2018 Reading Challenges: Part Two

As the year winds down, I found two more reading challenges for 2018. I’m not sure I’ll sign up for further challenges, except for the R.I.P. Challenge, which I participate in nearly every year.

Foodies Read ChallengeThe next challenge that caught my eye is the Foodies Read Challenge. I have been trying to do more cooking and do more reading about food, and this challenge will help me meet that goal. The challenge rules state that “[a]ny book where food is a main part of the plot is welcome,” including cookbooks. I have lots of nonfiction reading about food I’ve wanted to do for a while, and this challenge will encourage me to get going. I have also been collecting cookbooks for a few years now, and reading and trying more of the recipes in the cookbooks is sometimes a challenge. I tell myself I don’t have time. But I do have time if I make it. I’m always saying that we make time for things we value. I haven’t made much time for cooking in the past. Let’s face it: cooking is time-consuming. But the food is so much better, and I can control every single thing about it. Here’s hoping I can make this a New Year’s Resolution, with the support of my family. In any case, it’s a big money saver. The important thing is to plan meals, and despite setting up systems that should have helped me with this aspect of cooking, I have not been good about maintaining those systems.

Share a Tea ChallengeThe final challenge is the Share-a-Tea Reading Challenge. I love tea. I love reading. The demands of this challenge are few: simply read good books and enjoy good tea. However, the emphasis on sharing means growing my blog reading list (and my book reading list) as well as my tea-drinking list. I love flavored black teas. My favorite “every day” sort of flavored black tea is Earl Grey, or Lady Grey if I can find it. I commit the cardinal sin of putting a bit of milk in it, which I understand is simply not done, but I like it that way. I love the Literary Teas at Simpson & Vail and have ordered them a few times. My favorite one is the Brontë Sisters Tea. This challenge might offer some great opportunities to sample more tea.

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2018 Reading Challenges: Part One

challenge book photo
Photo by Upupa4me

It’s that time of year again! We’re halfway through December, and the new year is in sight. Time to sign up for reading challenges. I like to figure out where I might focus my reading each year, but in all honesty, I don’t actually complete most of the challenges I take on. Still, the challenges make me think about what I want to accomplish in the reading year ahead. Thanks to Kim and Tanya for collecting a great list of reading challenges and updating the list each week.

The first challenge that catches my eye is the Author Love Challenge. I’m in for five of James Baldwin’s books.

I think I participated in the Back to the Classics Challenge a couple of years back, and it was a great one for helping me focus my reading. Like a lot of people, I have a list of classics I keep meaning to get to. I’m just now reading 1984, for example. I’m in for six categories, but I’m not sure which ones at the moment.

I like to do some kind of challenge involving reading books from the UK because I love British literature. This year I participated in the British Books Challenge, and I plan to participate again next year. I’m not sure what I will read. This year, I completed the challenge with ten books, but I didn’t review most of them because most of them were re-reads. I think this year, I will try to read at least five, all of which are new to me.

I’m in once again for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. I have done this one many times. I don’t think I’m meeting my goal this year, but that’s fine. Historical Fiction is my favorite genre, but because I’m trying to branch out, I’ll shoot for five books—Victorian Reader.

I love theme-y types of challenges, and the Monthly Motif Challenge looks like a fun way to diversify my reading selections. I’m going to try to participate each month and read a total of 12 books toward the challenge.

I can’t resist any challenge that asks me to “travel” through books. I’m signing up for the Literary Voyage Around the World Challenge, and I’m shooting for Literary Hitchhiker, 25-40 countries. I’d like to think I could branch out a bit more and do more than the minimum, but looking at my usual reading patterns, I think 25 will even be a stretch for me. It will be a good excuse to diversify my reading.

That’s it for now. I’ll write a new post for any additional challenges that I might want to do. I’m purposely not doing any challenges that require me to tackle books I already own or that are already in my TBR pile. I found those challenges limiting and hard for me to complete, especially when really good books came out that I wanted to read—those books tended to go on my TBR pile, and I wound up spinning my wheels a bit.

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Review: Meddling Kids, Edgar Cantero

Edgar Cantero’s latest book Meddling Kids is what would happen if you mashed together Scooby DooBuffy the Vampire Slayer, the Cthulhu Mythos, the Famous Five, and the Hardy Boys. It’s a glorious postmodern pastiche of teen detective mysteries and Lovecraftian horror along with a dash of bananapants comedy.

In 1977, the Blyton Summer Detective Club—Kerri, Andy, Nate, Pete, and Sean the Weimaraner—cracked their biggest case and made the papers. They nabbed Thomas X. Wickley masked as an overgrown salamander running around the creepy Deboën Mansion and trying to find Damian Deboën’s gold mine. And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for… well, you know.

Underneath the news story, however, lay a secret. Wickley was more than happy to spend 13 years in prison if it meant being safe from whatever was in that house. The meddling kids themselves were never the same either. Brainiac Kerri, set on a path to become a biologist, drifts from one low-paying job to the next. Andy is wanted in Texas and has done prison time. Nate is locked away in Arkham Asylum in Massachusetts. And Pete has committed suicide. Knowing their unfinished business will follow them for the rest of their lives if they don’t return to Blyton Hills and the Deboën Mansion and confront the evil lurking in its halls, Andy gathers the gang back together, including their dog Sean’s great-grandson Tim, and the group heads back to Blyton Hills to solve their biggest case once and for all.

This book is drawing a lot of comparisons to Scooby Doo, including my own, and while it’s an homage to the show, it has its separate charms. It’s hilarious in some parts, and the self-awareness with which Cantero writes is a lot of fun. I enjoyed the notion that there are real monsters out there, not just men in masks, and the last fifty pages or so of the novel were a breakneck climax with some surprising twists.

I had a lot of fun with this book. It’s a perfect selection for the R. I. P. Challenge. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who loved teen mystery shows like Scooby Doo (which is still a favorite of mine, even as an adult).

Rating: ★★★★★

R. I. P. XII

 

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2017 Reading Goals

stack of books photo
Photo by Au Kirk

I always like to write up my reading goals in my first blog post of the year.

2017 Reading Challenge

Dana has
read 0 books toward
her goal of
46 books.
hide

I have decided to try to read 46 books this year, since I’ll be turning 46 in September. My sister also set the same goal, but she had the idea first. She is NOT turning 46, however.

I have created my 2017 Reading Challenges page. I will not be joining any more challenges until the R. I. P. Challenge this fall. All of the reading challenges I have chosen have some freedom and flexibility, so I’m not too worried about getting bogged down trying to meet challenge goals.

One general reading goal I have is to read more books written by African and Asian authors and/or set in African or Asian countries. In particular, I want to read books by Salman Rushdie and Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie. I also want to read more classics of African-American literature, including Jean Toomer’s Cane, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, and Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man. I also want to try to get to some classics I haven’t read, namely Middlemarch by George Eliot. I don’t know if this is my year to try the Russians again or not. I have been told by a wise authority that the best translators are Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. I know a good translator is very important, and it could be why I have not had luck before.

Another reading goal I have is to try to be more active in the reading challenges in which I participate. Typically, all I do is keep track of the books that meet the challenges, but often challenge hosts have special linkup posts and other activities on their own blogs, and I rarely participate. I want to do better this year. I am terrible in general at keeping up with other blogs. I would like to do better.

Another related goal: I need to cull books I don’t want to keep from my stacks and do something with them. I have a lot of books. I am never going to say too many (no such thing). There are a lot of books I don’t think I will ever re-read and don’t need to consult again, either. I just need to get rid of them. I suppose I could be more active on PaperBackSwap, but I’m disappointed they are charging money for the service now—beyond the price of postage. I suppose they have to sustain themselves, but it soured me on them a bit.

A final goal: stop messing around with books that are not grabbing me. I bought some books this year, and they didn’t grab me, so I felt like I should read them since I bought them. That’s silly. I should just get rid of them if they aren’t grabbing me, and I shouldn’t be giving them more than 50 pages. I need to remember there are a lot of books out there I want to read—good ones—and I need to be better about wasting time on books that are not working for me, even if I spent money on them. I know I should go to the library, but I always think I might need the books longer than they allow, and what if I want to keep them (yes, I know I could always buy them after the fact if that’s the case). I should probably make it a goal to use my library more, actually. They do have Overdrive, and I enjoyed reading books that way in the past.

What are your reading goals for the year?

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2016: Reading Year in Review

new year times square photo
Photo by Anthony Quintano

As I do each year, I like to reflect on my reading year in a blog post on December 31. For the second year in a row, Goodreads has compiled a handy infographic with reading statistics, but they haven’t yet created a way to embed the infographic on a blog. It’s not exactly a true image file, so it’s not as simple as saving a picture. It’s a whole webpage. While it is possible to embed HTML on a blog, in order to make it look good, it’s a bit of work. Here is a rundown of some of the interesting facts (if you don’t feel like clicking over to Goodreads):

  • I read 11,997 pages, according to Goodreads.
  • I read 38 books. One book is not counted in this total, so I suppose my actual page count is about 200 pages more than the figure above.
  • If I count just the Goodreads total, that’s an average of 324 pages per book.
  • It works out to about 33 pages per day. Not too bad.
  • My shortest book was The Importance of Being Earnest at 54 pages, and the longest was an audio book re-read of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at 734 pages.

Of the 38 books I read, the stats further break down like so:

  • 28 works of fiction
  • 10 works of nonfiction
  • 3 dramas
  • 1 collection of poetry
  • 5 audio books
  • 6 re-reads
  • 1 graphic novel/memoir
  • 11 YA/children’s books

My favorites from some of these categories with linked reviews (re-reads not counted):

YA/Children’s

Fiction

Nonfiction

I’m not going to pick audio book favorites this year because all but one of them were re-reads, and the one that wasn’t was not one of my favorite books. I had a better nonfiction year this year than I typically do, and my fiction year was not as good as usual, though I did read some outstanding fiction.

My least favorite reads of the year:

Reading Challenges

I did not meet my Goodreads goal of reading 55 books. I had every reason to think I could do it, having read 62 books last year, but this year was much more trying. My grandmother passed away, and it made it very hard for me to read. I was already behind at that point. I stopped worrying about trying to make the goal really early on, so I’m not upset about it or anything. It is what it is. I didn’t have the worst reading year, but it wasn’t the best either. I stuck with some books I wasn’t liking for too long.

I didn’t complete any of my other reading challenges either, sadly. I enjoy reading challenges tremendously, but I don’t have the best track record in the world when it comes to completing them, let alone participating any more than simply reading certain books.

Here is my reading map for the year. I did manage to read some more far-flung locales than I typically do. I am hoping to do even better next year.

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R. I. P. Challenge XI

RIP Eleven

Yay! The R. I. P. Challenge is back for an 11th year! And it’s back at Carl’s blog after a year at the Estella Society. This is my favorite challenge every single year.

I’m not sure what I am going to read, but I’m considering the following books:

I’m not sure what I will ultimately decide to read, and it may not be any of these, but I am so looking forward to curling up this fall with some great spooky(ish) books. In any case, I am opting to participate in Peril the First, four books.

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Review: Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng

This book has been on my radar since a colleague donated a copy to my classroom library. However, in the last few weeks, it was also chosen as the upper school summer reading selection at my school, so I would have had to read it this summer in any case. I bumped it up in my to-read queue.

Do you ever think that books come into our lives when we really need them? Sometimes I read the perfect book at the time when I absolutely need it, and this book was one of those books for me.

Everything I Never Told You is set in late 1970’s Ohio. The Lee family is a Chinese-American family. Their middle child Lydia, the one upon whom the family pins most of their hopes and dreams, is missing. In fact, the family does not know and will not learn for a while that she is actually dead. The novel is the story of what happens to the family in the wake of Lydia’s death as well as the story of all the events leading up to it. Each family member, including Lydia, suffers under the weight of the conversations they never had. At its heart, this book’s strongest message is about the emotional damage caused when people don’t communicate. However, for those who might be reluctant to pick up a book that might seem to be a downer, I’ll share that there is a note of redemption for the family.

I connected strongly with this book because one of the biggest problems I have is that there are a lot of important conversations I have needed to have with people in my life, especially family, that I have not had. I haven’t had these conversations for the same reasons as Lydia and all of the Lee family—fear. I carry the heavy weight of these conversations around inside me just like the Lee family did. I am learning that I need to change this behavior. This book is more than just a cautionary tale about the dangers of not having important conversations, but it was important for me to read at this time in my life for that reason.

We have recently suffered a tragic, sudden, and unexpected loss in our family as well. I don’t feel right laying out in a book review. I don’t know if that diminishes the loss or not. But having recently finished this book, this loss reminds me too that life is precious and fragile, and we are not promised time. We have to live the lives we want to live now and set aside the fears we have about others and what they will think. That includes family. Perhaps especially family. It’s hard, but our lives are worth it.

Rating: ★★★★★
Set in the late 1970’s, nearly 40 years ago now, this book counts toward the Historical Fiction Challenge.

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#ShelfLove Challenge: Love Letter to My Library

Shelf Love Challenge 2016Each month, the #ShelfLove Challenge has a different topic. This month’s topic:

The 2nd Week of April is Library Week. Tell us about your local library and what makes is special to you.

I have to admit that I haven’t been able to visit the Worcester Public Library in a while. It is a beautiful library, but for a variety of reasons (mostly having to do with transportation, which is a problem I resolved when I bought a new car last month), I haven’t been to the library in a while, and indeed, my library card has expired, so I need to renew it.

However, because I am a teacher, I have access to a school library. When I first started working at Worcester Academy, I was a technology integration specialist, and I worked in the library. I tried to increase the size our young adult collection, and I worked to encourage young readers by recommending books and visiting classes to do book talks.

We have a new library director this year, and she has transformed parts of the upper floor into a maker space, including a LEGO wall and 3-D printers. One wall has been painted with whiteboard paint, as have several tables. The fiction collection has been “genrefied” so that students can more easily find books they like. I took my students to the library, and our new library director conducted a “book speed dating” experience for the students, who read a book for a few minutes and either decided to pass or to keep the book. It was fun for the students and a great way to have a taste of a new book. I wrote about it on my education blog in more detail. In addition to a large collection of books, my school library has many DVD’s I can use with my students to enhance their learning. Some are movie versions of texts we study, while others are documentaries or educational films.

The library is a gathering place for students, who are encouraged to collaborate. It’s warm, inviting atmosphere has turned it into a real hub on campus. I don’t actually work out of the library anymore now that I’m the English department chair, but I go there when I can to work because it’s one of the best places on campus to be. There is a special spot looking out over the small quad in front of the building that has a great view in the fall as the leaves are changing.

I definitely need to make better use of our public library now that I don’t have any constraints that make it a challenge, but I must admit my affection for the Mildred H. McEvoy Library at my school. Our librarians make it a great space for our students to learn and help our teachers as well.

A quick check-in on how I’m doing with the #ShelfLove Challenge—not much progress this month. April is indeed the cruelest month at school, at least for a person in my role as a department chair, because it involves selecting department awards, placement of students, course ballots, and scheduling (as well as the spring fever slump and senioritis). I elected to try to read between 11-20 books that were already on my shelves (either my physical shelves or my Kindle or Audible library) before January 1, 2016, and so far, of the twelve books I’ve read up to this point, five of them have been #ShelfLove books, which is one more since last month.

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#ShelfLove Challenge: Fictional Friends

Shelf Love Challenge 2016Each month, the #ShelfLove Challenge has a different topic. It’s a fun idea. Most challenges involve keeping track of your books. I didn’t do the link up for last month, but I did set some reading goals for this year’s challenge.

This month’s topic:

Who is your book boyfriend or girlfriend or best friend? What qualities does this character have that makes him/her the best?

This is an interesting question. After I read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, I’ll cop to a crush on Jamie Fraser (I think just about every woman I know—and probably most men, too—has a crush on Jamie). Fun fact: I met my husband online through one of those dating websites, and the reason I contacted him was he has red hair. It was absolutely a bonus that I fell in love with him for himself later and not for any resemblance he may have to Jamie.

I wrote some time back that after I finished reading Jude Morgan’s book Passion and watched the movie Bright Star, I developed a girl crush on Fanny Brawne. She is not, strictly speaking, a fictional character, but she is a character in two fictionalized stories about the life of John Keats. I also wrote about some other historical crushes I developed after reading about historical figures.

Of course, I’d love to say that I would be BFF’s with Elizabeth Bennet. I think a lot of people feel that way about her. I would also love to say that Anne Elliot and I would be fast friends. Same with Elinor Dashwood, though I’m probably a little more like Marianne. Still I think Marianne goes a bit off her rocker over an undeserving swine, particularly if Alan Rickman is playing Colonel Brandon.

Some time back, I wrote a post about my Top Ten Fictional Best Friends, and I think what I said in that post still holds true, especially Una Spenser from Ahab’s Wife, Morgaine (Morgan Le Fay) of The Mists of Avalon, and Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser of the Outlander. I have to say that reading Ahab’s Wife made me really actually want to know Una Spenser. She is more than a match for old Captain Ahab, and I just loved the way the book wove her story together with that of her more famous husband. And the opening line of that book is memorable: “Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last.” Actually, same with Morgaine in The Mists of Avalon. Talk about turning conventional wisdom about a legendary character on its head. She’s heartbreaking in her love for Lancelot, and Arthur is a bit heartbreaking, to be honest, in his love for Morgaine. If you have watched the Outlander series on Starz, you totally get why Claire gets a spot on this list. She’s amazing. We all need a friend like her. She knows simply everything about healing and herbalism. She’s the kind of lady I’d like to invite over to make soap with me.

A short check-in on how I’m doing with the #ShelfLove Challenge—so far, so good. I elected to try to read between 11-20 books that were already on my shelves (either my physical shelves or my Kindle or Audible library) before January 1, 2016, and so far, of the six books I’ve read up to this point, four of them have been #ShelfLove books. I’m finding that the challenge is motivating me to clear out my TBR backlist and get some books I’ve purchased read (finally).

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Review: The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova

Elizabeth Kostova’s 2005 novel The Historian was my first read of 2016. I actually started it some time in November, but I set it aside and just dipped in and out until this last week, when I read the bulk of the novel.

The Historian is the story of Vlad the Impaler, sometimes known as Dracula, and the historians interested in tracing his existence and locating his final “resting” place. The unnamed narrator of the story becomes embroiled in the search for Dracula through her father, Paul, who disappears mysteriously. She embarks on a quest to find him, and through some epistolary and framing elements, she gradually learns the story of her own parents’ quest for Dracula, taken up when her father tried to find his missing mentor and dissertation advisor, Bartholomew Rossi.

The novel has been compared somewhat unfairly to The Da Vinci Code because it has elements of scholarship and elements of a literary thriller, but I’m not sure it’s a fair comparison. It is better written, and the characters are somewhat more developed than Dan Brown’s characters; however, there is still the sense that most of the characters are almost sort of like action figures the author is moving around instead of really well-drawn characters. Intriguingly, it is the minor characters, such as Rossi, Helen’s mother and aunt, and the Professor in Instanbul, Turgut Bora, who emerge as more interesting and fully formed than any of the protagonists. I question whether the framing device was really necessary. I don’t think the structure of the plot needed to be quite so complicated because it didn’t really do a whole lot to further the plot. All of the stories within stories were not confusing or hard to follow so much as they seemed unnecessary. Still, even with these criticisms, I would say I enjoyed the book and found it to be a sufficiently creepy vampire story, and not just a vampire story, but also a story of the Cold War and the complicated issues scholars might have dealt with in trying to conduct research behind the Iron Curtain. I have read criticism that the climax in this book is not really a good payoff, and I would agree with that criticism. On top of that, I think the reader leaves the book a bit confused (or perhaps that’s just me), especially as to why the author chose to end the book in the way she did.

I’m a little confused about how to rate this book because while I enjoyed it, it’s not without some serious flaws, and some people might not enjoy the book at all because of those flaws, but ultimately, for what it is and what it does do, I went with four stars. Your mileage may vary.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Set mostly during the 1950’s and 1970’s in many locations in Europe. Some exploration of medieval Romania and Turkey in the characters’ research.

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