31 December 2010

I spotted this over at An Adventure in Reading complete with permission to borrow away. So I took the lazy option for my end-or-yer post and did exactly that!

Best Book: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows. Made me smile all the way through, and want to run off to an island somewhere.

Worst Book: The Quality of Mercy by Faye Kellerman. Heroine I wanted to slap? Check. Characters who made me wish I could disinfect my imagination? Check. Offensive portrayal of actual historical figure? Check. Distinct whiff of authorial axe-grinding? Check. Mental note to take it to second-hand book store at first opportunity? Check.

Most Disappointing Book: 2010 seems to have been my year for less-than-stellar reads. Most (or least) notable: White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi, The Pindar Diamond by Katie Hickman, and Rebels and Traitors by Lindsey Davis. Also, in a way, Into the Woods by Tana French. It is actually a good book; but I was so excited to discover that crime novel rarity - a male-female investigative pair who are just friends - that their decision to ruin a perfectly good working relationship by sleeping together sent the novel into a nosedive for me at that point.

Most Surprising Book: A Sense of the World by Jason Roberts. It’s a biography of James Holman, an adventurer who travelled all over the world in the early 1800s ... after going blind.

The Book Most Recommended to Others: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Best Series Discovered: Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey series.

Favorite New Authors Discovered: Deanna Raybourn and Tana French. (Depsite the aforementioned nosedive.)

Most Hilarious Read: Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson.

Most Thrilling, Unputdownable Book: The Whole Truth by David Baldacci. I read most of it in one night because I HAD to find out what happened.

Most Anticipated Book: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, The Dead Path by Stephen M. Irwin, and Guernsey again.

Favorite Cover: The Natural History of Unicorns by Chris Lavers.

Most Memorable Character: Nicolas Creel in The Whole Truth; everyone in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. (Can you tell how much I loved that book?)

Most Beautifully-Written Book: the Lambs of London by Peter Ackroyd.

Book That Had the Greatest Impact On You: I’m not really one for being affected by books. But Revolutions in the Earth by Stephen Baxter fuelled a stack of background for this year’s NaNo novel.

Book you Can't Believe you Waited Until 2010 to Read: Waverley by Sir Walter Scott. For someone who likes the classics I took a long time to get around to that one.

New Favorite Book Blog You Discovered: The Classics Circuit. Next year I must take part in one of their classics blog tours.

Favorite Review You Wrote: Not a great year for reviews ... okay, a pathetic year for reviews. Probably The Other Boleyn Girl was my favourite of the few.

Best Book Event You Participated in During 2010: Blog Post Bingo is always fun.

Best Bookish Discovery of 2010: Paradoxically, the discovery that reading fewer than 100 books in a year isn’t a total calamity.

30 December 2010

New Author Challenge 2011

New Author Challenge 2011

1 Jan - 31 Dec 2011

Woohoo! Literary Escapism is back up and I can sign up for that challenge I’ve been eyeing off. I seem to have encountered an unusually high rate of sub-par reads this year, so maybe trying some new things next year will improve matters.

(Or maybe not. It’s just occurred to me that most of those disappointments were authors I hadn’t read before.)

For reading challenges next year I’m working on the principle that it’s better to aim low and overshoot than aim high and fail (again...). So I’m going for 15 books by new-to-me authors in 2011. Not a terribly high proportion of my total reading, but non-fiction doesn’t count!

Historical Fiction Challenge 2011

Historical Fiction Challenge 2011

1 Jan - 31 Dec 2011

I think, a couple of weeks ago, I formed the intention of not taking on too many challenges next year. Or half-formed it. Or thought about forming it. Doesn’t really matter now, since I’m about to sign up for two more!

But I can’t resist the Historical Fiction Challenge, hosted this time by Historical Tapestry. I’ve chosen the Struggling the Addiction option of 10 books. (Probably I’ve got a good half-dozen in my TBR box already.)

I’m not going to choose books in advance, but I will commit to reading books set in ten different eras. Preferably ten different centuries, if I can manage it.

Booking Through Thursday: Annual Review

What’s the best book you read this year?

Worst?

Favorite?

Best: The False Inspector Dew by Peter Livesey. A mystery set aboard the Mauritania in the 1920s with multiple twists and turns, and an ending I never saw coming.

Worst: Does it count if I didn’t actually read the whole thing? If so, The Quality of Mercy by Faye Kellerman. I can hardly remember the last time I itched so badly to slap a character into the next century as I did Rebecca Lopez. For worst book read in its entirety, I’d choose the disappointing White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi.

Favourite: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows. It just about broke my heart to give it back to the library.

28 December 2010

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

"I see no difficulty there," declared McClellan. "The question is what to do with Miss Acton tonight."

From The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld, p. 88.

25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

I hope everyone reading this had a wonderful day and found at least one good book under the tree.

And I hope you had nicer weather than Brisbane! It’s been raining here for days, and it’s going to keep raining for days to come. I’m consoling myself with the thought that at least the house is on high ground. And this is going to be great for the giant tomato plant that’s sprouted in the compost heap, and is already up to my shoulder.

09 December 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Crappy

Do you ever crave reading crappy books?

Short answer:

Uh ... no. Why would I do that?

Longer answer:

Sometimes I enjoy reading thrillers that some people would regard as trashy. (Dan Brown might not be the world’s greatest writer, but his books are fun.) But that’s other people’s definition of crappy, not mine. And I’ve got much better things to do with my time than read books I think are crappy. Sure, they’re fun to trash in the review, but I’m less inclined now to finish bad books than I used to be. (A sign of advancing age perhaps, if I can use such an excuse at 26.)

I’d much rather read good books than bad ones!

07 December 2010

DNF: The Quality of Mercy by Faye Kellerman

The Quality of Mercy Historical Fiction Challenge

When actor Harry Whitman is found near the road with a sword through his back, the obvious conclusion is that he was killed by a highwayman. His friend and protege Will Shakespeare, however, isn’t so sure. Asked by Whitman’s widow to find her husband’s killer, he sets out to investigate and soon finds that his suspicions are justified.

Meanwhile Rebecca, the teenage daughter of the Queen’s physician Roderigo Lopez, is eager to avoid the fate that her gender and class have alotted her: Marriage. Her fiance has been murdered while carrying out her father’s schemes to rescue fellow Jews from the Inquisition, but it is only a matter of time before she is betrothed to another. And Rebecca means to make the most of every moment of freedom she can grab.

I feel a little guilty about including a book I didn’t finish in a challenge, but it’s too late in the year to hunt up another replacement. (This book was intended to substitute for The Fool's Tale, another unreadable book.) This really hasn’t been my year where reading challenges are concerned.

If it had been just Shakespeare chasing after his friend’s killer ... well, I don’t know whether I would have finished it but it would have been better. I liked Shakespeare, which is more than I can say for pretty much every other character. And it was fun reading about his theatrical tribulations. The manager complains that his Richard III is too human to be politically wise and tells Shakespeare to "evil him up". Then Burbage complains that his opening speech is too short and demands another twenty lines. Or thirty. Or forty, or fifty if it’s going well.

But then Willy met Becca.

Whenever Rebecca appeared on the page, a phrase of Aarti’s kept running through my head: “Unrealistically Rebellious Female! Unrealistically Rebellious Female!”. (Complete with red flags and flashing lights and sirens.) Kellerman does at least make an effort to give her reasons for not wanting to marry like every other girl of her class is expected to do, but still... God, I wanted to slap her. This is someone who has clearly never even HEARD of discretion, let alone understood the concept.

She talks when she shouldn’t about matters of other people’s life or death. At the age of twelve she prostituted herself to her cousin in return for further schooling. She slips out of the house and roams the streets of London dressed as a man in clothes “borrowed” from her brother. On one such cross-dressing escapade, she engages in a duel - and loses the weapons she had “borrowed” from her cousin. (Because heaven forbid she conduct herself like other women in any respect; naturally she’s pestered her male relatives into teaching her to fence.) Just like she pesters her father into letting her help with his business.

And she wonders why Roderigo wants to get her married off and settled down.

Actually, I disliked most of the characters. So many of them are unpleasant people who do and think and say unpleasant things, to the extent that I rather regret wading as far through the sordid sixteenth-century mire as I did. And I hated the depiction of Queen Elizabeth - she was portrayed as positively predatory towards attractive young girls, which I felt was a disrespectful thing to do to a real person.

But the book does have a redeeming feature, and it’s a strong one. The historical detail is fantastic; I could probably have learned a lot if I’d been able to keep reading. (It also inspired me to weed out some books to trade at a second-hand bookstore, which I’ve been thinking about for ages; needless to say this one was first on the list.)

Pages Read: 237 of 594 (plus a few more from the end, when I checked to see whodunnit)

Victorian Literature Challenge

Thanks to Becky’s Weekly Geeks post I discovered the Victorian Literature Challenge at Words, Words, Words and promptly succumbed to temptation. The challenge covers everything written in the Victorian era (1837 - 1901), and runs from 1 Jan to 31 Dec 2011.

I’ve chosen the Great Expectations option of 5-9 books; I think I’ll aim for an even half-dozen. Three from my TBR box:

Nicholas Nickleby - Charles Dickens
A Pair of Blue Eyes - Thomas Hardy (overlap with What’s in a Name? 4)
Can You Forgive Her? - Anthony Trollope
And three to be rounded up later.

I’m very much looking forward to finishing my second Dickens novel!

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

Mr William Walton, the proprietor's brother, who was responsible for waiting on the suite of rooms in the east wing, took it upon himself to tell her ladyship that his colleague, Mr Robert Hepple, had confided in him what he had seen and heard the previous night. Mr Hepple felt the information ought to be communicated to Lord Ellenborough, a frequent guest in the hotel.

From A Scandalous Life by Mary S. Lovell, p. 51.

This is a biography of Lady Jane Digby, who was literally front-page news when Lord Ellenborough divorced her in 1830. (And who continued to stir up gossip for quite some time thereafter.)

06 December 2010

Weekly Geeks: Plans for 2011

Weekly Geeks

Do you plan on participating in any reading challenges in 2011? Are you planning on hosting any reading challenges? Perhaps you'd like to share an idea for a reading challenge - to see if there is any interest! Share with us which challenges look tempting to you! (You don't have to "officially" join any of the challenges for this weekly geek. Just let us know which ones you'd be most interested in.) You might want to spend some time browsing A Novel Challenge. Are there any challenges you are looking forward to that haven't been announced yet? Regardless of your challenge plans, are you starting to plan ahead for next year? Do you make lists or goals? Are you a person who enjoys reading more if it is structured? Or are you all about being free to read what you want, when you want?
Reading challenges? Bring ’em on!

So far for 2011 I’ve signed up for the Gothic Reading Challenge and the What’s in a Name? 4 Reading Challenge. (When it comes to challenges, I’m not one to let a year of failed reading goals deter me from launching into the next lot.) I’m also tempted by the Shakespeare Reading Challenge, and the Georgette Heyer Reading Challenge, and I’ll check out the New Authors Reading Challenge when the site is back up.

Yes, I enjoy challenges. I like the sense of community and the fun of hunting books to fit the criteria. But I also like my reading freedom, which is why I’ve increasingly begun to leave challenge lists blank at sign-up and fill them as I go - “I must look out for a book with a gem in the title” is so much less restrictive that “I have to re-read The Moonstone next year”. Of course the downside to this - as opposed to the “only join a challenge if I can fill it from my TBR box” method - is that the universe (in the person of the library and the Bookfest) doesn’t always provide.

Challenges aside, my reading plans for next years can be summed up in three words: Read. More. Books. Unless I’ve overlooked a bunch I haven’t even hit three figures this year, which by my standards is ... appalling. I know I had free time - where the hell did it all go? On a tangential note, I also want to do something I have never done before: Clear some books off my shelves to trade in at a second-hand bookstore. The last time I got rid of any books was as part of a garage sale when I was in high school!

All this talk of challenges has given me an idea. I’ll be reading a lot about the 18th century next year, thanks to NaNoWriMo - in order both to polish this year’s heap of rubbish work in progress and plan out next year’s. So why not try to drag a few other people along with me? If you’d be interested in joining an Enlightenment Reading Challenge - for books written in, set in, or written about the 1700s - please leave a comment.

What’s in a Name? 4 Reading Challenge

What’s a good way to cheer yourself up after NaNoWriMo has come to an end for another year? Go and check out all the bright shiny new reading challenges! Beth is running the What’s in a Name? 4 Reading Challenge, and this year the categories are:

1. A book with a number in the title
2. A book with jewelry or a gem in the title
3. A book with a size in the title
4. A book with travel or movement in the title
5. A book with evil in the title
6. A book with a life stage in the title

So far my (flexible) choices are:

Number:
A Pair of Blue Eyes - Thomas Hardy

Travel or Movement:
Going Wrong - Ruth Rendell; or
I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith (capturing involves movement! It counts!)

Evil:
Dark Hollow - John Connolly

Life Stage:
A Kiss Before Dying - Ira Levin; or
The Kitchen God's Wife - Amy Tan

The remaining two categories will be filled from the library, or the next Bookfest, or the UBS at Mt Gravatt if I ever work up the resolve to cull my collection and trade some books.

02 December 2010

Booking Through Thursday: First

How about First Editions? Are they something special? Or “just another book” to you?

I really don’t care about what print run a book came from; I just care about whether it’s worth reading. I wouldn’t have a clue what number edition any of my books are; it’s not something I’ve ever thought to check. And with books produced in such numbers these days I don’t regard a first edition as anything special.

Now, if it was an old book, I might think differently ... but I wouldn’t spend a fortune on it just because it was first.

01 December 2010

NaNoWriMo Day 30: Thank God It's Over - I Think

30 days. Too many cups of coffee. Too few hours of sleep. 80,592 words if Microsoft Word’s doing the counting. Several hundred less it it’s the NaNo website. (Definitely something strange going on there; up until last night it was adding a couple of hundred.)

It’s over for another year! In a way it’s a relief; I’ve spent the last few days thinking, I just want this novel to be finished! Not that it’s anywhere near that, of course, but now at least I can give my poor hands a break and halve the amount I type each day.

But I think I’m going to miss the thrill of being wide awake and eager to keep plotting and writing at 1 in the morning.

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776