Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ten Favorite Books of 2014

I read 46 books in 2014, which rather astounds me.  That's almost four a month!  Wow.  I've decided to do a quick post about what my top ten favorites were this year, and I'm breaking it up into two sections, new-to-me books and re-reads.

My favorite new-to-me books were:

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster -- so adorable!  Funny and sweet and quirky, an instant favorite.

Sixteen Brides by Stephanie Grace Whitson -- another for my list of absolute favorites!  Which I need to revise one of these days.  I loved how this wasn't focused on romance so much as friendships.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger -- I never knew what to expect next from this book.  And I could only read it a chapter or so at a time because I had to digest every new twist and turn before I could move on.

The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley -- I love the Zorro story, and I was delighted to find that the original story was crammed with the happy-go-lucky bravery I was hoping for.

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool -- I found this book so useful for understanding 19th-century life that I asked for (and got) a copy for Christmas.

Spiderweb for Two by Elizabeth Enright -- sweet and heart-warming, with some of the most believable sibling characters I've read in a long time.

My favorite re-reads were:

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien -- yeah, yeah, I read The Fellowship of the Ring last year, but I read the other two this year, so I'm counting it as a whole for this year.  This was my sixth read-through, and it continued to astonish me with new nuances and depths I hadn't found before.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by A. Conan Doyle -- my favorite canonical Sherlock Holmes story.  It's unparalleled in its use of atmosphere and location to build suspense.

The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King -- my favorite non-canonical Sherlock Holmes story.  It has several mysteries and great character development, and the series that follows is very dear to my heart.

A Family Affair by Rex Stout -- my favorite Nero Wolfe mystery, with a shocking solution that makes me think of Joss Whedon.

And I've decided that 2015 will be My Year with Robin Hood.  You may recall that I spent 2013 (and into 2014 because I didn't start until March of 2013) in the company of Sherlock Holmes, and I focused on Jane Austen in 2012.  I really missed having an overall theme to my reading this year, so that's my challenge to myself for 2015:  read at least 6 books that involve Robin Hood.  You can see in my sidebar that I've already begun -- I started Angus Donald's Outlaw yesterday and immediately knew I'd found my theme for 2015.  I've loved Robin Hood stories since I was a little kid, but it's been a while since I read anything about him.  Time to remedy that!  I kind of collect Robin Hood books and movies, so I have several retellings I've never read, and I bet my enthusiasm will once again bleed over into my movie watching, like it did for Austen and Holmes.  So don't be surprised if I start reviewing Robin Hood movies on my other blog!

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

"One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories" by B. J. Novak

I quite liked Saving Mr. Banks (review here), and one of my favorite parts of it was B. J. Novak's portrayal of Robert Sherman as an increasingly annoyed songwriter.  He got my second favorite line from the whole movie:  "Does.  It.  Matter."  Loved that part.  And overall I got the sense, from the two times I watched that movie, that he was a very thoughtful, intelligent actor.  So when I learned that Novak wrote a book of short stories, I wanted to read it.  And when I learned that he is a Harvard graduate with a degree in English and Spanish Literature, I really wanted to read it.  So I did.

Did I love this collection?  No.  Did I heartily enjoy several of the stories?  Yes.  In fact, I read one of them aloud to Cowboy and my mom because I knew it would amuse them as much as it did me.  It's first on this list of which stories I liked best:

"'Everyone Was Singing the Same Song':  The Duke of Earl Recalls His Trip to America in June of 1962" -- funny and sweet, a bit rambly, but with a smile-inducing ending.  Also, I now have the song "The Duke of Earl" stuck in my head.  Thanks, B. J. 

"Quantum Nonlocality and the Death of Elvis Presley" -- I have accepted this as my head-canon of what happened to Elvis because I've always been really sad over how he died, even when I was a little girl.  Thanks, B. J.  I'm not being sarcastic this time.

"Never Fall in Love" -- adorable.

"They Kept Driving Faster and Outran the Rain" -- cheerful.

"The Literalist's Love Poem" -- teensy and hilarious.

"Great Writers Steal" -- silly and predictable, but fun.

I also liked how "The Ambulance Driver" and "The Girl Who Gave Great Advice" meshed together.

Alas, there is a LOT of bad language in this book, though not in those eight stories.  A few others were also very clean, but many of them had a variety of curse words.  It also involves some sex, though nothing graphic.  For that reason, I really can't universally recommend this.  But if you'd like to try a grab-bag mix of sometimes off-beat, often humorous, and always thought-provoking short stories and don't mind the language and some sexual references, then by all means, give it a try!

Particularly Good Bits:

He kissed her for an eternity, which was fine, because heaven had eternities to burn.  Then he kissed her for another.  (From "No One Goes to Heaven to See Dan Fogelberg")

Sad that he could never live in the Paris he remembered once dreaming of in his youth, he let his mind wander off across life and literature until it settled almost independently on the gnawing notion that perhaps the most true and timeless version of Paris, for everyone, might be a version of this one -- the Paris filtered through remembered dreams.  (From "J. C. Audetat, Translator of Don Quixote)

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  R for language and some sexual references.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

History Reading Challenge 2014 Wrap-Up

And this is the one I have failed.

I hate failure.  Failure is one of my least-favorite things ever.  

I hate not finishing something I start.  Bugs me a lot.  

But I failed this challenge.

I did read two of the three books I set out to read:  Shakespeare's Restless World by Neil MacGregor and Jane Austen's England by Roy and Lesley Adkins.  But I'm only 47 pages into A Decent, Orderly Lynching:  The Montana Vigilantes by Frederick Allen, and I know I'm not going to finish it before the end of the year.

The reason I failed this challenge is that I had to choose what books I would read right from the get-go, I couldn't read what history I felt like in the moment.  I chose Lynching for the third book because it's research I need to do for my next novel, and I figured I would be ready to begin that novel before the end of the year.  But I'm not, I'm rewriting the ending of my last novel right now and working on other revisions for it.  The time has not been right for me to read Lynching, and I plan to dig back into it in a couple of months.  If I had been able to just read whatever history book I felt like reading at the moment for this challenge, I would have been fine.

So what did I learn from this?  Don't do challenges that make me keep to a strict, predetermined list.  I don't read that way.

I do thank Fanda of Fanda Classiclit for hosting this, as I love history and anything that encourages people to learn about it is a good thing!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

I Love Library Books Challenge 2014 Wrap-Up

I did it!  I finished another challenge!  Actually, I surpassed my original goal for this one.  I originally signed up for the "Chapter Book" level of 12 books, but when I passed that up in the summer, I reset my goal to be the "Middle Grades" level of 18 books.  And I finished that level!  Hooray!

Here are the books I read for the I Love Library Books Challenge, broken down by month:

A Memory Between Us by Sarah Sundin

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool

Flappers and Philosophers by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Tales of the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Sixteen Brides by Stephanie Grace Whitson

Blue Skies Tomorrow by Sarah Sundin

Longbourn by Jo Baker
Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
Vanishing Girl by Shane Peacock
Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz
The Art of Detection by Laurie R. King
Ernest Hemingway:  Complete Poems edited by Nicholas Gerogiannis

Paper Towns by John Green

Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster
Spiderweb For Two by Elizabeth Enright

Like the Mount TBR Challenge, this is definitely a challenge I would participate in again some year when I felt like doing challenges.  But in 2015, I'm taking a break from them and instead challenging myself to read at least six books I've been putting off for many years.  More about that later.

"Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze" by Elizabeth Enright

My seven-year-old son, Sam, loves this book.  And by 'loves' I mean he's read it probably six or seven times through since we first got it from the library.  We just keep renewing it so he can read it again.  But I'd never read this book before.  I know I read a couple of the others in the Melendy Quartet when I was a kid, namely The Four-Story Mistake and The Saturdays.  But I definitely never read this, which is a shame, because I would have loved it so much.  Perhaps the library system simply didn't have it.

Since Sam loves this series so much, I decided to read one of the books myself.  I asked him which one he thought I should read, and he said this one.  I liked it so well, I plan to read the other three books too, as I have the time.  They are enchanting.

Spiderweb for Two is about two siblings, Oliver and Miranda "Randy" Melendy, who spend many months following little clues on a treasure hunt.  Their older siblings have all gone away to school, and at the beginning of the book, Randy and Oliver think they're going to have a terrible year because they're the only ones left at home.  Randy thinks Oliver is childish, and Oliver thinks Randy is boring.  Over the course of the book, thanks to having to work together to solve riddles and find more clues, they grow to truly like and appreciate each other, which was my favorite aspect of the whole book.

First Line:  Randy was certain that this was going to be the worst winter of her life.

Particularly Good Bits:

The truth was that the young Melendys were acquiring a taste for old cemeteries.  There was something very peaceful, they thought, about the quiet places; the tilted stones patched with lichens, standing in a bee-humming tangle of myrtle and wild asters (p. 48).

Oliver slept late and no one woke him as it was Sunday.  He came down at nine fifteen, hungry as a wolf, and indulged in a waffle orgy (p. 111).

"When you were what?" said Father, setting down his coffee cup.  "I wonder if everyone's children act like this;  I always thought children just lived normal lives:  eating, playing baseball, reading books... not taking waterfalls apart and mislaying their parent's mail." (p. 137)

The children sat on the floor, breathing steamily, utterly absorbed in these different distant people who had been themselves (p. 146).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G for good, clean fun.

This is my 17th book read and reviewed for the Classics Club, and my 18th book for the I Love Library Books challenge, which means I've completed that challenge too!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Birthday Blog Party for Sherlock Holmes

I've been tossing around the idea of throwing a blog birthday party for Sherlock Holmes -- traditionally, his birthday has been assumed to be January 6, though I'm not entirely sure how they determined that.  But whatever.  The point is... I'm going to do it.  I'm going to throw a one-day shindig, like a shorter version of my Tolkien blog party, with a bunch of questions that participants can answer on their own blogs, a link-up, maybe some kind of trivia game or something, and a giveaway.

If you think that sounds like fun, please add this badge to your blog or post about this to spread the word :-)  And if you feel like chiming in here and saying, "That sounds fun!" then I would have a bit of an idea on how many participants to plan for...

Friday, December 12, 2014

"The Hound of the Baskervilles" Read-Along Index

Here are links to all the chapter posts and bonus posts from the Baskervilles read-along.

Bonus Posts

Interview with NYT best-selling author Laurie R. King 
Concluding Link-Up and Goodies

Chapter Posts

1.  Mr. Sherlock Holmes
2.  The Curse of the Baskervilles
3.  The Problem
4.  Sir Henry Baskerville
5.  Three Broken Threads
6.  Baskerville Hall
7.  The Stapletons of Merripit House
8.  First Report of Dr. Watson
9.  Second Report of Dr. Watson
10.  Extract from the Diary of Dr. Watson
11.  The Man on the Tor
12.  Death on the Moor
13.  Fixing the Nets
14.  The Hound of the Baskervilles
15.  A Retrospection

LOTR Read-Along Index

I don't know why I didn't do this as soon as the LOTR read-along ended -- I guess I wasn't really planning on hosting more read-alongs at that point.  But now I've realized that having a page dedicated to each major read-along is going to clutter up the area under my page header, so I'm transferring them to their own blog posts, and then I'll just have one page linking to those index posts.  

TL;DR:  links to all the LOTR read-along posts are here now, not on a "page."

Bonus Posts
Aragorn by Birdie
Boromir by Hamlette
FOTR Book vs. Movie by James the Movie Reviewer
My Copy of The Lord of the Rings by Hamlette
Dipped in a Story by Sarah
Faramir by Heidi
TTT:  Book vs. Movie by James the Movie Reviewer
Frodo by Heidi
EconomOrcs by Cowboy
Samwise Gamgee by Miss Jane Bennet
ROTK:  Book vs. Movie by James the Movie Reviewer

The Fellowship of the Ring

Prologue:  Concerning Hobbits, and other matters

Book One
1.  A Long-expected Party
2.  The Shadow of the Past
3.  Three is Company
4.  A Short Cut to Mushrooms
5.  A Conspiracy Unmasked
6.  The Old Forest
7.  In the House of Tom Bombadil
8.  Fog on the Barrow-downs
9.  At the Sign of the Prancing Pony
10.  Strider
11.  A Knife in the Dark
12.  Flight to the Ford

Book Two
1.  Many Meetings
2.  The Council of Elrond
3.  The Ring Goes South
4.  A Journey in the Dark
5.  The Bridge of Khazad-dum
6.  Lothlorien
7.  The Mirror of Galadriel
8.  Farewell to Lorien
9.  The Great River
10.  The Breaking of the Fellowship

The Two Towers

Book Three
1.  The Departure of Boromir
2.  The Riders of Rohan
3.  The Uruk-hai
4.  Treebeard
5.  The White Rider
6.  The King of the Golden Hall
7.  Helm's Deep
8.  The Road to Isengard
9.  Flotsam and Jetsam
10.  The Voice of Saruman
11.  The Palantir

Book Four
1.  The Taming of Smeagol
2.  The Passage of the Marshes
3.  The Black Gate is Closed
4.  Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
5.  The Window on the West
6.  The Forbidden Pool
7.  Journey to the Cross-roads
8.  The Stairs of Cirith Ungol
9.  Shelob's Lair
10.  The Choices of Master Samwise

The Return of the King

Book Five
1.  Minas Tirith
2.  The Passing of the Grey Company
3.  The Muster of Rohan
4.  The Siege of Gondor
5.  The Ride of the Rohirrim
6.  The Battle of Pelennor Fields
7.  The Pyre of Denethor
8.  The Houses of Healing
9.  The Last Debate
10.  The Black Gate Opens

Book Six
1.  The Tower of Cirith Ungol
2.  The Land of Shadow
3.  Mount Doom
4.  The Field of Cormallen
5.  The Steward and the King
6.  Many Partings
7.  Homeward Bound
8.  The Scouring of the Shire
9.  The Grey Havens 

Monday, December 8, 2014

"Letters from Pemberley: The First Year" by Jane Dawkins

At last!  A Pride and Prejudice continuation that does not involve Mr. and Mrs. Darcy's marriage falling to pieces!  And Lizzie hasn't lost her satirical wit, nor has she become a basket case because she now has to assume the duties of mistress of Pemberley.

I'm not saying I loved this book, but I definitely enjoyed it.  I thought Jane Dawkins captured the characters very well, possibly as well as Amanda Grange.  I happen to like the epistolary format for books, though I know it bugs some people.  The whole story is told in letters from Elizabeth to her sister Jane, and since I can well imagine the two of them exchanging long, detailed letters, my credulity was not unduly stretched by that format.

However, I did find it silly how the author played "guess what other character from a different Austen novel I'm renaming and inserting here" for the new characters she introduced.  Of course the Darcys have many neighbors and must receive them as visitors, go to balls and parties, etc.  For some reason, Dawkins decided it would be terribly clever to grab characters from other Austen books, give them new names, and plop them down in the story.  I didn't find it clever; I found it stretched my suspension of disbelief too far.  Also, I don't like guessing games, which is what they felt like.

But overall, I really did enjoy the book, enough so that I intend to read the sequel.  I liked the characters, the plot, the pacing, the writing style.  Definitely something I'd recommend to Austen fans.  I will say that this Lizzie and Mr. Darcy felt much more like the 1995 portrayals than the 2005, which I think will please many people.

First Line:  My dear Jane, Can it really be only several weeks since our joyful nuptials and tearful farewells?

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  Innocent and nice.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"Daddy-Long-Legs" by Jean Webster

Put this at the top of the list of books I started reading with a ho-hum attitude and wound up absolutely loving.  Lots and lots of bloggers have recommended this to me over the past couple of years, so when I saw it on the shelf in the Junior Fiction section at the library, I decided to try it.  But I wasn't sure at all that I would like it.

At first, I thought it was cutesy.  And, let's be honest:  the idea behind it is cutesy.  An orphan gets sent to college by an anonymous benefactor who pays her way on the condition that she write him regular letters detailing her progress.  Pretty far-fetched and, well, quaint.  But that orphan, Jerusha "Judy" Abbott, won the hearts of her benefactor and yours truly with her buoyant worldview and wonder-filled description of life outside the orphanage at last.  She was sarcastic, yet sweet; studious, yet playful.  I've been enchanted, I tell you.

I did see the plot twist of sorts coming, and was a little annoyed at first that Jerusha didn't.  But then I realized that if I was in her position, I would be like, "No way.  That could never happen.  It would be too big a coincidence."  So I figure that's what she thought.

I found a copy of the sequel, Dear Enemy, at the thrift store, so I'm hoping to start that before too terribly long.

First Line:  The first Wednesday in every month was a Perfectly Awful Day -- a day to be awaited with dread, endured with courage, and forgotten with haste.

Particularly Good Bits:  

Anybody can rise to a crisis and face a crushing tragedy with courage, but to meet the petty hazards of the day with a laugh -- I really think that requires spirit (p. 49).

But aren't the streets entertaining?  And the people?  And the shops?  I never saw such lovely things as there are in the windows.  It makes you want to devote your life to wearing clothes (p. 87).

PS.  This is one of those wicked anonymous letters you read about in novels (p. 130).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  Clean and light and fun.

This is my sixteenth book read and reviewed for the Classics Club and my seventeenth for the I Love Library Books challenge.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2014 Wrap-Up

I'll be posting a little wrap-up musing as I finish each challenge I participated in this year, or don't finish them, as the case may be.  Overall, I've found the challenges to be fun, but also a bit of work.  Having to remember to mention what challenge a book went toward in my blog post AND update my counter on my blog page AND go submit the link to the hosting blog's link-up... extra steps mean extra time, and I don't always have much extra time.

Be that as it may, I've already finished one challenge!  I challenged myself to read 12 of the books I owned but hadn't read yet, and I have done so.  Just for fun, here are the books I read:

Shakespeare's Restless World by Neil MacGregor

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Two Guys Read Jane Austen by Steve Chandler and Terrence N. Hill

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Jane Austen's England by Roy and Lesley Adkins
Edmund Bertram's Diary by Amanda Grange

Homicide Trinity by Rex Stout
The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes by Vincent Starrett

The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick

Mr. Knightley's Diary by Amanda Grange

A Family Affair by Rex Stout

I also read quite a few other books that I own but bought this year, but this challenge is supposed to be about reading books you already owned before the challenge began, so I didn't count them.

I think I'm going to take a break from doing challenges like these in 2015, other than the Classics Club.  But if I decide I want to do some again in a year or two, this is definitely one I'd participate in again.  I liked that you don't have to submit a list of intended books to read, and since my stack of unread books that I own keeps growing and growing, it was nice to have an incentive to choose from my own shelves instead of borrowing or buying more.