2015: Reading Year in Review

New Year Magic

New Year Magic, Zlatko Vickovic

On the last day of the year, I always like to reflect on my reading year. This year, Goodreads has created a really handy infographic with some interesting statistics from the reading year. I wish they allowed for downloading and embedding. I was fascinated to learn that I had read 20,722 pages this year. That particular statistic is not one I’d ever thought about before. I read 62 books, which is more than I’ve ever read in a single year before. That works out to an average book length of 332 pages. It’s also an average of almost 57 pages each day. I suppose Goodreads calculates the number of pages in each book I marked “read” to determine the total for the year, but I should mention that some of the books are audio books. Still, those should count as pages read, I suppose, because it works out to be the same thing. Sometimes when you are listening, it’s not so obvious how long books are. I mean, yes, it took me forever to listen to The Fiery Cross, but I didn’t realize it was over 1,400 pages long. No wonder! It took me so long to finish listening to that book that I have been somewhat reluctant to commit to the next book in the series! The Fiery Cross book is over 55 hours long to listen to, but the next one is 57 hours long!

Some reading statistics:

  • Total books: 62
  • Total fiction books: 44
  • Total nonfiction books: 10
  • Total drama books: 4
  • Total poetry books: 4
  • Total audio books: 16
  • Total re-reads: 15
  • Graphic novels/memoirs: 5

My favorite books of the year broken down into some random categories (re-reads not considered—I already knew I loved them or I wouldn’t have read them again):

Children’s

 

Reviews:

Young Adult (YA)

   

Reviews:

Adult Fiction

         

Nonfiction

   

Reviews:

Audio Books (re-reads considered if I have never listened to them before)

 

Reviews:

My least favorite reads of the year:

I know it’s bad form to lump a couple of classics in with that group, but aside from a few nuggets of wisdom, I didn’t enjoy reading either Candide or Walden. I usually like Neil Gaiman quite a lot, but Trigger Warning didn’t do it for me. I should mention that I didn’t rate any of the books I finished this year less than three stars, which for me means it was okay—not bad, just okay. I am no longer patient with books that I don’t like. I am much more likely to stop reading books that are sitting on two stars at about 50 pages in. My point is even my least favorite reads of the year weren’t bad.

Reading Challenges

2015 Reading Challenge

2015 Reading Challenge
Dana has
completed her goal of reading 52 books in 2015!
hide

I was able to meet the challenge of reading a book a week for the first time ever this year. I’m really excited about that because it’s been an unreachable goal of mine for some time. In fact, as you can see, I surpassed this goal by reading 62 books! Last year, I read about half that number.

I completed the R. I. P. Challenge by reading four R. I. P. books from September 1 to October 31. The books I counted toward this challenge included:

I completed the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge by reading 20 books from January 1 to December 31. I determined a book was historical fiction if it was set in a time that was reasonably outside the time in which it was written, either partially or totally. Thus, books like Song of Solomon and Revolution count because a substantial portion of both books is set in a time before the book was written. The books I counted toward this challenge included:

I did not complete the Reading England Challenge, having read 10 out of 12 books from January 1 to December 31. The books I counted toward this challenge included:

I did not complete the Literary Movement Reading Challenge, having read 5 out of 12 books from January 1 to December 31. The books I counted toward this challenge included:

Medieval—The Lais of Marie de France
Renaissance—As You Like It, William Shakespeare
Enlightenment—Candide, Voltaire
Romanticism—The Annotated Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
Transcendentalism—Walden, Henry David Thoreau

I stalled out after Walden took me too long to finish, and I couldn’t keep up after that.

I completed the Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge, having read 62 books from January 1 to December 31, thus outdoing my previous number of books read in a year.

I did not complete the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge, having read 7 out of 9 books from January 1 to December 31. The books I counted toward this challenge included:

In the coming year, I plan to have a Reading Challenges page so I can more easily keep track of what I’ve read. This post was very hard to write because I had to look all of this up. 😥

Finally, here is my map for the Where Are You Reading Challenge:

I wouldn’t have guessed this from the first six months, which was slow-going until I stopped worrying about a couple of challenges, but 2015 turned out to be my best reading year yet. I read some truly great books and returned to some favorites, too.

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Review: Revolution, Jennifer Donnelly, narrated by Emily Janice Card and Emma Bering

I believe I’ve just finished reading my last book of 2015, and it was a re-read of one of my favorites, Jennifer Donnelly’s novel Revolution. This time, I listened to the audio book. I have this book in hardcover, Kindle, and audio book, but I hadn’t listened to it until this week. It was even better on a re-read than it was the first time I read it.

Since I reviewed the book last time I read it, this time, I really want to mention a couple of things that struck me. First, this book is tightly written. It all works. I picked up on so many things I missed on a first reading. The sections of Dante’s poetry correspond well to Andi’s descent into darkness and her literal descent into hell in the catacombs, where she is, naturally, accompanied by Virgil. I was so swept away with the plot the first time I read that I missed some of the artistry of the writing. Equally impressive is Donnelly’s research. She fictionalizes some details. Andi’s thesis focus, the composer Amadé Mahlerbeau, is fictional, as are her Nobel-prize winning father and his historian friend G. However, they all have their basis in historical or contemporary figures who do similar work. Another thing I noticed about Donnelly’s writing is that she allows the reader to be creative and connect the dots. She doesn’t knock you over the head with the connections. She wants you to do the work. She wants you to do some digging and find out what she has learned.

I also noticed how well Donnelly pulls off the twinning. Maximilien Robespierre and the schizophrenic Maximilien R. Peters, who is responsible for the death of Andi’s brother Truman, work very well in a pair and serve as an interesting symbol of the brutality and stupidity of the world and the cyclical nature of history’s desperate individuals. It’s almost not too hard to believe that Alex might reach across history, 200 years in the future, to save Andi and let her know that just because the world goes on, stupid and brutal, it doesn’t mean that she has to—she can be a positive force for good in the world. She can make people happy. The world can be a scary, crazy place. Particularly today, we see a lot of stories in the news that make us despair and make us want to give up. Perhaps in the end, all we have left to do is to do the good that we can. We don’t have to participate in the world’s brutality and stupidity.

Donnelly said in an interview that “a good story with a compelling character that’s well written should appeal to anybody.” I think that’s why this book is so good. Andi may be a teenager, but the fact that she is a young protagonist doesn’t make her story any less applicable or interesting. This book really makes me want to write, and that’s always the sign of a really good book to me—the ones that make me want to write.

Emily Janice Card narrated most of the book, while Emma Bering narrated Alex’s diary entries. Both narrators were brilliant. Card especially does a brilliant job bringing Andi’s sarcastic and hard edge to life. You can hear the chip on her shoulder. Card happens to be the daughter of Orson Scott Card. I read that she was named for two of my favorite writers (and Orson Scott Card’s, apparently): Emily Dickinson and Emily Brontë. I really didn’t want to stop listening to this book. I have to be doing something mindless while I listen to audio books or else I get distracted from the story. When I didn’t have anything mindless to occupy me while listening to this book, I pulled my hardcover off the shelf and read along with the narrators. I need to go back and re-read a few favorite passages.

Last time I read this book, I was craving more books just like it, but I’m afraid there probably aren’t any. It’s brilliant.

Keep scrolling for the book’s playlist. You don’t want to miss it.

Rating: ★★★★★
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

The playlist for this particular book is massive and varied, as Andi is one of those folks who loves music. All kinds. I suspect it needs a bit of revision because there are musical references on just about every page of the book. That’s another thing I love about it. The music.

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Review: My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, Annabel Pitcher, narrated by David Tennant

I’m not going to lie. I downloaded this audio book because David Tennant is the narrator. I had been looking for a quick audio book, and started searching some of my favorite actors and actresses to see which ones they might have read, and that is how I found this book. Once I read a few reviews, I decided to give it a shot. So very glad I did.

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is the story of Jamie Matthews. Jamie lives in London with his shattered family because, as the title says, his sister Rose’s ashes are in an urn on the mantelpiece. Well, most of them. After her death in a terrorist attack similar to the 7/7 bombings, Rose’s parents couldn’t agree about what to do with her remains. Five years later when Jamie is ten, Jamie’s mother leaves his father for a man in her grief support group. Jamie’s father moves Jamie and Rose’s twin sister Jas up to the Lake Country for a fresh start. As he starts drinking heavily and neglecting the children, Jamie begins to make friends with Sunya, a girl at school. The only problem is that she’s Muslim, and as Jamie’s father always says, Muslims killed his sister.

This book is absolutely charming, even though Jamie has such a hard time of it, mainly because of the humor with which Annabel Pitcher imbues Jamie. As maddening as almost all of the adults are, and as sad as Jamie’s experiences are, in Pitcher’s hands, the story is never maudlin or pathetic because Jamie isn’t. He copes with his absentee parents and struggles with his feelings about his father’s prejudice against Muslims with a sense of humor that sparkles. For example:

“I stared up at the sky and raised my middle finger, just in case God was watching. I don’t like being spied on.”

The characters, especially the children (but sadly, also the horrible adults) leap off the page with a delightful realism that might remind some of J. K. Rowling. I think the novel is a middle grade novel, as Jamie is ten, but truthfully, anyone of any age might enjoy it. Touching on grief, family strife, bullying, friendship, and racism, in less skilled hands it would be too much, or at the very least, it wouldn’t work. But Pitcher handles it beautifully. Moreover, the message about racism and prejudice is particularly important in the current political climate. I wish I knew more kids I could recommend the book to, but recommending it to you will have to do. Annabel Pitcher will make Jamie Matthews your new hero.

It probably goes without saying that David Tennant was an excellent narrator. I can always tell I am enjoying an audio book when I actually volunteer to do the dishes more than my fair share because I want to listen. His reading only underscores the book’s charm and humor.

It’s one of the best ones of the year for me.

Rating: ★★★★★
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

Jamie and his family move from London to Ambleside in Cumbria in the Lake District, so I’ll count it as a book set in Cumbria.

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Sunday Post #37: Complete

Sunday PostI didn’t post last Sunday because I was returning for my favorite conference, the National Council of Teachers of English annual convention. It was great. I picked up some excellent free and cheap books and enough book recommendations to keep me busy for a long time.

NaNoWriMo is going well, word-count wise. I think I’ll finish. I’m not excited about the book as I’m nearing the end. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s a fanfic or if it’s because I’ve run out of steam. I was delighting myself writing it at the beginning, but I haven’t even wanted to read what I’ve written lately to my husband. Still, I’m making myself plug away and finish it. Even if I’m not enjoying it as much as I was, the story is still coming remarkably fast. One thing I think I’ve learned this month is that I have a lot of stamina and speed when I give myself permission to write a crappy first draft and turn off my internal editor.

I have completed my goal of reading 52 books for the year. In fact, I just finished the 53rd. In the last week, I’ve finished five books and reviewed four:

Today, I finished listening to an audio book of Amy Snow by Tracy Rees. I was torn over this one for a long time. It was okay, not great. It’s actually a bit over-the-top campy at times, and I think somewhere near the beginning, I realized that Rees was writing a send-up of those overwrought Victorian novels (or I hope she was; otherwise, oh dear). Mrs. Vennaway should remind just about every Brontë fan of Aunt Reed—horrible to a child for just about no reason. In fact, Amy Snow does owe a bit of a debt to those other books. The main character’s self-deprecation is grating, though, and she never becomes as strong or interesting as Jane Eyre. If you read it with an eye toward thinking of it as an homage, then it’s fine. I finished it, more to discover the ending to the novel’s puzzle than anything else, but I found the ending unsatisfying, even if fairly complete. Still, if it’s an homage, it’s a fairly clever one. For a light read, it was well-researched, at least. The setting managed to intrigue even when the characters didn’t.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

I’m counting Amy Snow as my Surrey book, since that’s where the Hatville estate where Amy comes from is located.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme. Image adapted from Patrick on Flickr.

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Review: Fiercombe Manor, Kate Riordan

Kate Riordan’s novel Fiercombe Manor is the story of Alice Eveleigh, a naive young woman who lives in 1930’s London with her parents. Alice becomes pregnant after having a short affair with a married man. To spare her family shame, Alice’s mother sends her off to Fiercombe Manor in Gloucestershire, where Edith Jelphs, an old friend of Alice’s mother, lives. Alice’s mother tells Mrs. Jelphs that Alice’s husband has tragically been killed in an accident. She plans to collect Alice and the baby and put the baby up for adoption after it’s born (though she does not confide these plans to Mrs. Jelphs).

As Alice settles into Fiercombe Manor, she notices a sort of brooding sadness in the valley, and over time, she comes to learn about the tragic history of the Stanton family, who owns the manor. Alice is particularly transfixed by the story of Elizabeth Stanton, who had been Mrs. Jelphs’s employer when Mrs. Jelphs first came to Fiercombe as a young woman. Elizabeth’s imprint seems palpable in a strange presence Alice feels as well as a diary and a few keepsakes left behind. Alice spends the summer of her confinement wrapping herself into the mystery and wondering if her own fate might be somehow wound up in the tragedy surrounding Fiercombe Manor. She begins to wonder also if the valley isn’t cursed in some way that she will not be able to escape.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. The house is a very real character in the book and reminded me not a little of Thornfield Hall or Manderley. Is the house haunted? Can tragedy truly linger around a place? Or is Alice just sensitive and emotional because of pregnancy hormones? She wonders all of these things herself. She also finds herself drawn to the Stanton heir, Tom, who befriends her and shares some of his own tragic secrets with her. Mrs. Jelphs and Ruck are interesting characters as well. Ruck has a little bit of old Joseph, the caretaker of Wuthering Heights, and Mrs. Jelphs might be Jane Eyre‘s Mrs. Fairfax or perhaps Rebecca‘s Mrs. Danvers. In fact, the novel manages to pay homage to these forbears without ever coming across as derivative.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the book is its exploration of women in the Victorian era. Left with few options and no rights as well as abysmal mental health care, some were forced into rest cures or sent to asylums. I thought of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s brilliant short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” quite a few times as I read. It’s a shameful and shocking part of women’s history.

In the end, the setting is the star, and if Alice is a little bit stupid at the beginning, we can forgive her, as she manages to redeem herself in the ending, which is both satisfying and not as unrealistic as I thought it would be. I definitely felt for Alice in her desperate situation. Though she has a few more options than Elizabeth Stanton before her, she is still a woman with no money of her own, few marriage prospects, and no family support. She will likely remind many readers of the second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca. I would definitely recommend this book to fans of Jane Eyre, Rebecca, or The Thirteenth Tale. I must hasten to add that this book is not the equal of those I’ve mentioned, but if you liked any of them and want to escape into a good, creepy yarn, you should enjoy this novel.

Rating: ★★★★★

This was a great final R. I. P. read, though I think I’m going to keep going with the creepy books. It also puts Gloucestershire on the map for the Reading England Challenge and is yet another Historical Fiction Challenge read as well.

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Review: Things Half in Shadow, Alan Finn

Alan Finn’s novel Things Half in Shadow starts with a fun premise: the protagonist, Edward Clark, is a Civil War veteran and reporter who is assigned the task of exposing Philadelphia mediums as frauds. He has a background that no one, least of all his ingenue fiancée, Violet Willoughby, knows about—his true identity is Columbus Holmes, son of the great magician Magellan Holmes, who killed his wife (Columbus’s mother) and is now rotting away in Eastern State Penitentiary. Unfortunately, Edward makes a nemesis out of a fraudulent medium named Lucy Collins, who threatens to expose Edward’s secrets unless he agrees to help her put her biggest competitor out of business. But Edward and Lucy get a little more than they bargained for when they discover Lenora Grimes Pastor is a real medium—and they become implicated in her murder when she dies mysteriously in the middle of a séance.

This book is fun, and it moves at a brisk pace. The characters, particularly Edward Clark and Lucy Collins, are engaging. The historical details ring true (mostly). However, I didn’t find the ending satisfying. It’s probably the case that the author intends to write a sequel, but few of the loose ends are tied up, and the ending felt rushed compared to the pace of the rest of the book. The clues were not carefully laid for the reader to notice. The reader doesn’t want to feel completely blindsided by the events in the last 100 pages of a mystery. I think it’s fine to surprise the reader, but the dots need to connect, and the clues need to be laid. Otherwise, it feels like a cheat. I would have said it was sitting on four stars until the ending. However, most of the reviews I’ve seen rate it higher than I have, so your mileage may vary, and it’s definitely worth checking out. In fact, most of the reviews I saw gave it 4 or 5 stars. In the right hands, I think it would a fun movie. It sure has enough action scenes for a novel set in a time that couldn’t include a car chase (it did include a carriage chase, if you can believe it). I can’t say that it didn’t hold my interest. I was just looking for more out of the ending.

Rating: ★★★½☆


 

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Sunday Post #34: Revisiting the Graveyard Book

Sunday Post

Three-day weekend! That means more time to read. I spent a large part of today listening to Neil Gaiman read his novel The Graveyard Book. I have listened to it before, but it has been a little while. Since I finished listening to The Shadow of Night yesterday, I wanted to start a new audio book. Given I only have about three and a half hours left, I will probably finish the book either tonight or tomorrow as well. Tonight might be stretching it. I can count it for the R. I. P. Challenge, too! Neil Gaiman is a rare author is also excellent at reading his own work. I think there is a pretty good reason why most audio books are not read by their authors. Neil Gaiman, however, could read just about everything and make it better, I think.

Aside from The Graveyard Book, I’m also still actively reading Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn, Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan, and The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606 by James Shapiro. I’m enjoying all three. I’m over halfway done with Things Half in Shadow.

Last night, I broke out the tea for the first time. I don’t drink much tea unless the weather is cool, and then I drink a ton. I’ve really been enjoying the new fall playlist I made, too. Perfect coffee-and-a-book music.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme. Image adapted from Patrick on Flickr.

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Review: The Shadow of Night, Deborah Harkness, narrated by Jennifer Ikeda

Deborah Harkness’s Shadow of Night is the second in her All Souls Trilogy. In the first book, which I read and reviewed here, witch and historian Diana Bishop calls forth the mysterious manuscript Ashmole 792 from Oxford’s Bodleian Library, arousing the curiosity of many other “creatures,” including vampire Matthew Clairmont.

This book picks up Diana and Matthew’s unlikely love story as they prepare to timewalk to the past in the hopes of recovering the mysterious alchemical manuscript known in their time as Ashmole 782, which Matthew hopes will reveal genetic secrets of creatures and help Matthew discover why creatures are dying out. Using Diana’s power to travel to the past, Matthew and Diana go back to Elizabethan London, where Diana discovers her husband is a member of the legendary School of Night. And that’s not his only secret. Diana discovers she has some massive hidden powers, and she rubs shoulders with just about everyone of note in early 1590’s London and Prague.

I have to admit I find both Diana and Matthew pretty grating. People (annoyingly) fall in love with both of them right and left, while they have eyes only for each other. And of course, they have flawless appearances as well. Harkness falls into the trap of making her characters too physically perfect, so she gives them other flaws (that aren’t really flaws). I know they are not supposed to be normal people—they are a witch and vampire—but I still found them both pretty unsympathetic. Even when you’re writing about supernatural creatures, you want your characters to seem believable on some level. On the other hand, as this kind of book goes (think Twilight) this series is entertaining enough. It’s hard to believe even a vampire like Matthew would somehow be to connected to pretty much every major figure in Renaissance London and Prague, too. And I mean, it runs the gamut, from Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, aka the Maharal of Prague, a witch who created the legendary Golem, Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, Queen Elizabeth I, Christopher Marlowe, Sir Walter Raleigh, and more shadowy types like John Dee and Edward Kelley. One can’t deny that Harkness did her research. One wonders if all of it had to be thrown into the book.

Like I said, though, these books are entertaining enough, and they will definitely appeal to people who are looking for fun books about vampires and witches. Jennifer Ikeda’s reading works well with the story and doesn’t hit any wrong notes.

Rating: ★★★½☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★☆

I can’t count this one for the R. I. P. Challenge, even though I think it would be perfect if you’re doing the challenge and looking for something different to read. I started reading it before the challenge started, however. Given that most of the book is set in the past, I do feel it can definitely count for the Historical Fiction Challenge. Diana and Matthew travel from American to Renaissance London, and then to France and Prague, so it’s hard to figure out exactly where to map it for my settings map, but I’m settling on London, as I’d say the bulk of the action takes place there.

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Re-Reading King Lear: “Read Thou This Challenge”

I have mentioned before that I’m re-reading some books in preparation for teaching them. I have taught King Lear before, but it has been a few years, and a play as complex as Lear demands a re-read before any preparation for teaching it.

At one point, if you had asked me what my favorite Shakespeare play was, I probably would have said King Lear. I can’t say with certainty that my answer is still the same, but it’s because there are so many of his plays that I love. In fact, most often, I say it’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I do love teaching Shakespeare. There is so much richness, and if I do agree with Harold Bloom on anything, I think I can at least agree that Shakespeare seemed to understand the spectrum of human nature like no other writer (I am not sure I’d say he invented the human). This play in particular examines the complexity of family in some really fascinating ways. I will be curious to see what sort of a backstory my students imagine for this family. Why would Goneril and Regan cut their father out? What had their childhood been like? Was Cordelia’s different? Ian McKellen says he imagines that perhaps Cordelia is the daughter of Lear’s second, more beloved wife, whom he lost in childbirth, and that when he looks on Cordelia, he sees this beloved wife. I find I like that idea quite a lot.

As I re-read, I decided to listen to a production. The Naxos Audio production is brilliant. A word to the wise: if you listen to this production and follow along, be mindful of the fact that it uses the First Folio text, which differs from some published editions of the play that also incorporate the First Quarto. Lear is played in this audio book by the great Paul Scofield. It was published to commemorate Scofield’s own 80’s birthday (Lear mentions being “four score” in the play). He is brilliant in the role. I actually teared up listening to his reunion with Cordelia in Act IV, and his tears over her death were also hard to take. Lear is hard; he casts away the daughter and servant (Kent) who love him in favor of those who tell him what he wants to hear, and finds out his mistake too late. He’s a hard man to feel empathy for, but Scofield definitely manages the task. Kenneth Branagh plays the Fool and Toby Stephens plays Edmund.

In addition to the Naxos Audio production, I also listened to a Shakespeare Appreciated production that includes commentary. I found the commentary, particularly the historical context, extremely helpful. If you are a student or really want to wring all the understanding out of the play that you can, I would recommend this audio version. I don’t think the dramatization is as good as the Naxos Audio production, but it is still good, and the commentary is especially helpful.

I am waiting on tenterhooks for James Shapiro’s new book The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606 to come out (October 6!). Very excited to learn even more about the historical context that produced this play, especially because Shakespeare changed the ending familiar to audiences to a tragic one in which SPOILERS pretty much everyone dies.

Rating: ★★★★★

I’m counting this as my book set in Kent for the Reading England Challenge. Much of the action at the end of the play takes place at Dover. I’m counting it for the Historical Fiction Challenge, too, as it is set in ancient Britain, and Shakespeare was writing in Renaissance England. It does imagine a pre-Christian era in Britain. I can’t count it for R. I. P., as I started it before the challenge. It might qualify, though, if you want to read it for that challenge. Gloucester’s eyes being gouged out is the most ghastly thing in Shakespeare, if you ask me.

 

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Sunday Post #31: Challenges Update

Sunday PostTomorrow is our Summer Reading Festival at school. Our upper school’s “all-school” (in quotation marks because the middle school read something different, so it’s not technically all-school) read was Maus I and Maus II by Art Spiegelman, and we are inviting a guest speaker to discuss storytelling in general and the why this story was told in this way in particular. We have workshops planned as well, and I plan to lead one on the art and poetry of the children in the Terezin Ghetto / Concentration Camp. This morning I have been planning presentation of that workshop, which will feature a poetry writing workshop as well as an examination of the art and poetry of the children’s work that is featured in the book I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from the Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944. It’s astonishing that the children’s work survived the war as a testament to their experiences, especially as almost all of the children who created the poems and art featured in the book later perished in Auschwitz. It will a sobering experience for our students, but it’s also my hope that they will see how art and poetry help us hang on to our humanity, even in the bleakest of times.

In addition to I Never Saw Another Butterfly, this week I also finished my first book for the R. I. P. ChallengeThis House is Haunted by John Boyne (who is perhaps most famous for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas). I have picked up both Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn and Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan. I haven’t read very far into either one. I seriously need to finish re-reading a few books for school, and I keep hoping time will be more available during my planning periods, but I haven’t had a lot of luck there so far.

At this stage, I wanted to make an accounting of a couple of my reading challenges. First, I am going to up my Historical Fiction Reading Challenge from 10 books to 15, which is the Medieval Level. I have already read 13, so I have passed the threshold for the Renaissance Reader Level, and I believe I will read at least two more historical fiction books before the year is over. Whether I can increase from Medieval Level (15 books) to Ancient History (25) books, I doubt, but should it look like I’m getting close, I suppose I’ll reconsider. The books I’ve read for the challenge so far include:

I am also making a record of the books I’ve read so far for the Reading England Challenge with their corresponding county (this is helping me keep it straight):

I set myself the goal of reading at least 12 different counties. Not sure I’ll meet that goal, but I’m halfway there. I haven’t counted any books set in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK. It is “Reading England” after all. The trouble is, so many of the books set in England are also set in London, and only one book per county, so all those other London books I’ve read don’t count. Which is fine. I suspect that London is a bit like New York in terms of overused settings in England. When I was a kid, I remember feeling distinctly disgruntled by the fact that most of the books I read were set in New York. There are, after all, other places in America where things happen and where kids live (which was what I thought at the time). It makes sense that cities with the greatest population influence book settings. What we need to do as readers, if we want to branch out to other settings, is look for books set in these other places. Assuming I finish it, Fiercombe Manor can be my Gloucestershire book. As for others, I’ll have to do some thinking, I suppose. I could certainly re-read Jane Austen books. She uses more rural settings, including Devonshire, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire, Surrey, and Somerset (Bath). It has been a while since I read Jane Austen, too. Thinking about it. Finishing this particular challenge doesn’t look promising, though.

In other news, the new season of Doctor Who is certainly off to a knuckle-biting start, and it will be interesting to see what they do with Clara in her last season. I was able to catch up on last season right before Netflix announced it was available for streaming. Netflix. Why do you do this to me? Anyway, the psychological question posed in the first episode is an intriguing one. If you ran into a genocidal maniac as a scared child on the field of battle, and you knew he was going to grow up to be a genocidal maniac, what would you do?

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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