which was my choice for classic novella.

This is a classic ghost story, set up by a narrator who promises an ugly, dreadful tale and has his audience quivering with anticipation. However, it’s more than your typical round-the-campfire scary story. The participant, a governess, is sent to a remote estate to care for two orphaned children by an attractive wealthy man who is their uncle. The uncle’s sole request is that she never bother him with any details. Anxious to earn his approval, she sets out to obey.

The young children are uncannily beautiful and well-behaved, but there is the odd circumstance that the boy has been expelled from school for reasons the headmaster did not make clear. The governess is unable to believe the boy guilty of any wrong-doing, and his goodness is corroborated by the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, who has known the children a long while.

Not too much time passes before the governess begins to see apparitions: an evil man and woman who she can describe in such detail that Mrs. Grose recognizes them to be Quint and Miss Jessel, the uncle’s previous valet and the children’s previous governess. Both these people are dead.

While it’s possible (and as been proposed by some literary critics) that the governess is simply insane, there are too many things that point to her credibility as a witness.

She tries to protect the children from these evil influences, but becomes aware that the children are, in some way, in collusion with the ghosts.

Bravely, the governess tries fighting back against the ill-intentioned specters (just what their intentions are is left deliberately ambiguous) but her attempts to win control of the children has disastrous results.

To a modern reader, this book is not as terrifying as it might have once seemed, but it is still eery and full of suspense. I’m not a big fan of horror, but this one, superbly written, is worth the read.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Longest Night by Andria Williams

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

Two things that require daily maintenance, careful tending, and honest communication are a marriage and a nuclear reactor. In Andria Williams’ beautiful novel, The Longest Night (to be released in January), we see the terrible results of neglecting both.

Set in Idaho Falls in the early 1960's, at the site of the nation’s only fatal nuclear reactor accident, the novel follows specialist Paul Collier and his wife, Nat, as they try to make a life for themselves as a military family. Paul has brought Nat and their two young daughters to this remote town on a two year tour that he hopes will establish his career and stabilize their economic situation. Paul grew up poor and abused, and wants with all his heart to do right by the family he loves. Nat grew up on the San Diego beaches. More of a free spirit, with a loving generous nature, she is stifled by the expectations of proper military wife behavior. She and Paul don’t quite fit in to the culture in Idaho Falls, but they pretend for each other’s sake.

At work, Paul is oppressed by his supervisor, Master Sergeant Richards, a bully and a drunk, who does anything but supervise. When problems arise at the reactor, which they do frequently, Richards wants them quietly taken care of without alerting anyone up the chain of command. They are supposed to cook the logbooks so that it appears everything is fine. This breakdown of procedure and coverups of dangerous equipment malfunctions is horrifyingly realistic.

The book also shows us the voice of Richards’ wife, Jeannie. Outwardly the consummate military wife, Jeannie is a seething ball of resentment. She despises her incompetent, womanizing husband. Still, she defines herself as the perfect example of supportive housewifery. Every detail of her homemaking is a notch above. Jealous of Nat’s "happy" marriage, she keys in on Nat’s awkwardness and capitalizes on it—a grown-up example of a mean girl.

If Paul and Nat were able to talk openly about their insecurities, the cracks in their marriage would not split so wide. If Paul were able to report the problems at the reactor to someone who cared more about safety and responsibility than passing the buck to protect his own flailing career, a fatal nuclear disaster might have been averted.

This is a wonderful portrayal of flawed but mostly sympathetic characters. Sometimes their mistakes are painful to read because you can see the train wreck coming. Yet their justifications as they are struggling to do their best in bad situations are poignant. And when it is too late to sidestep the wreckage, they must live with the consequences of situations they helped to create.