2015 Reads, Bout of Books, and 2016 Reading Challenges

I have gobs of bookish activity to catch up on; let’s get right to it!

2015 Reads:

I read 47 books in 2015 and fell just 10% of my goal of 52 books. I was a little bit bummed, but then I checked my stats and this is the most I’ve read since 2010. In other words, I had Atticus in late October and my reading promptly took a dip in numbers. In 2011 I read 43 books, in 2012 I read 42 books, in 2013 I read 29 books, and in 2014 I read 38 books. Yay! I’ve set the goal to read 52 books this year. I was going to pick a smaller number, but I’ve decided against graduate school (that’s a topic for another post) and I should have time for reading this year.

My top seven books of the year (not including re-reads) are:

  1. Among Others by Jo Walton
  2. The Quick by Lauren Owen
  3. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  4. The Children’s Book by A S Byatt
  5. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
  6. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  7. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

A few other stats with some interecting numbers:

  • I read 15 classics (published prior to 1960)
  • I read 11 rereads
  • I read 11 graphic novels
  • I read 7 Viragos
  • I read 4 non-fiction titles
  • I read 8 young adult books


Bout of Books


Bout of Books
I decided to start 2016 out with a bang and readathon with the Bout of Book folks. My goal is to read 700 pages. I’m on vacation this week, so as long as no small children get ill (cross your fingers) I should be able to accomplish this. The page number goal will give me a chance to dip into big classic novels and read graphic novels, smaller books, and YA. Keepin it fresh, yo.
I’ll be posting my Bout of Books updates on Twitter and Instagram, but will be sure to do a big wrap-up next week.
2016 Reading Challenges:
I always swear I won’t do these, but I’m a glutton for punishment.
First up is Andi’s #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks Challenge
My goal is to read 24 books from my stacks (i.e. already owned) and then read others from the library. I’m going on a book buying ban until my birthday at the end of April. I’m determining how much I can buy on my birthday by what I read. $2 for every book from my stacks read and $1 for each library book. Yes, I’ll still be buying books. I just need to get rid of the willy nilly book buying and stick to a budget.
I’ll be shooting for completing 12 graphic novels or comics this year.
My goal is to complete 9 of the 12 categories. Of course one classics challenge wasn’t enough for me. I also signed up for Becky’s Victorian Bingo Challenge. For Becky’s challenge I need to read five books from five different categories.
I don’t really have set lists for either classics challenge. I already know I will be pulling from my stacks for most of the books. A couple books I am especially eyeing include Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley, Wilkie Collins No Name, Trollope, Dickens, and some Virago titles.
Not really a challenge, but a side read is O’s readalong of The Pickwick Papers.
pickwick readalong
I’ve tried my damnedest to read this novel in the past and it just falls short for me. I’m hoping reading it by the publication schedule will help.
Speaking of O’s challenges, since I already love Brit Lit so much I decided (just now as a matter of fact) to participate in her Reading England Challenge.
reading england ii
My goal is to read at least 3 different counties. I decided to participate because I realize I tend to not pay attention to where books are set in England. I tend to smoosh all of it together. This will at least allow me to read with more awareness and less generalizing of British places.
One last challenge! Ali is hosting a #WoolfAlong this year.
My goal is to read some of Woolf’s shorter fiction and a non-fiction book about her.
That does it for challenges next year. I may throw some more readalongs and readathons in the mix!
Happy 2016 reading, y’all!

The Quick by Lauren Owen

When I picked up The Quick by Lauren Owen last December I was dubious. Several reviews compared The Quick with Wilkie Collins and we all know how I feel about Wilkie Collins (love you Wilkie, *kiss*). I thought that The Quick was either going to be really amazing or really terrible. Sometimes a new work compared to a literary great is fabulous and deserving of the comparison. Other times the literary great’s name is slung around because the work in question is a poorly done rip-off of said literary great’s work. I put the book down last year without opening it and finally mustered up the courage to give it a go this autumn.

Lucky me, The Quick was an absolute gem and completely deserving of being called a Wilkie Collins-like novel about Victorian vampires. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, because this book is best read with a sense of anticipating dread. If I tell you who you will meet and what will happen I will ruin the entire novel. Instead I’m going to hit some highlights and then implore you to read The Quick straightaway. In fact, I lent my copy of The Quick to my friend Catherine the day after I completed the novel and she read the first section at night, outdoors, while waiting for our concert to begin. It is just that good.

1. Atmospheric writing without being overwrought. Fog, darkness, creeping damp, silence, murmurs, darkness, owls, dust, secrets, coppery blood, old papers and books lurk throughout the novel, but it isn’t overdone. There is just enough atmosphere to make the reader wary and alert, but cozy too. I guess what I’m saying is this is best read under a blanket, with a steaming mug tea beside you, and the rain pattering outside, but be forewarned that when your husband asks what’s for dinner you’ll need to be careful to not jump and upset said tea.

2. Female badassery. Most of the principal characters are male, but the women in the book are badass. They take care of themselves and know what they want and need. They are fully fleshed out characters and not there to be merely a love interest.

3. Love. There is some romance, but it doesn’t take away from the story. I hate it when people are in the middle of something epic and then pause to make-out or say cheesy things to each other. Time is of the essence, people! We have no time for extended lovemaking. There are things to slay.

4. The time period is perfectly reflected. This isn’t a plot spoiler, but the Dickensian street urchin vampires were my absolute favorite characters. The carriages, homes, and customs all ring authentic. Nothing felt anachronistic.

5. The characters and ideas of the book are not sacrificed for plot. This book is a page turner, but I never felt that characters were introduced to move the plot. The characters felt true and authentic. This novel also says a great deal about the human condition; especially in regards to one of the main vampires and his human-scientist accomplice. They start out with high minded ideals and plans for the betterment of society and end with an absence of compassion for humanity and horrific involvement in a sort of vampire eugenics plan.

This was a perfect autumn read and I will certainly look forward to reading more from Lauren Owen!

Two Reviews: The Lost Traveller by Antonia White and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

losttravThe Lost Traveller by Antonia White is a follow up novel to Frost in May. White changed her heroine’s name from Nanda to Clara and this odd quirk annoys me more than it should. The Lost Traveller follows Nanda/Clara’s life after leaving her Catholic school for financial reasons.

Throughout the novel Clara wishes for love, wrestles with religion, makes friends in her new school, forges an identity, tolerates her mother (she is awesome) and desperately tries to please her father (he’s an asshole). In short she is a teenager. The reader follows Clara on her search for meaning and purpose and eventually Clara settles on becoming a governess to a ten-year-old boy, Charles. Clara adores Charles and becomes friends with a soldier, Alfie, on leave.

Clara alternates between moodiness and elation, clear purpose and floundering for meaning. Her anxious self-analysis and yearning seem typical for a teenager. Also trapped in an adolescent-like reality are Clara’s parents. The Lost Traveller exposes the internal struggle each parent feels as they work through resolving their own identity and place in the world.

Writing about this novel is difficult. As far as subject matter and characters it was very much like an Elizabeth Taylor or Anita Brookner (dark, the internal struggle greater than outward strife, female characters, etc), BUT, the writing just falls a little flat for me. It took eons (hyperbole, duh) to make it through this book. I didn’t feel compelled to keep reading and I wasn’t invested in the characters. I felt as if White were telling me what was going on rather than experiencing it myself. Towards the end of the novel the writing feels stronger, but there are expanses of the story that feel like filler. I don’t mind if a writer puts in “extra stuff” for several pages to express mood and setting, but I’m going to need some beautiful writing. The writing was meh and made descriptions of farmhouses and dressing for dinner boring. Of course boredom means that shocking and exciting elements get a half-disinterested yawn. The poor writing and lack of a real build are most evident in both the mother and father’s various urges towards infidelity. It came out of nowhere, climaxed quickly and dissipated (and I am completely aware of the “that’s what she said-ness” of that description).

I’ll continue int he series, but this book was underwhelming and could have been effective in the hands of a better writer.

~~~ Stats ~~~

Started: 27 April 2015

Finished: 9 May 2015

Pages: 320

Challenges: Virago Project, Classics Club Spin

Owned/Borrowed/Library: owned
Stars: 3 out of 5 stars

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Gilman the yellow wallpaper book

“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is one of the best stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. My favorite thing about this short story is that one *can* read it many different ways. In some respects it reminds me of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. While James intended for that story to be a ghost story many people have read it to be about insanity, female sexual oppression, or really evil little children.

In the same vein most reader’s see “The Yellow Wallpaper” as representative of female oppression during the author’s time. I suppose you could make a case for something paranormal to be happening, but I really feel that the figure in the yellow wallpaper is allegorical. I, however, have read this story two completely different ways.

Postpartum Depression: The narrator expresses that she misses her baby and that the baby is being cared for my someone else. She is also trapped in a nursery. In fact, in the Victorian era childbirth was thought to often be a “trigger” for insanity and some women were even institutionalized for insanity after giving birth.

This last reading of “The Yellow Wallpaper” has me thinking that this short story is really about domestic violence. The narrator’s husband keeps her child away from her, bars visitors, is away all the time yet monitors her every move, keeps her in an isolated area of the house, forbids her to write, tells others that she is insane, and gaslights her by repeatedly telling her she is ill. She must even keep the “freeing and escape” of the figure in the yellow wallpaper a secret. The most telling sentence for me that this is a thinly veiled story of domestic violence occurs after the narrator refuses for her to have guests because of her illness, “there is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down.” A page later, in talking about the wallpaper, “and it sticketh closer than a brother – they must have had perseverance as well as hatred.” The narrator feels trapped and sees everything around her as threatening violence. Only when “she” is nearly “free” does she feel in control. If you are doubtful that this story could be read as a tale of domestic violence, then read this about the signs of an abusive relationship. John has many of the traits of a abuser and our narrator has many traits of a victim.

(Note: If you enjoyed this story then I think you’d like The Victorian Chaise-Longue; it reminded me very much of “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Here is a link to my review.)

~~~ Stats ~~~

Started: 21 April 2015

Finished: 22 April 2015

Pages: 64

Challenges: Virago Project, Read-a-thon Read-along

Owned/Borrowed/Library: library copy
Stars: 5 out of 5 stars

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope


I am woefully behind in the Chronicles of Barsetshire readalong I am co-hosting with Avid Reader’s Musings. This book was supposed to be completed in April and here it is, nearly the end of May, and I’m just now finishing. *sigh*

Truthfully, I don’t mind completing this novel past the deadline, Barchester Towerswas an utter joy to read and I am so glad I slowed down to savor each and every word. In this novel, second in the Chronicles of Barsetshire series, Eleanor Bold is widowed and has a young baby. The bishop dies. Mr Harding still yearns for the wardenship of Hiram’s hospital. Dr Grantly is still very much a type A person and archdeacon. All is very Barsetshire in Barsetshire.

Enter the new bishop, Bishop Proudie, his controlling wife, and his slimy chaplain Mr. Slope. Bishop Proudie isn’t running the show; his wife and Mr Slope are in control until the two have a conflict of power which heightens the plot. An aside on Bishop Proudie — he reminded me of the henpecked banker, Mr. Merdle, in Little Dorrit; low and behold, Bishop Proudie enjoys reading the latest serialization of Little Dorrit in the novel. Anyhoo, there is contention over who should be warden of Hiram’s and, later in the novel, who should become Dean of Barsetshire.

The drama is not focused solely on church power, that would have made the plot too easy. Rather, Eleanor Bold and her money complicate matters. Mr Slope decides he should marry Mrs Bold for her money and proceeds to act like a douche. Meanwhile, a fallen from grace family — the Stanhopes — seek to lure Mrs Bold in to marrying the ne’er-do-well, hopelessly in debt son, Bertie. Ah, but Eleanor’s heart belongs to another! Sprinkle into this mix dances, parties, misinterpretations, a slutty invalid, letters taken out of context, and matchmaking to rival that of Jane Austen’s Emma.

If you love Jane Austen and/or Charles Dickens you will adore Barchester Towers. It has the wit, marriage proposals, dance politics, and affability of Jane Austen’s work, but with the length, cast of characters, and social commentary of the best of Charles Dickens.

Needless to say, I am over the moon with love for Anthony Trollope. I’m so glad he was prolific and I have plenty of his works to read. Next year marks the bicentenary of his birth and I certainly plan on reading more of his novels. Also, I just learned that Barchester Towers was a BBC mini-series in the early 80s with Alan Rickman as Obidiah Slope. This girl has already placed a hold on the DVD at the public library.

I have to catch up with a few more reads and the then it is on to book #3, Doctor Thorne!

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

First of all, I’d like to thank Allie over at A Literary Odyssey for hosting the Rebecca Readalong; I’ve wanted to reread this book for years and the readalong gave me the perfect opportunity to do so.  Second, I didn’t post my first update for the readalong in time.  We were suppose to post on chapters 1-15 by January 14th.  The 14th rolled around and I realized I had read to chapter 17 already and the plot was thickening.  I had to make a difficult decision:  set aside Rebecca and dutifully write a blog post or ignore the deadline and devour the second half of the book.

I chose to consume the remainder of Rebecca.  This was a reread for me (I read Rebecca at least five years or more ago) and I could remember bits of the plot and the outcome, but I had difficulty recalling how everything “went down.”  Early yesterday morning I finished the reread and I have to say that Rebecca is even better the second time around.

First, a few things before I begin discussing my thoughts on the novel.  1). I’m skipping a plot summary, because I think most people are generally familiar with the premise of the book.  2).  Do not read ANY FURTHER if you have yet to read Rebecca.  This is one huge plot spoiler.  So I guess what I’m saying is that this post is for Rebecca readers only.  😉

Several things stood out to me when rereading this book:

  1. Having an unnamed narrator/heroine is a most brilliant idea and really made the novel.
  2. This is Jane Eyre all over again.

The Unnamed Narrator:

Maxim de Winter’s new wife is young, inexperienced, poor, unglamorous and the exact opposite of Rebecca.  The reader never learns her name and this truly helps establish this new wife as less than Rebecca.  Rebecca is able to own things:  this is Rebecca’s husband, house, dog, pen, brush.  The nameless heroine can claim nothing of  her own as her namelessness leaves her with out identity.   Rebecca’s presence is heavy in the book:  the summer heat is oppressive and thick, flowers droop, doors thud and Rebecca’s very name conjures anxiety and fear.  If the heroine had a name (for example, Sally) Rebecca’s power would be diminished; Sally would have the husband, house, dog, pen, and brush.  The most the nameless heroine can do is share the title of Mrs. de Winter and Rebecca crowds her out of that title.

A significant scene occurs in chapter 20; after Maxim tells his current wife that Rebecca’s body has been discovered he is begging forgiveness and kissing his wife hungrily.  Then the heroine states, “This is what I have wanted him to say every day and every night, I thought, and now he is saying is at last…. He is saying it now…. He went on kissing me, hungry, desperate, murmuring my name (p.252).”  Maxim is saying his new wife’s name thereby diminishing Rebecca’s power.  However, the reader is still left in Rebecca’s thrall because the reader still does not know the new wife’s name.  The balance of power has tipped for the characters, but the reader still waits.

Shades of Jane Eyre:

The shades of Jane Eyre one can find in Rebecca are pretty obvious:  a wealthy man with a home full of secrets who marries a young, innocent girl.   Mr. Rochester attempts to marry Jane before disclosing his past (or the fact that he is still married) and Maxim de Winter makes a selfish decision to marry the heroine of Rebecca without disclosing his past (or even telling her anything about his life).  Jane cares for Mr. Rochester in his blindness and the nameless heroine of Rebecca cares for Maxim when there is a chance others may discover he murdered Rebecca.  Heck, we even have burning mansions in both books.

I’m not so much interested in the similarities between the two novels as I am interested in my reaction to rereading the books.  When I read Jane Eyre and Rebecca for the first time I was captivated by the romance.  Maxim and his new wife desperately love each other!  Jane and Mr. Rochester desperately love each other!  On my second readings, I had different reaction.  I found Maxim de Winter and Mr. Rochester pretty much selfish douchebags.  Sorry, but that’s my take on it.  Neither man thinks of the impact his past actions will have on marriage and love.  I thought Mr. Rochester especially egregious; attempting to marry Jane while marrying Bertha could have totally destroyed Jane; and he knew this.  Maxim is counting on his new wife to be innocent and young and bring about a freshness to his life.  Neither man views his wife/wife-to-be as an equal and both men underestimate the understanding of the women they love.

Of course, I still absolutely adore Jane Eyre and Rebecca.  In fact, I think I’ve been inspired to reread Jane Eyre in the next few months.  I’m also certain that Rebecca is a true classic that I’ll be rereading for many years to come.

War and Peace, Volume 1

I’m participating in A Literary Odyssey’s reading of War and Peace and today marks our first check in date.   We’re all supposed to have completed volume one, but I’m about 50 pages shy of completion.

I have a good excuse:

No, this isn’t Atticus!  Its…

Leo!  Coincidently, War and Peace can wear a size 3-6 month onesie.   My problem is that since this book is as large as my baby, I have a difficult time getting to read.  I read a bit at night when Atticus goes to bed, but I can’t take advantage of reading while nursing.  I’m afraid it is just too much!

When I do get a chance to read, I find myself truly immersed in the Napoleonic world of War and Peace.  I have a second confession to make, this will be my second reading of War and Peace.  I read the novel the summer of 2006; I liked it, but didn’t love it.  I thought it a bit wooden.  Then I learned that I picked a bum translation!  Ack!

Gratefully, a wonderful friend bought me a lovely hardback copy of the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation.  This reading is going much better.  The dialogue flows more smoothly and the personality of the characters really shine.

I am finding that I really wish I knew more about Russian history; especially about the Napoleonic wars.  I’m searching for a non-fiction book with a good overview and I’m open to recommendations.

How’s the read going for everyone else?

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.