Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Reading Challenge: Read Your Name

This year I will be joining the Read Your Name Challenge.  I am Laurie (obviously), and I'll be reading a book that starts with each letter of my name.  U is definitely going to be the hard one.  

So, I'll be searching for an "L" book come January. Suggestions welcome!

Want to sign up for this challenge? Click on the image!

Reading Challenge: TBR Pile

I have a dirty little (big) secret. I have a huge TBR pile. Fifteen hundred books huge. Yes, they are all in my house. Yes, They take up waaaay too much room. Yes, I need to get through them. In aid of that, I will be joining the 2012 TBR Pile Reading Challenge. The challenge is basically just to read my own books that have been sitting around my house.

I can choose from multiple challenge levels, but I've decided to go for the top level and attempt to read 41-50 books from my own TBR.

Interested in signing up?  Click on the image!

Reading Challenge: Tea and Books

I love both.  This challenge involves settling down with a cup of tea to read massive tomes- more than 700 hundred pages.  I have several of these on my stack, so I'm going to sign up.  I'm choosing the lowest level, which is two books.  I'm not sure if I'll make it through more than that, but I really want to clear a couple of these off my TBR.  

Interested in signing up? Click on the image!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

By CeeCee Honeycutt's twelth year mental illness has taken her mother's life. Camille Honeycutt has developed a reputation for wandering the streets in old prom dresses, and one of these walks ends with her hit by a truck. CeeCee is taken in by a distant aunt and moved to Savannah. In Savannah CeeCee finds an entirely new life, including stable guardians and adults who show her love for the first time.

This is a very southern story. It is also a feel-good story. CeeCee is a child desperately in need of love. In the heat of the Savannah summer, she finds that love. I enjoyed this book, but I did have some quibbles. The treatment of racism in late-1960s Georgia is a bit too pat, and the resolution to racial problems a bit too neat. Oletta seems entirely too happy to spend nearly all of her time away from her own family. Racism is fairly minimal, and the only racist characters are the "bad" ones. The easy resolution of the one racist episode belies belief. Still, this book certainly has its charms, and CeeCee is a very likable character.

Beth Hoffman, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt (Penguin, 2010) ISBN: 0143118579

Review: Singing Songs

This is a book about child abuse. Anna and her siblings are abused by their father in every way: physically, emotionally, and sexually. Her brothers are not allowed to sleep in the house, and all of the children attend school only sporadically. The family continues to move to rural areas to avoid contact with the authorities. Anna's mother is not as guilty of abuse, but she is certainly guilty of neglect and failure to protect her children.

The book is narrated in Anna's voice, and it is quite believable. Through Anna's experience we can see how an abused child struggles to sort out what is right and wrong. Hers is a world in which the wrong has become normative. It is a startling reminder of how easy it is to hide a family's darkest secrets. It was shocking to me just how easily Anna's parents avoided schools, doctors, social workers, and anyone else who might interfere. Anna is a charming and believable narrator. It is hard not to feel for her plight.

 Meg Tilley, Singing Songs (Plume 1995) ISBN: 0452271657 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Review: Poirot Investigates

I don't think this about all of Christie's Poirot episodes, but this collection reminded me very much of Sherlock Holmes. It might be the short story format, it might be the use of Hastings as narrator, or it might be Hastings's Watson-style toadying. It's probably also Poirot's insistence on the simplicity of the solution, based on logic and reasoning. In novel-length works Poirot's style is usually to gather all of the suspects and offer a dramatic revelation of the culprit. In these short stories Poirot engages in setting traps and capturing criminals red-handed. Again, this is much more like Holmes than Poirot. In each of these cases Poirot is the only one with any focus. All of the other characters, including Hastings, are led astray by incorrect assumptions. I had the same reaction to Poirot short stories as I did to Miss Marple stories- they're a bit of fun, but I prefer the novel-length works.

Agatha Christie, Poirot Investigates (William Morrow, 2011, orig. 1924) ISBN: 0062074008 

Reading Challenge: Victorian Challenge

I've completed several Victorian reading challenges in the past, and am going to sign up for this one in 2012.  When I do Victorian reading challenge I usually read books actually written during the period.  I suspect I'll read some Dickens and some Sherlock Holmes, and probably a few female authors too.  I'm hoping to get through approximately 5-6 books, but the minimum requirement is only two, and I think I can definitely manage that.

Interested in signing up?  Click on the image!

Reading Challenge: I Want More!

I love the idea behind the I Want More Challenge- read authors who I've previously read and enjoyed.  There are so many authors whose other books I keep meaning to read, but then there's so much new stuff too.  This challenge will give me a chance to go back and read more of authors I've enjoyed, like Joyce Carol Oates and Gail Godwin.  I'm going to sign up for the top level of this challenge- 9-12 books.

Interested in signing up?  Click on the image.  

Reading Challenge: Chunkster Challenge!

I've got some large tomes on the old TBR, so I'm going to give the Chunkster Challenge a go. This challenge involves reading large books, 450 pages or more. The levels are as follows:

The Chubby Chunkster – this option is for the readers who want to dabble in large tomes, but really doesn't want to commit to much more than that. FOUR Chunksters is all you need to finish this challenge.
The Plump Primer - this option is for the slightly heavier reader who wants to commit to SIX Chunksters over the next twelve months.
Do These Books Make my Butt Look Big? - this option is for the reader who can't resist bigger and bigger books and wants to commit to SIX Chunksters from the following categories: 2 books which are between 450 - 550 pages in length; 2 books which are 551 - 750 pages in length; 2 books which are GREATER than 750 pages in length (for ideas, please refer to the book suggestions page for some books which fit into these categories).
Mor-book-ly Obese - This is for the truly out of control chunkster. For this level of challenge you must commit to EIGHT or more Chunksters of which three tomes MUST be 750 pages or more. You know you want to.....go on and give in to your cravings.

I'm going with option one, the chubby chunkster. If I manage that one well enough maybe I'll upgrade in 2013.

Interested in signing up? Click on the image!

Reading Challenge: Short Stories

In 2012 I will be joining the Short Story Reading Challenge. I seem to read plenty of short story collections in any given year, so I might as well make it official :)

I'm going to start out at level 1, which involves reading 1-3 anthologies, and we'll see how far I go from there.

Interested in signing up? Click on the image!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Reading Challenge: Alex Awards

I'm signing up for 2012 to participate in the Alex Awards Challenge. This is a new challenge to me, focusing on books that have....won the Alex Award (crazy stuff, I know). There's lots to choose among, and my target level for this challenge will be to read 4-6 books. I can pull that off, right?

Interested in signing up? Click on the image!

Reading Challenge: Cruising through the Cozies

I enjoyed the Cruising through the Cozies Reading Challenge in 2011, and I'm going to be back for another round in 2012. I have to choose a participation level, and in 2012 I will be aiming for Level 2, 7-12 books. Here's to 2012!

Interested in signing up? Click on the image!

Reading Challenge: 2nds 2012

I've been doing the 2nds reading challenge for several years, and I'll be doing it again in 2012. The instructions are simple: read a second book by an author which I've read once. There are several different challenge levels to choose among, and I'll be aiming for six books in this challenge.

Interested in signing up? Click on the image!

Reading Challenge: Merely Mystery

I love mysteries. They're my fun and comfort reading. I consider them to be a bit like junk food, or at least like comfort food. They always make me happy, though I couldn't survive on them. I'm signing up this year for the Merely Mystery Challenge. I have to read at least two mysteries, which I can say with confidence will not be a problem, not at all.

Interested in signing up? Click on the image!

Reading Challenge: What's in a Name 5

I've done the What's in a Name Challenge for the past several years, and I've always have fun with it. It's a no-brainer for me to sign up for What's in a Name 5. Instructions are as follows:

Between January 1 and December 31, 2012, read one book in each of the following categories:
A book with a topographical feature (land formation) in the title: Black Hills, Purgatory Ridge, Emily of Deep Valley
A book with something you'd see in the sky in the title: Moon Called, Seeing Stars, Cloud Atlas
A book with a creepy crawly in the title: Little Bee, Spider Bones, The Witches of Worm
A book with a type of house in the title: The Glass Castle, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Ape House
A book with something you'd carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack in the title: Sarah's Key, The Scarlet Letter, Devlin Diary
A book with a something you'd find on a calendar in the title: Day of the Jackal, Elegy for April, Freaky Friday, Year of Magical Thinking

Interested in signing up? Click on the image!

Reading Challenge: Southern Literature

I love Southern Literature. I used to live in the south, Virginia to be exact, and while I was born and bred a Yankee, there's something very compelling about the south. I'll be celebrating my love of Southern literature by participating in the Southern Literature Reading Challenge in 2012. The challenge involves reading anywhere from 1-4 books. I'm going to go for the four books- might as well aim high.

Interested in signing up? Click on the image!

Reading Challenge: Mystery and Suspense 2012

I've done the Mystery and Suspense Challenge before, and I'm planning on joining in again for 2012. It was fun in 2010, so I think it's time to give it another go. I can choose to read either 12 or 24 mystery and suspense books. I'm going for the 24!

Interested in signing up? Click on the image!

Review: Irma Voth

I always want to like Toews's books more than I do. The plots always sound so interesting, but then I try and read them and am completely disinterested. That was the case again for Irma Voth. The plot sounds imaginative and compelling. Nineteen-year-old Irma lives in Mexico with her Canadian Mennonite family. She has been shunned by her father for marrying a Mexican man, who has since fled the scene. When a documentary filmmaker arrives in the community Irma gets a job as a translator, and her work allows her to make plans to break free from her highly restrictive family.

Undeniably the best part of the book is Irma's flight to freedom. Her exodus with her sisters reveals some deeply held and damning family secrets. The early part of the book, when Irma is working on the movie, is comparatively dull. One would think that conflict between some angry sectarians and famous filmmakers would be interesting, but somehow it manages to be extraordinarily dull. Toews describes every little quotidian event in Irma's world in minute detail. There's description of dialogue that simply couldn't keep my attention. The payoff is in the second half of the book, so if the reader can last through the first part they'll probably find the second easier going. That said, I keep having this experience with Towes's books. We'll see if I've learned my lesson.

Miriam Toews, Irma Voth (Harper, 2011) ISBN: 0062070185

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Review: The Gardner Heist

The largest unsolved art heist in history happened at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990. Two men stole twelve works of art including a Vermeer and several Rembrandts. The ripped and cut paintings out of frames, and the lot has never been found. Boser's book sets out to try and find out what happened to the missing art. The result is an intriguing look at art detection and the Boston criminal underworld. The methods art detectives use to recover works are often unorthodox. Detectives have to maintain a network of surly underworld contacts.

This book was tremendously interesting. It is also somewhat depressing. It's frightening just how many works of art are stolen, and how poorly protected most museums are. Boser points out that many of us would like to believe that when artworks are stolen they are secreted away to private collections. In fact, that is almost never the case. Stolen art most frequently becomes currency in the criminal world, providing collateral for all sorts of unsavory underworld activities. Drugs, weapons, the mafia: stolen art funds all of them. Thieves are rarely punished because the most important objective for the art detective is to get priceless works back into museums.

Boser does not ever recover any of the stolen works, but his journey is fascinating. I learned a great deal about art theft and recovery, and how the criminal world uses priceless works of art. Anyone with an interest in art or crime would enjoy this book.

Ulrich Boser, The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft (Smithsonian, 2009) ISBN: 0061451835

Monday, December 5, 2011

Review: Miss Zukas and the Island Murders

Straight-laced librarian Helma Zukas finds herself in charge of planning her high school reunion. Miss Zukas decides to fly all of her classmates out to the Washington coast for a resort reunion. This will give Helma the chance to investigate the mysterious death of one of her classmates during their senior year. Those accustomed to Helma's exploits will not be surprised to discover that danger follows the reunion, and Helma and company find themselves in grave danger.

This book provides the usual entertaining fare one gets in the Miss Zukas series. There are elements of the story that belie conceivability, which is also typical of this series. The reunion takes place in Washington, though the class graduated in Michigan. Helma funds the trip for the entire class, as she was supposedly able to invest left over money from class fundraising in high school. Getting around these issues this volume provides Dereske's usual standard of entertainment. This volume was more removed from the library and its environs than some of the other books. I thought that was a shame, as the library is a huge part of this series's draw.

Jo Dereske, Miss Zukas and the Island Murders (Avon, 2006) ISBN: 0380770318