Reading Challenge

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

My first read of the year is an Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot mystery.  I’m truly at a loss as to how to review this engaging murder mystery without giving away the plot, so I’ll be brief and endeavor to do my best.

The wealthy mistress of Styles Court, Mrs. Emily Inglethorp, is in her final death agonies early in the morning.  Present are Mr. Hastings (our narrator and visitor to Styles), Lawrence Cavendish (her stepson), John Cavendish (another stepson), John’s wife Mary, and  Cynthia (a dependent relative to Mrs. Inglethorp).  Mrs. Inglethorp’s husband of two months is not there.  The doctor’s declare that Mrs. Inglethorp has been poisoned and immediately suspicion falls on the new husband who will gain a fortune now that Mrs. Inglethorp is dead.  But is he guilty?  Styles is filled with people with secrets, jealousy, and motives.  Typical of Agatha Christie, she leads the reader down false trails, twists and turns, and will keep you guessing until Hercule Poirot reveals the culprit.

I highly recommend this mystery and it is now one of my most favorite Christie novels.  This book counts for The Support Your Local Library Challenge and The Vintage Mystery Challenge.

Reading Goals for 2011

I’m not quite ready to post my wrap-up for my 2010 reading year, I’m still determined to finish North and South before midnight on January 1st!  I have been spending a great deal of time thinking about 2011.

This post will be in list format because I adore lists.

The Basics:

  • Read a minimum of 75 books or 20,000 pages
  • Participate in the April and October Readathons
  • Participate in 3 other book blogging events (for example, I’m eager to participate in the Virago reading week and the Persephone reading weekend.)
  • Do 5 readalongs.  They can be blog readalongs or GoodReads readalongs.  I’m signing up for several readalongs hosted by Allie at A Literary Odyssey
  • Complete 3 reads for the Classics Circuit and POST ON TIME!
  • Complete all the reading challenges I’ve signed up to do.
  • Only do 12 challenges at a time.  I have to finish a challenge to signup for another.

Reading Challenges:

I’m still making my lists for these challenges, so check back soon!

  1. Local Library Challenge – Check out and read 30 library books
  2. Off the Shelf Challenge — Read 30 books off my shelves
  3. Chunkster Challenge – Read 8 chunksters or 3 tomes
  4. To Be Read Challenge – 12 books from my TBR pile
  5. Special Topics in Calamity Physics Challenge – Senior Level
  6. Vintage Mystery Challenge – Read 4-6 Vintage Mysteries
  7. Man Booker Challenge – A Booker’s Dozen, read 12 of the winning, short-listed, or long-listed titles.
  8. What’s in a Name Challenge – List coming soon!
  9. First in a Series Challenge – Read 3 books that are the first in any series
  10. Seconds Challenge — Read 12 books that are the second in a series or the second time I’ve read the author.
  11. Chivalrous Deeds Historical Challenge – Read 7 historical fiction books
  12. Dystopia Challenge — Read 5 Dystopian novels

Tomorrow I plan on posting my lists for the various challenges.  I need to read read read because there are so many other challenges I want to join.  Wish me luck!

I think that is it for my more concrete reading goals.  I also want to try to blog more reviews and do general reading updates.  A strict blog schedule isn’t for me, but I’ll try to be more devoted to maintaining the bookishness of this blog.

Library Loot and Reading Prep for 2011

Earlier this week I braved the cold with the kids in tow to the university library I work at.  As a staff member I enjoy extended checkout times and since this is the last week before the library shuts down for winter holiday I knew I needed to get there this week.  I limited myself to five books; two of the books were only available in large print.  I checked them out because I really want to read them, but I don’t know if the print will prove annoying.  I was surprised that we even had large print books because we’ve never collected them before now; being on maternity leave had me totally out of the loop.

I’m still sticking with my goal of finishing Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and North and South; this library loot haul is for my new reading year.  Later this month I’ll post more on the 2011 challenges I’m joining, but for now I will list what challenges each book fulfills.

  • First off is Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles, a Hercule Poirot novel involving a heiress murdered by poisoned coffee.  This mystery novel is for the Vintage Mystery challenge.
  • I was so excited to find a copy of Phillipa Gregory’s The Red Queen, the follow up novel to last year’s The White Queen, of course it concerns my current historical obsession: The War of the Roses.  This novel will count for Chivalrous Deeds Historical Challenge.
  • Next is another book I nabbed in large print as I was so excited, Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin.  This is a novelization of the friendship between Alice Liddell and Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll).  I’m always interested in different takes on authors and sometimes the conjecture of novels proves interesting.  This book will be for the New Authors Challenge.
  • Room by Emma Donoghue has been all the buzz on book blogs.  Nominated for the Man Booker prize and based on a true story; this book is narrated from a child’s perspective and a child narrating a horrific situation.  I think it will be interesting, but sometimes books with rape/sexual abuse really bother me (i.e nightmares) so I may or may not finish it.  We’ll see how the subject manner is handled.  Of course, this is for the Man Booker Challenge.
  • Finally, a selection for the Man Booker Challenge and the TBR Challenge:  A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book.  I’ve checked this out several times and I’ve never gotten around to reading it.  I can’t tell you why!  I adore Byatt and I’m eagerly anticipating this read.

I have all 5 books stacked up and ready to go; I’m planning on kicking off the New Year diving into this stack of reads!

The Sunday Salon: The Hello, Reality Post

The Sunday Salon.com
I haven’t been blogging or reading much of late.  I’m too busy holding Atticus and snuggling away the day.  Actually, I’ve had quite an eye opening week.  Two things happened that made we ditch everything and just hold the baby.  1).  Atticus is allergic to formula (and possibly dairy).  Poor thing has been gassy and crying since Tuesday.  It will take a couple of weeks for him to get everything out of his system and so I’m abstaining from dairy just in case that is the cause and we will never use formula again.  NEVER.  I’m back to nursing him 100% of the time and I’m happy with that.  The other thing that happened is that I found some cute clothes for him and realized that they weren’t in his size.  My five-week old baby is out of newborn clothes, barely fits 0-3 month sizes, and is sporting slightly too large 3-6 month sizes.

All this to say — I only have a short while with baby Atticus.  Newborn Atticus has given way to baby Atticus and by this time next year he will be toddler Atticus.  Dickens and Trollope and all the others will be on my shelves for years.  Right now I need to focus on Atticus, Hope, Sam, and the holiday season.

I’m still reading a bit, but I’ve modified my reading goals.  My goal for December is to finish my reread of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and to finish Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South.  My reading goal this year was to read 75 books OR 20,000 pages.  Right now I’ve read only 46 books, but I’ve read just over 16,000 pages.  Considering this year has been quite the year for events (married, moved to a new home, and a new baby) I say this is not too shabby.

In addition to my current reading goals, I am looking towards 2011.  I believe book bloggers all over the world get excited about the upcoming reading year come December!  I’ve already decided to keep the same yearly goal (75 books OR 20,000 pages), but I’m going to structure my reading a bit differently.

I have a tendency to get overwhelmed by all the reading I want to do.  There are challenges and readalongs, GoodReads reading groups, LibraryThing early review copies, and then I must contend with my home bookshelves and the masses of wonderful library books I run across.  To help quell this bookish anxiety, I’m – surprise – making up some book lists.  I have a bunch of different categories (books on my shelves or authors I want to try, for example) and then I’m listing some books I really want to read to help me narrow my choices and not be overwhelmed.

I’m also applying this more structured approach to reading challenges.  Typically, I join challenges and never really pursue them in a methodical way.  For example, a may join a short story challenge, but I don’t really think about it; I just count a book if I happen to read it.  I’ve done this because I’m loathe to commit myself to a list of books for a challenge.  However, if I view the list as a starting point I may be more inclined to consciously think about the challenge at hand.

Having said that, my plan is to work on these book lists.  I may have trouble concentrating with reading, but I can jot down titles and surf the web via my Blackberry to discover new titles while I’m holding Mr. Crankypants.  If all is well (i.e. if Atticus proves amenable) I might start posting some of these lists before the end of the year.

Before I sign off and feed Atticus, I wanted to apologize for my lack of commenting on other blogs.  I’ve been reading everyone’s blogs RELIGIOUSLY.  Once again, via my Blackberry, I’ve been keeping up.  I just haven’t mastered the art and science of typing comments with one hand!

Happy Reading!

September’s Reads

I’m trying to catch up on my book reviews in anticipation of Dewey’s 24-hour Readathon.  This is a surprisingly easy feat as I only read three books in September.  Granted, Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley by Alison Weir was a sprawling 720 page non-fiction work, but, nonetheless, it still a puny number of reads.

I’ve already discussed the Weir book, so I’ll review my other two reads: The Anatomy of Deception by Lawrence Goldstone and The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Incidentally, both books count toward my RIP challenge!

Painting by Thomas Eakins, 1889. Cover art for The Anatomy of Deception

The Anatomy of Deception is a forensic thriller set in the medical community of 1889 Philadelphia.  The plot concerns the death of a young socialite and the subsequent death of a shady medical student.  Medical student and doctor Ephraim Carroll finds himself in the midst of a murder investigation, questioning his mentor, finding and losing love, and contemplating a huge career move to a new medical university, Johns Hopkins.

The story itself was gripping, I did find myself eagerly turning the pages and the medical details (especially of the autopsies) fascinated me.  My problem with the novel is that it felt a bit lazy in regards to the characters.  None of the characters truly came to life and they seemed to be stock figures:  “The Austere Victorian Medical Student”, “The Female Bohemian Artist”, “The Shady Fellow at the Docks”, and “The You-Know-I’m-The-Culprit Person.”  In fact, I guessed who was going to be the “bad guy”, but not because the character was fleshed out, it merely seemed like the only reason this person existed was to be thrown into the last quarter of the book and be pinned with the crime.    This book could have been so much better if it had been written by a more skilled author.

The second, slim book I read was The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  I read all the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels as a child and have recently decided to revisit them all.  I have to say that this is not my most favorite Holmes tale.  The story involves Holmes and Watson, a damsel in distress, a treasure, cryptic notes, and — of course — murder.  What particularly bothers me is the racism in the book.  Of course this is reflective of the time in which Doyle wrote but I think it a cop-out to *****spoiler alert ***** blame everything on the black guy.  There is another villain but he isn’t as “bad” as the restless, simple, violent, dark native.  (eye roll)

When it comes to Sherlock Holmes, I think the short stories are far better.  While Holmes’ character is fascinating, the other characters are lackluster.  Doyle’s skill is with plot, mystery, and deduction and these elements truly shine in the shorter tales.  With the novellas, I find the plot a bit watered down to make room for the characters.

I have a huge pile of books for October and I’m hoping to read at least seven on the pile, hopefully the Readathon will give me a leg up on my October reading!

Library Loot: The R.I.P Edition

Today I spent several hours at the public library specifically seeking out books for Carl’s R.eader’s I.mbibing P.eril Challenge V (R.I.P).  Seriously this is my most favorite challenge of the year. The challenge runs from September 1st until October 31st.  The goal is to read books that are so good in the autumn months:  Creepy, Gothic, Mysterious, i.e. filled with Peril.

I’ll be participating in Peril the First, which is to read four books.  I’ll also try to read at least 2 short story collections in addition to the fiction.  As usual, I’ve created a pool of books to choose from; first of all the ones already at home:

I wanted a bigger pool of choices, so I was off to the library with goal of picking out 5 more books.  I spent well over an hour scanning the shelves and muttering “something creepy something creepy something creepy”.  I found many other books I wanted to check out, but I resisted. Here are the five books I came away with:

Okay!  I’m already to have the bejabbers (and maybe a baby) scared out of me!