Monday, December 31, 2007

Going Back for 2nds

I wasn't sure I was going to be able to complete this challenge, but I did! A big thank you to host Joy of Thoughts of Joy for the encouragement!

The idea of the challenge was to read three books "by authors that you have only read one other." I ended up reading Tara Road by Maeve Binchy, The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve, and Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith. (Links are to my reviews.)

The word around the blogosphere is that Joy will be hosting a similar challenge toward the end of 2008. I'm looking forward to it!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith

Published in 2000. 227 pages.

Nearly two years ago, I read The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency with my book club. I found it to be delightful - a unique concept with a charming protagonist! For some reason, though, I put off reading Tears of the Giraffe, the second novel in this series (which now stands at eight books, with a ninth scheduled for release in 2008).

Tears of the Giraffe is just as delightful as The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, though it seems to do more setting up of the future novels than to stand on its own. I do plan to continue with the series, as well as look into some of McCall Smith's other work.


Cardathon Challenge

I signed up for Becky's Cardathon Challenge many months ago. At that point, it seemed a very long time before January 1 would roll around - but now it's knocking at the door. So I guess it's time to make a plan for my participation. I think I'll start with a list of twelve books - basically one a month - but note that I will be cross-listing many, if not all of them to other challenges.

    Books by Orson Scott Card:

    • Enchantment

    • Ender's Shadow

    • Invasive Procedures

    • Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus

    Books Reviewed by Orson Scott Card:

    • Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

    • Flip by David Lubar

    • Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak

    • The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

    • Interworld by Neil Gaiman

    • Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

    • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

    • "T" is for Trespass by Sue Grafton

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve

Published in 1997. 279 pages.

When I posted my original list for the 2nds Challenge, I asked for suggestions for an Anita Shreve novel for the list. Unfortunately, I didn't get a lot of rave reviews, so I kept pushing back my decision. With the end of the challenge fast approaching, I read a review of Sea Glass that Trish had posted and considered that one. Trish also recommended The Weight of Water and for some reason that one appealed to me more than Sea Glass, so I picked it up at the library. I finally got to it on Tuesday night, and I finished it yesterday morning.

The Weight of Water was a quick read, and I really enjoyed the structure of the book. I also was intrigued by the title of the book - and I'm still contemplating the various meanings and symbolism it contains.

The plot centers around - and is told from the viewpoint of - a photographer named Jean who, with her husband, young daughter, and brother-in-law and his girlfriend, spends some time on a boat off the coast of Maine on an assignment related to the true events of the Smuttynose Island murders of 1873. Jean's thoughts and experiences are interjected with an account of the murders and events leading up to them, usually without any warning about the switch in storyline. In taking her photos, Jean becomes somewhat obsessed with the murders, and the biggest part of the book contains a (fictional) translation of the journal of the survivor of the murders, which Jean finds in a museum and "borrows."

I don't know that Anita Shreve will be a favorite author, but I'm glad I took the opportunity to read a second of her novels for this challenge.

By the way, The Weight of Water was apparently adapted into a movie starring Sean Penn, Elizabeth Hurley, Sarah Polley, and Catherine McCormack.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Highlights of the Year

It’s an old question, but a good one . . . What were your favorite books this year?

List as many as you like … fiction, non-fiction, mystery, romance, science-fiction, business, travel, cookbooks … whatever the category. But, really, we’re all dying to know. What books were the highlight of your reading year in 2007?

I already wrote some thoughts about books published in 2007. Here are some thoughts about the rest of the highlights of the year. (Links are to my reviews.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

In the Pub 2008

3M (or Michelle)
is at it again!
In an attempt to read more books published in the current year,
she's created
The Pub.

The challenge requirement is to read at least eight books published in 2008 - but no children's or YA titles, since we're "in the pub". The challenge blog (with more information) is here - and I just have to play along!

Looking at my local library website's "New Titles" list, I note several early 2008 releases by favorite authors that I'll want to get my hands on. I'll add more titles as I discover them.

  • The Appeal by John Grisham

  • Compulsion by Jonathan Kellerman

  • First Patient by Michael Palmer

  • Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

  • Where Are You Now? by Mary Higgins Clark

Tara Road by Maeve Binchy

Published in 1998. 502 pages.

This is the second novel by Maeve Binchy that I have read, following Evening Class earlier this year. I loved Evening Class and wanted to read another Binchy book, so I put Tara Road on my Fall into Reading list. (By the way, since I'm so far behind with the 2nds Challenge, I am going to count this one for that too, although it wasn't on my original list.)

I was somewhat hesitant to read another Binchy novel. When I absolutely love a book by a new-to-me author, I am sometimes afraid that I'll be let down by future reads. (I felt that way about reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Dreams after loving The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven, but once I finally read Animal Dreams, I discovered that I liked it even more than the other two books!) But so many people encouraged me to read more of Binchy that I decided to take the plunge.

I did like Evening Class better than Tara Road, but Binchy is a great storyteller and I thoroughly enjoyed Tara Road as well. I'm sure this won't be my last Binchy read!


Monday, December 24, 2007

Like I Need a Hole in My Head

    Who: Hosted by Joy
    What: Read 12 books that are the first in any series.
    When: January 1 to December 31, 2008.
    Why: Because I am addicted to challenges!

My Preliminary List

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Anne of Green Gables

Books of Bayern by Shannon Hale
The Goose Girl

Cardcaptor Sakura by Clamp
Cardcaptor Sakura 1

Carlotta Carlyle Series by Linda Barnes
A Trouble of Fools
(I discovered this series from this review.)

Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Series
by Julia Spencer-Fleming
In the Bleak Midwinter

Cliff Janeway Novels by John Dunning
Booked to Die
(I keep hearing good things about this series from booklogged.)

Cork O'Connor Mysteries by William Kent Krueger
Iron Lake

Frank Clevenger Series by Keith Ablow


The Ink Trilogy by Cornelia Funke

The Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Pearson
The Kingdom Keepers

Lincoln Rhyme Series by Jeffrey Deaver
The Bone Collector

The Sunday Philosophy Club Series
by Alexander McCall Smith
The Sunday Philosophy Club

By the way, I'm attempting to keep track of the series I read here. (It's definitely a work-in-progress!)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Published in 1998. 226 pages.
Awarded both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1999.

Brilliantly conceived and beautifully written, The Hours juxtaposes a few pieces of the life of writer Virginia Woolf with the lives of two other women. One is Clarissa Vaughan - nicknamed Mrs. Dalloway by her friend Richard after the character in Woolf's novel (first published in 1925); Clarrisa lives in Greenwich Village in the present day. The other woman, Laura Brown, who lives in California in 1949, is reading Mrs. Dalloway and struggling with her perception of her roles as wife and mother.

The 2002 film starred Meryl Streep as Clarissa Vaughan, Julianna Moore as Laura Brown, and Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf. Kidman won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

Here are a few quotes about the book that put into words a lot of my own thoughts:

"[The Hours] is both a clever tribute to the life and work of Virginia Woolf, and a brilliant examination of the quietly desperate lives of three women." - Seattle Times

"Cunningham here undertakes perhaps one of the most daunting literary projects imaginable.... Cunningham's portrait of Woolf is heartbreaking.... With The Hours, Cunningham has done the impossible: he has taken a canonical work of literature and, in reworking it, made it his own." - Yale Book Review

"Brilliant... haunting - winding skeins of words that, as they unspool, render vividly the three heroines' complex interior lives." - St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The Hours was not on my original Book Awards Reading Challenge list, but because the Yahoo Book Awards group was reading it - and the Yahoo Classic Lit group was reading Mrs. Dalloway - I decided that I'd like to read them both. (I started with Mrs. Dalloway, but I got bogged down in Woolf's writing style, so I set it aside for The Hours. I'm committed to finishing Mrs. Dalloway before the end of the month though.) I'm also committed to watching the film version this coming week.

I can't say that The Hours is a "favorite" book - but I do think that it is noteworthy, and I'm glad that I read it.


2008 TBR Challenge

I created this blog at the beginning of 2007 and thereby entered the fun, adventurous world of book blogging! Little did I know what was in store, as I soon discovered the even more fun, more adventurous world of reading challenges. One of the first I stumbled across was the 2007 TBR Challenge, hosted by MizB - but it was too late to join up. This year I'm in! And I'm going to join the Yahoo TBR Challenge group as well.

Basic Idea of the Challenge
  • Pick 12 books - one for each month of 2008 - that I've been wanting to read (that have been on my "To Be Read" list) for six months or longer, but that I haven't gotten around to.

  • Create a list of 12 "Alternates" (books I could substitute for my challenge books, given that a particular one doesn't grab me at the time). (Optional.)

  • Then, starting January 1, 2008, read one of these books from my list each month, ending December 31, 2008.
Additional information and a sign-up Mr. Linky
can be found at the challenge blog.

My Main List
(alphabetical by title)
  • Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

  • The Birth House by Ami Mckay

  • Any Bitter Thing by Monica Wood

  • Bellwether by Connie Willis

  • A Dance for Three by Louise Plummer

  • Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voight

  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel

  • Light from Heaven by Jan Karon

  • The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

  • The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

  • Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

  • Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan

My Alternates List
(alphabetical by title)
  • 1776 by David McCullough

  • Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger

  • The Colony: The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of the Molokai by John Tayman

  • Dear John by Nicholas Sparks

  • The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

  • Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

  • Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love by Dana Sobel

  • Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

  • Lincoln's Dreams by Connie Willis

  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

  • Riding the Bus with My Sister: A True Life Journey by Rachel Simon

  • The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

Friday, December 21, 2007

Fall in Reading 2007 Wrap-Up

It's hard to believe that just three months ago I was relieved that it had started to feel a little like autumn - and today it feels like it's been winter for a very long time! Regardless, it's time to wrap up Katrina's Fall into Reading 2007. Thanks for the fun, Katrina!

These were my six picks for the challenge, in alphabetical order:

How I Did: I've linked the three books I finished to my review posts. I am also part way through both Don't Know Much About the Universe (I'm on page 218 of 344) and Tara Road (I'm on page 234 of 502). During the period of this challenge I also completed fourteen other books, most of which I read for other challenges.

What I Thought: Of the three books I finished for this challenge, I liked If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period the best and Eragon the least. But I did like all three books - as well as the two I'm currently working on. I'm definitely going to read more of Gennifer Choldenko's work, and I'm looking forward to the reportedly in-process sequel to The Mysterious Benedict Society. Tara Road is the second of Maeve Binchy's that I've read, and I'm sure I'll read some more of her too.

What I Learned: There will always be more books on my to-read list than I'll be able to read - but that's okay - and I will always have to balance my reading time with my other pastimes, as well as with my work and my family. But I love reading about books and thinking about to-read lists and writing reviews of what I read almost as much as I love reading itself - so I'll continue to maintain this book blog and to participate in reading challenges.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Best of 2007

  1. What fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007? (Older books that you read for the first time in 2007 don’t count.)

  2. What non-fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007? (Older books that you read for the first time in 2007 don’t count.)

  3. And do “best of” lists influence your reading?

Of the more than seventy books I've read in 2007 (so far), these are the twenty that were published in 2007 (with links to my reviews):

As I look over this list, I note that many of these were new releases in series that I read or by favorite authors. (In two cases - Jodi Picoult and Stephanie Myer - I hadn't read anything by the author until this year but now count her among my favorites - and the 2007 novels were part of reading a number of her books this year.) There is not a single work of non-fiction on the list, so I'm not able to weigh in there. As far as best fiction of 2007 - well, I think I'm going to have to go with the two that I think will stick with me the longest: If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period and The Last Summer (of You and Me).

I love to read "best of" lists! I won't necessarily use such lists to direct my reading, but it's fun to compare notes and to add books to my to-read list.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Series Challenge

Back in September, I stumbled upon Kathrin's Series Challenge and decided that I would like to play along. Because I read a lot of different series and wasn't sure where I stood with many of them, I created Confessions of a Serial Reader to help me sort it out. I'm still working on posting series lists there, but because the Series Challenge has already started, I decided I'd better post my list. I'm going to commit to catching up with five series, reading a total of six books by May 31:

Catching up on the other series I read will have to wait until later!

(By the way, I'll be cross-listing the mysteries with my Escapism Reads category in the 888 Challenge.)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Expanding My Horizons

Melissa is hosting the Expanding Horizons Challenge from January through April. The purpose of the challenge is to read works by authors of ethnicities other than your own. I'm always looking for ways to expand my horizons, so I can't pass up this opportunity. (I also fell in love with the challenge graphics; there are two more besides the one I chose to use.)

There are two ways to approach this challenge: either read four books by authors in one of the six categories, or read six books, one from each of the six categories. The categories are as follows:

  1. African/African-American

  2. Asian/Asian-American

  3. Hispanic/Latin American

  4. Indian/Indian-American

  5. Middle Eastern

  6. Native Peoples
After looking at a lot of books - and at a map to help me understand what is considered "Asia" and what is considered "Middle East" - I've finally decided that I'm going to attempt the first option, focusing on Asian/Asian-American authors. These are my four books:
  1. Bitter Sweets by Roopa Farooki (Pakistani raised in Britain)

  2. Nothing But the Truth (and a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen Headley (Asian-American)

  3. A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (Korean-American)

  4. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (Afghanistani-American)
Books I considered in some of the other categories - and which are now on my to-read list - are as follows:
  1. The First Part Last by Angela Johnson (African-American)

  2. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (Mexican-American)

  3. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (Indian-American)

  4. The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera (Maori)
Links to other participants' lists can be found here.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

How Can I Not?!

Dewey of the hidden side of the leaf - who was the terrific host of the 24-Hour Readathon in October - is hosting three challenges for 2008. With my love of young adult novels, together with my "Oh, To Be Young Again" category in the 888 Challenge (which is cross-listing with the Young Adult Challenge), my participation in the Printz Award Challenge is pretty much a no-brainer!

I was not familiar with the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature until I saw Dewey mention it a while back. It has been in existence just since 2000, and a list of the winners and honor books can be found here.

The requirement of the challenge is simple - to read six of the Printz winners or honor books during 2008. Overlaps with other challenges are allowed, as are changes in the list. Here is my list as of today (listed alphabetically by title):

Of course, as many of the books that I read in 2008 as possible will be cross-listed with the 888 Challenge.

By the Way

Challenge host Katrina has links to the reviews published by participants in Fall into Reading 2007 here. The link to my review of The Mysterious Benedict Society was number 392 - so there are many, many books there that might warrant checking out!

The Mysterious Benedict Society
by Trenton Lee Stewart

Published in 2007. 485 pages.
Illustrations by Carson Ellis.

First sentence: In a city called Stonetown, near a port called Stonetown Harbor, a boy named Reynie Muldoon was preparing to take an important test.

Plot summary: A newspaper advertisement asks, "Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?" The result is a team of four very special children, under the direction of Mr. Benedict, going undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened to save the world from subliminal messages that are creating a phenomenon known as "the Emergency."

Why I picked up this book: A couple of months ago, when I took Sugar Plum to her pediatrician for a well-care visit, the doctor mentioned that she was reading a great book that she thought Sugar Plum would enjoy. That book, of course, was The Mysterious Benedict Society. I decided to include it on my Fall into Reading list.

Readers most likely to enjoy this book: School Library Journal, which included The Mysterious Benedict Society on its list of the Best Books of 2007, labeled the book as Grades 5-9. I think it would particularly appeal to kids in that age group that enjoy puzzles and problem-solving. As an adult, I loved the book's puzzles as well as its exploration of the themes of giftedness, teamwork, bravery, and family. Towards the end of the story, I found myself in tears several times.

Three favorite passages:

"You see," Mr. Benedict began again, "although most people care about the truth, they can nonetheless - under certain circumstances, and given proper persuasion - be diverted from it. Some, however, possess an unusually powerful love of truth, and you children are among the few. Your minds have been resisting the hidden messages." [p. 102]
[Again from Mr. Benedict to the children:] "You are a team now. Whether you always agree is inconsequential, but you must take care of one another, must rely upon one another in all things. I don't exaggerate when I say that every one of you is essential to the success of the team, and indeed, to the fate of us all. You must remember that." [p. 119]
[In a mental letter Reynie writes to his tutor in the orphanage in which he has lived:] I can't say for sure, because I have no experience, but - well, is this what family is like? The feeling that everyone's connected, that with one piece missing the whole thing's broken? [p. 255]

Up next: According to Wikipedia, Stewart is currently writing a sequel. Assuming the accuracy of that statement, I am definitely looking forward to it!

For book-related fun: Check out the book's webpage here.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

November in Review

I completed just five books in November (links are to my reviews):

I was also working on Silvia Nasar's biography of John Nash, A Beautiful Mind, as well as reading more of Don't Know Much About the Universe. Right at month-end, I started the children's sci-fi novel The Mysterious Benedict Society.

Needless to say, this pace is too slow to reach my on-going goal to read 104 books in one year. This month's pace was even slower than my pace for the year - as these books were the 67th through 71st I've read this year. I'm still striving for 80 books this year; do you think it's possible?

The progress I made in the many and varied challenges I'm participating in:
  • I completed the R.I.P. challenge just a few days late, having read four novels.

  • I added two more to the seven I'd already read for the "Something About Me" challenge. My original plan was a "five-plus-five" list, but I've picked up two more along the way. By the end of challenge, on December 31, I'm planning to read at least the remaining book on my "first tier" list, Marley & Me.

  • I neglected to complete the Book to Movie challenge, which ended yesterday. Three books were required, and I finished the first one back in October but my second selection, A Beautiful Mind, is going more slowly than I had hoped. (It's very interesting, but it's not a fast read.) I needed to get the first book read back in September but didn't, so I've really been behind from the start - but I think I'll persevere with the challenge and maybe I can get partial credit for turning in a late assignment. This really was a great challenge idea - there are so many books that have made their way into movie form - and you can see links to the many reviews of the participants here. (By the way, I may change my third selection to Bridge to Terabithia, which I need to read for the Newbery Challenge anyway.)
The reading I want to accomplish in December:
  • Read Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf for the Yahoo Classic Lit group

  • Read The Hours by Michael Cunningham for the Yahoo Book Awards group

  • Read Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons for Book Buddies

  • Complete the Fall Into Reading Challenge by December 21 (four of six books remaining, although I'm part way through two of them)

  • Read Marley & Me for the "Something About Me" Challenge by December 31, which will count for the Book Awards Reading Challenge as well

  • Complete the Newbery Challenge by December 31 (four of six books remaining), which will also result in progress on the Book Awards Reading Challenge

  • Complete the Reading the Author Challenge by December 31 (one of three books remaining)

  • Complete the 2nds Challenge by December 31 (three of three books remaining)

  • Read Christmas Jars by Jason Wright, which was sent to me for review
I just did the math: that's seventeen books in December! I guess I'd better get reading!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Harvesting the Heart by Jodi Picoult

Published in 1993. 453 pages.

My enjoyment of Jodi Picoult's novels continues with Harvesting the Heart, which was her second novel and the ninth I've read. While I think it is apparent that this is one of her early novels, it still contained the elements for which I enjoy her writing: the switching of perspective between characters, and the use of symbolism.

This one explores a topic with which I have first-hand experience, that is, postpartum depression. But the storyline goes well beyond that, exploring the relationship between parent and child in many ways. Evocative and compelling, this was a great read for my Thanksgiving vacation. (Yes, I'm a little slow getting the review up.)

I read this novel for the Reading the Author challenge. As I started reading, it occurred to me that this was on one of the lists for the "Something About Me" challenge too - so I'm counting it "double."