Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 TBR Pile Challenge

I finally decided to join a challenge for 2011.  I might jump on another few after the first of the year, but this one is perfect for me.  The 2011 TBR Pile Challenge is hosted by Roof Beam Reader.  Here are the details.

The Goal:
To finally read 12 books from your "to be read" pile, within 12 months. 


1. Each of these 12 books must have been on your bookshelf or "To Be Read" list forAT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2010 or later (any book published in the year 2009 or earlier qualifies, as long as it has been on your TBR pile - I WILL be checking publication dates). Caveat: Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the "can't get through" pile.

2. To be eligible, you must sign-up with Mr. Linky below - link to your list (so create it ahead of time!) and add updated links to each book's review.  Every listed book must be completed and must be reviewed in order to count as completed.

3. Your list must be posted by Friday, December 31st, 2010.

4. Leave comments on this post as you go along, to update us on your status. Come back here if/when you complete this challenge and leave a comment indicating that you CONQUERED YOUR 2011 TBR LIST!  Every person who successfully reads his/her 12 books and/or alternates (and who provides a working link to their list, which has links to the review locations) will be entered to win a $50 gift card from either or The Book Depository!

5.  There may be mini-challenge "check-ins" throughout 2011, to award and recognize those participants who are progressing through the challenge, such as a "Spring Break Check-In!" or a "6 Month Pit Stop!" Participants who are making equal progress to-date (6 books at the 6 month check-in, for example) could win a prize! 

6. Crossovers from other challenges are totally acceptable, as long as you have never read the book before and it was published pre-2010!

My TBR List to Conquer
01.  Cannery Row by John Steinbeck (completed 8/11)
02.  Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (completed 6/11)
03.  Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll (completed 6/11)
04.  Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
05.  Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (completed 2/11)
06.  David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (completed 12/11)
07.  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (completed 6/11)
08.  Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (completed 3/11)
09.  Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald (completed 11/11)
10.  The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (completed 11/11)
11.  War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (completed 2/11)
12.  Villette by Charlotte Bronte (completed 12/11)

1.  Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (completed 9/11)
2.  A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain


Thursday, December 30, 2010

End of 2010 Survey

I've seen this survey by The Perpetual Page-Turner everywhere so I thought I'd join in the fun.  I've been naughty and haven't posted about any books lately.  I was hit with the flu and was in bed for a week.  I'm on week two, and this lingering cold/cough just won't go away!  I have finished several books, but I can't get my thoughts organized enough to put together a decent post.  On to the survey!

1. Best book of 2010?  East of Eden by John Steinbeck blew me away!  The prose is beautiful, and the characters are incredible.  It is now in my top 5 favorite books of all-time. 

2. Worst book of 2010? I read Many Bloody Returns, a short story anthology edited by Charlaine Harris.  If it hadn't been for the fact that I read it for a challenge, I would never have finished it.  It was so boring.  It was about vampires, and I guess I discovered that genre just isn't my thing.

3. Most Disappointing Book of 2010?  I feel so blasphemous saying this, but I was so disappointed in The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.  I really expected to love it, but I couldn't stand Clare.  I just couldn't connect emotionally with the book when I had no sympathy for one of the main characters.  

4. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2010? The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins really surprised me.  I didn't expect to get sucked into it as much as I did.  So much drama and suspense.  The book was much more sensational than I expected.

5. Book you recommended to people most in 2010? I don't really have anyone in my life that asks for book recommendations.  Sad, right?  If I did, I would recommend Daddy-Long Legs by Jean Webster.  It is so cute and sweet.  I just loved it.  It would be a good book to recommend to someone who may not love reading.  It's short so there isn't too much of a time commitment.

6. Best series you discovered in 2010? I read Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.  I haven't reviewed it, but it was a fun read.  I have Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters on my shelf.  Hopefully I'll get to it in January.

7. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2010? Nick Hornby, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Wilkie Collins.  I'm looking forward to reading more from each of these authors during 2011. 

8. Most hilarious read of 2010? I didn't read very many funny books this year but The Guinea Pig Diaries by A. J. Jacobs was pretty funny.  It wasn't the best book I've ever read, but there were definitely times when I was laughing out loud.

9. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2010?  I wouldn't say it was thrilling, but I didn't want to put down Never Let Me Go by Kazou Ishiguro.  It was horrifying watching it unfold, but I was really invested in reading it.

10. Book you most anticipated in 2010? I don't think I really anticipated anything in 2010.  I don't usually read books when they first come out.  I'm always late to the party, reading everything two to three years after everyone else.

11. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2010? I have to cheat on this one because I didn't read anything this year with a really great cover.  I just bought these two books for myself and I'm reading them next year.  The Vintage Classics covers are very cool!


12. Most memorable character in 2010?  Cathy from East of Eden.  Hello sociopath!  She is by far the most evil character I have ever read about.

13. Most beautifully written book in 2010? I hate to bring this book up again, but East of Eden had the most beautiful prose of any book I read this year.  Can you tell it's my favorite?

14. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2010? This is a tough one.  I really think A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens was the most moving.  I've known the story forever, but this year was the first that I actually read Dickens' words.  I thought the message so powerful when reading it.  Next year, I hope to read it to my children throughout December.

15. Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2010 to finally read? Here I go again--East of Eden.  I wouldn't bring this up again if it weren't completely true.  I checked this book out from the library so many times over the years and kept returning it unread.  I'm so glad I finally read it.  Now I can't wait to re-read it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

What's in a Name? 3 Challenge Wrap-Up

I have so many books that I've read lately, but I'm in a bit of a slump.  I'm not in the mood to post my thoughts on any of the books so I keep procrastinating and finding other things to post.  I do have to do a wrap-up post for the "What's in a Name? 3 Challenge" hosted by Beth Fish Reads, so at least I feel like I'm doing something productive.

This challenge had six different categories.  Book selections had to have in the title a word that qualified in one of the categories.  This challenge ran January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2010.

Here were my entries for each of the categories.

Music Term:  Plainsong by Kent Haruf
Plant:  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Place Name:  Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
Title:  The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman
Body of Water:  The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Food:  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

There were a few books that I wouldn't have picked up on my own had it not been for this challenge.  The book that surprised me the most was The Old Man and the Sea.  My only experience with the book was hearing how boring it was so I went into it with low expectations.  I really loved it.  Amsterdam was a Man Booker Prize winner so I thought I was in good hands.  I was let down by that book.  I still think McEwan is a brilliant writer, but the wretched characters made an emotional connection to the book difficult.  Plainsong was my shot in the dark.  I had no ideas about the book before picking it up.  I had never seen a review of it.  For all I knew, it could have been terrible.  I found it at the library and gave it a shot and was not disappointed.  I was glad to have discovered Alice Hoffman through this challenge.  I love her style and look forward to reading more from her in the future.

Monday, December 13, 2010

War and Peace Readalong

I'm only about halfway through Anna Karenina, and I'm ready to punish myself with more Tolstoy.  I'm joking about the punishing part.  It's just the length that makes his books so daunting.  I have really enjoyed Anna Karenina so when Allie at A Literary Odyssey posted about her War and Peace Readalong, I knew I couldn't pass it up.  This will take place between January and February and will have four check-in dates.

The following is the schedule that Allie posted on her blog:

January 15, 2011: The first check-in will focus on volume 1. In my edition it is about 295 pages.
January 31, 2011: The second check-in will focus on volume 2. In my edition it is about 306 pages.
February 12, 2011: The third check-in will focus on volume 3. In my edition it is about 332 pages (the longest section).
February 28, 2011: The fourth check-in will cover volume 4 and the 2-part epilogue. These sections are about 282 pages in my edition.

Am I crazy for doing this?  Probably.  If you're not interested in War and Peace, you might find another of Allie's readalongs in which to participate.  She will be hosting six two-month readalongs and twelve one-month readalongs.  I've only participated in one readalong, but I found it to be a great way to tackle intimidating books.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by Betty Smith
published 1943
completed October 2010

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn centers around the family of Francie Nolan.  She grows up in poverty with her mother Katie, as the primary bread-winner; an alcoholic father, Johnny; and a brother Neeley, a year younger than her.

I have sat down several times and tried to create a post that would share my thoughts on this books, but it has been so difficult.  I finished it two months ago and I just don't know what to say.  Not much happens in this novel, but the characters are what make it beautiful.  Francie is the center of the novel, and I love her.  She begins as the fragile little baby who barely survives and transforms into this confident, independent woman who is in a position to succeed.  Her life is exceedingly difficult.  I can't even imagine dealing with some of her challenges, but she remains optimistic.  She avoids the bitterness that so often envelops people who have suffered.

It would be so easy to hate Johnny, a drunkard father who can't provide for his family.  I couldn't hate him.  He was trapped by his alcoholism and sorrow.  Besides not providing for his family, he was the best father he could be, considering his circumstances.  The relationship he had with Francie was precious.  She needed that extra attention because her mother didn't love her enough.  The scene at her graduation with the roses was one of the most poignant in the book.

My only complaint, which is tiny, is that the back-story of Francie's extended family slowed down the pace.   I understand the importance that the information played in creating understanding and empathy for the characters, but they seemed a little more drawn out than necessary.

The fact that I related so much to Francie made this book so memorable to me.  I know how she felt.  I grew up poor, not to the extent of Francie, but we were barely able to meet our needs let alone wants.  I too was driven to obtain an education so that I could avoid the same fate for my future family.  My parents never had to worry about me because I was self-motivated.  I feel like my parents focused on the other children in my family because they needed it more than I did.  I wasn't noticed for consistently perfect marks while my brother was lavished with praise for simply graduating high school.  My parents were unable to help me financially so I paid my own way through college by scholarships, working part-time during school, and working full-time during the summer.  It was tough, but there was a happy ending for me.

If you've read the book, you can see why my heart went out to Francie, and I had mild contempt for Katie (as a mother, I can't understand how one child can be favored above another).  Although the reader doesn't see the end result for Francie, I knew when I finished that she would have a happy ending too.  Francie has to succeed because she wouldn't settle for failure.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is beautifully written.  I don't know how Betty Smith managed to write a book that involves such difficult subject matters and not have it turn out to be depressing, but rather thought-provoking and hopeful.  I wish I hadn't waited so long to read it.  If you haven't read it already, you really should.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Winter Reading List

I was reading Padfoot and Prongs and they posted a photo of their Winter Reading Lists and encouraged their readers to do the same.  I thought it would be fun.  I've been trying to stock up on library books because my local library is going to be closed from December 24th through January 7th.  Two whole weeks!  What am I to do?  As these are all library books that have a plastic cover over them, it might be difficult to read the titles.

*Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
*Castle Dor by Daphne Du Maurier with Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch
*The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
*The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman
*Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
*Beloved by Toni Morrison
*Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
*The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
*Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

I'm currently about one-third of the way through Anna Karenina, but I'm trying to read other books while making my way through it.  I'm really enjoying it, but I can only take Levin's farming chapters in small doses.  Have you read any of these?  Any recommendations on which to pick up first?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis

The Last Battle

by C. S. Lewis
published 1956
completed December 2010

The Last Battle opens with the introduction of two new characters--a donkey named Puzzle, and an ape named Shift.  Shift and Puzzle are friends, or so it seems.  Shift is a manipulator and takes advantage of the less intelligent Puzzle.  Shift finds a lion pelt and convinces the donkey to wear it as a part of his plan to deceive the people of Narnia.  With Puzzle acting as Aslan, Shift convinces the Narnians that things are changing in the land and they need to follow him as the mouthpiece of Aslan.  King Tirian, the current King of Narnia, discovers this and fights to save his land from the Calormenes--people of a neighboring land--and Shift.  Jill and Eustace again come to help save Narnia.

I have mixed feelings about this book.  There is a very different tone to this one; it is decidedly darker.  The earlier books of the series had characters and situations that were comedic to lighten the feel.  Not in The Last Battle.  The dark clouds dissipate in the final few chapters, but the ending is bittersweet.  *spoiler*  The Narnian world has ended, and all of the "friends of Narnia" have died.  The only one left behind is Susan, who has forgetten about her time in Narnia, and now she's alone in the world with no family.

I know there are many who are angered with the situation with Susan.  It doesn't bother me as much as my perception of what happened is slightly different than some.  I don't take the train crash to mean that Aslan/Jesus wanted that to happen. Tragedies happen in life and they aren't meant to be intentional or punishments.  Susan isn't with her family in Narnia, but I don't think that she is forever excluded.  I think it is left open that should she remember her past, she would be accepted.  I'm not trying to make any general assumptions about religion.  I'm simply giving my opinion on what possibilities there are within the world that C. S. Lewis created.

The scenes with Emeth were some of my favorites.  Emeth was a Calormene who sought to do what was right.  He was angry that his people were trying to overtake the Narnians by deceit rather than an open battle.  I love the exchange between Emeth and Aslan.  Although he worshiped Tash, he was not excluded. What mattered was what was in his heart.  Whether he believed in Aslan or not, because of the courageous and honorable person that he was inside, he was allowed in.

This book was an interesting end to the series.  I haven't read The Magician's Nephew nor The Horse and His Boy yet.  I think I missed some things in this book by not reading them first.  I don't agree with everything that C. S. Lewis portrays here about Christianity, but I have respect for him and his desire to share his belief of a loving God through this series.  He created a wonderful world that I'm looking forward to sharing with my children.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis

The Silver Chair

by C. S. Lewis
published 1953
completed December 2010

My feverish pace through The Chronicles of Narnia continues with The Silver Chair. Eustace Stubbs, the cousin of the Pevensie children, is at the Experiment House, a school overwhelmed by bullies.  Eustace approaches Jill, another victim, and he tells her of Narnia and together they ask for Aslan's help.  The find a door and enter in an attempt to hide from the bullies and find themselves on a cliff.  Jill is given a quest by Aslan to find Prince Rilian.

I love the new Eustace.  He is brave and compassionate.  His transformation is incredibly from the grouchy, selfish little boy at the beginning of The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader".  The dynamic between he and Jill keeps things interesting as they bicker, but Eustace also is very protective of her.  Along their journey they meet a Marsh-Wiggle named Puddleglum.  The glum part of his name is appropriate as his is a rather pessimistic fellow, and as such, surprisingly entertaining.

The traveling on the quest was a bit of a slog, but once they reached the city of giants, the pace picked up. Jill's interaction with Aslan was my favorite part.  I love how he had so much patience with her.  She continue to forget the signs, which made it more difficult for her, but there was always another way provided.  He never gave up on her and continually gave her the chance to prove herself, and she ultimately did.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" by C. S. Lewis

The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader"

by C. S. Lewis
published 1952
completed December 2010

Three down, four to go.  The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" was quite different than the two previous books.  True to Aslan's word, Peter and Susan did not return the world of Narnia.  Edmund and Lucy were staying at their cousin Eustace Stubbs home, when they and their cousin were transported in dramatic fashion to the magical world. They ended up in the sea near a Narnian boat and were happy to find King Caspian aboard on a mission.  Their mission was to find the seven lords that were sent off by his wicked Uncle Miraz.  Their journey takes them to many different lands as they search for the lords and experience unique adventures along the way.

I loved that The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" left Narnia and explored more of the magical world.  We were able to learn of the lands surrounding Narnia as they travel about in the Dawn Treader.  Their seemed to be a physical voyage as well as personal voyages.  Many of the characters had experiences that helped them overcome a particular weakness as they were guided by Aslan.

One of my favorite parts was transformation of Eustace throughout the story.  As the cousin of the Pevensie children, he starts off as a brute--constantly teasing them when he over hears them talk of Narnia.  When he is first taken to Narnia, he is angry and selfish.  His diary entries made me laugh.  It was interesting to see things through his eyes.  When they were rationing water and Lucy gave him some of her share, she told him it was because girls didn't need as much water.  His reply was that he knew they didn't and someone should make King Caspian aware of that fact.  There was never a thank you.  Once he had the misfortune to be turned into a dragon, his experience changed him.  He realized that he needed the others.  Aslans assistance in transforming back in to a boy was magical and very moving.  Eustace matured and began to show courage and consideration for others throughout the remainder of the journey.

One of my favorite characters, Reepicheep the valiant mouse, plays an important role in this installment.  His courage is heartwarming as well as his ability to inspire those around him.  I loved his ending!  I will miss him in the books that follow.

The movie adaptation will be out next week (I think?) and I held off watching the trailer until after finishing the book.  It looks fantastic!  It looks like they amped up the action quite a bit! I'm sure there are things that were changed, as with most book to movie adaptations, but I'm excited to see it nonetheless.