Renoir

Year in Review 2013

RenoirAs I said in my previous post, I didn’t have such a good year this year in terms of meeting goals and challenges. I had planned to read 52 books, and I wound up reading 26, or about half of what I wanted to read.

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Dana has
read 26 books toward her goal of 52 books.
hide

Boo!

Here is the stats breakdown:

  • Total number of books read: 26.
  • Fiction books: 23.
  • Nonfiction books: 3.
  • YA books: 7.
  • Audio books: 6.
  • Digital books: 10.
  • DailyLit books: 0.
  • Books reread: 9.

Favorite reads of the year (in no particular order):

Least favorite books:

  • [amazon_link id=”1419704281″ target=”_blank” ]Splintered[/amazon_link] by A. G. Howard (review)
  • [amazon_link id=”0545477115″ target=”_blank” ]The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle[/amazon_link] by Avi (review)

Favorite book meme of the year: Not that I participated all that much, but Top Ten Tuesdays. Again.

Favorite Reading Challenge: The R.I.P. Challenge, though I made very little progress this year. I was really in the mood for creepy books come fall, though.

Favorite Blog Posts (again, in no particular order, and not that I posted much):

I had a lot of fun with Harry Potter this year, but I stalled out in [amazon_link id=”0439358078″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix[/amazon_link]. Here’s hoping I can pick that back up again, but perhaps dial it back a bit. The posts I wrote were loooooong.

Here is my Where Are Your Reading 2013 Challenge map:


View 2013 Where Are You Reading Challenge in a larger map

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The Forgotten Garden, Kate Morton

The Forgotten Garden: A NovelI finished reading Kate Morton’s novel The Forgotten Garden some time last week, but I haven’t had a chance to review it. The novel is a multi-generational saga about secrets. As the novel begins, Cassandra is mourning the death of the grandmother who raised her, and she discovers her grandmother has left her a cottage in Cornwall. Astonished to discover her grandmother had ever even been to Cornwall, much less bought property there, she begins to investigate and discovers her grandmother was put on a ship when she was a small child, apparently abandoned or kidnapped, and wound up in Australia, where she was adopted by the man who found her. When Nell, the grandmother, discovers she is adopted, she searches for her lost origins, but life events prevent her from rooting out the truth. Cassandra takes up her grandmother’s search and returns to the Forgotten Garden surrounding the cottage her grandmother bought in Cornwall.

First, I should say I was expecting this book to be creepy—a sort of ghost story. I can’t fault it for not meeting that expectation. I have been wanting to find a really good creepy book like Rebecca or The Little Stranger. If you have recommendations, please share. I am still in R. I. P. Challenge mode. I failed to read the number of books I wanted to, but I’m still looking. Bonus points if you find me one set in Ireland.

That said, it was a good story. I thought I figured out what happened to Nell halfway through the book, and then the author threw in a curve ball, and I thought I was wrong, but then it turned out I had been right all along. That bothered me a little bit. I did like the setting, and the characters were engaging. The story was told well, and I wanted to find out what happened.

I do think it was a little overlong. I do not complain about long books, but this one could have been trimmed to tighten the plot. I liked Eliza Makepeace, but I didn’t care for her cousin Rose, and I had a hard time understanding why Eliza liked her so much. She was spoiled. She wasn’t as nasty as her evil mother or father, but she wasn’t awesome, either, and Eliza’s devotion to her is weird. Of course, who else did Eliza have?

There was a really, really interesting mystery at the center of the novel that involved Eliza’s mother and her brother, Linus, and that mystery never did get unequivocally resolved. I have my theory, but I would rather the book made the reveal more explicit. Similarly, some hints are thrown out about the connection between Nell’s adopted family and a Cornwall family with connections to the Mountrachet family, but none of the characters make these connections, so it remains an unexplored thread (and perhaps too coincidental, given the distance we’re talking, but it’s still interesting enough to explore).

I am struggling with a rating, but I’m going to go with 4 stars, despite some flaws, because it did hold together enough for me to turn pages and look forward to reading it, but I could completely understand anyone who gave it 3 stars. I might have also, if it hadn’t been set in Cornwall and had Jack the Ripper references.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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R.I.P. Challenge

And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie

[amazon_image id=”0062073486″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft” ]And Then There Were None[/amazon_image]I had to give up on Neil Gaiman’s [amazon_link id=”0060557818″ target=”_blank” ]Neverwhere[/amazon_link]. I gave it longer than I typically would, but I kept finding excuses not to read it. For whatever reason, it just wasn’t doing it for me, and I love him as a writer. I am typically unable to put his books down. One of the excuses I made to put down Neverwhere was that I wanted to read Agatha Christie’s [amazon_link id=”0062073486″ target=”_blank” ]And Then There Were None[/amazon_link] after seeing the Doctor Who episode featuring Agatha Christie.

If you are not familiar with the book, it is the story of ten strangers, all lured to Indian Island under different pretenses. Once they arrive, they find their host has been delayed. They also find a nursery rhyme “Ten Little Indians” framed in their room. After their evening meal, Mr. Rogers, the butler, plays a recording, as he has been instructed to do by his employer. The recording accuses each of the ten visitors, including Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, of murder. In each case, the accused was able to wriggle out of a murder charge. One by one, the guests are murdered in a fashion that eerily resembles the disappearance of each Indian in the nursery rhyme. Each time one of them is murdered, one of the little ceramic Indians decorating the dining room table is smashed or disappears.

First, I managed to avoid spoilers for this book, so I really didn’t know how it went and thus was completely surprised. I thought I had figured out what was going on, but I was wrong. I have to give Agatha Christie respect for a tightly plotted mystery. Where the novel falls short, however, is characterization. I didn’t feel I knew any of the characters, and in the beginning, I had trouble keeping them straight. They were not distinct enough. I would have liked the opportunity to get to know them a bit better. The lack of characterization makes the characters feel more like chess pawns than human beings. I didn’t feel anything when one of them died; rather, I kept turning pages to see who would go next and how the rhyme would be interpreted in their death.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

R.I.P. Challenge

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R.I.P. Challenge

R.I.P. Challenge

R.I.P. ChallengeYay! It’s time once again for my favorite reading challenge! I have participated in the R.I.P. Challenge for several years. The idea is to choose your particular peril—details are in this post on Carl’s site—and just have fun reading. Carl also provides a linkup for reviews.

You can read whatever you like as long it fits your definition of creepy, spooky, gothic, scary, etc. The challenge runs from September 1 to October 31. I am a little late in starting it this year. I am not really sure what I’m going to read, but here are some choices:

[amazon_image id=”1435291204″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Mr. Timothy[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”1402217099″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]My Cousin Rachel[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0895875764″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Ghost Riders[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0312388861″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Rosewood Casket: A Ballad Novel[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0451184726″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]She Walks These Hills[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0099541394″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]A Dead Man In Deptford[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”1616201932″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]When She Woke: A Novel[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0385521073″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Ghostwalk[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”1416550550″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Forgotten Garden: A Novel[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”1451683030″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Map of Time: A Novel[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0061120057″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Little, Big[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0060557818″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Neverwhere: A Novel[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”076793122X” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Dracula in Love[/amazon_image]

If you have read any of these books, let me know what you thought of it/them. I am trying to make up my mind.

 

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The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Avi

[amazon_image id=”0545477115″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft” ]The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle[/amazon_image]I realize that [amazon_link id=”0545477115″ target=”_blank” ]The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle[/amazon_link] has been around for a while, and it’s been on my list, but I didn’t actually read it until my daughter chose it for one of her summer reading books. She said she had read and excerpt of it in school and thought it sounded good.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle is the story of thirteen-year-old Charlotte Doyle, who has been away at school in England and is returning home to Providence, Rhode Island aboard the Seahawk. Through a confluence of events, she winds up being the ship’s only passenger, a fact which makes her very uncomfortable. Both the cook, Zachariah, an older sailor from Africa, and Captain Jaggery, the ship’s master, try to befriend Charlotte, but she doesn’t know who to trust. When the crew rises up against Captain Jaggery’s cruelty, Charlotte is even more confused about her place and winds up getting herself into a heap of trouble.

I have to admit it starts slow. I really wondered if Charlotte was going to become likeable and get some sense. She eventually does become likeable, but I think sense is a hopeless case. Once the book gets going, it’s pretty good. I think Avi was attempting to create a 19th century cadence through the first-person narration of Charlotte, but some of the sentences were awkwardly constructed, and I had to read them a couple of times to get them sorted out right. There is quite a lot of naval terminology, but the book has a helpful diagram of a ship and a glossary in the appendix. My daughter gave it two thumbs up. I’m glad she liked it. We read it together, and it was really nice to hear her say she didn’t want to stop at just two chapters once we reached the end of the book. This from a girl who says she doesn’t like reading. So that has to count for something.

If my daughter hadn’t chosen it for summer reading, I might not have gone past the slow start, but I did like it more once the action started, and towards the end, it was a regular page turner. Avi’s characterization brings all the players to life, and he has a true knack for setting, though I think he over-describes a bit. I don’t need to see “everything.” Then again, he is writing for children and may feel he needs to describe a bit more. I don’t know.

It’s a solid YA story, and I’m very glad my daughter liked it.

Rating: ★★★½☆

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Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe

[amazon_image id=”0385474547″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]Things Fall Apart[/amazon_image]My students and I are reading Chinua Achebe’s classic novel [amazon_link id=”0385474547″ target=”_blank” ]Things Fall Apart[/amazon_link] over our Spring Break, and just today, I heard the news of Achebe’s death at the age of 82. He has contributed something remarkable to the world with his work. We frequently say that history is written by the victors, and so it is that the bulk of colonial literature we have has been written by white men. A recurring theme of the latter part of Things Fall Apart, after the missionaries arrive, is that white men do not understand the ways of the Igbo people they seek to evangelize, and further, they do not see them as worthy in and of themselves, which is shown perhaps no more clearly than in the book’s final paragraph.

My students are studying the book through a chosen anthropological lens: gender, religion, family, community, coping which change/tradition, and justice. I think this book has really interesting insights into the Igbo culture in each of these areas. On the surface, it’s easy to make snap judgments about the way that the people of Umuofia do certain things, and Okonkwo in particular can be infuriating because he seems, on the surface, so cruel to his family. Given the values of his clan, however, I can understand why he did some of the things he did. His fear of turning out like his father, or that his children would turn out like his father, drove many of his decisions, and above all, he seemed concerned about presenting himself as masculine.

I hope my students will find the journey interesting. I know I learned a lot through my own reading of the book. In the obituary I linked above:

“It would be impossible to say how Things Fall Apart influenced African writing,” the African scholar Kwame Anthony Appiah once observed. “It would be like asking how Shakespeare influenced English writers or Pushkin influenced Russians. Achebe didn’t only play the game, he invented it.”

The obituary calls Things Fall Apart “the opening of a long argument on his country’s behalf.” Achebe said, “Literature is always badly served when an author’s artistic insight yields to stereotype and malice… And it becomes doubly offensive when such a work is arrogantly proffered to you as your story.”

Things Fall Apart is an important book, an “education,” as Toni Morrison described it. I highly recommend it.

Rating: ★★★★★

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The Last Runaway, Tracy Chevalier

The Last RunawayTracy Chevalier’s latest book, The Last Runaway, is a bit of a departure from her other work. I have read several of Chevalier’s books, and I can’t think of one that isn’t set in Europe. The Last Runaway is the story of Honor Bright, a young Quaker woman who decides to accompany her sister Grace across the Atlantic to America. Grace plans to marry a man who emigrated to Ohio and used to be a member of the Bridport Friends’ Meeting where the Brights worship. Honor has been jilted by her fiancé, Samuel, who throws her over and leaves the Society of Friends in order to marry outside the religious order. The voyage is terrible for Honor, who suffers from the worst bout of seasickness you’ve ever seen this side of Outlander‘s Jamie Fraser. Honor realizes that she is stuck in America because she can’t imagine being able to endure a crossing back to England. After disembarking, Honor and Grace travel to Ohio by stagecoach, but Grace contracts yellow fever and dies on the voyage. Now all alone in America, Honor must find her own way. Her sister’s fiancé, Adam Cox, takes her in for a time, but his brother has recently died, and he is living with his brother’s widow, Abigail. Before long, the Quakers frown at their unorthodox living arrangement. Adam marries Abigail, and Honor rushes into a marriage with Jack Haymaker, whose stern mother Judith is a Quaker elder who does not approve of Honor.

One of the most interesting threads in the book dealt with quilting. Honor is a quilter. Her adjustment to America is hard, and she especially does not like Americans’ ways of quilting. Her skill with a needle earns her the friendship and hospitality of Belle Mills, a milliner in Wellington. However, it also draws the unwelcome attention of Donovan, Belle’s brother and the local slave catcher. Honor quickly finds herself caught up in the American debate over slavery. Just as the Fugitive Slave Act is passed, Honor finds herself helping slaves cross to Canada as a part of the Underground Railroad. While her in-laws disapprove of slavery, they are also unwilling to allow lawbreaking in their family, and Honor has some difficult decisions to make.

I am a fan of Tracy Chevalier’s books. I especially liked Remarkable Creatures and The Virgin Blue, which was one of the first books I reviewed for this blog. I was interested in reading this book because some of my own immigrant ancestors were Quakers. I imagine they came to America to worship more freely, but they were quite different from the Quakers of Ohio. Within several generations, at least in my own line of the family, they had abandoned their faith for various other Protestant denominations, but my 7th great-grandmother Elizabeth Clark Anthony was the mother of fifteen children and after her husband’s death, she became a Quaker missionary who made four trips between Virginia and Georgia on horseback and lived to be 103 years old.

Perhaps because I was hoping to see a glimpse of what my own ancestors’ lives were like, I really wanted to like this book. I was underwhelmed, however. I found Honor hard to like. She seemed to feel quite sorry for herself a lot of the time, and while it’s true that she was living in difficult circumstances, she created a lot of them. Her attraction to Donovan was inexplicable. I thought Chevalier did everything she could to make him odious, and it was impossible for this reader to understand Honor’s feelings for him. Honor’s disdain for the American way of doing just about everything was trying as well. I understand she was a fish out of water, but for a Quaker, she was terribly judgmental. Almost every chapter closed with a letter from Honor to her family or friends. I found the transition from third person to first jarring in some cases, though I wished more of the story had been told in first person. Though I didn’t like Honor much, I found her voice in the letters to ring true.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/

Top Ten 2013 Reading Goals

Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/

I do have some goals for reading this year:

  1. Read 52 books. That was also my goal last year, but I felt short by about half.
  2. Read at least Game of Thrones in the Song of Ice and Fire series.
  3. Read at least The Pillars of the Earth in whatever that series is called. I Googled it, but did not find an answer. Maybe I didn’t Google hard enough.
  4. Read at least two books set in France. If I can’t go there in person…
  5. Take advantage of free books. I need to use my school library, public library, Kindle book lending, Overdrive, PaperBackSwap, and NetGalley more.
  6. Read at least ten books in my back catalog of to-read books. Including some books I had to have that are still untouched on my shelf several years later.
  7. Complete the reading challenges I joined (and participate more actively on the challenge websites with comments and reviews).
  8. Figure out a way to listen to audio books now that I’m not commuting.
  9. Finish Les Misérables on DailyLit.
  10. Make more time for reading.

Do you have any reading resolutions?

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The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge

The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge Jane Austen’s beloved novel Pride and Prejudice turns 200 in January. I already had plans to begin re-reading the novel on the 200th anniversary of its publication, January 28, 2013. I should have known Austenprose would have a massive celebration, just as they did for Sense and Sensibility. Even though I promised myself I’d limit challenges this year, I decided I couldn’t pass this one up.

The idea behind the challenge is to read or revisit Pride and Prejudice, view the film adaptions, and read the sequels. I haven’t read too many sequels, but I am willing to give it a try. To that end, I plan to participate only at the Neophyte level of 1-4 selections. I will be reading Pride and Prejudice, Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James, Darcy and Fitzwilliam by Karen Wasylowski, and Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece by Susannah Fullerton. If the spirit moves me, I may do a bit more, but that is what I will commit to  the moment.

I’m very excited about celebrating along with Austenprose this year.

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Reading Challenges and Goals for 2013

I need to preface this post with the admission that 2012 was a wash for me as far as meeting any of my reading goals, including reading challenges. However, I also moved and started a new job, so I have forgiven myself and decided to make 2013 a better reading year. To that end, I’m going to participate in some of my favorite challenges, but I’m not going to stress myself out by taking on more than I can handle, nor am I going to try to host my own challenge this year.

Historical Fiction Reading ChallengeHistorical Tapestry hosts a Historical Fiction Challenge every year, and 2013 is no exception. As historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, I don’t need much prodding to participate in this challenge. I want to be more active this year, however. I plan to participate at the Renaissance Reader level of 10 books, but I will perhaps read more than that.

Carl‘s R.I.P. Challenge is usually announced later, and I always participate in that challenge as well. I may also participate in his Once Upon a Time Challenge this year, too, as I plan to read a bit more fantasy in 2013.

As of right now, I haven’t seen any Jane Austen reading challenges out there, but I plan to re-read [amazon asin=0674049160&text=Pride and Prejudice], starting on the 200th anniversary of its publication and will be trying some other Austen-related books.

Once again, I will also participate in the Where are You Reading Challenge. I love creating Google Maps of my reading progress and seeing patterns in the places where the novels I read are set. This challenge has no set number of books. I simply need to remember to create a Google Map pin for each book I read.

2013 Where are You Reading Challenge

Another challenge? Make new soap recipes based on my favorite 5-star reads in 2013. I figure that’s doable because not every book will be 5 stars, and I love making soap. In fact, it may this new hobby prevented me from reading perhaps 10 of the books I intended to read this year. But I don’t regret it at all.

Another goal I have is to read 50 books, a goal I failed to achieve this year. I came close in 2011, though 50 was not my goal that year. I barely made it to half 50 books this year. I think I can do it if I dedicate myself to the task.

Finally, I would like to blog more. I didn’t blog as much here or anywhere this year. I fell desperately behind in my own feed reader. I think perhaps I should use some of my time off to figure out how to follow the blogs I enjoy a little better and leave more regular comments, too.

What do you have in mind for your next year of reading?

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