2011: A Reading Year in Review

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Looking for Alaska
Sense and Sensibility
On Writing
Bridget Jones's Diary
The Night Circus
The Man with Two Left Feet: And Other Stories
Those Across the River
The Ballad of Tom Dooley: A Novel
The Secret History
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter
The Ballad of Frankie Silver
The Songcatcher
Adam & Eve: A Novel
A Room With a View
The Winter Sea

This was my best reading year yet in terms of meeting my reading goals. Actually, it might have been the first year I actively set reading goals.

  • Total number of books read: 50.
  • Fiction books: 46.
  • Nonfiction books: 4.
  • YA books: 8.
  • Audio books: 3.
  • Kindle books: 14.
  • DailyLit books: 2.
  • Books reread: 2.

2011 Reading Challenge

2011 Reading Challenge

Dana has completed her goal of reading 50 books in 2011!


I recently posted my list of favorite books, but here is a quick list:

  1. Revolution, Jennifer Donnelly
  2. Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
  3. On Writing, Stephen King
  4. The Songcatcher, Sharyn McCrumb
  5. The Paris Wife, Paula McLain
  6. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs
  7. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
  8. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
  9. Passion, Jude Morgan
  10. The Kitchen Daughter, Jael McHenry

Least favorite books of 2011 (no one-star books this year!):

Favorite book meme of the year: Top Ten Tuesdays.

Favorite reading challenge: The R.I.P. Challenge. Again.

Just a couple of days ago, I posted a list of my favorite blog posts for this year.

My Where Are You Reading 2011 reading challenge map (you can open it up and look all over):

View 2011 Where Are You Reading Challenge in a larger map

2011 Reading Challenges

Little menI took on a lot of reading challenges this year. How did I do?

Completed Challenges:

  • Historical Fiction Reading Challenge  2011: This was one of my favorite challenges, though I didn’t participate much at the blog hosting it. Maybe in 2012. I committed to reading 15 books for this challenge, and I read 22.
  • Steampunk Challenge: This challenge only required trying out one steampunk book. I didn’t like the one I read very much, but I haven’t given up on the genre. Still, I did just read the one book for the challenge.
  • GLBT Challenge: Like the Steampunk Challenge, this challenge just asked for readers to try fiction that could be classified as GLBT either because the author fit that description, or a character in the book did.
  • Where Are You Reading Challenge 2011: This challenge didn’t specify a number of books to read. All I had to do to complete it was track the settings of each of the books I read using Google Maps, which I did. Look for that map tomorrow.
  • Once Upon a Time Challenge: This challenge just asked that readers try fantasy/sci fi/fairy tales. I committed to one book, which I was able to finish.
  • R.I.P. Challenge: This is one of the best reading challenges every single year. I committed to reading four books for this challenge, and I actually read five.

Challenges I Didn’t Complete:

  • Books I Should Have Read in High School, but Didn’t: This was my own challenge, and I failed utterly. I committed to reading six books, but I only read one. I hope other participants enjoyed it and fared better in their own quest to make up for books they didn’t read in school.
  • YA Historical Fiction Challenge: I committed to reading 15 books, and I only read 4. I think I was under the mistaken impression that I read more YA, but I guess I don’t read as much as I thought, and certainly not as much YA historical fiction.
  • Take a Chance Challenge: I wanted to try to read all 10 books in this challenge, and I think the idea made me think outside the box a little bit for some book selections. I wound up reading 7 books, which isn’t bad, but it isn’t complete either.
  • Gothic Reading Challenge: I came close to completing this one, and I really did think I might do it at one point. I read 17 of 20 books. So close, but not complete.
  • Shakespeare Reading Challenge 2011: I only read one of the six plays I committed to reading. I started a second, but I didn’t finish it. I usually read more Shakespeare than that. I chalk it up to not teaching literature this school year and having already covered Shakespeare in the literature courses I was teaching from January to May.
  • Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Reading Challenge: Happy 200th birthday, [amazon_link id=”1936594528″ target=”_blank” ]Sense and Sensibility[/amazon_link]! I wanted to read two books for this challenge, but I only finished one. I tried to read a second, but it wasn’t grabbing me, and I didn’t finish. I sent it off to a new home via PaperBackSwap.
  • Being a Jane Austen Mystery Challenge: I never even started this one. I intended to, but I’ll be honest and say that without knowing how good these books are, I was afraid to buy them, and they never became available as free Kindle books or on PaperBackSwap (that I know of, anyway), so I was afraid to plunk down the money. I know, I know. I should just sample them on the Kindle and see if I want to keep reading. I should remember that Kindles have that feature. I keep forgetting about it, and it’s an awesome feature, for sure. But I do kind of what to see what would happen if [amazon_link id=”0553386700″ target=”_blank” ]Jane Austen met Lord Byron[/amazon_link].

Look for my 2011 Reading Year in Review tomorrow. That recap post is becoming a tradition.

On New Year’s Day, I’ll be posting my reading goals for the year 2012.

photo credit: katclay

Favorite Posts of 2011

My Work Desk

Over the course of the year, I have written more posts in this blog than I have in my more popular one. For one thing, I think I was more focused on reading, and this blog proved to be a sort of refuge. I think I could branch out and write about other things here now. It feels like a more comfortable place, and I can’t explain why. I have had a really difficult time thinking of things to write about on my other blog, but I have had no such trouble with this blog, at least not this year. Before the year ends, I thought I would share some reflections about my favorite blog posts (and, of course, invite you to read them for the first time, or reread them if you choose).


  • Do You Hate Holden Caulfield?: This post grew out of a post and some of its comments I read over at Forever Young Adult, and it’s mainly a reflection about how we are entitled to the reactions we feel to books, and that sometimes those reactions change over time. In it, I examined how my own feelings changed for Holden Caulfield. However, the reason it’s one of my favorites is the comments received, particularly one from a student who was more or less asking me if it was OK to hate Holden Caulfield—he wondered because the reaction from his teacher made him feel like there was something wrong with not liking Holden. For what it’s worth, I gave him my permission.
  • Mary Novik: Author Interview: Mary was so kind, and I loved her responses to my questions. Mary Novik made me look at John Donne in a new way.
  • Byron was a Bad, Bad Boy: I was on a real Byron kick this year. He was undoubtedly one of the most interesting figures of the Romantic era. He’s so endlessly fascinating that you can even read an entire blog devoted to him.


  • Dearest Cassandra: This creative writing piece was written as part of a model project for my students. I wrote a letter from Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra detailing the events that happened after Jane inexplicably traveled forward through time to the year 2010. It was a lot of fun, and an edited version of the letter wound up in a book I’m currently writing.
  • Fanny Brawne: This post is all about my girl-crush on Fanny Brawne, John Keats’s fiancée.
  • Passion, by Jude Morgan: My enthusiastic review of the novel. It was a long book, and I felt accomplished after I finished it. I can’t wait to read Jude Morgan’s next one. He’s one of my new favorites.


  • Reading Update: Wolfe and Lovelace: I had just finished reading the story of how James Wolfe won a major battle in Quebec during what us Americans call the French and Indian War, and I recounted the story here.
  • Nostalgia: This post is more about where did all the time go? rather than books, but I like it, and I love the song in the video I embedded into the post.



  • Teaser Tuesdays—May 17, 2011: The most accurate and hysterical definition of criticism (in the sense of analyzing art or literature, not “finding fault with”) I’ve ever read. God love Jasper Fforde. He always makes me laugh. Also, I need to do Teaser Tuesdays again. If I do, I’m changing the post title construction (for Musing Mondays, too). These titles I’m using are not descriptive enough.
  • Historical Crushes: A longish post about all the historical figures I have historical crushes on. I want to write one about literary crushes (fictional characters), but it’s been in the draft stage for a while. I need to return to it.


  • Booking Through Thursday: Interactive?: I get tired of the doom and gloom posts about how the Kindle is killing books. We’re in the midst of a reading renaissance!
  • Best Dads in Literature: This post was surprisingly hard to write because there aren’t a huge number of great dads in literature. Sad.
  • Teaser Tuesday and Top Ten Tuesday—June 21, 2011: See what I mean about these titles? Anyway, this post has a great quote from Paula McLain’s [amazon_link id=”0345521307″ target=”_blank” ]The Paris Wife[/amazon_link] and a list of ten reasons I love book blogging.
  • Sunfire Romances: In which I describe my affection for the YA Sunfire Romances published in the 1980’s. Think less successful American Girls books for teenagers.
  • Music and Reading: A discussion of two of my passions.





  • Music: A kind of revealing post in which I discuss music. Note: I would change #3 now to “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails.
  • Surprise Endings: A discussion of the top ten endings that shocked me. Caution: here be spoilers!
  • Musing Mondays—October 17, 2011: More book cover porn!
  • Planning My NaNo Novel: In this post, I shared my process for preparing for NaNoWriMo using Scrivener, which is my new favorite piece of software. Scrivener put this post on their Facebook fan page, too.


  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King: Perhaps the single most influential book I read this year and the best book of writing advice I’ve ever read. Inspirational!
  • I Won NaNoWriMo!: I was so proud of “winning” NaNoWriMo this year. It was my second time, and I think it was even sweeter than the first because I learned that the first time wasn’t a fluke. This was the year I finally felt like a writer. I am currently wearing my Winner’s Circle tee-shirt, which for some reason I felt compelled to order this year when I didn’t the other year I won. Go figure!


  • Sunday Salon: The Shelf Awareness Interview: In this post, I share my answers to the standard questions Shelf Awareness asks of authors they interview.
  • Writing Dreams: I had tea with the Romantic poets in April, and here in this post, I describe how Joe Hill and Stephen King gave me writing advice (except, I didn’t actually get the advice).
  • Top Ten Books of 2011: I enjoyed thinking about which books made my list of the year’s best.
  • 2012 Obscure Books Challenge: After I said I wouldn’t, I had an idea for challenge to host and threw up some pages inviting participation. God help me.

photo credit: DeaPeaJay

Misery, Stephen King

[amazon_image id=”0451169522″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]Misery[/amazon_image]You’ve probably seen the film based on Stephen King’s novel [amazon_link id=”0451169522″ target=”_blank” ]Misery[/amazon_link], even if you haven’t read the book, so you probably know the story: writer Paul Sheldon is kidnapped after nearly dying in a car accident and tortured by insane former nurse Annie Wilkes, who is his number one fan. Incredulous that Paul has written a novel she considers crass, she forces him to burn it and write Misery, the romance-novel heroine he killed off in his last book Misery’s Child, back into being in Misery’s Return. Paul undergoes the worst sorts of physical and psychological terror as he writes what ironically is certainly the best Misery novel he’s written.

I saw the movie when it came out, and having read the book now, about twenty years later, it seems as if the movie adhered fairly closely to the plot of the book. Kathy Bates was brilliant as Annie, and having seen the movie first, of course I pictured her in the role as I read. Annie Wilkes may be completely insane, but putting on my writer glasses, I can see she was a gift of a character for King. She is possibly the most frightening villain I’ve read precisely because of the realness of her character. On the one hand, she’s a completely psychotic serial killer who first murdered almost an entire family at the age of eleven; on the other hand, she can’t stand cursing, lying, or smoking. She uses lame expletives like “cockadoodie brat” and admonishes Paul for wanting a cigarette even as she contemplates murdering him. My husband says he thinks King is wary of people who don’t curse, that somehow, those people are a little unhinged.

One of the things King says in [amazon_link id=”1439156816″ target=”_blank” ]On Writing[/amazon_link] is that folks ask him why he writes the kinds of stories he writes, and his response is that he doesn’t have a choice. You have to wonder what kind of a place a novel like Misery came from. I always kind of enjoy books about writers. My NaNoWriMo novel is such a book. I’m not sure why, but that sort of window into the creative process is always interesting to me. I like to see fictional writers flying away on their keyboards, sweating through writer’s block, and triumphantly finishing a novel. It’s kind of weird to read books about writing, I guess, and now that you pin me down, I’m hard pressed to name another book like this that I’ve read.

One reason I read this novel (finally) was that King mentioned both the book and the character Annie Wilkes (and he clearly thought Annie was more interesting than Paul Sheldon) several times in On Writing, and I was struck with the desire to see what it was all about. It is fairly gruesome, but I think most people picking up a Stephen King book know what they’re in for without needing to be warned. The book is quick-paced and starts off right in the middle of the action. It’s a great on-the-edge-of-your-seat read.

Rating: ★★★★★

Full disclosure: I obtained this book from PaperBackSwap.

Twisted, Laurie Halse Anderson

[amazon_image id=”0142411841″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]Twisted[/amazon_image]Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel [amazon_link id=”0142411841″ target=”_blank” ]Twisted[/amazon_link] is the story of Tyler Miller, a seventeen-year-old boy with a dysfunctional family, a nerdy friend nicknamed Yoda who is in love with Tyler’s sister, a crush on teen queen Bethany Milbury, and a deep and abiding hatred for Bethany’s twin brother Chip. Tyler, caught spraying graffiti on the school, is ordered to do community service and remain under probation. His community service, helping out with a landscaper and school janitors, allows him to bulk up. His new physique, coupled with his newly-acquired bad-boy reputation, attract Bethany’s attention. She talks Tyler into breaking the terms of his probation and his parents’ restrictions to attend a huge party, where something that happens that causes Tyler’s life to nearly come crashing down around his ears.

I’m not sure I liked this book as much as [amazon_link id=”0312674392″ target=”_blank” ]Speak[/amazon_link] or [amazon_link id=”B004R96SCO” target=”_blank” ]Wintergirls[/amazon_link], but I still liked it enough to devour it in about a day. Laurie Halse Anderson might be this generation’s Judy Blume. Her characters are real people, with real problems. This story has much to say about the cycle of abuse and the workings of dysfunctional families. It’s a quick read. Tyler is a likeable character. If I didn’t like it as much as Anderson’s previous books, it might be because the protagonists were teenage girls, and as a former teenage girl myself, I suppose I found them easier to relate to. There is nothing that rings false about Tyler’s character (or any of the others). If you like Anderson’s other books, you’ll like this one, too. Anderson cleverly ties together several motifs (see, Tyler? I get it) in the end in a way that satisfies.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Full disclosure: I checked this book out of my school library.

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen

[amazon_image id=”9626343613″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]Sense And Sensibility (Naxos AudioBooks)[/amazon_image]This morning on my way to school, I finished listening to the Naxos Audio recording of [amazon_link id=”9626343613″ target=”_blank” ]Sense and Sensibility[/amazon_link] by Jane Austen read by Juliet Stevenson. I first read S&S 1998 and again in 2010, and it was a treat to re-read. I particularly loved Elinor this time around.

If you have not read the book, it is the only Austen novel I can think of with two female protagonists, though it could be argued the protagonist is really Elinor more than Marianne.  I like Elinor so much. I want to be her when I grow up. Anyway, Elinor and Marianne are the two Dashwood sisters turned out of their home, Norland Park, after their father died and their elder brother inherited the estate and was convinced by his horrible wife Fanny not to provide much for his stepmother and sisters. Meanwhile, Fanny’s brother Edward Ferrars visits Norland, and he and Elinor form what looks to all around them like an attachment. The Dashwood women are offered a cottage in Barton by Sir John Middleton, a relation. Marianne meets dashing John Willoughby and considers him a kindred spirit and soulmate even as she captures the heart of Colonel Brandon. However, both women are disappointed in their love affairs, and it is their responses to their disappointments and their consideration of others that forms the basis of most of the novel.

Sense and Sensibility is one of my favorite novels of all time, and is in my top three Austen novels (alongside Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion). Each time I turn to any of these novels, I feel I’m sitting down with an old friend. I feel at home. I think Austen does an excellent job with characterization. I did find myself wondering (yet again) what made Edward Ferrars so attractive to Elinor. Hugh Grant does an excellent job bringing life to that character in the 1995 film. I found I liked the idea of her marrying Colonel Brandon and wondered why he wasn’t sensible enough to see how wonderful she was, but as neither of them was interested in the other, perhaps it was for the best. Marianne grated on me a little more this time, perhaps because I am now 40 years old instead of my mid-20’s when I read the book last time, and I found her too immature and dramatic. I know—she’s supposed to be; that was rather the point. I do love the character names in this book, too. Just a touch of the exotic.

Juliet Stevenson is an excellent narrator. I love her characterization of Mrs. Jennings, and she does an excellent job reading Elinor and Marianne, too. They sound just like they should sound. I had the feeling that Stevenson was rather trying to imitate Elizabeth Spriggs, who played Mrs. Jennings in the 1995 production of [amazon_link id=”0800141660″ target=”_blank” ]Sense & Sensibility[/amazon_link]. She certainly sounded like Spriggs to me. I had previously listened to Stevenson read [amazon_link id=”9626344369″ target=”_blank” ]Persuasion[/amazon_link] (review), which I also loved. Stevenson also reads versions of [amazon_link id=”962634394X” target=”_blank” ]Emma[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id=”962634427X” target=”_blank” ]Northanger Abbey[/amazon_link], and [amazon_link id=”9626344679″ target=”_blank” ]Mansfield Park[/amazon_link] for Naxos, but, curiously, not [amazon_link id=”9626343567″ target=”_blank” ]Pride and Prejudice[/amazon_link]. She’s an excellent narrator, and if you can snag one of her Austen recordings, you won’t regret it.

I wonder if anyone can answer me this question (particularly if you’re British). I noticed that Stevenson pronounces the word “further” like “farther” and “farther” like “further” (so their sounds are switched) and says “sprung” for “sprang” and the like. Is that a dialect? Or is that considered the proper way to pronounce those words? I thought it was odd because it introduces confusion where there need be none. If it’s a dialect, I get it, but if it’s accepted pronunciation, that seems like a strange language quirk to me.

I reread this novel for the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge. It was actually published 200 years ago this month, so how appropriate did it turn out to be, after all, that I waited until almost the end of the year to start this particular challenge?

Rating: ★★★★★

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King

[amazon_image id=”1439156816″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft[/amazon_image]Stephen King’s guide for writers, [amazon_link id=”1439156816″ target=”_blank” ]On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft[/amazon_link], is the best book on writing well that I’ve ever read, and as an English teacher, I have had my hands on all kinds of writing advice. King’s memoir begins with what he calls his C.V.: the story of how he became a writer. The middle section of the book contains King’s advice for writers, including everything from how to start to how to find an agent. It’s practical, no-nonsense advice. The final section chronicles King’s near-fatal accident and how he recovered and was able to write again.

King’s best advice, from the venerable [amazon_link id=”0205313426″ target=”_blank” ]Strunk & White[/amazon_link], is to “omit needless words.” Especially helpful are King’s demonstrations of how he does that in his own writing. I have already found myself applying his advice as I am drafting my NaNo novel. Interestingly, I am not a tremendous fan of King’s books. I grew up with a healthy respect for him as a writer because my parents always had his books around, and I could always find them in the bookstore, grocery store, or library whenever I wanted. I read a few of them when I was in high school, but I have not picked up his writing since that time. Reading this book has just about convinced me I have to pick up [amazon_link id=”0451169522″ target=”_blank” ]Misery[/amazon_link]. I’ve seen the movie, but I have never read the book. Annie Wilkes sounds like an interesting character to read. However, this is not to say I have ever thought he wasn’t a good writer, and to be honest, whether I think that or Harold Bloom thinks that (he doesn’t, by the way, but Neil Gaiman does) doesn’t matter much because a lot of people like his books. He’s doing something right. For what it’s worth, I think Harold Bloom is a sexist, barmy old fart.

King’s advice to read a lot and write a lot if you want to be a writer is the soundest, most succinct advice I’ve ever read. I know my writing has improved by bounds since I began reviewing books in this blog because I have read more. This year, I plan to finish 50 books, which will probably be the most books I’ve ever read in a year. Reading is studying and researching the craft, and I recognized myself in King’s description of that moment a writer has when she has realized for the first time that she could write better than a published writer she has read. I am also writing a lot more. I wrote over 2,000 words in my NaNo novel yesterday, and that really wasn’t even all I wrote that day. I write something every day. Last year, I couldn’t finish, and the year before that, writing even the daily 1,667 was difficult. It’s easier now. Not to say it’s easy, but it’s easier. I have to attribute that to the reading and writing I’ve done this year. If I could add anything to King’s advice, I’d recommend reflecting in writing on the books you read, whether it’s a blog or a reading journal. I find that thinking about the reading in that way is a bit like tinkering under the hood. You learn more about how others use words and how paragraphs fit together. Just reading is enough, but the reflection helps you process what you’ve read.

I didn’t expect this book to be so personal. It’s very clear that King is deeply in love with his wife, and given the length of their marriage, it’s refreshing and encouraging. He respects her opinion and views her as his partner in every sense. I have to admit I did tear up near the end as I read about his fear that he would die as a result of his injuries and how his wife helped him start writing again. I know she is very much in his shadow. I did try to read a book she wrote when I was in high school, but I didn’t get far, and I just haven’t picked up anything else.

On Writing is readable and direct as well as entertaining and informative. If you harbor any secret desires to be a writer, this book is an essential part of your collection, and dipping into it again every once in a while as a refresher is a good idea.

And now I really need to turn to my own writing, if you’ll excuse me.

Rating: ★★★★★

Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding

[amazon_image id=”014028009X” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]Bridget Jones’s Diary[/amazon_image]I finally picked up [amazon_link id=”014028009X” target=”_blank” ]Bridget Jones’s Diary[/amazon_link] by Helen Fielding this week. My NaNoWriMo novel is going to be chick lit, and I decided I really needed to read the mother of all chick lit novels before I started writing. I actually have not seen the first Bridget Jones movie, although I have seen the second. I don’t know what took me so long to read this book. It was v.g.

So, Bridget is a thirty-something singleton in London. She begins the year with a list of resolutions and chronicles the events of her life in her diary, beginning almost every post with an update on her current weight, number of drinks consumed, and number of cigarettes smoked (sometimes with number of calories consumed, number of lottery tickets purchased, and 1471 calls—something like caller ID). Over the course of the year, Bridget dates her skeevy boss, Daniel Cleaver, and keeps bumping into Mark Darcy, a barrister her mother tries to set her up with at the New Year’s Day party they both attend at the beginning of the year. Bridget’s mother flips out and leaves her father for Latin lover Julio. Bridget winds up leaving her job after she and Daniel break up for a more satisfying, if somewhat challenging job in TV. Should I say how it ends? Or isn’t the moratorium on spoiling the ending on this one over? At any rate, everything ends happily, if not for everyone (Bridget’s dad), at least for Bridget.

What a fun book. I laughed out loud in some parts. I found Bridget to be sympathetic and interesting heroine, and it’s not hard to see why so many authors have taken to this genre after the publication of this book in an attempt to duplicate its success. She’s a funny, neurotic mess, but so easy to like. I’m v. glad I read this book before writing my own. I loved the parallel to [amazon_link id=”1612930425″ target=”_blank” ]Pride and Prejudice[/amazon_link], particularly as the [amazon_link id=”B00364K6YW” target=”_blank” ]BBC miniseries[/amazon_link] was also mentioned. I also found it hilarious that both Hugh Grant and Colin Firth are name-checked in the book when they play, respectively, Daniel Cleaver and Mark Darcy in the film. Also fun was the mention of Hugh Grant’s legal trouble with Divine Brown. Wondered if he actually read Bridget Jones’s Diary before agreeing to become Daniel Cleaver, and if so, I have new respect for his ability to laugh at himself.

I loved Bridget, and I loved Bridget Jones’s Diary. Great fun.

Rating: ★★★★★

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

[amazon_image id=”0385534639″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]The Night Circus[/amazon_image]Erin Morgenstern’s novel [amazon_link id=”0385534639″ target=”_blank” ]The Night Circus[/amazon_link] has generated a great deal of buzz, and it isn’t hard to see why. It’s not precisely like anything I’ve read before. Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair are rival magicians, entered into a competition by their teachers, Celia’s father Hector (also known as Prospero) and the mysterious Mr. Alexander H.—. No one, including the reader, really knows what the competition is about or what the stakes are until the end of the novel, but the venue for the competition is a magical black-and-white circus, filled with memorable characters and enchantments. The storyline is not chronological, but is instead told in a series of vignettes, out of order and from different points of view.

The imagery in the novel is vivid. Everything from the scent of caramel and taste of apple cider and chocolate popcorn to the vivid black-and-white striped tents and the colorful swatches of red in the Murray twins’ hair and the rêveurs‘ hallmark clothing is vividly described. The book is absolutely gorgeous with description, and it is in this area that Morgenstern excels. The sights, sounds, and smells of the circus pop right off the page. The book itself is a visual treat, from the gorgeous black, white, and red cover to the stripes on the end papers and even the fonts.

On the other hand, the plot was plodding in some areas, and the choice to tell the story out of order came off as gimmicky and confusing for me. In the end, the story did not satisfy nearly as much as the description and imagery. Some readers will enjoy the book in spite of this flaw (and, in fact, it has 4.17 stars on Goodreads after over 5,000 ratings as of this writing, and those readers are a notoriously picky lot). In many ways, it’s a beautiful book, and it’s gorgeously vivid. The story just didn’t hang together in the end. I found myself having no trouble putting the book down for days at a time, even during a month when I had a lot of time off work (to read!) because of school holidays. That’s always a danger sign to me. As beautiful as the imagery was, I never managed to become invested in the story’s plot.

Obviously, I am in the minority, and the book is receiving rave reviews, so please try it out and see what you think. If you can manage to snag one, Starbucks was giving out extended samples as their first book Pick of the Week, and perhaps you could try it on the Kindle and see if it will work for you. I can easily see Tim Burton doing something fantastic with it in film (and I believe film rights have been purchased, though who will direct, I haven’t heard). Johnny Depp would be an excellent Mr. Alexander H.— or Prospero or even Chandresh Lefèvre. A set designer and costumer will have  field day creating the images Morgenstern describes.

I really wanted to like this book because I have heard that it began life as a NaNoWriMo novel, which is always exciting for me to hear about since I would like to turn one of my own NaNoWriMo novels into a smashing success (so wouldn’t we all). Ultimately, however, I needed to have more investment in the storyline and characters than in the vivid descriptions, and the descriptions are the only thing that really kept me reading until the end. I kept waiting for another appearance of Herr Thiessen’s wonderful clock or the chocolate popcorn, and that, in the end, is just not enough.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

The Man with Two Left Feet, P. G. Wodehouse

[amazon_image id=”1466273089″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]The Man with Two Left Feet[/amazon_image]P. G. Wodehouse’s [amazon_link id=”1466273089″ target=”_blank” ]The Man with Two Left Feet[/amazon_link] is an early collection of short stories and contains the first short story featuring Wodehouse’s famous Jeeves and Wooster (“Extricating Young Gussie”). Most of the stories are humorous. Though the collection was published in 1917, the stories have a freshness that, with scant changes, could be adapted to modern scenarios. Most of the twelve stories have, at their heart, a romance, a bit of humorous confusion, and a happy ending.

Easily my favorite stories were “The Mixer: He Meets a Shy Gentleman” and “The Mixer: He Moves in Society.” The self-proclaimed “mixer” is a dog who defines himself by this term because he likes to socialize—he’s not shy. He’s a great little character, and is misunderstanding of human behavior is funny. These two stories reminded me just a little of the Disney film [amazon_link id=”B000B8QG4A” target=”_blank” ]Lady and the Tramp[/amazon_link]. There wasn’t a dog romance or anything like that, but the Mixer’s confusion about humans reminded me a bit of Lady’s, while his personality was pure Tramp. Very cute stories.

All of the stories are at least good. Probably only Wodehouse could make a story about man about to commit suicide funny. However, as a whole the collection felt a little light, and towards the end, the stories were predictable.

If I were to read the stories again, or for that matter, any short story collection, I’m not sure I’d do it via DailyLit. There was nothing wrong with the formatting or anything, but the installment reading didn’t work for me with short story format. I think I might be better off just dipping into a short story collection from time to time and finishing a whole story in one sitting rather than reading in installments as I did. I found myself sometimes bogged down and falling behind, and then finding it difficult to pick up where I left off. I would try Wodehouse again, especially as I can see even from this early collection that he has a gift for a light, humorous story.

Rating: ★★★☆☆