Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014 Reading Challenges

OK, I admit it: I'm a reading challenge junkie. Let me just get that out of the way up front. I don't usually do read-a-longs or read-a-thons because I find the short time frames too restricting, hence my near obsession with year long challenges -- they all just sound like so much fun! I had considered skipping this year since I didn't complete very many of my 2013 reading challenges, but I keep seeing new ones pop up that really appeal to me and focus on the kinds of books I'd like to be reading in the coming year. I'd also like to think the fact I read so few books this year has a LOT to do with how busy I've been working on the new house (that's a good excuse right?).

So at the risk of over-extending myself (my overflowing bookshelves being prime evidence that I am often guilty of this), I'm re-trying a few challenges and adding in some new ones for 2014. This time around, I'm not going to list book choices for each one, but will instead use my GoodReads shelves to keep track of books that potentially qualify. (They are not all fully organized yet, be they will be. Eventually.) I've chosen some challenges based on subject and some based on format/length/total number, so there will be a lot of cross-over. This is a good thing otherwise I'd be reading 200+ books, which is so not realistic for me. Whenever a challenge level offers a range (say 1-4 books), I will list the higher number for my progress bar, but will consider it a success to end up anywhere in the range.

Everyone who joins challenges does so for different reasons -- for some, they are a way to motivate themselves to tackle more difficult subjects, longer length books, classics, or some other more intimidating reading goal. I'm the kind of person that likes to join a lot of different themed challenges at lower levels, as a reminder to diversify my reading selections -- to each his own, I say! And if you think I'm nuts, I'm OK with that, too. If you want to join any of these yourself, click on the "Hosted by" link to head over to the host's site for more information and to sign-up. It's always fun to be in the company of like-minded readers :)

P.S. A big thank you to The Book Vixen for the easy tutorial for creating progress bars!

Photo credit: Old Books by Petr Kratochvil
I did really miserably at my own challenge last year, but am determined to give it another go! I'm setting my goal a bit lower to get me started, but am hoping to raise the bar later on. I'm planning to read mostly banned/challenged classics that are on my Classics Club list and will try not to be tempted to re-read Harry Potter :) :)

Hosted by: Me!
Goal: Rebel, 6-9 books
GoodReads shelf: Banned/Challenged Books
Progress: 
9/9 banned or challenged books
COMPLETED!

A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein
Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan
Maus I, by Art Spiegelman
Maus II, by Art Spiegelman
If I Stay, by Gayle Forman
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by JK Rowling
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The new house really put a kink in my classics reading plans last year, but I'm determined to do better this year! Just for this challenge, I will list my tentative choices since the categories are quite specific. I will use this challenge to help jump-start my commitment to the Classics Club which also fell by the wayside in the midst of all the chaos!

Hosted by: Books and Chocolate
Goal: 6 required categories
A 20th Century Classic (The Crucible, by Arthur Miller)
A 19th Century Classic (Great Classic Humor, by Mark Twain, et al)
A Classic by a Woman Author (The Secret of the Old Clock, by Carolyn Keene)
A Classic in Translation (Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles)
A Classic About War
A Classic by an Author Who Is New To Me (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson)

& 5 optional categories
An American Classic
A Classic Mystery, Suspense or Thriller
A Historical Fiction Classic
A Classic That's Been Adapted Into a Movie or TV Series (Beowulf)
A Review of the Movie or TV Series adapted from above

Progress: 
5/6 required categories

1/5 optional categories

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Another challenge I utterly failed at in 2013, but I am really itching to read more of these types of books -- I certainly have plenty to choose from!

Goal: Pastry Chef level, 4-8 books
GoodReads shelves: Foodie Books Cookbooks
Progress: 
5/5 foodie books
COMPLETED!

Blood, Bones, and Butter, by Gabrielle Hamilton
Not Becoming My Mother, by Ruth Reichl
In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan
The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan
Cooked, by Michael Pollan

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I am such a sucker for all things Scottish, so I definitely can't pass this one up. Books by Scottish authors, set in Scotland, or about Scotland itself count.

Hosted by: Peggy Ann's Post
Goal: Just a Keek level, 1-4 books
GoodReads shelf: Scottish Author or Setting
Progress: 
4/4 Scottish books
COMPLETED!

Under the Wide and Starry Sky, by Nancy Horan
Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Dragonfly in Amber, by Diana Gabaldon

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Because I LOVE review books and have gotten a tad behind. My plan is to read & review every ARC I already have (unless I have to DNF, but hopefully not!) and to keep on top of any new ones I might receive. Priority goes to ARCs from publishers, but hopefully I'll get to the other ones I have as well (borrowed, won from contests, GoodReads, etc. -- a few of these are quite old!)

Goal: Master level, 21-30 ARCs
GoodReads shelf: To Review
Progress: 
14/21 books reviewed

Bellman & Black, by Diane Setterfield
How to Be a Good Wife, by Emma Chapman
Under the Wide and Starry Sky, by Nancy Horan
The Winter People, by Jennifer McMahon
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress, by Ariel Lawhon
While Beauty Slept, by Elizabeth Blackwell
1,000 Feelings for Which There Are No Names, by Mario Giordano
Dark Tide, by Elizabeth Haynes
Goodnight June, by Sarah Jio
Under Shifting Glass, by Nicky Singer
The Riverman, by Aaron Starmer
Bittersweet, by Beverly-Whittemore
The Heiresses, by Sara Shepard
The Major's Daughter, by J.P. Francis

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I've recently realized the vast majority of books I own & ARCs I've received are from authors I've never read previously. I think this challenge will be one of my easier ones to complete and I'm looking forward to seeing which authors are "new" to the other participants.

Hosted by: Literary Escapism
Goal: 50 books by new-to-me-authors
GoodReads shelf: New-to-Me
Progress: 
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Photo Credit: Jeff Golden
I've recently gotten a lot more into audiobooks because I don't always have time to sit still and read a print book. I love squeezing in some reading time while doing more boring things, so a goal of about 1 per month seems reasonable.

Hosted by: Teresa's Reading Corner
Goal: Going Steady level, 12 audiobooks
GoodReads Shelf: Audiobook Candidates
Progress:
34/12 audiobooks
COMPLETED!

Great Classic Humor, edited by Mark Twain
If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't), by Betty White
Books, by Larry McMurtry
I Am America (and So Can You), by Stephen Colbert
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, by Mindy Kaling
I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I've Ever Had, by Tony Danza
Commitment, by Dan Savage
Blood, Bones, and Butter, by Gabrielle Hamilton
Not Becoming My Mother, by Ruth Reichl
Team Human, by Justine Larbalestier & Sarah Rees Brennan
Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney
Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
Panic, by Lauren Oliver
One Man Guy, by Michael Barakiva
The Crucible, by Arthur Miller
Coraline, by Neil Gaiman
The Neil Gaiman Audio Collection
Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn
Icons, by Margaret Stohl
Letter to My Daughter, by Maya Angelou
Lost Girls, by Robert Kolker
In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan
The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan
Cooked, by Michael Pollan
Where'd You Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple
Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay
Frozen in Time, by Mitchell Zuckoff
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Empty Mansions, by Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Newell, Jr.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson
Holiday Humor, by Jack Benny
The Christmas Doll, by Elvira Woodruff
A Child's Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas

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It's been years since I've read traditional mysteries (Mary Higgins Clark, that kind of thing), but I've recently come to realize how much I enjoy books with mystery elements, even if they are not exactly the traditional sort -- gothic novels, novels about family secrets, historical mysteries, the occasional thriller, and other genre-crossing books are all on my TBR list, so this very flexible challenge is right up my alley!

Hosted by: Riedel Fascination
Goal: Secret Messages level, 5-10 books
GoodReads Shelf: My Kind of Mystery
Progress:
15/10 "mysteries"
COMPLETED!

The Winter People, by Jennifer McMahon
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress, by Ariel Lawhon
Dark Tide, by Elizabeth Haynes
Goodnight June, by Sarah Jio
Under Shifting Glass, by Nicky Singer
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
The Riverman, by Aaron Starmer
Bittersweet, by Beverly-Whittemore
The Heiresses, by Sara Shepard
Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn
Where'd You Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Secret of the Old Clock, by Carolyn Keene
The Hidden Staircase, by Carolyn Keene
The Rosie Project, by Graham Simision

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I almost always like the book better than the movie, but I am a firm believer that if the book wasn't good, they wouldn't have bothered to make a movie! I have a few on my shelf I've been meaning to read for a while, so I thought I'd take a stab at this one for 2014, but ease in at the lowest level, and keep upping my levels :)

Hosted by: Doing Dewey
Goal: Movie Aficinado level, 12 books
GoodReads Shelf: Made Into Movie or TV Show
Progress:
19/12 books
COMPLETED!

Divergent, by Veronica Roth
Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis 2, by Marjane Satrapi
Chicken and Plums, by Marjane Satrapi
The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan
Noah, by Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel, & Niko Henrichon
Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney
Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
The Crucible, by Arthur Miller
Coraline, by Neil Gaiman
Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn
If I Stay, by Gayle Forman
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by JK Rowling
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by JK Rowling
The Maze Runner, by James Dashner
Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg

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Instead of a TBR challenge this year, I'm joining this rewind challenge because it sounds like so much more fun. Rather than looking at my TBR list as a version of a "to-do" list that needs to get checked off, I like the philosophy of this challenge which is to "slow down, rewind a little bit and get to those books that we wanted to read SO badly before they were released but somehow got lost in the shuffle." In particular, I've been eyeing my old Waiting on Wednesday posts that I never got around to reading once they got published and there are others on my shelves as well. When I went on vacation earlier this past fall, I read two books that would fall into this "category" and it felt so good to finally dive into these much anticipated titles. I'm really looking forward to repeating the experience :)

Hosted by: Coffee Bean Bookshelf
Goal: 10 books
GoodReads Shelf: Been Meaning to Read Forever
Progress:
10/10 books
COMPLETED!

Divergent, by Veronica Roth
Insurgent, by Veronica Roth
Allegiant, by Veronica Roth
If I Stay, by Gayle Forman
Where She Went, by Gayle Forman
Grave Mercy, by Robin LeFevers
Empty Mansions, by Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Newell, Jr.
The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein

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I love this version of a series challenge because you do not necessarily *need* to finish each series, but get awarded points for each step of progress you make. Finishing a series gets a lot of bonus points, but I love the idea of slowly chipping away at my stacks of series. Book 1's don't count, so this challenge will be great for continuing series for where I loved the first book and haven't gotten around to the others for one reason or another. (More info about the points system over on the hosts' sites.)

Hosted by: Novel Heartbeat & Writer Grrl Reads
Goal: Amateur level, 25-50 points
{Prequel or sequel novella = 1 point
Full-length sequel = 2 points
Completing & reviewing a full series = 10 points}
GoodReads Shelf: Series to Read
Progress:
28/50 points

Completed Divergent Trilogy (10 pts.)
Divergent, by Veronica Roth
Insurgent, by Veronica Roth (2 pts.)
Allegiant, by Veronica Roth (2 pts.)
The Transfer, by Veronica Roth (1 pt.)
Free Four, by Veronica Roth (1 pt.)

Completed Persepolis Duology
Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis 2, by Marjane Satrapi (2 pts.)

Graceling Realm
Graceling, by Kristin Cashore

The Complete Maus
Maus I, by Art Spiegelman
Maus II, by Art Spiegelman (2 pts.)

If I Stay
If I Stay, by Gayle Forman
Where She Went, by Gayle Forman (2 pts.)

Harry Potter
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by JK Rowling
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by JK Rowling (2 pts.)

The Maze Runner
The Maze Runner, by James Dashner

Grave Mercy
Grave Mercy, by Robin LeFevers

Outlander
Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
Dragonfly in Amber, by Diana Gabaldon (2 pts.)

The Hunt
The Hunt, by Andrew Fukuda

Don Tillman
The Rosie Project, by Graham Simsion

Nancy Drew
The Secret of the Old Clock, by Carolyn Keene
The Hidden Staircase, by Carolyn Keene (2 pts.)

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I have so many new books I want to read, I sometimes feel I *can't* re-read some of my favorites. I'm joining this challenge to remind myself it's OK to re-read every once in a while. Even if I only re-read one book this year, I would be happy with that.

Hosted by: CaffeinatedLife.net
Goal: Occasional re-reader level, 1-4 books
GoodReads Shelf: Want to Re-read
Progress:
16/4 books
COMPLETED!

The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan
Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney
Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles
The Crucible, by Arthur Miller
Coraline, by Neil Gaiman
Icons, by Margaret Stohl
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by JK Rowling
Instructions, by Neil Gaiman
Wolves in the Walls, by Neil Gaiman
Fortunately, the Milk, by Neil Gaiman
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by JK Rowling
Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
The Secret of the Old Clock, by Carolyn Keene
The Hidden Staircase, by Carolyn Keene
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson
Dragonfly in Amber, by Diana Gabaldon

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I'm joining this one again to remind myself to not be intimidated by larger books. Some of my favorite authors write really long books, so I don't want to miss out just because they take more time to read! We get to make our own goal this year, so I'm aiming for at least 5.

Hosted by: Vassily @The Chunkster Reading Challenge blog
Goal: 5 books with 450+ pages
GoodReads Shelf: 450+ pages
Progress:
8/5 chunksters
COMPLETED!

Under the Wide and Starry Sky, by Nancy Horan (496 pages)
Divergent, by Veronica Roth (487 pages)
Insurgent, by Veronica Roth (525 pages)
Allegiant, by Veronica Roth (526 pages)
Graceling, by Kristin Cashore (471 pages)
Grave Mercy, by Robin LeFevers (549 pages)
Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon (849 pages)
Dragonfly in Amber, by Diana Gabaldon (947 pages)

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I was on the fence about this one, but since it actually was my 14th challenge as I was writing up this post, I took that as a sign to go for it. All books I will read for the categories of this challenge also will count elsewhere, so what do I have to lose?

Hosted by: Books to Share
Goal: one book for each of  the following categories (more info about each on the host's sign-up page)

1. Visit the Country: Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
2. Cover Lust: Under the Wide and Starry Sky, by Nancy Horan
3. Blame it on Bloggers: Divergent, by Veronica Roth
4. Bargain All The Way: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
5. (Not So) Fresh From the Oven: Dark Tide, by Elizabeth Haynes
6. First Letter’s Rule: Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
7. Once Upon a Time: Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney
8. Chunky Brick: Insurgent, by Veronica Roth
9. Favorite Author: Panic, by Lauren Oliver
10. It’s Been There Forever: Under Shifting Glass, by Nicky Singer
11. Movies vs. Books: Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
12. Freebies Time: Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles
13. Not My Cup of Tea: The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel
14. Walking Down Memory Lane: Shel Silverstein poetry

Progress: 
14/14 books
COMPLETED!

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A lack of diversity in the book world can be less obvious than it is for movies, TV, and other more visible arenas. But my bookish buddy Alysia who is hosting this challenge has really got me thinking about this important issue. The background of an author or main character doesn't usually cross my mind, but I know there are a lot of great authors and books out there that deserve more recognition. So I'm dipping my toe in this challenge and giving it a try. Most of all, I am looking forward to how much I can learn from other participants and their book/author choices.

Hosted by: My Little Pocketbooks
Goal: 2nd shelf level, 7-12 books
GoodReads Shelf: Diversity on the Shelf Challenge
Progress:
13/12 books
COMPLETED!

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, by Mindy Kaling
Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis 2, by Marjane Satrapi
Embroideries, by Marjane Satrapi
The Sigh, by Marjane Satrapi
Chicken and Plums, by Marjane Satrapi
The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan
Team Human, by Justine Larbalestier & Sarah Rees Brennan
One Man Guy, by Michael Barakiva
Letter to My Daughter, by Maya Angelou
Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay
The Hunt, by Andrew Fukuda
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

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When done well, historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. I love diving into another era so different from my own. This challenge will be a reminder to make sure I don't let this genre slip past my radar this year. I hope to up my level later on, but I'll see how things go!

Hosted by: Historical Tapestry
Goal: Victorian Reader level, 5 books
GoodReads Shelf: Historical Fiction
Progress:
8/5 books
COMPLETED!

Under the Wide and Starry Sky, by Nancy Horan
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress, by Ariel Lawhon
Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
The Crucible, by Arthur Miller
The Major's Daughter, by J.P. Francis
Grave Mercy, by Robin LeFevers
Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
Dragonfly in Amber, by Diana Gabaldon

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Sooo, I went to the library over the weekend and came home with a pile of poetry books. I'm not certain I will read them all, but since I seem so drawn to them at the moment, I figured I should sneak this one onto my list of challenges.

Hosted by: Savvy Verse & Wit
Goal: Dive In level, 7+ books of poetry
GoodReads Shelf: Poetry
Progress:
7/7 books
COMPLETED!

BookSpeak!, by Laurie Purdie Salas & illustrated by Josée Bisaillon
Poetry for Young People: Emily Dickinson, edited by Frances Schoonmaker Bolin & illustrated by Chi Chung
Wicked Poems, edited by Roger McGough & illustrated by Neal Layton
A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein
Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein
Falling Up, by Shel Silverstein
Every Thing On It, by Shel Silverstein

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Image attribution: Sara Aydin Matos
When looking over some of my top picks for The Classics Club and my own Banned Books challenge, I realized quite a few of them are translated, so I thought this would be a fun challenge to join. I'm going to ease in at the lowest level, but if I really get on a roll with a particular author, perhaps I will increase later on. Keep upping my level on this one too!

Hosted by: The Introverted Reader
Goal: Bilingual level, 7-9 books in translation
GoodReads Shelf: Translated
Progress:
8/8 books
COMPLETED!

Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis 2, by Marjane Satrapi
Embroideries, by Marjane Satrapi
The Sigh, by Marjane Satrapi
Chicken and Plums, by Marjane Satrapi
1,000 Feelings for Which There Are No Names, by Mario Giordano
Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney
Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles

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Every year I read at least a few non-fiction books, and at this point what's one more challenge, really? My preferred sub-genres are memoirs, books-about-books, and anything food-related, but I will also read other topics I happen across. Non-fiction is also one of my preferred genres to listen to on audiobook, so this challenge should be a snap and I may up my level later on.

Hosted by: The Introverted Reader
Goal: Explorer level, 6-10 non-fiction books
GoodReads Shelf: Non-fiction
Progress:
17/10 books
COMPLETED!

If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't), by Betty White
Books, by Larry McMurtry
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, by Mindy Kaling
I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I've Ever Had, by Tony Danza
The Commitment, by Dan Savage
Blood, Bones, and Butter, by Gabrielle Hamilton
Not Becoming My Mother, by Ruth Reichl
Maus I, by Art Spiegelman
Maus II, by Art Spiegelman
Lost Girls, by Robert Kolker
Letter to My Daughter, by Maya Angelou
In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan
The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan
Cooked, by Michael Pollan
Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay
Frozen in Time, by Mitchell Zuckoff
Empty Mansions, by Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

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I've been thinking about re-reading school assignment books and when I stopped by my local bookstore, I realized several of the ones I was looking for were on their special Newbery display. So I figured what's one more challenge? Quite a few of these books are also on the 1,001 Children's Books list!

Hosted by: Smiling Shelves
Goal: L'Engle level; 15-29 points
{Newbery Medal Winner = 3 points
Newbery Honor Book = 2 points
Caldecott Medal Winner = 1 point}
GoodReads Shelf: Newbery
Progress:
1/29 points

The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg (1 pt.)

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Clearly I needed to join this one again! I am hoping the combination of having more time to read and entering most challenges at lower levels will help me complete more of them this time around! This may seem a bit hard to believe, but my overall goal really is quality, diversified reads throughout the year, not just quantity! 

Hosted by: Reading Challenge Addict
Goal: Out of This World level, 16+ challenges entered & completed
Progress:
16/20 challenges

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I'll try not to sneak any more new challenges in after this post goes live, but I make no promises. If Justice hosts a Books About Books challenge again, I am so in! I also will definitely join the annual GoodReads challenge, but haven't seen any info on it yet. If and when they do open it up, I will add the widget to my sidebar -- it is truly the challenge that encompasses all other challenges since it is just an overall number. I think I would like to set my goal for the year at 50 books and if I manage to exceed that, I will be one happy camper.

Here's to a year of reading -- Happy New Year everyone!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Reading: Part 3

Christmas may be over, but I'm one of those people that doesn't mind letting the holiday spirit linger a bit. After spending so much time and effort preparing, I hate to let it just disappear in a day. If you remember, I'm also very stubborn about not letting Christmas creep in until I've thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated Thanksgiving, so that is definitely a contributing factor. Lucky for me, the Christmas Spirit Challenge runs through Little Christmas/the Epiphany in early January, so I don't feel completely odd squeezing in one last holiday post in the midst of everyone else doing year-end wrap-ups and whatnot. You may not want to read any of these now (I did read them all before Christmas), but there's always next year!

You Better Not Cry, by Augusten Burroughs
Series? No
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Date: 2009
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
My Rating: 3 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Author | Publisher

This one was just OK, but I do wonder how much of my indifference can be attributed to the narration of the audiobook. I typically love when an author reads their own work, but I found myself wanting to rip my hair out as Augusten stretched out each word and sentence to an absurd degree as if speaking to someone he is not quite sure can understand him -- or is perhaps hard of hearing. It got a bit better in the later stories, but it really was infuriating. And ironically, an additional production problem was not leaving enough extra seconds of silence at the end of each story. Each new one began with a title, but it ran so quickly from the story before that it was sometimes difficult to realize we had moved onto a completely different topic. For example, a bewildered Augusten waking up to realize he'd had a tryst with an elderly Santa directly followed a story from his childhood and it took some rewinding and replaying to realize just exactly where one story ended and a (completely!) different one began. Despite the irritating narration which was in full force for the very first story, it is actually one of my favorites -- Augusten as a child confusing Santa and Jesus was truly hysterical.
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The Worst Noel, by collected authors
Series? No
Publisher: Harper Audio
Date: 2005
How did I get this book? purchased
My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Publisher

As I'm finding with many other humorous holiday collections, this one is a bit hit and miss. Taken as a whole, it was quite good, but there were only a few real stand-out stories. Having just finished my own Christmas cards, I absolutely loved the one by Marian Keyes about this particular holiday tradition which is approached with a mix of nostalgia and obligation. It's a bit sad to realize just how true it is, but the truth is what makes it so damn funny. Another story that really had me laughing was one in which a young artistic couple realize they don't know each other very well when they exchange presents they each hate. There were more Jewish stories about Christmas than I anticipated, but that is not necessarily a bad thing -- just unexpected. Of all the Christmas humor books I've read this year, this was definitely my favorite.
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The Father Christmas Letters, by JRR Tolkien
Series? No
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Date: 1976
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Publisher

This was a lovely little treasure I found out about from Riv over at Bookish Realm. It is a collection of letters Tolkien wrote to his children as Father Christmas (with illustrations) and would be an excellent addition to any child or family's Christmas collection. Each year Father Christmas shared a bit about his life at the North Pole and relayed what happened during the year. The North Polar Bear is his greatest helper, but also a bit of a nuisance and a trouble maker. There are goblin wars and all kinds of other adventures. The letters do not exactly portray the North Pole as I remember it from stories and legends, but it was nice to find a new perspective after all these years -- especially one that actually dates back to the 1920s & 1930s!
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The Christmas Kid and other Brooklyn Stories, by Pete Hamill
Series? No
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Date: 2012
How did I get this book? borrowed from library
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Author | Publisher

Be warned, this book is NOT all Christmas stories. Other than the title story, there are very few that actually are related to Christmas, but I still think this was a wonderful book to read around the holidays since it is brimming with nostalgia. I never lived in Brooklyn, but my grandmother did and I've grown up hearing stories from her life there. Many of the stories collected here are heart-breaking or even downright depressing, but certainly not all. The title story was truly fantastic and I completely understand why it was used as such. There is a bit of vigilante justice and violence, but there is also plenty of love, friendship, camaraderie, and community. There are stories from several different eras and I really enjoyed the mix. The narration was excellent (complete with Brooklyn accents) and I will definitely be listening to this one again.

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These books count toward my reading goals for:
2013 Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Reading Part 2: A Christmas Carol

I read this book along with fellow bloggers Riv & Sam. And my friend Christy recently read & reviewed it as well!

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
Series? No
Publisher: Dreamscape Media 
Date: 1843; audiobook published in 2012
How did I get this book? Borrowed from library
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
GoodReads | Publisher

I touched on my nostalgia for this classic Christmas tale in my previous Christmas reading post. The first time I read it I was 16 years old and in Ms. Sweeney's honors English class. Ms. Sweeney is definitely one of the best English teachers I ever had. That woman knew her stuff and she had extremely high expectations of us girls. She was the kind of teacher who pushed her students beyond anything we thought ourselves capable of and we were better for it in the end. Her class was seriously challenging and her exams struck fear in the heart of anyone who dared to skim, skip, or let their mind wander during class. When she gave us her "just checking to make sure you did your homework" quizzes, it was like she knew you started glazing over on page 162 of the reading assignment, so she made sure to ask for the details of that exact portion. Just getting the gist of what was going on was not enough, Ms. Sweeney taught us the importance of thinking critically about what we read. While I am a big fan of quality over quantity, Ms. Sweeney didn't have much choice in the matter since this particular "honors" class was required to cover both American lit and British lit in one year. We got two year's worth of English classes crammed into one and you know what? I remember more of what I learned in that one year than all of my other English classes combined. Seriously.

Anyway, my little trip down memory lane does have a point. You see, the year I took Ms. Sweeney's class and she assigned us A Christmas Carol it was like her little Christmas present to us. Having struggled through the first semester reading much more difficult texts, this little novella was a real treat. It was an easy read and helped get us in the Christmas spirit instead of being just one more thing to get done before we could enjoy our holiday break. Being a Catholic school, I'm sure the moral lesson it teaches was also a consideration, but there is something about this story that really resonates, especially at Christmastime.

I was so happy to realize all these years later that the magic of this story is still there. I'm always afraid that any book I remember with such fondness might fade a bit upon re-reading, but that couldn't be further from the truth in this case. I opted for the audio version this time around, so I could "read" while shoveling snow and doing other Christmas-ey activities around the house. The British narrator was just delightful and I couldn't have been happier with my second experience of this story. I probably wouldn't recommend audio for a first-time read, but for a re-read it worked out perfectly. I will definitely not let another 12 Christmases pass before I re-read this one again!

As a final note, this was truly the perfect book to (finally!) ease my way into tackling my Classics Club list. Yes, it's a novella. Yes, it's short. But it was the perfect reminder of what I already know, but sometimes forget: classics don't need to be intimidating, dull, or feel like a chore. Classics are not all alike and for all the ones I may not care for, there are plenty of others sure to be just as delightful as this one. I'll have to channel my inner Ms. Sweeney when I choose my next selection!

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This books counts toward my reading goals for:
2013 Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge
The Classics Club
Back to the Classics 2013: a 19th Century classic

Classics Club Review #1