Sunday Post #8: Reading Challenges Update

Sunday PostMarch 1 seems like a good time to reflect on how I’m doing with the various reading challenges I’ve taken on this year. As of today, I’ve completed nine books. The goal of the Outdo Yourself Challenge is to read more than the previous year. So far, I’m on track with that challenge. I don’t think I have ever been in the position of having read nine books at the beginning of March before.

I’ve read four books for the Historical Fiction Challenge: Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel; The Wolves of Andover aka The Traitor’s Wife, Kathleen Kent; The Fiery Cross, Diana Gabaldon; and The Serpent of Venice, Christopher Moore. I committed to reading ten historical fiction books for the challenge. I’m currently reading The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli. I’m only a little over two chapters into it, but wow, what a beautifully written, gripping read so far. I have to read it in small sips, put it down and think about it, and plunge in again when I’m ready. I got a pencil and went back over the two chapters I had finished and underlined my favorite parts.The Lotus Eaters

This is how the world ends in one instant and begins again in the next.

It seems early days to be predicting this will be my favorite read of the year, but perhaps not. It is gorgeous so far.

I’ve read three books for the Reading England Challenge:

I committed to reading twelve books for this challenge.

The Literary Movement Challenge involves reading at least one book a month for that month’s movement. So far, I’ve read one selection each for the Middle Ages and for the Renaissance: The Lais of Marie de France and As You Like It by William Shakespeare. I committed to reading twelve books.

The Back to the Classics Challenge involves reading classic selections from various categories. I committed to nine books and have read two:

This week I posted reviews for As You Like It by William Shakespeare and The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson. I am about an hour away from finishing Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning.

One last glimpse of The Lotus Eaters before I go.

The Lotus Eaters

 

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Sunday Post #3: No, What We Learn Is…

Sunday PostThe latest scuttlebutt is that we might get a blizzard on Tuesday/Wednesday of this week. If so, that means a snow day might be in the forecast. Don’t let anyone tell you teachers don’t love a snow day as much as students. It’s been cold this winter, but we haven’t had too much snow.

This week I reviewed Kathleen Kent’s novel The Wolves of Andover, renamed The Traitor’s Wife when it was released in paperback. I was excited that Kathleen Kent favorited and retweeted the tweet I sent linking to my review. I did really enjoy her book. I can see why she was fascinated by the Carrier family. What a collection of characters.

I started reading Christopher Moore’s novel The Serpent of Venice this week. Oh, I am loving this one. It is absolutely hysterical! Moore’s sense of humor is a good match for me. I guess the best way to describe it would be if Monty Python acted out a mashup of “The Cask of Amontillado,” Othello, and The Merchant of Venice. Here is just a taste of one of the parts that made me laugh out loud:

“Since the time we were first chosen, Lancelot, suffering has been the lot of our people, but still, we must take our lessons from the prophets. And what do we learn from the story of Moses confronting the pharaoh? When Moses did call down the ten plagues upon the Egyptians? What do we learn from this, young Lancelot?”

“As plagues go, frogs are not so bad?” I was raised in a nunnery. I know Testaments Old and New.

“No, what we learn is do not fuck with Moses!”

Okay, so it’s a little sacrilegious.

Another thing I tried out this week is this recipe for chocolate chip cookies that I found via one of my friends who posted this link. I happen to love Pinterest, but I don’t go crazy trying everything I see. However, when the author of that article commented that the cookies were seriously awesome, I thought, well, snowing outside, I have all the ingredients, a perfect day for making cookies. And man, they are seriously good cookies. P. S. I had seen that salad in a jar thing and started putting some of my produce in jars like that. It seriously lasts a lot longer before it goes bad. But yeah, I’m not trying the hair stuff. I am no good with hair. I need a hairstyle I can just brush. However, I might make that mug.

Finally, in other news, I participated in a soap-making challenge for the first time in a long time, and I learned a new swirling technique. I blogged about it here. I thought it might be fun to share the video I made of the process. If you have five minutes, check it out:

Here’s a picture of the finished soap, if you are interested in that sort of thing:

Sexy Man Soap: Butterfly Swirl TechniqueWhat did you get up to this week?

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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Review: The Wolves of Andover, aka The Traitor’s Wife, Kathleen Kent

Kathleen Kent’s novel The Wolves of Andover, also known as The Traitor’s Wife, is something of a prequel to The Heretic’s Daughter, a novel told from the viewpoint of Sarah Carrier, daughter of Martha Carrier, who was executed in the Salem Witch Trials. The Wolves of Andover tells the story of the courtship Thomas Carrier and Martha Allen alternating with the story of several conspirators of Charles II bound for America to find and capture the man who cut off the head of Charles I in the English Civil War.

As the story begins, Martha is sent to her cousin Prudence Taylor’s house to serve as Prudence prepares to give birth to her third child. Her husband Daniel is often away on business, but two men, Thomas and John, work for Taylor household in the hopes of earning a piece of Taylor’s land. Whispers surround Thomas Carrier. Some claim that he was the regicide, the man who wielded the very axe that struck King Charles’s head from his shoulders. He is uncommonly tall and possessed of a quiet air of mystery. Martha soon finds herself in love with him. Meanwhile, several men in the employ of spy Tiernan Blood make their way across the Atlantic after a harrowing journey in an attempt to find the Welshman, known as Thomas Morgan, and capture him for execution in London. What they don’t realize is that Oliver Cromwell’s old followers have spies of their own, too.

One of the things I realized reading this book is that I have never really given a lot of thought to the ways in which the English Civil War created America, and (it could be argued) led to the American Revolution. Of course, I knew the early founders of Massachusetts were Puritans, and of course I knew Cromwell was a Puritan, too, but for some reason, perhaps because it’s the story we always tell, I always pictured the Puritans who settled New England as religious dissidents instead of political ones. I don’t think our own history plays up the role the Puritans played in the English Civil War very much, probably because the first group of Puritans to arrive in America came well before the English Civil War began; however, successive waves of Puritans arriving later must surely have included soldiers who fought with Cromwell, even if the greatest wave of Puritan migration occurred before the English Civil War. It certainly stands to reason that these early settlers had quarrels with the monarchy and that they passed their feelings down to their children and children’s children.

I was able to hear Kathleen Kent speak at an English teachers’ conference several years ago, so I know that she descends from the Carrier family, which is partly why the subject matter intrigues her. Though Martha Carrier’s notoriety is more established, as a documented victim of the Salem Witch Trials, Thomas Carrier’s is somewhat more speculative and based more on family and local legends.

The Wolves of AndoverThe violence in the book can be graphic, and I definitely was glad I was reading it instead of watching it, though nothing seemed so gratuitous that it strained credulity. The violence also offered an interesting contrast between the monarchists and the Puritans, who are painted as hardy survivalists, but ultimately peaceable and good people. To be fair, the monarchists presented are probably the worst sort of folks imaginable, but Charles II himself is not depicted in a good light (though I give props to the writer who does manage to make Charles II look like a fairly decent human being).

The stage for Martha Carrier’s later accusation is deftly set as Martha comes across as contentious and headstrong (which is why she’s not married at the book’s beginning). Another spoilery incident I won’t recount adds additional evidence to the pile.

Martha Carrier
I took this picture of Martha Carrier’s memorial on our trip to Salem.

Knowing how Martha Carrier’s story will ultimately end lends sadness to this book, but Thomas Carrier emerges as quite the character, and one of those folks family historians love to weave tales around—a Welshman who changed his name and has mysterious antecedents, who was nearly seven feet tall, who lived to be about 109. He’s a little hard to resist.

Upon its paperback release, the book’s title was changed, hence the two names. Since it appears to be more readily available in paperback form, I have linked to that version of the book. To my knowledge, the title and cover design are the only changes made.

Rating: ★★★★½


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Sunday Post #2: Lazy Reading Week

Sunday PostI did not do a whole lot of reading this week. My students’ semester 1 grades were due, and I was stressed out (which means I probably should have read), so I wound up wasting a lot of time playing games on my iDevices, noodling around the the Internet, and listening to the Runaways (and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts). I am super excited that Joan Jett is being inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (about time!). I have always thought she just oozed cool. I remember watching her music videos when I was a kid—her dark hair and makeup and her black clothes. I didn’t consciously model my teenage look on her, but now that I look back, I can tell I was definitely dressing and making up my face a bit like a tamer version of Joan Jett. I am also excited to see Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Green Day, the Smiths, and Nine Inch Nails being inducted. It makes me feel old, though, because all of these groups were music I listened to in high school, and they shouldn’t be old enough to be inducted. I don’t feel that old. Actually, Green Day came after high school for me. And don’t remind me Nirvana was inducted last year.

In other book news, I will be participating in some TLC Book Tours soon, and these two books arrived in my mail this week.

The Tell-Tale Heart and the Serpent of VeniceI actually have never read Christopher Moore before, but a work colleague has and said he’s funny. I hope I can still follow along in The Serpent of Venice without having read Fool first. I admit I wanted to read it after hearing comparisons to Monty Python and reading that it’s a mashup of Othello, The Merchant of Venice, and “The Cask of Amontillado.” Who could resist that?

Venice, a long time ago. Three prominent Venetians await their most loathsome and foul dinner guest, the erstwhile envoy of Britain and France, and widower of the murdered Queen Cordelia: the rascal Fool Pocket.

This trio of cunning plotters—the merchant, Antonio; the senator, Montressor Brabantio; and the naval officer, Iago—have lured Pocket to a dark dungeon, promising an evening of spirits and debauchery with a rare Amontillado sherry and Brabantio’s beautiful daughter, Portia.

But their invitation is, of course, bogus. The wine is drugged. The girl isn’t even in the city limits. Desperate to rid themselves once and for all of the man who has consistently foiled their grand quest for power and wealth, they have lured him to his death. (How can such a small man, be such a huge obstacle?). But this Fool is no fool . . . and he’s got more than a few tricks (and hand gestures) up his sleeve.

As an English teacher who has long taught “The Cask of Amontillado,” I have often wondered, and engaged students in wondering as well, what the thousand injuries of Fortunato were. I hope I remember enough of The Merchant of Venice to follow along.

I thought the premise of The Tell-Tale Heart looked interesting:

After years of excessive drink and sex, Patrick has suffered a massive heart attack. Although he’s only fifty, he’s got just months to live. But a tragic accident involving a teenager and a motorcycle gives the university professor a second chance. He receives the boy’s heart in a transplant, and by this miracle of science, two strangers are forever linked.

Though Patrick’s body accepts his new heart, his old life seems to reject him. Bored by the things that once enticed him, he begins to look for meaning in his experience. Discovering that his donor was a local boy named Drew Beamish, he becomes intensely curious about Drew’s life and the influences that shaped him—from the eighteenth-century ancestor involved in a labor riot to the bleak beauty of the Cambridgeshire countryside in which he was raised. Patrick longs to know the story of this heart that is now his own.

It’s not my usual fare, but the aspect of the blurb that piqued my curiosity was Patrick’s quest to learn more about the boy and even his family history.

In addition to these two books, here is the shortlist of books I want to read next:

 
 

 I have actually had The Lotus Eaters for a while—I seem to recall receiving it from PaperBackSwap. I heard about All the Bright Places from Shelf Awareness. I heard about We Were Liars at a recent English teachers’ conference. I was actually able to hear E. Lockhart and David Levithan speak at that conference (Jacqueline Woodson, too!). Men Explain Things To Me may have been another Shelf Awareness find, but I can’t recall. I do clearly remember reading a review or a blurb or something. I was raised in a different time, and I’ve only recently realized some of the ways in which my voice has been silenced. I know that sounds pretty crazy to some people, but conditioning and simply being used to things really affects awareness. And acceptance, too, I think.

Before I dive into all of these books, however, I need to finish The Traitor’s Wife aka The Wolves of Andover. I’m about halfway done with that one.

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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Sunday Post #1: Resolutions

Sunday PostI’m very excited to have found a new-to-me book meme in the Sunday Post.

I discovered the that house that may have inspired Mr. Darcy’s estate is for sale, and I was curious, so I did a quick Google search, and I thought I must have seen that house in a Jane Austen movie, but IMDb doesn’t list the house as a shooting location for any of them. However, two of my favorite books, which I didn’t know had been adapted for film, did appear as shooting locations: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and The Thirteenth Tale. What gives? Why are we not hearing about these movies/series in the US? Anyone know? If nothing else, the success of shows like Downton Abbey and Doctor Who must have proven we have fairly sizable appetite for British television over here in the States. I haven’t heard a thing about either production. A quick Amazon search reveals you can purchase the The Thirteenth Tale as a DVD import, but it’s pricey and most likely won’t work with US DVD players. I really want to see it. It looks like maybe Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell will be on BBC America some time this year.

This week, I started reading Kathleen Kent’s second novel, The Wolves of Andover, which appears to have been reissued and retitled The Traitor’s Wife. Kathleen Kent’s website doesn’t explain the change in title. I had the opportunity to meet Kathleen Kent at an English teachers’ conference some years ago, which is when I originally purchased this book—actually, now that I’m thinking, I can’t remember if I did purchase it or if it was provided for free. In any case, I would had purchased it even if I hadn’t gone to conference and met Kent because I enjoyed her first novel, The Heretic’s Daughter. I suppose the change in title was meant to echo the title of that first novel, as both are about the Carrier family in Massachusetts. The first novel is mainly the story of Thomas and Martha Carrier’s daughter, Sarah. Martha Carrier was one the accused in the Salem Witch Trials, and her children were made to testify against her. The Wolves of Andover or The Traitor’s Wife is the story of how Thomas and Martha Carrier met and married. Here’s the trailer:

I have had the book for a long time. I was able to get it signed, and it’s dated, so you can see how long it was on my shelf before I picked it up:

The Wolves of AndoverKind of ridiculous, given I really do and did want to read it. I have had sort of a mediocre couple of reading years in 2013 and 2014, so I’m hoping 2015 will be better. So far, so good. I was able to complete three books and reviews during the first week of January:

I especially loved the first and third, which are new favorites.

I made a resolution, of sorts, to do more with this blog. I do review all the books I read, but aside from that, there isn’t as much discussion of books and reading as I would like, so I hope that participating in a few weekly memes and sharing news, questions, and other reflections might help me. Every year, it seems, I rediscover some time in December, when I’m on winter break (which can’t be a coincidence), how much I love writing on this blog. Then I get busy, and I don’t read as much as I want to, and weeks go by with no updates. It doesn’t have be all about reviews, and I often say that we make time for the things we value. If I truly value blogging here, I should make the time for it. I also need to give myself permission to make it whatever I like. It’s a reading blog, yes, but it’s also my blog, and if I want to write about other things, that should be okay. I second guess myself about writing on other topics a lot, however.

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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R.I.P. Challenge Longlist

R.I.P. Challenge Longlist

R.I.P. Challenge Longlist

I’ve compiled my longlist for the R.I.P. Challenge—assuming, of course, that I don’t acquire other books to add to this list before the challenge begins, which is quite likely. After all, I have quite a number of Sharyn McCrumb novels coming to me from PaperBackSwap. My favorite challenge every year! You can learn more about each of these books by clicking on their covers below:

[amazon_image id=”0316068624″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Wolves of Andover: A Novel[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0345506014″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Summer in the South: A Novel[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”1416550550″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Forgotten Garden: A Novel[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”0312335881″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Who Murdered Chaucer?: A Medieval Mystery[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”1594744769″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”B002NPCTH2″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]A Dead Man in Deptford (Burgess, Anthony)[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”B004J8HWKU” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Seance[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0385521073″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Ghostwalk[/amazon_image]

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