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sjmccreary's 999 challenge

999 Challenge

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Oct 13, 2008, 11:21pm Top

After giving some thought to the preliminary list of categories I posted last week, I decided to drop the new release category, and have tentatively replaced it with the Kansas books/authors category. I'm not totally settled on this, and may change it again later. I'm not sure whether this category will be easier or harder for me, but I think I want categories that I will need to pay attention to as I choose books. "Kansas" definitely requires more thought and planning than "new releases".

1. Land of Oz: Books or authors with a Kansas connection
2. Civil War: Fiction and non-fiction
3. Foreign settings: Taking place outside USA, bonus points if written by a native author.
4. Historical settings: More than 100 years ago.
5. New-to-me authors:
6. Next in the series: Each series can be listed only once, so that means installments from 9 different series.
7. Older than dirt: Or at least older than me - books that were first published before I was born
8. Other non-fiction: Anything besides the civil war
9. Who-dunnit: Mysteries, spy novels, police procedurals, legal thrillers, etc.

Oct 14, 2008, 1:39pm Top

The descriptions of your categories are so creative, they made me smile. :) I really like the land of oz category, although it sounds challenging. Do you know many books with a connection to Kansas?

Oct 14, 2008, 6:22pm Top

Well, now that you mention it, I guess I don't. I was born and raised in Kansas, and even though I don't live there anymore, I still consider myself a Kansan. I always enjoy reading stories set in familiar places. I remember a few native authors we learned about in school. This may be the most challenging category I've got, but also the one I think I might enjoy the most. Sort of a literary "old home week"! Maybe I'll finally get around to reading In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum - perhaps the 2 most famous "Kansas" books, and I've never read either one of them!

Oct 14, 2008, 7:41pm Top

Actually, I've never read either of those myself! Let us know how you enjoy them.
I'm a Tucsonan gal myself, born and raised in the southwest. It might be fun to do a regional reading challenge one day ...

Oct 14, 2008, 8:33pm Top

That would be fun - or a challenge to read books set in places you've been.

Oct 14, 2008, 9:39pm Top

That would be another good one. I imagine there are lots of good books set in Arizona - unless you hate westerns. A 50-states challenge might be interesting to try, too.

Oct 17, 2008, 10:50am Top

RE: category#9

Have you read any of Carol O'Connell? I'm a flag-waving, banner-carrying fan of hers. I recommend her every chance I get.

Oct 17, 2008, 5:54pm Top

I've never read her - can you recommend a title to start with?

Oct 17, 2008, 6:36pm Top

I knew you were going to ask me that and I dread answering it. Personally, I hate starting in the middle of a series. But of her Mallory series, I enjoy the more recent ones better than the first few. If you want to start at the beginning, read Mallory's Oracle. My personal favorites are Stone Angel, Winter House and Find Me. My least favorite is Shell Game. Of course, you could avoid the Mallory series altogether and start with her stand-alone novel, Judas Child, which I also enjoyed very much. I hope you will try her at some point and of course, I hope you enjoy it! Drop me a line and let me know, either way.

Oct 17, 2008, 11:23pm Top

Thanks for the recommendation - I'll look for her. I think I've heard of the Mallory books, but have never talked to anyone who read them. I like to start at the beginning of a series, so in this case I think I'll try the stand alone first - to get a taste of the author - since it sounds like the Mallory series starts slow.

Oct 22, 2008, 8:19pm Top

Most states have their own children's (and sometimes YA) book award sponsored by the state's library association. In Missouri, it's the Mark Twain Award. In Kansas it's the William Allen White Children's Book Award. The neat thing about these awards is that the master list comes from librarians, but the winner is chosen by kids who get to vote for their favorite. This list could be another way to get some Kansas connection into your reading.

Oct 23, 2008, 12:25pm Top

I like the Kansas category. I think you'll find plenty of books to fill it, although it will take awhile. In Cold Blood and Wizard of Oz are both wonderful books, so you have a good start. I believe The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton by Jane Smiley sets the largest segment in Kansas.

Oct 24, 2008, 12:41pm Top

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan- story of the great dust bowl during the 30's has significant mentions of Kansas.

Oct 24, 2008, 3:05pm Top

I just saw another post about Worst Hard Time the other day, and thought it would be a good option for my Kansas category. I've recently become interested in the dust bowl and depression era and how it affected Kansas, but haven't had an opportunity to learn much yet.

Oct 24, 2008, 3:10pm Top

#12 I'll check into All-True Travels - I haven't heard of it before, but it looks interesting. It might also fit into the civil war category, since it seems to cover the "bleeding Kansas" period which led up to the war (and I'm not going to be too fussy about a few years here or there!)

Nov 4, 2008, 3:54pm Top

I saw a post about Oceans of Kansas which is non-fiction about ancient Kansas history. Sounds just quirky enough to be interesting. I also found this website that has some suggestions for Kansas reading. http://www.bookkansas.com/ Sounds like fun!

Nov 4, 2008, 4:10pm Top

I totally agree with your assessment of Oceans of Kansas - I love offbeat topics when reading nonfiction. My husband just rolls his eyes when he sees me reading something new. I will definitely add this to my (off-site) list of 999 suggestions.

And the link to Book Kansas looks very good - I just glanced quickly, but am going back for a closer look. Thanks for the suggestions.

Dec 15, 2008, 4:32pm Top

I stopped by the library today and picked up a copy of Wizard of Oz to read on January 1. They had a dozen or more different editions of that book, so I choose the "Kansas Centennial Edition" published by the University Press of Kansas, which seem the most fitting. Inexplicably, the library had a "Yellow Brick Road" exhibit in the lobby displaying several Wizard of Oz related books and collectibles. I'm not sure why they had this - I don't live in Kansas anymore - but appreciated the timeliness of it all the same!

I also got several other books that will look great on my 999 list, assuming I don't get them finished before year end.

Dec 15, 2008, 7:26pm Top

Another suggested title for your Kansas category that could overlap: War to the Knife by Thomas Goodrich. It covers "bleeding Kansas, 1854-1861."

Dec 15, 2008, 7:56pm Top

OOO - that does look good. On to the list it goes!

Dec 15, 2008, 9:33pm Top

I love the idea that Kansas was part of your youth and places you remember. I've got a few books by Laura Lippman on my list that are set in Baltimore which is where I grew up. I read one of hers and it was very amusing to see places you know mentioned in the book. It made it seem much more real.

Jan 4, 2009, 11:10pm Top


I've been so excited to get started on this challenge, and I'm finally ready to post my first book. I started reading it late on the first, and I can't believe I didn't finish it until this morning.

Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum - goes in Kansas category #1 (but will also fit in new-to-me authors, older than me, and historical settings)
Just like in the movie, Dorothy spends the entire book wanting to get back home to Kansas. Everyone knows that the book isn't exactly the same as the movie. I thought, having watched the movie dozens of times over the course of my life, that the book would feel awkward and wrong. But it didn't. It was actually much closer to the movie version than I expected. It is a wonderful children's book with imaginative characters and scenes. Best of all, the flying monkeys aren't really scary, after all! I can't believe that I've never read this book before - even when my kids and I went through our classics period while reading children's books aloud we somehow managed to miss this one. 5-stars (a rare rating for me)

Jan 5, 2009, 12:40am Top

Wow! 5 stars! I have never read Wizard of Oz either. I may have to remedy that situation! Maybe I'll buy it, read it and then send it to my grandchildren. The oldest one is almost 7. What age do you recommend for this book?

Jan 5, 2009, 10:52am Top

Sending a copy to the grandkids is a wonderful idea! I think any age would enjoy this book. It is a chapter book, so probably 3rd or 4th or 5th grade for reading alone, but it would make a great bedtime read-aloud book for younger kids. There are about 20 short chapters.

I was thinking about what rating to give, and wondered if I would have appreciated it if I had read it earlier in life as much as I did this week. You should definitely read it for yourself before you send it on.

Jan 6, 2009, 5:58pm Top

Next book

A Secret and Unlawful Killing: A Mystery of Medieval Ireland by Cora Harrison. This will go into category #3 - foreign locations, and I earn a bonus point since the author is actually Irish. It would also fit into the historical period category (takes place in 1509), next in the series (book #2 after My Lady Judge) and mystery category.

This series is about Mara, a brehon (judge) in a western Irish kingdom. She is the one who, not only acts a judge dispensing justice, but also must be detective and jury - uncovering evidence and deciding guilt. I'm not sure just how historically accurate it is, but it is entertaining and easy enough to read. Start with the first book. I gave it 3-1/2 stars.

Jan 9, 2009, 6:28pm Top

Third book

Fault Line by Barry Eisler. This is going into category #5, new-to-me authors, but would also fit in the mystery category.

I received this book from the early reviewers program and will be posting my review shortly - or maybe tomorrow. It is a pretty fast and easy read, and is best enjoyed if you don't take it too seriously. It is a story about 2 brothers who have been estranged for many years, following a series of family crises that occured when they were teenagers. Both are carrying chips on their shoulders from that time and I wasn't convinced that they would actually seek one another out after so long. But the author says they did, so we'll go with that. Ben is a military black ops operator and Alex is a clean cut attorney in a large San Francisco law firm. When Alex's client is murdered, and an informal contact in the US Patent office drops dead of a premature heart attack, and Alex's house is broken into in the middle of the night but nothing stolen, he asks his brother for help. Ben has just completed an operation and has free time so he goes. While Alex and Sarah, his associate, try to discover what is in the client's patent application that someone would be willing to kill for, Ben tries to track down who would such a thing and why. Meanwhile, both men are confronting their shared past and trying to come to terms with one another. OK, not terrible, a quck and entertaining read. I'll probably give it 2-1/2 or 3 stars.

Edited: Jan 11, 2009, 9:56pm Top

Fourth book

Trunk Music by Michael Connelly. This is the 5th Harry Bosch book, and is going into category #6 - Next in the series. It could also fit in the mystery category.

If I didn't get any other benefit from LT (as if), I will always be grateful for the folks over in the mystery readers group who insisted that the Harry Bosch series gets better as it goes. I read the first 2 books several years ago and gave up. Based on the recommendations I got on LT, I tried the series again and decided to stick with it for at least 3 or 4 books. They were absolutely right. Each book is better than the one before it. Start with Black Echo, then The Black Ice and don't give up until after Concrete Blonde.

Jan 12, 2009, 10:10pm Top

Fifth book

The Amber Room by Steve Berry. This will go into the mystery category #9, but could also fit into foreign locations since most of the action is in Germany and Czech Republic.

This is not one of the Cotton Malone books, but is essentially the same in all other respects. This is the story of an Atlanta judge who travels to Germany to search for clues about the amber room - stolen from Russia by the Nazi's and missing since WWII - following the sudden death of her father - a WWII veteran of the Soviet army.

So far, I've enjoyed the Berry books I've read. They are fast paced, and I like the way he manages to weave in bits of historical information, but they all seem to drag a little about 3/4 through. I give this 3-1/2 stars.

Jan 12, 2009, 11:16pm Top

I read the whole Oz series back when I was girl, but I don't remember much about the stories. I do sort of remember the library I got them from - a little country library in Texas. I remember being so happy to find a SERIES - that meant LOTS of books to enjoy!

And I have a fun Kansas book - Kansas Troubles is a mystery set in Kansas that I enjoyed. Just a good series. The titles all come from quilt patterns.

Jan 13, 2009, 9:44am Top

I think I've seen that series, but have never read any of them. Should they be read in order?

Jan 15, 2009, 10:34am Top

Sixth book

The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss. I am putting this in historical settings category #4, but it could also fit in new-to-me authors and mystery, since it does have an element of intrigue.

I enjoyed this book very much - I love historical fiction (and non-fiction, too) and American history, especially. The action of this book takes place between the time the excise tax was placed on whiskey in 1791 and when the government sent an armed force in 1794 to stamp down the rebellion of folks who refused to pay the tax. It concerns a group of these "whiskey rebels" who decide to go back east and take their revenge on the men who had ruined them first by enticing them to go west by trading their unpaid notes for service during the revolution for worthless land, and then by levying a tax on the one product that was used for barter in an area where hard currency was scarce. Very effective use of historical people and events in a fictional story. 4 stars.

Jan 16, 2009, 7:50pm Top


Thanks for the advice about Michael Connelly. I plan to try that series sometime this year and I will remember to persevere for the first few books.

Jan 16, 2009, 9:58pm Top

#32 I've also heard that the series slows down in the middle and then picks up again later. I'm still enjoying it and will be looking for the next book in another month or so. I hope you like it - it seems like lots of people do.

Jan 16, 2009, 10:43pm Top

Seventh book

The Bible Salesman by Clyde Edgerton. This goes in new-to-me author category #5

I almost hate to include this book in my list. I finished it about an hour and a half ago, and the more I think about it, the less I like it. The best thing I can say is that it is short. This is the story of Henry, a young man in 1950 working as a traveling salesman in the deep south, who meets up with an older man claiming to be an FBI agent working undercover investigating a ring of car thieves. Maybe I'm missing the point, but I didn't care about any of the characters and wasn't interested in anything they were doing. I only gave it 2 stars.

Jan 17, 2009, 9:18pm Top

Eighth book

The Disorganized Mind by Nancy A Ratey. This is going into non-fiction category 8.

This book is full of practical, step-by-step advice for adults suffering from ADHD. She claims that, with time and patience, even the most disorganized, impulsive and inattentive of us can learn to overcome and compensate for our condition. I'm not a huge fan of self-help books in general, but as an ADHD sufferer this book offers compassion and hope. I gave it 3 stars, but may go back later and upgrade that rating if the book continues to resonate.

Jan 17, 2009, 9:24pm Top

After 8 books, I've covered 7 categories. The 2 that I don't have something in yet are civil war and older than me. I started Battle Cry of Freedom the other day which is a civil war book. It is a long book, though, and may take a while to finish. For older than me, I have Beowulf that I picked up at the library last week and expect to start on in another week. I think I will be most successful if I try to complete the categories somewhat evenly - not leaving one undone until the end of the year to finish up in one big push. My sort-of goal was to read one book from each category each month, which would have me finishing the challenge by the end of September. That actually gives me a 3-month cushion for those categories that prove to be harder to complete.

Jan 17, 2009, 9:34pm Top

I was going to wait until the end of the month to post a summary of what I've read so far, but decided to go ahead.

1. Land of Oz: Books or authors with a Kansas connection
1. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum

2. Civil War: Fiction and non-fiction
1. - in progress - Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson

3. Foreign settings: Taking place outside USA, bonus points if written by a native author
1. A Secret and Unlawful Killing by Cora Harrison (Ireland - bonus)

4. Historical settings: More than 100 years ago
1. The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss (1790's)

5. New-to-me authors:
1. Fault Line by Barry Eisler
2. The Bible Salesman by Clyde Edgerton

6. Next in the series: Each series can be listed only once, so that means installments from 9 different series
1. Trunk Music by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch series #5)

7. Older than dirt: Or at least older than me - books that were first published before I was born
1. - planned - Beowulf

8. Other non-fiction: Anything besides the civil war
1. The Disorganized Mind by Nancy A Ratey

9. Who-dunnit: Mysteries, spy novels, police procedurals, legal thrillers, etc
1. The Amber Room by Steve Berry

Edited: Jan 17, 2009, 9:54pm Top

#36 sjmccreary

Are you sure Beowulf is older than you? ;-)

I haven't started Battle Cry of Freedom yet but hope to in a couple of weeks. I may be doing Confederates in the Attic first. BC will take me a long time to read and I'd like to get a CW "under my belt" soon.

If my library has The Disorganized Mind I want to look at it just to see what she has to say. My younger son and I are both ADHD and we didn't consider it "overcoming" our condition as much as learning to channel that energy in constructive ways. Every boss my son has had really appreciated him--he can't sit still so he is always working--if his work is done he helps out others (he's a Physical Therapist)--including, for example, helping the girls fold the laundry and cleaning out the cupboards. We also devised ways to help us concentrate and stay on task. (We also drink a lot of coffee!) :-)

Wow--you have really done a lot of reading this month! And the month is barely half over. I am in awe!

Jan 19, 2009, 9:17pm Top

#38 re: Beowulf - well, I THOUGHT it was older than me, are you suggesting it might not be? ;-)

As you pointed out, "overcome" isn't quite the right word for learning to live with ADHD. My issues are less to do with excess energy needing to be channeled than with the distractability and problems staying on-task, so it often seems like something to be overcome. I know that it really is a matter of learning to use our special abilities to accomplish things that "normal" people can only dream about!

Don't awe too much - although I have to admit that I was surprised at my tally when I realized that it's only been half a month. My usual pace is about 2-1/2 books per week. Battle Cry will slow me down!

Jan 24, 2009, 3:26pm Top

Next book - 9th, I think

The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridasson. Will go into category #3 foreign setting (Iceland) with a bonus point going to me for an Icelandic author. It will also fit in next in the series (Inspector Erlendur #4 - English language) or mystery categories.

I struggled with the book a little more than the first 3 in the series (English language - there are 2 earlier books that haven't been translated from the Icelandic yet). But to be fair to the book, I believe the problem was mine. This has been a difficult week, requiring unplanned out-of-town travel and emergency surgery on my college age son. Everything has turned out fine, and my son is doing beautifully, but it caused me to be rather distracted and not able to concentrate on reading. The book is much like the others. A skeleton is exposed in a lake bed when the water level suddenly and mysteriously drops (the "draining" lake of the title, but that mystery has nothing more to do with the story). A cold-war era Russian listening device is tied to the skeleton and would have served to weigh the body down in the water. We get flashbacks to the university in Liepszig, East Germany (not sure about that spelling) where young socialists in the 1950's were invited to study on scholarship, a group of Icelanders among them. There is dissent and intrigue among the students, who were encouraged to spy upon one another. Back in the present, Erlendur and his fellows are investigating missing persons reported during the 1960's, after the listening device was manufactured, in a effort to identify the body. Erlendur loves working cold cases, and missing persons are his favorite. The big weakness for me was the way Erlendur is able to keep moving steadily forward in solving this old case - no dead ends to speak of, no set backs. If it were really that easy, wouldn't someone have done it sooner? The thing I like best about this series is the glimpses it provides into a place and culture that is different from ours. Cold-war Iceland is described as a place where east and west meet to spy upon one another, the host seemingly remaining neutral. A farm implement dealer talks about carrying both Caterpillar and Massey Ferguson brands from the USA, as well as cheaper, but still good, brands from East Germany. This is a place were John Wayne is familiar, and socialism was (seemingly) as valid an option as our republican or democratic political parties. Not my favorite book in the series, but I gave it 3-1/2 stars.

Edited: Jan 28, 2009, 2:45am Top

10th book.

1066 and all that: A Memorable History of England by Walter Sellar and Robert Yeatman. I'm putting this one in category #7, Older than Dirt, since it was orginally published in 1931, well before my time. It would also fit in foreign setting (England, presumably with Enlish authors as a bonus), historical (although it doesn't end until after WWI), new-to-me author, and non-fiction.

A fun little (only 2 hours) book about the history of England from the time of the Roman invasion up through the end of WWI, when history ends. It is a humorous look at history, defined by the authors as being only "what you can remember", containing loads of intentional, childish misunderstandings. For exiample, "Williamanmary for some reason was known as The Orange in their own country of Holland, and were popular as King of England", and "the Queen {Victoria} was allowed to abandon for the time being all thoughts of levity and to marry her beautiful cousin (the memorable Prince Consaught), a good German whom she had met during the great International Expedition to Hyde Park". In a more serious vein, though, it served as a reminder to me of the danger of teaching history to children only as a series of names and dates to be memorized, without a care for any understanding of the cause or effect of the highlighted events. All in all, a pleasure. I expect it would be even more amusing for those who were educated in the UK and actually were expected to learn English history. I understand there is a similar book by Dave Barry about American history which I will definitely be seeking out. This one gets 4 stars.

Edited to change star rating, after I reviewed the rest of my library and realized that the first rating didn't reflect my true reaction to the book.

Jan 29, 2009, 12:17am Top

11th book

Have You Seen...?: A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films by David Thompson. This one is non-fiction, category #8

I don't know why this book was published. I read the jacket comments and the author's introduction, and I still don't know why he wrote it. This author, a famous film critic, has put together a list of 1000 movies, listed alphabetically. Each movie has a page-long essay about it, its makers or stars, the plot, its profitability, his reactions to it, pretty much whatever he felt like writing. He doesn't rate them or rank them. He doesn't even like all of them. I guess he's at least watched them all, although in the acknowledgments he admits to often falling asleep during a movie. Many are very obscure, including several foreign films and silent films and silent foreign films. Some are made for-TV-movies, including foreign made-for-TV movies. (I don't think there are any silent made-for-TV movies, though, more's the pity.) The oldest is from 1895, the most recent are 7 from 2007 (including "No Country for Old Men" and "Sweeney Todd").

The essays were pretty interesting - they reminded me of the little talks that Robert Osborn gives on Turner Classic Movies as introductions before the show starts. I was surprised at some of the movies that are in here, and I don't know what it means if a movie is NOT included. I am not a serious movie buff, and maybe that is the problem. I was familiar with only a minority of these titles, and have actually seen fewer still. This book doesn't work for me - I'll keep my Leonard Maltin guide instead. 2 stars.

Jan 29, 2009, 12:33am Top

Sorry I didn't get back to you sooner! Yes, the Earlene Fowler series is better read in order, but not strictly necessary. Kansas Troubles is when the main character goes to visit her new in-laws.

Jan 29, 2009, 12:36am Top

Oh, and I *LOVE* Beowulf. I don't even know how to put it strongly enough. My daughter was reading it in school and told her teacher that it was my favorite poem. And it definitely is. I know that not everyone agrees, but I think it is amazing. What translation or version are you reading?

Jan 29, 2009, 12:52am Top

I've got the Seamus Heaney translation. My kids are fascinated by my reading this. My daughter read it in school last year but said she didn't remember anything about it. However, whenever she asks how I'm enjoying it and I describe where I am, she says "oh, yeah, I remember that part". My son, 3 years younger, just keeps asking if I'm finished yet and can he have it when I'm done. I never read this in school. For the longest time I had the mistaken impression that it was akin to Call of the Wild - thinking that it was about a Beo wolf (whatever that is!) I am enjoying it so far, taking it pretty slow and easy, and savoring everything about it. I'm reading a library copy, but will begin scouting for a copy for purchase - perhaps used - just so I can go back to again whenever I want to.

Jan 30, 2009, 12:31am Top

12th book

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston. This is going in category #3 foreign settings. It takes place on Newfoundland and was written by a native Newfoundlander, earning me another bonus point. It could also fit in the new-to-me author category.

I'm not sure what to say about this book - it took me quite a while to finish it, and I haven't taken time yet to mull it over. It is a fictionalized account of the life of Joe Smallwood. http://www.wordplay.com/gullages/bio-joey.html will take you to a short article about the man. Most of the incidents mentioned in the article are included in the book, however the book effectively ended in the 1950's - shortly after Newfoundland became a Canadian province. Smallwood was a key figure in the effort to achieve confederation in 1949. The other main character in the book, Sheilagh Fielding, known simply as "Fielding", is evidently fictional, according to comments by the author I found online. (She gets her own book in Custodian of Paradise). I'm glad that Johnston wrote Fielding into the story. Without her, Smallwood would be too unrelently obstinate. He is not presented as a very personable or likable man. Fielding is a tragic figure who manages to bring out some humanity in Smallwood, who loves her from afar.

I chose this book because I wanted to "visit" Newfoundland as part of the global reading challenge. (I don't post over there anymore, but I'm still trying to do the reading.) To quote Fielding, "For all their supposed hospitableness, there is something in the character of Newfoundlanders, a deviousness let us call it, that comes out in their dealings with outsiders who would do well to stay away." (pg 426) Good advice. The place is presented as being dark and cold, its people grim, isolated and poverty-stricken. Johnston is a talented author, but I'm glad to be leaving Newfoundland. 3-1/2 stars.

Feb 1, 2009, 3:55pm Top

13th book

The Snack Thief by Andrea Camilleri. This is going into category #6, next in the series. This is the 3rd book in the Inspector Montalbano series. It would also fit in foreign locations, since it takes place on Sicily and is written by an Italian, or in the mysteries category.

In this episode, Montalbano is able to deflect the assignment to investigate the case of a Tunisian fisherman being shot to death while on board an Italian fishing boat, by a Tunisian patrol boat. That earns him an extra 2 hours sleep that morning before he wakes to another case of a retired businessman who was found stabbed to death in the elevator of his apartment building. The first real clue was the discovery that the man had a Tunisian cleaning woman who came to his office 3 days a week, despite the business having been closed for several years. We also learn more about Montalbano's past, and witness his conflict as he contemplates whether he wants to live as a family man or continue as a carefree bachelor.

I first chose this series as a result of the mystery & thriller group here on LT. I hung out there quite a lot when I first joined LT and they had an ongoing/recurring discussion about mysteries set in non-English-speaking locations. This series was mentioned over and over and highly recommended. I concur. The series starts with The Shape of Water, and this book is the best one yet. 4 stars.

Feb 1, 2009, 4:05pm Top

Here is a recap of my progress so far. 13 books in 8 categories. Still nothing finished in the Civil War category, but I'm still working on Battle Cry of Freedom and started Annie, Between the States, a YA novel, last night. I'm also still not finished with Beowulf for the older than me category. Overall, I'm pretty pleased with how the challenge is going so far.

1 Land of Oz: Books or authors with a Kansas connection
1 The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum

2 Civil War: Fiction and non-fiction
1 - in progress - Battle Cry of Freedom
2 - in progress - Annie, Between the States

3 Foreign settings: Taking place outside USA, bonus points if written by a native author
1 A Secret and Unlawful Killing by Cora Harrison (Ireland - bonus)
2 The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason (Iceland - bonus)
3 The Colony of Unrequited dreams by Wayne Johnston (Newfoundland - bonus)

4 Historical settings: More than 100 years ago
1 The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss (1790's)

5 New-to-me authors:
1 Fault Line by Barry Eisler
2 The Bible Salesman by Clyde Edgerton

6 Next in the series: Each series can be listed only once, so that means installments from 9 different series
1 Trunk Music by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch series #5)
2 The Snack Thief by Andrea Camilleri (Inspector Montalbano series #3)

7 Older than dirt: Or at least older than me - books that were first published before I was born
1 1066 and all that: A memorable History of England by Walter Carruthers Sellar and R Yeatman (1931)
2 - in progress - Beowulf

8 Other non-fiction: Anything besides the civil war
1 The Disorganized Mind by Nancy A Ratey
2 Have You Seen…? By David Thompson

9 Who-dunnit: Mysteries, spy novels, police procedurals, legal thrillers, etc
1 The Amber Room by Steve Berry

Feb 1, 2009, 6:57pm Top

If you like mystery series in foreign settings, you might want to look at the works of Colin Cotterill, starting with Coroner's Lunch. I've not tried it yet, but I've heard really good things about this series set in 1970s Laos. It's on my (extremely long) list of books I'd like to read.

Feb 2, 2009, 11:04am Top

14th book

Annie, Between the States by L M Elliott. FINALLY, one for category #2 - civil war! It could also fit in historical settings, and new-to-me authors.

This is a very nice YA novel set in Northern Virginia during the civil war. It features Annie, age 16 when the war begins, who finds herself in the middle of the Battle of Manassas in chapter one. She and her mother busy themselves caring for wounded union soldiers who were left behind as the army moved onward. Annie's first "patient" was a Massachusetts man whose life was saved by the book of poetry he carried in his pocket which deflected the bullet. For Annie, also a lover of poetry, this provides a beginning point on which to build a relationship throughout the rest of the book. But since Virginia is their home, and her brothers are both fighting for the confederacy, Annie is conflicted about any feelings she might have toward a Yankee man. She also grows increasingly more conflicted about the issue of slavery, especially since her family has always treated their slaves very well, teaching them to read and write and referring to them as "servants".

I chose this book especially for this civil war category. The title came to me, I think, by way of the civil war thread over in the "what are you reading now" group. Aimed at younger readers, the horrors of war were diluted somewhat, but the issues of war and slavery are definitely not sugar-coated or glorified. I thought it was well-researched, well-written, and fairly realistic (if not quite as grim as it probably would have been). I liked it very much. 4 stars.

Feb 6, 2009, 11:13pm Top

15th book

Running Hot by Jayne Ann Krentz. I decided to put this one in category #9, mysteries, but it would also fit in #6 next in the series.

An entertaining paranormal romantic suspense - part of the Arcane Society series. All the principles in this series have some kind of physic or paranormal ability which can be used either for good or evil. The good guy gets the bad guy and then he gets the girl. What could be more satisfying? Normally, I don't have any patience for anything paranormal, but for some reason I kind of like this series. 4 stars.

16th book

Beowulf as translated by Seamus Heaney. Category #7, older than me (circa 1000). Would also fit in foreign settings, historical, and new-to-me author.

I never read this book in school, and all the bits and pieces I've heard about it through the years still didn't prepare me for what I found here. The thought that this story is 1,000 years old and still intact is enough to intice me to take a look. The people in the story, living with a combination of Christian and pagan beliefs and rituals, are fascinating. They fight each other and help each other and are totally accepting of whatever comes their way. I'm not a big fan of poetry, so the poetical aspects of the writing escape me, except one line that I love. Beowulf is describing how he didn't kill Grendel outright, but dealt him a mortal wound when he tore the creature's arm off at the shoulder. Talking about Grendel, Beowulf says "He is hasped and hooped and hirpling with pain..." (line 975). I love saying that one out loud. It sounds like Dr Seuss. The other line that I liked was a little later, when they're still talking about how it was God's will that Grendel was killed, thus preventing even more deaths. Then they say, "Whoever remains for long here in this earthly life will enjoy and endure more than enough." (line 1060-1061) I loved this one and will be keeping my eyes open for a used copy to buy. 4-1/2 stars.

17th Book

The Faithful Spy by Alex Berenson. I'm putting this in #9, mysteries. It could also go into foreign locations (much of the book is set in Afghanistan and Pakistan) or new-to-me authors.

This one I liked. John Wells, a CIA agent has been undercover inside al Qaeda since before 9/11. He's been under so long, that his handlers at Langley fear he's "gone native" and begin to question his trustworthiness. When al Qaeda begins to gear up for another series of attacks on the US, Wells worries that they don't trust him, either. I think there is a sequel to this book - I'll be hunting for it soon. 3-1/2 stars.

Feb 11, 2009, 5:48pm Top

18th Book

Lima Nights by Marie Arana. I'm counting this in category #5 - new-to-me authors, but it would also fit in foreign settings.

I'm not sure what I expected from this book, but it isn't what I got. This is the story of a middle-aged white man in 1980's Lima, Peru. He comes from a wealthy family, lives in the best part of town, is married and has 2 teenaged sons. To all appearances, his life is perfect. He went with his friends to a tango bar where he first sees, then dances with, a young native Peruvian woman. He becomes obsessed with the woman, breaking his own rule about not getting too attached to his casual conquests. The woman, actually only 15 years old, is an Indian girl who lives in the worst slum with her mother and 2 brothers. She prides herself on being smart enough to get ahead in life by using her wits and sexuality. The two develop a relationship that neither seems willing or able to resist. Twenty years later, they are still together, but nothing else is the same. The book ends as each one finally is forced to face and accept their true feelings about the other.

I first became aware of this book several weeks ago when it was reviewed in the local Sunday paper. The author is Peruvian, who lives part-time in USA. It is beautifully written, and is definitely a page-turner, but is far from a simple love story. I gave it 3 stars, because I just can't love it, but don't dislike it, either.

Feb 14, 2009, 1:00pm Top

19th Book

Curse of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz. I'm putting this book in category #6 Next in the Series, but it could also go in the mystery category.

This is the sequel to The Spellman Files which introduced the Spellman family and their family-owned PI business. In this book, Izzy, the family's adult daughter, becomes suspicious of the family's new next-door neighbor, John Brown, because of his too-ordinary name and his reluctance to provide proof of identity. In her zeal to discover the truth about him, Izzy ends up violating a temporary restraining order he had filed against her and is arrested. Facing the loss of her PI license if she is convicted, Izzy must come to grips with the consequenses of her actions over the years.

I loved the first book, which I discovered at the library by accident. Izzy Spellman reminds me a little of Stephanie Plum. She is not suited for any ordinary job, she manages to get herself into sticky situations, she has an entire cast of supporting characters who are just as quirky as she is. I think these books are fun, laugh-out-loud silly. Like Stephanie, Izzy is warm and caring at heart. She just doesn’t always know how to show it. 3-1/2 stars.

Feb 15, 2009, 7:20pm Top

20th Book

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan. This is going into category #1 - Kansas, but it would also fit in new-to-me authors and non-fiction.

This nonfiction is an account of the dust bowl period of the 1930's in the high plains of Eastern Colo and New Mexico and areas of western Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Egan tells the story from the perspective of several real-life families who lived in these areas throughout the entire period. He begins by describing how the region came to be settled in the early 1900's, and why the land was plowed up and planted to wheat and corn in the 1920's. There were folks, even in those early days, who claimed that that land should not be plowed, but they were, of course, ignored. After the damage was done, it still took years before any serious consideration was given to the claim that the disaster was not a natural one - that it was entirely man-made. Some probably still don't believe that, though, since they are still farming out there. If you ever fly over western Kansas, you'll be able to see the perfectly round fields of wheat growing only within the confines of the irrigation equipment that sucks water up from the Ogallala aquifer 8 times faster than it is being replenished. A difficult story to read, but an important reminder that we are capable of inflicting real damage in a very short amount of time.

I found this book for my Kansas category in the 999 challenge (along with about 20 other candidates), but was encouraged to go ahead and read it after seeing Joycepa's review of it on her 75-book thread last month. Highly recommended. 4 stars.

Feb 15, 2009, 7:30pm Top

OK - here is my mid-month recap. After 20 books, I've got a least one book finished now in each category, but only one each in #2 Civil War and #4 Historical Settings. I'm still working on Battle Cry of Freedom for Civil War, but the book I've got in progress for Historical, Streets of Babylon, isn't going very well, and I'm seriously thinking of abandoning it.

1 Land of Oz: Books or authors with a Kansas connection
1 The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum
2 The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan

2 Civil War: Fiction and non-fiction
1 Annie, Between the States by L M Elliott

3 Foreign settings: Taking place outside USA, bonus points if written by a native author
1 A Secret and Unlawful Killing by Cora Harrison (Ireland - bonus)
2 The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason (Iceland - bonus)
3 The Colony of Unrequited dreams by Wayne Johnston (Newfoundland - bonus)

4 Historical settings: More than 100 years ago
1 The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss (1790's)

5 New-to-me authors:
1 Fault Line by Barry Eisler
2 The Bible Salesman by Clyde Edgerton
3 Lima Nights by Marie Arana

6 Next in the series: Each series can be listed only once, so that means installments from 9 different series
1 Trunk Music by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch series #5)
2 The Snack Thief by Andrea Camilleri (Inspector Montalbano series #3)
3 Curse of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz (Spellman series #2)

7 Older than dirt: Or at least older than me - books that were first published before I was born
1 1066 and all that: A memorable History of England by W Sellar and R Yeatman (1931)
2 Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney (circa 1000)

8 Other non-fiction: Anything besides the civil war
1 The Disorganized Mind by Nancy A Ratey
2 Have You Seen…? By David Thompson

9 Who-dunnit: Mysteries, spy novels, police procedurals, legal thrillers, etc
1 The Amber Room by Steve Berry
2 Running Hot by Jayne Ann Krentz
3 The Faithful Spy by Alex Berenson

Feb 17, 2009, 12:10pm Top

My philosophy when it comes to books, "If it's not fun, move on."
There are too many good books out there that I want to read, so if I start one and don't like it, I'm not wasting my time on it. I usually give it about 100 pages (sometimes even less).

Edited: Feb 17, 2009, 7:50pm Top

Cheli, I absolutely agree. Streets of Babylon is already loaded in the bag going back to the library later this evening. It looks like I've got some exciting new books waiting for me when I get there, so I'm confident I will find something good to read. I just don't know if any are historicals.... This challenge has really thrown a wrench into the way I think about my books. I like it, don't get me wrong. But, as much as I love historicals, I would never have given it a second thought if I went a month or more without reading one. Now, I am reminded every time I look at my list that I'm "falling behind" in that category! Oh, well. I'm still loving the challenge. And, now that I think about it, I have a non-fiction about events from 1908 on the TBR shelf. I guess that will count as "more than 100 years ago", won't it? :-)

ETA One of the books I'm picking up tonight is the JQ Adams biography I've been waiting for. That would also count as historical - I'm on a roll, now!

Feb 18, 2009, 5:49pm Top

I just did a couple of P D Wodehouse (they went really fast) that were set in the early 20's. Something like that you could put in the category, Older than you, and then move the 1066 to More than 100 years.

Feb 18, 2009, 6:24pm Top

I've never read Wodehouse, but have been hearing more and more about him (her?) lately, so will have to hunt one down. Actually, I decided that it was silly to get so worked up about reading something historical. I'll get around to it eventually - I can't leave them alone for long. So, I just grabbed the next book on the stack, thinking it would be a lovely little romantic suspense that I could breeze through in a day or two. Low and behold, it is set in 1196! A lovely HISTORICAL romantic suspense! Everything just has a way of working out OK in the end, doesn't it?

I'm still going to look for a Wodehouse, though. What should I start with?

But, I'm still reserving the right to move books around later in the year, if I need to fill up categories. 1066 may yet end up in the historical bucket.

Feb 18, 2009, 6:35pm Top

56: I'm still reserving the right to move books around later in the year, if I need to fill up categories.

Me too. In fact, I've already done so. Some of my categories don't yet exist, some are tentative, some overlap. All of them are after the fact -- I read the book then decide where it belongs. I figure at the end I'll have a record of the sorts of things that were of interest to me this year.

Feb 18, 2009, 6:44pm Top

That might be an impossible puzzle for me. To try to fit all the books I read during the year into 9 categories. But I can see where that would be a fun way to go about it - especially if you were having trouble deciding on categories up front. I'm still enjoying the structure of trying to find books that fit into the preselected categories. Now, when we get down to the end of the year and I still haven't filled something up, I may not be so thrilled. I much prefer reading whatever I WANT to, not what I HAVE to.

Feb 18, 2009, 7:02pm Top

61: For me the main challenge of the challenges is to stick with each book from beginning to end, since in recent years I've been reading more the way I surf the internet. I like the category approach because it forces me to think about why I'm reading each book, and reminds me of general themes of interest. But if all else fails, there's the "books that don't fit elsewhere" category, or the "books I read just because they were different" category, or the "books I wouldn't have thought to read if I hadn't seen them on someone else's list" category.

Feb 18, 2009, 7:12pm Top

I love those categories. I read plenty of those books, even though I don't have a category for them here. They're just extras.

I am much more aware now of how often I don't finish a book. But I don't think I'm more or less likely than before to quit in the middle. It just makes me think about it more, especially if I was counting on that book going into a certain slot on the list (as in the case of Streets of Babylon in #55, 56 above)

Edited: Feb 18, 2009, 9:35pm Top

Next year I'm thinking of having a category titled "Books with words"

I already have 4 categories filled up for next year!

Feb 18, 2009, 10:41pm Top

This morning, I found myself making a list of categories for a 10-10-10 challenge! I'm only 25% finished with this one! There are just so many fascinating things out there waiting to be read, and I want them all.

Edited: Feb 20, 2009, 5:16pm Top

Book #21

The Treasure by Iris Johansen, Going in category #4, Historical Settings, but would also fit in foreign settings or mystery.

This romantic suspense is set in 1196, and takes place largely in Rome and Syria, with the first and last pages set in Scotland. Kadar and Selene, refugees to Scotland years earlier, are forced to return to Syria to face the man who drove them away. He demands they retrieve a treasure for him that is located in Rome. They go to Rome, find the treasure, and fall under the spell of it and its guardians.

This is the second book I've read recently by this author. I didn't care for the first, a contemporary romantic suspense set in Colorado, because of the unexpected paranormal elements it contained. Well, forewarned is forearmed, so this time I was was expecting something magical and mystical (and was not surprised when it showed up). But this book might as well have been set in present-day Colorado, for all the flavor of time and place that Johansen gave this story. The only details that would have been out of place in modern Colorado were the few mentions of stone castles. There were discussions of ancient Egypt and the library at Alexandria, but those were as distant to the characters in this story as they are to us. Another disappointment. I've got another Johansen book on the TBR stack. I'll give it a try, but if it is another miss I'm finished with Iris Johansen. 2 stars.

Hopefully, I'll find another historical setting to take the place of this one for the challenge. I feel guilty counting this one when there was absolutely no indication that the story took place when the author said it did, except that she said it.

Feb 20, 2009, 6:25pm Top

I have been listening to Seamus Heaney read Beowulf on audiobook, it is 2 1/2hrs of abridged selections, worth looking out for if you loved the poem.

Feb 21, 2009, 1:14pm Top

I think an audio version of Beowulf would be very good - especially by someone who is so familiar, as Heaney is. I'll definitely be on the look-out. Thanks.

Feb 21, 2009, 7:15pm Top

Has anyone started a 101010 group yet? I know it's a bit early, but it seems like a lot of people have already started thinking about it....

Feb 21, 2009, 7:28pm Top

No way am I going there....I plan to spend 2010 reading all the books I've added to this years TBR list, get in deeper to the US President's challenge, and work on my Dewey Decimel challenge. I'm finding the numbered challenges to be too limiting. I detest making up categories to 'fit' --if I have to make up a category that says "books" that have words, i may just as well have an open read. I may join a numbered but not categoried challenge, just to have a place to journal, network and track what I read, but no more trying to fit into categories. I waste too much time putting puzzle pieces in place. It's fun, but too exhausting!.. Love you all and hope to see you all every day in the future, just not in a 201010

Feb 21, 2009, 7:41pm Top

I think I just have a high tolerance for failure. I still have fun with these challenges even when I know I'm not likely to succeed.

Edited: Feb 21, 2009, 11:34pm Top

I think joining the challenge this year might have been a mistake - I'm addicted, now! If there's a 10-10-10 challenge, you can be sure I'll be there. The list is almost ready! It includes categories for the president challenge AND the dewey decimal challenge.

Feb 21, 2009, 11:38pm Top

I've already got enough books chosen in most of my cateogries to cover me through 2010, plus a 10th category that sounds just right for me.

This has given me more enthusiasm for reading the other kinds of books I love, not just mysteries.

Feb 21, 2009, 11:56pm Top

I'll also probably keep most of the same - or similar - categories as this year. I'm really enjoying having a reason to choose one book over another - plus I'm actually reading a wider variety of things than I have for a long time, which is what I've been wanting to do for a while. I probably wouldn't have done that without the challenge encouraging me to stick with the plan.

Feb 22, 2009, 7:48am Top

69-74: I'm having enough trouble with 999, no way I could do 101010. I'm thinking it'd be nice to have a general category challenge, a way for people to organize their reading around themes of their choice, but without having to specify either number of categories or number of books. (Hmm, shouldn't this be a more general discussion? Sorry sjmccreary... Started a new thread.)

Feb 22, 2009, 8:18am Top

Catching up on threads sjmccreary, and really enjoyed yours! I have also not read Beowulf, but your review, especially with your favorite lines included, makes me want to add it to the TBR pile. I'm also adding The Faithful Spy, the Spellman books, and Lima Nights.

Feb 22, 2009, 3:31pm Top

#75 I suppose there is still lots of time to set up a challenge that would be flexible enough to please nearly everyone. But, as I said, I'm really enjoying this format and will probably choose to stick with it.

#76 Those are all good - and really varied - hope you enjoy them.

Feb 22, 2009, 7:43pm Top

Book #22

Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy. Category #7, published before I was born (1888), but would also fit into new-to-me author

This book would most probably be classified as Utopian. It was written in 1887, published in 1888. The premise is that a man is placed into a trance in Boston in 1887 and is not revived until he is discovered in 2000. The rest of the book concerns his becoming acquainted with society at the end of the 20th century. Most of the "advancements" that Bellamy anticipates deal with the economic system of labor and government. According to him, by now the government is supporting each one of us equally, and employs each one of us for a length of service from age 25 to 45 when we are furloughed, but held in reserve until age 55. (After first having educated us and given us our choice of vocational training.) The nation's labor force, including professionals and educators, are referred to as the "industrial army" and the economy is, in fact, operated like the military (which no longer exists). He has very little imagination in regards to technological advances - they being limited to 1) live music being broadcast into homes as a subscription service via telephone wires, 2) sidewalk coverings which automatically provide protection against rain and snow when needed, and retracted when not - they take the place of individual umbrella's, and 3) all currency being replaced by "credit cards" which are issued to each citizen by the government to be used for all spending - they consist of pasteboard cards which have dollar denomination blocks printed that are blacked out as the "money" is spent. The real purpose of the book was to speculate about the advances which were anticipated in society dealing with the treatment of different classes of laborers and consumers and the capitalistic private enterprise system of commerce.

The book was intellectually interesting - to me it seemed more an historical document than a work of fiction. As a novel, it was very dull. I had an audio version (read by Edward Lewis) and the best description I can give of the production is "soporific". I had to restart 3 of the 7 disks because I dozed off in the middle. (Forturnately, I was not listening in the car!) The dialogue was stilted, consisting of a series of lectures or sermons more than actual conversations. One scene, where they actually attended a Sunday sermon, was almost unbearable - actually extending the entire 20 or 30 minutes that such a sermon might last. There was, of course, no character development or plot to speak of.

I would not recommend this book to any general reader. If you like obsure historical writing, or uptopian settings, you should give it a try. It's not very long and if I can get through it, then anyone can. 3 stars, just for the intellectual/historical interest.

Feb 23, 2009, 6:13am Top

78> In light of your reading Bellamy, are you aware of a new Jules Verne title published in the 1990s, Paris in the Twentieth Century? Might make for an interesting comparison.

I'm not sure if the book was a manuscript discovered posthumously, or if it was like Dumas' The Last Cavalier, which I believe had been simply serialized in publications of the day but never gathered into one volume (it was published in the last couple of years).

Was going to mention it to the person reading Jules Verne, but thought it fairly likely they had heard of it already. For that matter, maybe you're already aware of it, too....?

Feb 23, 2009, 2:39pm Top

No, I haven't, but will look for it. I seem to be in a 19th C rut lately - in addition to the books for the civil war category. Normally, I wouldn't choose to do such a thing. But I'm finding that certain attitudes and concerns seem to be showing up in different places. It's fun being able to acquire some of the "common knowledge" of the time.

Feb 23, 2009, 6:57pm Top

I've started to work on the 101010 for next year. Whenever I find a book that doesn't fit in timewise this year, I put it on the list for next year. I have 56 books already slated for 2010 and I have my categories already selected. I may try to do 120 books next year with one bonus category of 20 books - hence the 20/101010.

Edited: Feb 24, 2009, 10:19am Top

You know, I think the planning and anticipating the next challenge is about as much fun as the reading - sort of like Christmas. I'm enjoying this year's challenge so much that I find that I don't really want to change my categories very much - just little tweaks here and there.

Book #23

Dark of Night by Suzanne Brockmann. I'm putting this one in #6, next in the series.

According to the author page here on LT, this is the 14th Troubleshooters book. Plus how many SEAL Team 16 books before that? I've loved both these series from the first, but I feel like crying "Uncle". There are SO MANY characters that keep showing up again and again that I can't keep them straight. Why can't she put a cast of characters in the front of the book? She has one on her web site, I think, how hard would it be to copy that into each new book? Plus, I think the plots are becoming unnecessarily convoluted. I've read every one of the earlier books, but I still didn't feel like I knew what was going on until the middle of the book. This one, especially, would have made no sense at all without having read the one that came before it. So, why isn't the fact that this is a series indicated on the cover of the book? If I'd picked this one up blind, I don't think I would have finished it, and would probably have avoided this author in the future. And while I'm complaining, enough already with the swearing. I've read books written by men about the same kind of macho alpha male characters, but none of them has half as much swearing as Brockmann's. I think that Brockmann has gotten pretty full of herself and is now more concerned with putting out bestselling books than writing good stories. Her books seem to be increasingly arrogant - there is just an attitude about them that I'm beginning to find off-putting.

All that having been said, I did like the book. She is an extremely talented writer and the book is fast paced (once you get your feet under you, in the beginning it was just dizzying). The romances are hot and steamy. To me, this is the epitome of "brain candy" - you can't put it down and rush through to the end only to be left with a "that's it?" feeling. Fun while it lasts, but.... I give it 3 stars.

edited for clarity, I hope.

Feb 27, 2009, 4:00pm Top

Thanks for the review of Looking Backward. That's one of the Utopian books I never got around to reading. I have read Utopia and Lost Horizon. Not sure if I'll read the Bellamy book or not.

Mar 2, 2009, 4:15pm Top

Month-end recap. I haven't finished very many books in the last 2 weeks, but I've got several in progress, and am nearly finished with a couple of them (today or tomorrow, I hope). Plus, I spent quite a bit a time on a couple of books that were then abandoned. (It probably wasn't as much time as it seemed, though). So far, I've completed 23 books and my biggest challenge right now is keeping my progress even throughout all the categories. I've got several great books lined up for March that I can't wait to get to!

1 Land of Oz: Books or authors with a Kansas connection
1 The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum 1/4/2009
2 The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan 2/15/2009

2 Civil War: Fiction and non-fiction
1 Annie, Between the States by L M Elliott 2/2/2009
2 - in progress - Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson

3 Foreign settings: Taking place outside USA, bonus points if written by a native author
1 A Secret and Unlawful Killing by Cora Harrison (Ireland - bonus) 1/6/2009
2 The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason (Iceland - bonus) 1/23/2009
3 The Colony of Unrequited dreams by Wayne Johnston (Newfoundland - bonus) 1/29/2009

4 Historical settings: More than 100 years ago
1 The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss (1790's) 1/14/2009
2 The Treasure by Iris Johansen (1190's) 2/20/2009
3 - in progress - Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville (1830's)

5 New-to-me authors:
1 Fault Line by Barry Eisler 1/8/2009
2 The Bible Salesman by Clyde Edgerton 1/16/2009
3 Lima Nights by Marie Arana 2/10/2009

6 Next in the series: Each series can be listed only once, so that means installments from 9 different series
1 Trunk Music by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch series #5) 1/11/2009
2 The Snack Thief by Andrea Camilleri (Inspector Montalbano series #3) 1/31/2009
3 Curse of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz (Spellmans #2) 2/13/2009
4 Dark of Night by Suzanne Brockmann (Troublshooters series #14) 2/23/2009

7 Older than dirt: Or at least older than me - books that were first published before I was born
1 1066 and all that: A memorable History of England by W Sellar and R Yeatman (1931) 1/27/2009
2 Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney (circa 1000) 2/4/2009
3 Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy (1888) 2/21/2009
4 - in progress - O! Pioneers by Willa Cather (1913)

8 Other non-fiction: Anything besides the civil war
1 The Disorganized Mind by Nancy A Ratey 1/17/2009
2 Have You Seen…? By David Thompson 1/29/2009
3 - in progress - The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher

9 Who-dunnit: Mysteries, spy novels, police procedurals, legal thrillers, etc
1 The Amber Room by Steve Berry 1/12/2009
2 Running Hot by Jayne Ann Krentz 2/3/2009
3 The Faithful Spy by Alex Berenson 2/6/2009

Mar 2, 2009, 5:59pm Top

Wow...I certainly wouldn't apologize about ONLY getting those done. That's a terrific list, and I'm going to have to tie my hands behind my back to not put at least 20 of them on my TBR list.
Can't wait to see next month.

Mar 2, 2009, 6:28pm Top

Oh, Tina, I hope I didn't misrepresent myself. This is my year-to-date list. The new ones (since last recap Feb 15-ish) are the ones with touchstones - only 3. I've listed completion dates for each one. But I think everything has comments and ratings somewhere on this thread, or in my library. Some of them I probably wouldn't recommend, but I try not to mince words, so that should be obvious. Even though the last 2 weeks haven't produced much, I'm still pleased with my progress overall. I don't expect to have any trouble finishing the challenge.

Mar 2, 2009, 6:35pm Top

I like your "older than dirt" category. Next year, my additional category, I think, will be "mysteries that are older than dirt" that is, mysteries written before I was born.

Mar 2, 2009, 7:00pm Top

I like that idea. Especially since you read pretty heavily in mysteries, right? I love mysteries, but tend to stay with recent releases. However, I might choose another genre to go with older than me.

Mar 2, 2009, 10:13pm Top

Okay, too weird: I have Unfolding of Language checked out from the library right now! (Unopened as yet, though.)

Mar 3, 2009, 2:08pm Top

Re The Unfolding of Language: want. Has the look of a definite TBR for this year.

Mar 3, 2009, 3:35pm Top

#89 I'm beginning to think we share a brain! I'm almost finished - in the epilogue now. I enjoyed it very much. What shall we read next, do you think?

#90 Definitely go for it. It has held my interest far more than books about linguistics ever have before. (I'm an accountant, so this subject is really out of my usual comfort zone)

Mar 3, 2009, 6:23pm Top

Wow--Unfolding of Language looks like a definite TBR for the 401 dewey decimal class (I'm nuts--in that challenge too!!)

Mar 4, 2009, 11:11am Top

#92 Actually, I chose Unfolding of Language just because the 400's was the only major classification I was missing in the dewey decimal challenge. (I'm also one of the nutso's in that challenge). But I'm glad I did.

Mar 4, 2009, 5:31pm Top

Book #24

The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher. Category #8, non-fiction.

This is a very readable and interesting look at the ways that languages develop over time. He talks about how, in every time and every language, purists bemoan the disintegration of the language. He shows us tons of examples of how one root word in an early language is still present in modern language. He demonstrates the possible progression from "Me Tarzan" to the complex languages we know now. He talks about oddities in gender that are found in different languages (e.g., in German a maiden is neuter but a turnip is feminine; in an Australian aboriginal language there exists a gender for edible vegetables which includes airplanes). He talks about the regularities and irregularities of nouns and verbs in a variety of languages and how they came about.

This is the first linguistics book that has actually been as interesting as the cover blurbs sounded, and the first one I've actually read all the way through. He includes pages of notes, a bibliography, and glossary for those who want to dig deeper (not me, thanks). It is informative and interesting without being either scholarly or flippant. Recommended for those who enjoy nonfiction topics. 3 stars.

Mar 4, 2009, 5:33pm Top

sjmccreary, this one sounds interesting. I will have to add it to my "someday" pile.

Lately, I've been paying more attention to the bibliographies (trying to get other ideas for the 999 challenge, I guess) so I'm glad to hear that it's extensive.

Mar 4, 2009, 5:43pm Top

#95 Yes, it runs to 12 pages. The text isn't overly scholarly, but the bibliography looks like it might be, and not all in English. Deutscher is Israeli, and teaches at a university in Holland. English is not his native language.

Mar 5, 2009, 1:18pm Top

It does sound good. I read The Language Instinct this year and found it uneven - really good it some parts, practically unreadable because of the technical content in other parts. It looks like I should have read this one instead.

Mar 5, 2009, 1:54pm Top

#97 That is exactly the experience I've had with all the other linguistics books I've attempted in the past. As well as many of the nonfictions about other scientific or technical topics. That is why I was so delighted with this one.

Mar 6, 2009, 7:06pm Top

Book #25

John Quincy Adams by Robert V Remini. Going into category #4, historical, but would also fit in new-to-me author or non-fiction categories.

This is a very compact (155 pages), but complete biography of our 6th president. It reveals his life beginning at the time of the American revolution, when he was only about 9 years old, growing up in the home of (now) famous parents John and Abagail Adams, his education and travels, entry into diplomatic and then political life, and his run for the presidency. His troubled term in office (1825-1829) was examined pretty closely, and then his end-career back in the US congress until his death in 1848.

This book is part of the American Presidents series. This is a series of short, but well-written biographies of quite a few of our presidents (I think there are around 30). This is an excellent introduction to the life and service of an often over-looked former president. It is easy to read, but interesting and informative. I give it 4 stars.

Mar 9, 2009, 5:29pm Top

Book #26

O! Pioneers by Willa Cather. Category #4 Historical, would also fit in new-to-me authors and older than me.

Set in the late 1800's in a fictional location in western Nebraska, this is the story of a Swedish immigrant family trying to make a go of farming. The book spans 20 or 30 years, ending around 1900 (during the Alaska gold rush). It follows Alexandra, the only daughter and oldest child of the family, who is the only one who truly understands the land and its potential. She is the one who is successful at farming, her brothers just follow along behind her and their neighbors are in awe of her success. A harsh land generates harsh events, and Alexandra must deal with disappointment and heartbreak even as she revels in her freedom and prosperity.

I enjoyed this book very much. The language is very lyrical and soothing. The story is comforting. All Alexandra had to do was work long and hard, and never give up hope, and her farm would be successful. Of course, she never indulged herself in dreams of marriage or a family of her own. Her brothers who did marry and have families, and the youngest brother who went off to school, all had less successful lives than Alexandra. I wondered what influence this book (first published 1913) had in the decisions of some of the real life families who settled in the high plains that were later caught up in the dust bowl, as discussed in The Worst Hard Times (msg #54, above). 4 stars.

Mar 10, 2009, 11:55am Top

Book #27

The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes. Category #8 Non-fiction. Would also fit in foreign and new-to-me authors.

This is a fascinating account by an Oxford University researcher of his work in the uses of mitochondrial DNA to identify which prehistoric clan a person is decended from. He claims that 95% of European natives are decended from only 7 ice-age women. He was able to show that the "iceman", the 5000-yr old body that was discovered in the Alps several years ago, was a cousin to one of the women working in Sykes' lab, they having identical mitochondrial DNA. The entire current world's population decends from only about 30 different prehistoric women. The mitochondrial DNA is passed, intact except for random mutations, from mother to daughter and then to each of her children, including sons. Sykes may be a research scientist, but he is a skilled enough writer to make what could be a dull and dry topic interesting for nonscientists like me - there is no math or chemistry in here (yay!). He also provided an interesting look into the politics of research science - after all, not everyone agrees with every new theory and there is a protocol for proving yourself to the scientific community. There is a companion body of research which identifies the movement and ancestry of people through the male line. There is even a website where you can order a DNA test and find out which "daughter of Eve" is your grandmother. But it's kind of expensive. :-( I love this topic, and loved this book. 4 stars.

Edited: Mar 11, 2009, 8:25pm Top

Book #28

In the Footsteps of Marco Polo by Denis Belliveau. I wanted to put this in nonfiction or maybe foregn settings, but new-to-me authors was falling behind, so into category #5 it goes.

This book is one of those companion books to a PBS production, but the best one I've ever seen. It is beautiful. Belliveau, and his friend Fran O'Donnell, decide to recreate the travels of Marco Polo to determine whether the old tale could have been true or was pure fabrication. They did not allow themselves to travel by air, and spent 2 years traveling by jeep, camel, boat, and horseback through 20 different Asian countries. Their observations about the terrain, the historical sites and, most of all, the people they met were fascinating. They were frank in describing the difficulties they experienced with bureaucrats and border patrols throughout the trip. They were also open in revealing the emotional impact they experienced. The text in interspersed with quotations from Marco Polo's book. The similarities between Polo's experiences and observations were eerily similar to many of the modern expedition, confirming their belief that Polo did, in fact, travel to the places he claimed that he did.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I know I'll never be able to travel to any of these places, so being able to read about someone else's travels will have to be good enough. They described the food, the accomodations, the weather, the clothes, and best of all, the people they met. The photos are fabulous. I gave it 4 stars.

Mar 11, 2009, 9:30pm Top

That really sounds fascinating. I love to travel but my body doesn't so, reading about other places is my way of doing it. This sounds like my trip to the Orient!

Mar 11, 2009, 9:43pm Top

I would recommend it - I spent most of Sunday afternoon (cold and rainy here that day) reading this book. A perfect armchair getaway.

Mar 14, 2009, 8:52pm Top

I see you have been reading & enjoying Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano series - I've just discovered them by chance through the TV series, I've watched the first five books and have now decided to switch to reading the series as I'm completely sold on the characters. The Shape of Water is waiting for me to pick up tomorrow from my library.

Mar 14, 2009, 9:37pm Top

Inspector Montalbano is on TV?????? Where??? When??? I'm not a big TV freak, but my husaband will watch anything related to detectives, crimes, etc., and since I love this series in books, I might even be able to find something we can watch together!!

Mar 14, 2009, 10:31pm Top

Been lurking, and if I haven't told you before, sjmccreary, you've read some darn good books! I'm adding In the Footsteps of Marco Polo to my TBR pile as I too rely on traveling by book for my adventures.

Mar 14, 2009, 10:59pm Top

I have traveled to several Asian countries, but really will be looking for Footsteps of Marco Polo to see what I missed, and if my recollections - it's been almost 10 years since I was last there-- are validated. I definitely will be on the lookout for it.

Mar 15, 2009, 1:24am Top

#105, 106 I heard on another group several months ago that Inspector Montalbano was a TV series in Italy, I think? And that it is available on DVD, but I don't remember if it is available in USA. Please let us know if it is being broadcast here - I'd like to see it, too. I heard it was very good.

#107 Thanks - I haven't loved everything I've read this year, but overall it's been pretty good so far. I really did enjoy Marco Polo and don't hesitate to recommend it to anyone who thinks it sounds good.

#108 Tina, I'd be curious to know if you traveled to any of the places they went to in this book. Afghanistan? Turkmenistan? Sumatra? Nepal? They did go to China (duh) but I didn't recognize any of the place names. Where all have you been?

Edited: Mar 15, 2009, 2:00am Top

#106, 109 It is an Italian TV series, I've been watching it on dvd, just by chance as I was going through selecting any foreign films that caught my eye. I've really enjoyed every aspect - but have decided to read all the books before I watch anymore. http://www.montalbano.tv/. I'm in New Zealand and the dvds are Australian.

Mar 15, 2009, 11:20am Top

AH--after I posted #108, I went to look up the book and found the trail it took. I will definitely look at it because those are places I didn't get. My travels were to Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Penang, Thailand...loads of fun, but I never had a chance to do China --my visits to Hong Kong were before it reverted to China.

Edited: Mar 15, 2009, 11:37pm Top

Book #29

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass. I am putting this in category #2, Civil War, even though the events here took place in the 1830's and 1840's. Since slavery was such a major issue in the war, and Frederick Douglass was such a well-know abolitionist at the time, I feel justified in making the stretch. This book could also fit in new-to-me authors, non-fiction, older than me (published 1845) and historical.

This is a very little book that tells a big story. Frederick Douglass begins his narrative with his birth in about 1817, the son of a dark-skinned slave woman and an unknown white man - possibly his master. He tells of one outrage after another that was endured by him, members of his family, and fellow slaves in a dispassionate voice, without embellishments or hyperbole. When he was about 7 years old, he was sent to Baltimore to live with his owner's son-in-law's brother and serve as companion to his young son. His new mistress, new to slave-owning, was at first warm and kind and began teaching him to read. Her husband rebuked her, telling her that was the surest was to ruin a slave. Douglass taught himself to read in spite of his master's decree, and discovered the truth of the statement. By reading about the abolitionism movement, he became acutely aware of of his slavery and vowed that he would become free one day. He was moved from master to master throughout his teens, working as a field hand for a while - perhaps the most brutal fate of any for a slave. He organized an escape attempt with several other slaves, but it was compromised just hours before the plan was to be implemented. After being jailed, Douglass was returned to Baltimore where he learned to be a calker in the shipyards. As a slave, he was forced to turn over his entire wage to his master, usually $6-9 per week, who would sometimes give him back a few pennies to keep for himself. He found this even more degrading than if the master had kept the entire sum - he said it was an acknowledgement by the master that he (Douglass) was really the only one who had any rights to the money. He then began to plan another escape. He was intentionally vague about how this was accomplished in order to protect those who had helped him, to enable more slaves to find their way to freedom, and to keep slaveholders ignorant of the means of escape. After he found his way to New England, he encountered racial prejudice from white workers fearing for their jobs. Eventually, he became involved in the abolitionist movement and came to the notice of the movement's leaders who pressed him into service as a speaker.

I thought this account was fascinating. Douglass, and many others like him, proved to the world that African slaves are intelligent, thinking, human beings by their articulate writings and persuasive speeking. Many times he pointed out the hypocracy of the brutality of the most religious of the slave owners. He included an appendix to the narrative in which he explained his feelings about Christianity, since he had been so critical of devout Christians. He ended the narrative with these comments and this poem:

"I conclude these remarks by copying the following portrait of the religion of the south, which I soberly affirm is 'true to the life,' and without caricature or the slightest exaggeration. It is said to have been drawn, several years before the present anti-slavery agitation began, by a Northern Methodist preacher, who, while residing in the south, had an opportunity to see slaveholding morals, manners, and piety with his own eyes"


Come, saints and sinners, hear me tell
How pious priests whip Jack and Nell,
And women buy and children sell,
And preach all sinners down to hell,
And sing of heavenly union.

They'll bleat and baa, dona like goats,
Gorge down black sheep, and strain at motes,
Array their backs in fine black coats,
Then seize their negroes by their throats,
And choke, for heavenly union.

They'll church you if you sip a dram,
And damn you if you steal a lamb,
Yet rob old Tony, Doll, and Sam,
of human rights, and bread and ham,
Kidnapper's heavenly union.

They'll loudly talk of Christ's reward,
And bind his image with a cord,
And scold, and swing the lash abhorred,
And sell their brother in the Lord
to handcuffed heavenly union.

They'll read and sing a sacred song,
And make a prayer both loud and long,
And teach the right and do the wrong,
hailing the brother, sister throng,
With words of heavenly union.

We wonder how such saints can sing,
Or praise the Lord upon the wing,
Who roar, and scold, and whip, and sting,
And to their slaves and mammon cling,
In guilty conscience union.

They'll raise tobacco, corn, and rye,
And drive, and thieve, and cheat, and lie,
And lay up treasures in the sky,
By making switch and cowskin fly,
In hope of heavenly union.

They'll crack old Tony on the skull,
And preach and roar like Bashan bull,
Or braying ass, of mischief full,
Then seize old Jacob by the wool,
And pull for heavenly union.

A roaring, ranting, sleek man-thief,
Who lived on mutton, veal, and beef,
Yet never would afford relief
To needy, sable sons of grief,
Was big with heavenly union.

'Love not the world,' the preacher said,
And winked his eye, and shook his head,
He seized on Tom, and Dick, and Ned,
Cut short their meat, and clothes, and bread,
Yet still loved heavenly union.

Another preacher whining spoke
Of One whose heart for sinners broke:
He tied old Nanny to an oak,
And drew the blood at every stroke,
And prayed for heavenly union.

Two others oped their iron jaws,
And waved their children-stealing paws,
There sat their children in gewgaws,
By stinting negroes' backs and maws,
They kept up heavenly union.

All good from Jack another takes,
And entertain their flirts and rakes,
Who dress as sleek as glossy snakes,
And cramtheir mouths with sweetened cakes,
And this goes down for union.

4-1/2 stars. Highly recommended.

Edited: Mar 15, 2009, 11:50pm Top

Mid-month recap. I am STILL working on Battle Cry of Freedom - it's beginning to seem as though I'll never finish, but I'm about 2/3 through it. I've got a couple of other books in progress, too, but have stalled out on Democracy in America that I listed as in progress last month. Still hoping to get back to it.

1 Land of Oz: Books or authors with a Kansas connection
1 The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum 1/4/2009
2 The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan 2/15/2009

2 Civil War: Fiction and non-fiction
1 Annie, Between the States by L M Elliott 2/2/2009
2 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass 3/15/2009
3 - in progress - Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson

3 Foreign settings: Taking place outside USA, bonus points if written by a native author
1 A Secret and Unlawful Killing by Cora Harrison (Ireland - bonus) 1/6/2009
2 The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason (Iceland - bonus) 1/23/2009
3 The Colony of Unrequited dreams by Wayne Johnston (Newfoundland - bonus) 1/29/2009
4 - in progress - Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson (Sweden)

4 Historical settings: More than 100 years ago
1 The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss (1790's) 1/14/2009
2 The Treasure by Iris Johansen (1190's) 2/20/2009
3 John Quincy Adams by Robert V Remini (1820's) 3/5/2009
4 O! Pioneers by Willa Cather (1800's) 3/9/2009
5 - in progress - River Wife by Jonis Agee (1800's)

5 New-to-me authors:
1 Fault Line by Barry Eisler 1/8/2009
2 The Bible Salesman by Clyde Edgerton 1/16/2009
3 Lima Nights by Marie Arana 2/10/2009
4 In The Footsteps of Marco Polo by Denis Belliveau & Francis O'Donnell 3/11/2009

6 Next in the series: Each series can be listed only once, so that means installments from 9 different series
1 Trunk Music by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch series #5) 1/11/2009
2 The Snack Thief by Andrea Camilleri (Inspector Montalbano series #3) 1/31/2009
3 Curse of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz (Spellmans #2) 2/13/2009
4 Dark of Night by Suzanne Brockmann (Troublshooters series #14) 2/23/2009

7 Older than dirt: Or at least older than me - books that were first published before I was born
1 1066 and all that: A memorable History of England by W Sellar and R Yeatman (1931) 1/27/2009
2 Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney (circa 1000) 2/4/2009
3 Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy (1888) 2/21/2009

8 Other non-fiction: Anything besides the civil war
1 The Disorganized Mind by Nancy A Ratey 1/17/2009
2 Have You Seen…? By David Thompson 1/29/2009
3 The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher 3/3/2009
4 The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes 3/9/2009

9 Who-dunnit: Mysteries, spy novels, police procedurals, legal thrillers, etc
1 The Amber Room by Steve Berry 1/12/2009
2 Running Hot by Jayne Ann Krentz 2/3/2009
3 The Faithful Spy by Alex Berenson 2/6/2009

Mar 17, 2009, 1:39pm Top

A couple of questions, Sandy.
How do the bonus points work in Category 2? Have you thought about any of the Charles Dickens works for older than dirt or in your foreign settings? He would even be a bonus.

Mar 17, 2009, 5:37pm Top

I haven't decided yet what the bonus points are for. I earn them by reading a book set outside the USA that is written by a native of that location. Maybe if I save up enough bonus points, I can trade them for a bottle of wine, some cheese (or chocolate - or both) and a free evening to read as much as I want to. :-)

I had not considered Charles Dickens. Besides Christmas Carol, the only Dickens I ever read was A Tale of Two Cities. That was shortly after I finished college when I realized that I still didn't feel educated and set out to do the job on my own. I'm not sure how well I understood it then. Now, maybe I could do a little better. Which one would you recommend reading?

Mar 18, 2009, 9:47am Top

I disliked Charles Dickens intensely in high school, when we read A Tale of Two Cities. I was primarily outraged at having to read someone who was paid by the word. Recently I picked up a copy of Great Expectations and really, really enjoyed it. One thing about Dickens is that his books are a part of our unconscious culture, so that I was constantly coming across scenes I'd heard about or seen echoed somewhere else, and then being surprised by something new.

Mar 18, 2009, 3:06pm Top

I think I had that same reaction the first time I watched the movie Casablanca. Every scene seemed familiar, but I had no idea what was going to happen next.

Any other Dickens recommendations? I pledge to try him this year.

Edited: Mar 18, 2009, 4:16pm Top

I read Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens a few years ago and really liked it. I haven't read any other Dickens apart from Great Expectations at school many years ago.

Touchstones not working

Edited: Mar 18, 2009, 5:22pm Top

My favorite Charles Dickens is Bleak House although both Great Expectations and David Copperfield rate high marks from me also. I also think A Tale of Two Cities should be read--I enjoyed it but not as much as the other three. These four seem to me to be the "essential" Dickens (I'm assuming everyone knows A Christmas Carol). Nicholas Nickelby was also a good read.

The next one I plan to read will be either Our Mutual Friend or The Pickwick Papers (can't get the touchstone to be correct). My next purchase will be The Old Curiosity Shop. I'd like to read them all--can you tell I'm a fan?

Mar 18, 2009, 5:30pm Top

#119 You ought to be able to get them all read eventually - at least there are no new books coming out!

I need to start keeping track of the suggestions everyone makes - I'll use the "poll" results to choose which book I read first.

Mar 18, 2009, 5:41pm Top

I read and enjoyed Dickens back in school but haven't read anything by him in years.

Bleak House, The Old Curiosity Shop, and the Mystery of Edwin Drood are all on my TBR list.

Also on reserve at the library is Matthew Pearl's new novel, The Last Dickens.

Mar 18, 2009, 5:42pm Top

Did you read those books in school, or will they be new for you? Which was your favorite?

Mar 18, 2009, 6:06pm Top

I read Great Expectations, David Copperfield, and A Tale of Two Cities back in high school and loved them all. If I had to choose, I'd probably pick Great Expectations as my favorite.

I see that I also read Hard Times back in college but have no recollection of that one.

I was just looking at the Dewey Decimal Challenge. Yikes!! Interesting but intimidating.

Mar 18, 2009, 6:18pm Top

#123 Yikes, indeed. But my lifelong fantasy has been to read a book from every shelf in the library, so it was a natural for me. Not to mention irresitable. And fun. Will I see you over there?

Edited: Mar 18, 2009, 7:07pm Top

Yes, you will see me there.

On the one hand, I've got 30+ years worth of books. On the other, most of my reading probably falls into just a few categories.

Mar 18, 2009, 7:02pm Top

I heard that PBS is going to be show a miniseries on his book Little Dorrit.
I don't know anything about it but thought I'd check it out to see if I might want to read the book.
The list that I have that I've heard about are The Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist,David Copperfield, Old Curiousity Shop, and Bleak House. I guess the reason why I thought of him was my interest in the era and my little Dickens village that I set up at Christmas.
He would definitely give you bonus points.

I have to think of something that gives me bonus points...
**she starts looking at her categories more closely...**

Mar 18, 2009, 7:07pm Top

I've got it!
I will get a bonus point for each book that I read that was originally on my 999 challenge at 1/1/09. I think that I only have one category that I have not changed any of the books in. So we will see how many bonus points I will get!

Mar 19, 2009, 12:04am Top

#120 sjmccreary

re Dickens' novels:

"You ought to be able to get them all read eventually - at least there are no new books coming out!"

LOL--maybe that is part of the attraction. With any luck I will live long enough to reach the goal!


Cheli--what is this about bonus points? Who gives them and who gets them? ;-)

Mar 19, 2009, 9:18am Top

I found your review of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave very interesting. I am ashamed to say I've never read it or Uncle Tom's Cabin. Your post has prompted me to try reading both in conjunction with the slavery theme for April over at Reading Globally. Thanks for posting ... especially the poem ... your effort is appreciated.

Edited: Mar 19, 2009, 10:54am Top

#128 Carolyn

see messages 114 and 115 for explanations
I vote for the bottle of wine, personally, but I could go along with the chocolate as long as there's ice cream with it!

I'm going to save my bonus points for a trip to Ben & Jerry's!

Mar 19, 2009, 11:40am Top

#128 I decided to give myself "bonus points" as a way of encouraging myself to read non-American authors. Just part of my continuing (and not always successful) effort to broaden my horizens. Anyone can write a book set in, say, Argentina. But if they've never even been there, it's all just fantasy and research. If I read a book by an Argentinian author, then I've been exposed to a new place and culture. Unfortunately, my points don't have any real value. At the shoe store, the points I earn are good for more shoes. Maybe these points should be good for more reading - one extra hour of reading for each one?

#129 I've never read Uncle Tom's Cabin either. I've been thinking, since I'm focusing on civil war issues this year, that I really need to make that effort. There are some other slave narratives out there. The introduction to Frederick Douglass made it sound like there were quite a few. One mentioned in the book, and also recommended on another group here is The Life of Olaudah Equiano. I haven't read it, though. On another American slavery topic, I saw a discussion about the slave trade in Virginia. Evidently they didn't rely on slave labor for agriculture as much as the more southern states - but they bred and sold slaves to those other states like livestock. The book that was recommended is a novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron. I've got it on hold at the library, so haven't had a chance to read it yet.

Re the poem I copied from the Frederick Douglass book. I really hesitated before doing that - it is so long. But everything in the poem confirms Douglass' recollections. He said that the more religiously pious the man, the more brutal the master.

Mar 19, 2009, 1:06pm Top

Nat Turner is a book I've wanted to read for years ... I am interested in the historical aspects as well as its relationship to the notions of "political correctness" common today. I understand the book caused quite an uproar when originally published.

Mar 19, 2009, 3:48pm Top

I really don't know what to expect from it - I don't remember ever hearing of Nat Turner or the revolt he led before. I see the Styron novel described as "highly controversial" when it was published (1967?) My library has quite a few nonfiction works about Turner, so I'll be able to read more if the novel whets an appetite to dig deeper. How many books do you have time for in April? :-)

Mar 19, 2009, 4:02pm Top

You may be right. Birding and gardening start calling pretty loudly about April 1. On the other hand, most years I am so out of shape in early spring that I collapse in a chair after just a few hours outside.

When I set up my challenge I almost included a historic nexus (Obama and Lincoln's 200th) category but decided against it at the last minute. Obviously I haven't completely given up the idea. I also want to read Russell Banks' Cloudsplitter and Toni Morrison's A Mercy so I'm obviously going to have to narrow it down!

Mar 19, 2009, 6:30pm Top

#131 sjm

"Maybe these points should be good for more reading - one extra hour of reading for each one?"

I would vote for that! Now I would only have to convince my family to go along with that idea--they have this foolish notion that I should spend evening time with them, and that would be the only time I could find an extra hour.

Thanks for reminding me of Uncle Tom's Cabin! I own two copies of this book--a PB and a leather bound one and have never read it. I think I'll try to read it this summer for my Classics category because it would go very well with my Civil War category. I enjoy finding "links" between disparate books I'm reading. :-) I'm already on the track for that Frederick Douglass autobiography and now I'm going to look for The Life of Olaudah Equiano--both of those can go in my Biography category.

I think I'm going to need a lot of extra hours of reading to finish this challenge! ;-D But it will be a joy ride.

Mar 19, 2009, 7:11pm Top

#135 Let me know when you plan to read Uncle Tom's Cabin, maybe we can read it at the same time and share insights.

Mar 20, 2009, 2:26am Top

#136 sjm

I will probably read it in May after my students' recital or early June. I will let you know -- that would be fun and incentive to actually get it done!

Mar 20, 2009, 12:38pm Top

Regarding Uncle Tom's Cabin, that was my pick recently for my classics book group. Part of the reason for picking it was the apocryphal story about Lincoln's words on meeting Stowe. And that it's one of those books that everybody's heard of but fewer have actually read. And my mom read it not all that long before I picked it, and I was hoping to entice her to that meeting of the book group.

Gillian Brown in Domestic Individualism has an essay on how to read Stowe's book. I think it's called "In the Kitchen with Dinah." I just happened to have the book through interlibrary loan at the same time I read Stowe. Synchronicity and serendipity at work.

I also have a copy of The Life of Olaudah Equiano. There's a Dover Thrift Edition of it that's unabridged. If y'all decide to read that one, let me know.

And regarding Dickens, since we seem to have some of the same tastes in books: The Pickwick Papers was the first I ever bought. David Copperfield the first I ever read (classics book group again). At the bookstore we have a customer who counts Bleak House as one of his two favorite books in the world (War and Peace being the other, in case you're interested to know) who is quite disappointed that although I own his favorite books, I haven't read them yet.

I also own Hard Times, the more obscure Barnaby Rudge, and Little Dorrit. American Notes for General Circulation is his account of travels in the US, which didn't win him any fans here, from what I've read.

Mar 22, 2009, 10:39am Top

I would suggest reading the appropriate chapter in Novel History along with The Confessions of Nat Turner. It explains the controversy and shows exactly where the book differs from the historic record. There's also a chapter on Cloudsplitter (John Brown).

I agree with what you said about reading books where the author actually lives or has lived where the book is set. A few years ago, I read the Booker Prize winner Vernon God Little and was so thrown by the feeling that the author had never actually been in the part of the world where his story took place. It did make me wonder how many books like that I'd read where the place represented was a skewed or imaginary version of the real place.

Mar 22, 2009, 2:37pm Top

#139 That is an excellent suggestion - I think I've heard of Novel History, but never sought it out. Nat Turner is waiting for me at the library, so I will see if they have Novel History available for check out at the same time.

I often feel the way you described when reading historical novels, too. How much historical detail is accurate, gained from research and study, and how much of it is just make believe?

Mar 22, 2009, 4:18pm Top

Exactly! Which is why I was so astonished and pleased with Novel History -- it looked at how historical novels differ from the historic record.

My real pet peeve with historical fiction is when it feels as though the characters are just modern people wandering around in costume. I just think that people thought differently in the past (and not even the distant past -- look at how Jim Crow laws were accepted by people in the South, or how natural resources were regarded fifty years ago). There have been some novels out recently where the "bad" guys held the views of their time and the "good" guys thought like we do today (I'm looking at you Pillars of the Earth and Year of Wonders). I do see how difficult it is to have a sympathetic main character who fully inhabits her time, but...

Okay, rant over.

Mar 22, 2009, 11:01pm Top

>141 RidgewayGirl:, Yes! When you do read a book written from an earlier time period--or even currently from a more conservative part of the world (per my values/point of view) it can be frustrating, even annoying, but it's definitely a valuable look to into the events and values that impact that author's choices for his/her characters.

Mar 23, 2009, 4:23pm Top

#141 What also bothers me is when modern people judge historical people for their actions and behavoir based on modern ethics and morals. There are very few absolute rights and wrongs. As you mentioned, most other standards change over time and between places.

Book #30

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson. This is going in category #3 Foreign Settings - Sweden - with a bonus point for the Swedish author. It would also fit in new-to-me author and mystery categories.

I kept hearing how good this book was and how much everyone loved it, but I really had no idea what it was about. In short: A financial journalist is found guilty of libel after he published a story about a prominent businessman and his supposed crooked dealings. After the verdict, the journalist is contacted and offered a job by an aging industialist who wants a chronicle of his family, and the family business, written and published. That is the cover story. What he really wants is for someone to try one last time to solve the 40-year old mystery of his niece's disappearance (and assumed death). The "girl" in the title is the young, unconventional reasearcher who assists him in trying to solve the mystery.

I agree with "everyone". I thought the book was very good, and I enjoyed it very much. Looking forward to the next in the series. 3-1/2 stars.

Mar 23, 2009, 8:28pm Top

141-143> My pet peeve is somewhat different: the assumption that just because there was an accepted, overwhelmingly approved attitude of belief or behavior in the past, nobody else could possibly have felt differently. There were people who thought differently. People who were outliers. Including some who kept their heads down to avoid trouble.

Just as an example: if when I was a teenager, the religious kids were trying to beat me up for being an atheist (and this is late 20th century), how threatening would an atheist have been to religious beliefs 100 years ago, etc.? How likely were you to admit your beliefs then? Within the last 15 years, I had a customer at the bookstore tell me he hoped I didn't have a bumper sticker on my car proclaiming my beliefs, or my car was likely to get damaged.

Mar 23, 2009, 9:25pm Top

That is certainly something that HASN'T changed - people are always intolerant of anyone whose beliefs go against the majority. Unfortunately.

Mar 26, 2009, 6:33pm Top

Book #31

The River Wife by Jonis Agee. Category #4 historical, also new-to-me author.

This is a multi-generational story of a family from SE Missouri. Heidi Ducharme, a young bride, pregnant and alone in her husband's house while he is mysteriously called away for business night after night in the 1930's, discovers a set of journals handed down for generations in the family and begins to read. The story begins with the New Madrid earthquake that was centered in this area in 1812. The earthquake caused Annie Lark's home to collapse on top of her, trapping her inside. The 16-year old girl's family fled, leaving her to die alone. Three days later, a French trapper named Jacques Ducharme rescued her, cared for her, and then married her. Despite the first section focusing on Annie, most of the book is centered around Jacques, as he outlives first one wife then another, and as he engages in different "business" ventures (he is nothing more than a thief and pirate), and ends up raising the daughter born to him in his old age. After Jacques, the book tells the story of Maddie, the daughter, and then Heidi, who is married to Maddie's son.

I thought it started out very promisingly. The story of Annie and Jacques is interesting and well-told. I was pretty excited about reading the book. Then things began falling apart. The transition from one generation to the next, even from one scene to the next, became abrupt and forced. The characters were less well-developed. I no longer felt that I was becoming acquainted with them. It was more like coming into a movie in the middle and not quite understanding who everyone is and how they are connected to one another. Or even what it happening. There are too many loose ends that aren't tied up, or even adequately explained. Maybe this is another of those times when the real meaning has just gone over my head, but I didn't get it. The ending didn't come soon enough, but was still too abrupt and not at satisfying. I only gave it 2 stars. This book is our current group read over in the Missouri readers group - after we discuss it, if someone is able to explain it to me, maybe I'll feel better and change its rating. Until then, I really can't recommend it. HOWEVER, the reviews are all over the place and some people loved it, so don't automatically take my word for it.

Mar 26, 2009, 8:09pm Top

# 146 sjm

I trust you--I'll take your word for it! ;-)

Mar 26, 2009, 10:17pm Top

I wasn't fishing for votes of confidence, but I'll take it all the same! :-)

Mar 28, 2009, 8:07pm Top

Book #32

Battle Cry of Freedom by James M McPherson. Category #2, civil war, but will also fit in historical.

I can't believe I finally finished this book. I've been working on it since early January. It is a re-read for me. The first time through, in 1997, it actually took twice as long as this time.

What shall I say about it? I've often heard it referred to as the best single volume history of the American civil war. McPherson actually begins his narrative in the 1850's, not long after the end of the Mexican war. Many of the civil war generals fighting against each other during the civil war were comrades getting their first taste of combat in the Mexican war - some were even classmates at West Point. McPherson also discusses many of the divisive issues that led up the the secession of the Confederate states, including slavery. Once the war begins, he proceeds chronologically examining not only battles and military strategy, but also the impact of the war on politics, the economy, business and industry, foreign policy, and public opinion - in both the north and the south. The final part examines different theories about WHY the north won and whether it was a foregone conclusion. He also looks at some of the issues and effects of the war which continued into reconstruction and until the turn of the century.

I continue to highly recommend this book to anyone interested in this important American historical period. At 900+ pages, it is not a fast read, but diligence here will be rewarded. I give it 4-1/2 stars.

Mar 29, 2009, 5:20pm Top

I'm glad this is such a great book. I have it on my list for next year to read as background for the Civil War era to go along with Buchanan and Lincoln.
I think that I am goong to do the audio version though. Those huge books hurt my arthritis when I try to hold them for a long period of time.

Mar 29, 2009, 5:57pm Top

I have done the audio version - it is very good. When I first "read" this - back in '97 - I figured that the total number of recorded hours was approximately the same as the total lecture time you would have in a 3-hour college class. I'm still waiting for this to show up on my transcript!

As far as holding a heavy book - this might be one of those best read sitting up at a desk or library table.

Either way, I think you will enjoy. Especially in concert with the presidents.

Mar 30, 2009, 1:17pm Top


Thanks for the great review. I'm starting this read on either Thursday or Friday this week. I'm looking forward to it, but I'm a slow reader! I'll keep "perseverance" in mind!


Which biography of Buchanan will you be reading? I think I should read one this year for my biography category because of its relevance to the Civil War. I bought the new one, A. Lincoln by Ronald C.. White, Jr. (too new to have a touchstone?) a couple of months ago and plan to get to it this summer.

Mar 30, 2009, 1:44pm Top

I haven't really decide defintively but it is between The Life Of James Buchanan, Fifteenth President Of The United States by George Curtis and The Life and Public Services of James Buchanan by Rushmore Horton. There aren't too many to choose from. I'm leaning toward Rushmore Horton.

Mar 30, 2009, 2:42pm Top


I can't find either of those books about Buchanan either on Amazon or in the ValleyCat library system. Where did you hear about them?

Edited: Mar 30, 2009, 6:20pm Top

Barnes and Noble - I usually check out B&N when I want to find what books are out there for a particular subject.

The Life Of James Buchanan, Fifteenth President Of The United States 9781425492908

The Life and Public Services of James Buchanan 9780548965146

I've found that Barnes & Noble has books that Amazon doesn't but the strange thing is that if you search at the top from the tab you get no results where if you search in the add books they come up.
I don't know if they use a different database for the different searches or what could cause the difference. Is it something that Tim should know about?

Mar 30, 2009, 9:28pm Top

Thanks, Cheli. I've never used B&N online even though I have a discount card from them --which every time I use I get reminded is "old". I got one of the first ones issued. Shouldn't I get a bigger discount for being a loyal long time customer?! :-D

Mar 31, 2009, 3:28pm Top

Book #33

The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton by Jane Smiley. Category #1, Kansas, but would also fit in civil war, historical, and new-to-me authors.

This is the story of a young Illinois woman who meets and marries a Massachusetts man who is passing through on his way to Lawrence, Kansas with the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company - an organization seeking to send anti-slavery settlers to the Kansas territory in an effort to prevent it from being admitted to the union as a slave state. Lidie, who never had strong opinions on way or the other about the slavery issue, travels to Lawrence with Thomas, her new husband, and becomes involved with the abolitionist society there. While there, she and the other settlers endure the constant threats and attacks from the pro-slavery Missourians in addition to the usual difficulties of homesteading on the virgin western prairie. After a particularly brutal attack, Lidie travels back to Missouri to seek out the perpetrators and exact revenge. She falls ill and is taken in by a wealthy slave-holding family and stays with them for several weeks, enjoying the ease of life afforded by the presence of slave laborers. Struggling to understand her own feelings about the issue, and those of her husband, and invited to stay with the family indefinitely, Lidie must decide what action to take next.

This was a deceptively large book - only 1-1/2 inches thick, it had 450 thin pages of smallish type. It took longer than I expected to finish. But, the story was interesting enough that it held my interest. There is a lot going on in there. In an interview with the author, printed at the end of the book, Smiley said she wanted to write "about the intersection of ideology and violence in American life" after the Oklahoma City bombing. A friend of hers instantly suggested "Kansas, 1850". An excellent choice. My next goal is to determine the accuracy of the historical events as presented in the book. But even if they aren't quite right, this is an excellent picture of what happens when people with widely different convictions are allowed to confront each other beyond the reach of the law. Not a pretty picture. I'm giving it 3-1/2 stars, mostly because I thought it was just too long.

Edited: Apr 1, 2009, 12:06am Top

157> Who ARE you?! I own this one, too. Bought it in hardcover when it first came out, though I haven't read it yet. And I came very close to buying Agee's River Wife, especially since the author did a booksigning about 30 minutes away and I almost bestirred myself and went. Almost.

This must be what LT promo text means when they talk about discovering people with "eerily" similar reading taste/libraries.

Have you seen Smiley's Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel? I only recently learned that her books have been explorations of major types of story: Greenlanders - epic, A Thousand Acres - tragedy, Moo - comedy, and All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton - romance. I'm thinking of buying TWOLATN eventually, but the doorstop size of it is scaring me off a bit.

ETA - Okay, just reread your thread and realized Smiley was recommended to you for your Kansas category. Still...

Apr 1, 2009, 12:25am Top

I'm sure we've come to these books from different directions lots of times, but it is still pretty strange how often we end up with the same, not-quite-mainstream books. I hadn't heard that about Smiley's books, but it makes sense. This was the first of hers that I've read, and I looked at the others, wondering if perhaps I'd found a "new" author. The other books all looked so different from one another, I didn't know what to think or expect. I don't remember seeing Thirteen Ways. Moo was the one that looked most appealing, but I decided to wait until I'd finished Lidie Newton before getting it. Have you read any of the others? I'm willing to give her another try. Do you know if she has any other story types planned?

I didn't care for River Wife very much, but lots of people loved it, so you may, too. I don't think any of the group over in the Missouri Readers liked it much better than I did.

I'm going to have to hop over to your thread and see what you've been reading lately.

Apr 1, 2009, 3:51am Top

159> No, I haven't read anything by her, but at some point I will probably read, or attempt, Greenlanders and A Thousand Acres. The latter she won a Pulitzer for, I believe, and is a retelling of King Lear. And her novella The Age of Grief is one I've considered purchasing, more than once, but so far it's never made the cut: so many books, so little money.

Apr 2, 2009, 11:36pm Top

#160 ... and time!

Apr 3, 2009, 10:56pm Top

March month-end recap:

1 Land of Oz: Books or authors with a Kansas connection
1 The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum 1/4/2009
2 The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan 2/15/2009
3 The All True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton by Jane Smiley 3/31/2009

2 Civil War: Fiction and non-fiction
1 Annie, Between the States by L M Elliott 2/2/2009
2 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass 3/15/2009
3 Battle Cry of Freedom by James M McPherson 3/28/2009

3 Foreign settings: Taking place outside USA, bonus points if written by a native author
1 A Secret and Unlawful Killing by Cora Harrison (Ireland - bonus) 1/6/2009
2 The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason (Iceland - bonus) 1/23/2009
3 The Colony of Unrequited dreams by Wayne Johnston (Newfoundland - bonus) 1/29/2009
4 The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsseon (Sweden - bonus) 3/23/2009

4 Historical settings: More than 100 years ago
1 The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss (1790's) 1/14/2009
2 The Treasure by Iris Johansen (1190's) 2/20/2009
3 John Quincy Adams by Robert V Remini (1820's) 3/5/2009
4 O! Pioneers by Willa Cather (1800's) 3/9/2009
5 The River Wife by Jonis Agee (1800's) 3/25/2009

5 New-to-me authors:
1 Fault Line by Barry Eisler 1/8/2009
2 The Bible Salesman by Clyde Edgerton 1/16/2009
3 Lima Nights by Marie Arana 2/10/2009
4 In The Footsteps of Marco Polo by Denis Belliveau & Francis O'Donnell 3/11/2009

6 Next in the series: Each series can be listed only once, so that means installments from 9 different series
1 Trunk Music by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch series #5) 1/11/2009
2 The Snack Thief by Andrea Camilleri (Inspector Montalbano series #3) 1/31/2009
3 Curse of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz (Spellmans #2) 2/13/2009
4 Dark of Night by Suzanne Brockmann (Troublshooters series #14) 2/23/2009

7 Older than dirt: Or at least older than me - books that were first published before I was born
1 1066 and all that: A memorable History of England by W Sellar and R Yeatman (1931) 1/27/2009
2 Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney (circa 1000) 2/4/2009
3 Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy (1888) 2/21/2009

8 Other non-fiction: Anything besides the civil war
1 The Disorganized Mind by Nancy A Ratey 1/17/2009
2 Have You Seen…? By David Thompson 1/29/2009
3 The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher 3/3/2009
4 The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes 3/9/2009

9 Who-dunnit: Mysteries, spy novels, police procedurals, legal thrillers, etc
1 The Amber Room by Steve Berry 1/12/2009
2 Running Hot by Jayne Ann Krentz 2/3/2009
3 The Faithful Spy by Alex Berenson 2/6/2009

Apr 4, 2009, 12:08am Top

Category 3, book 1: Did you already read the first book in that series, or did you start with the one listed (I'm assuming this is another story about the lady judge)? Sorry if you already said and I simply wasn't paying sufficient attention. I read the first book and liked it but didn't love it.

Apr 4, 2009, 2:02pm Top

I read the first book last year, and liked it but didn't love it. I actually liked this one a little better.

Edited: Apr 5, 2009, 12:39pm Top

I ran across this series and thought it might interest you.
Agatha Raisin series written by Marion Chesney aka MC Beaton - (scottish) and set I believe in Great Britian - here's the summary

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death
In order to introduce herself to the picturesque English village where she has just retired, Mrs. Agatha Raisin enters a quiche in a local competition and promptly finds herself a murder suspect when the judge dies from her poisonous pie.

Sounds like a good cozy to me, I've put it on my list.

Apr 5, 2009, 2:27pm Top

Let me know both of you-164, 165, if you like the Agatha Raisin mysteries. I love M.C Beaton's Hamish MacBeth stories (Death of a....etc), but I just could never get into dear agatha even tho I've tried several times.

Apr 5, 2009, 4:37pm Top

I've read every single one of the Agatha Raisin books - I just happened to pick up the first one at the library when it came out. I liked the first few pretty well, but I much prefer the Hamish MacBeth books. After the first half dozen or so, I thought they really started slipping, but I still get each new Agatha Raisin when it comes out, though. Luckily, they are short and fast to read. I was never able to finish any of the "Marion Chesney" books.

Edited: Apr 5, 2009, 8:34pm Top

I much prefer the Hamish books. I picked up an Agatha book years ago and thought it was ok. More recently, I try to sprinkle in an Agatha book from time to time, since I've read all the Hamish books.

They are ok if I'm in need of a quick, fluffy mystery. Not my favorite series, though.

I've read the first 10 and am not sure I plan to continue.

Apr 5, 2009, 9:57pm Top

I'm not a fan of Agatha Raisin either, but I haven't read any in a long time.

Apr 6, 2009, 12:40am Top

Book #34

A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow. Category #9 Mysteries, but also new-to-me authors.

This is labelled as "A Kate Shugak Mystery" - I think it is the first in the series, but I might be wrong, it was a little hard to tell. Kate Shugak is native Alaskan, an Aluet who still lives in the native village where her ancestors were born. The book opens with Kate, scarred and disfigured by a wound suffered in the line of duty - she had served as an investigator for the Anchorage DA's office (her disfiguration was referred to many times, but the incident was never fully explained - did I miss the beginning of the series, or is this being saved for a later installment?) - being visited by her old boss and an FBI agent. She is being asked to investigate the disappearance of a national park ranger 6 weeks earlier, and the subsequent disappearance of an FBI agent sent to find the ranger 4 weeks later. Since it is the middle of winter, and both men disappeared in the national park which is home to Kate's "people", it was believed that she had the best chance of finding the truth and, hopefully, the missing men. She reluctantly accepts the case and sets off the next day to begin her search. Over the course of the next several days, she talks to everyone of note in the village, and eventually solves the mystery. The narrative is much like the landscape - cold, stark, empty. Few of Kate's clues are shared openly with the reader. There is not a lot of descriptive language about either setting, landscape, or characters. A little off-putting at first, but in the end I liked it well enough to go for the next book in the series. Hopefully, more of Kate's back story will be revealed. A slow beginning to a series, but not terrible, I'm giving it a lukewarm 3 stars, and hoping that the next book is better.

Apr 6, 2009, 9:12am Top

I've long wanted to read one of Dana Stabenow's Kate Shugak mysteries. I always try to start with the first in the series so this'd be the one. I was sorry to hear it's not so great. Maybe things will get better. It's a long-running series so maybe it does.

I've read four of Stabenow's Liam Campbell books. I loved those, though it's been quite awhile since I read. I am not sure that she has written any more of these.

Apr 6, 2009, 12:25pm Top

I just checked on stopyourekillingme.com and that is in fact the first book in the series. The next one is A Fatal Thaw. I haven't read any of them, so I can't help much more.

Apr 6, 2009, 1:57pm Top

I was also able to confirm that this is the first of the series, and it looks like there are about 15 more already out, so I won't give up on them until I've read a couple more. I did hear from allcotacre, who read the series out of order, that the back story is revealed later. I can live with that. I didn't realize that this author had another series out - it's encouraging that you liked it. I think it's hard for the same author to be really good at one series and really bad in another. I'm more optimistic now that it will get better.

Apr 6, 2009, 2:13pm Top

I've never used stopyourekillingme.com--what a great website!!

I see that Stabenow has only those four Liam Campbell's out--none since 2002.

Stabenow's Kate Shugak series and the Archer Mayor books are two that I want to try. There are probably others but just not thinking of them right now.

Apr 6, 2009, 2:40pm Top

Book #35

By Order of the President by W E B Griffin. Category #5, new-to-me author, but would also fit in foreign settings and mysteries.

This book, the first in a series, is pure fantasy - the masculine equivalent of a steamy paperback romance. The hero, Major Carlos Castillo, is young, handsome, rich (on both sides of his family), lucky with women (his secret service code name is Don Juan), a West Point graduate, loaded with military honors I didn't fully comprehend, and is currently on loan from the US Army to serve as the executive assistant to the Secretary of Homeland Security. As such, he was given an assignment "by order of the president" to determine which of the nation's intelligence agencies knew what and when. This test was proposed as a way of verifying the cooperation and diligence of the different agencies post 9-11. The current situation was the disappearance of an American-owned 727 jet from the airport in the capital of Angola. The Angola CIA station chief, a Major Miller, Castillo's West Point roommate, also on loan from the army, happened to be at the airport and witnessed the incident, and immediately sent a notice to Langley suggesting that a certain well-known Russian arms dealer might be involved. It gets rather convoluted from there - and almost farcical at times. Castillo travels all around the world, spending less time checking on the intelligence agencies' activities then in gathering his own intelligence. He seems to be too much of a loose cannon to be such a military poster boy, but he gets away with sharing top secret information with nearly everyone he comes in contact with, disobeying or defying his superior officers (I lost count of the number of generals who seem willing to look the other way whenever he pulls another stunt), and generally making up his own rules as he goes along. In one scene, he assures the Philadelphia police commissioner that the secret service, and by extension he himself, has the authority to order property searches and wire taps without warrants as long as a Federal judge is notified within 10 days following the action. When he told the Secretary of Homeland Security about this, all he got in return was a mild slap on the hand and an assurance that he (the secretary) would take care of it. Like I said, pure fantasy. However, in spite of all this, the book was actually pretty fun. I've never read Griffin before, and found him to be a little long winded at times, but I'm willing to check out the next installment in the series. I'm giving it 3 stars. Right now I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt in assuming that the ridiculousness was intentional. I may reconsider after the next book.

Edited: Apr 8, 2009, 1:23pm Top

I tried a few years ago to start the Kate Shugak mysteries and just couldn't hack it. t was probably the first book I ever put down without finishing it.

stopyourekillingme.com is great for mysteries in a series but I also like to use http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/ because it shows all fiction not just mysteries and the stand alone books by an author as well. It also has a link if they write under different names.

Apr 8, 2009, 1:29pm Top

I've been using stopyourekillingme and also that fantasticfiction website you've recommended. Great info on both.

Quite awhile ago, I read everything I could find by WEB Griffin. I think I got it out of my system as I've never read one since.

Apr 8, 2009, 8:44pm Top

#176 I guess I can see how that could happen. I actually got this one on audio. Unlike in the car when I can (and do) reach up and turn it off when it gets annoying, I had this one on in the house. By the time I got the disks loaded, then settled into the recliner with my feet up and my lap full of the king-sized quilt that I'm working on, it was easier just to let it play. Whenever it came to one of those parts that left me baffled, I just let it keep going and pretty soon things began making more sense. Plus, this is one of those series that don't start out with a huge back story - I think that will be revealed later. So, by the time I finished, I was pretty satisfied with it, and willing to go on to the next book.

#177 I'm not sure how long I'll be happy reading Griffin, but for now he's OK. It feels like having a fling that you know probably won't turn into anything serious, but it's fun while it lasts.

I've never checked out either of those web sites you've both mentioned. Yet. I actually like using LT's author pages, and series lists. Before LT, I would try to look up each author's own web page. Trouble is, some are better than others at listing series titles in the correct order.

Apr 9, 2009, 1:22pm Top

When I look at those series websites, I usually have another LT window open, showing my books read by that author.

Looking back, what I read by Griffin was the Brotherhood of War series. If I go back 20 years or more, it was like a totally different person's reading list. My tastes have really changed, except for still liking mysteries, of course.

Apr 9, 2009, 7:16pm Top

20 years ago, I WAS a totally different person! This Griffin is the first of the Presidental Agent series. I started with it because it is the most recent. If I finish it and want more, I'll check out his earlier stuff.

Apr 14, 2009, 10:03pm Top

Book #36

Promise Me by Harlan Coben. Category #6, next in the series.

#8 in the Myron Bolitar series. This book takes place 6 years later than the last book - and he seems to have matured quite a bit. He has a new lady friend. Her daughter, and the daughter of a mutual friend (the one who fixed them up) were talking about going to a party, and having to leave with someone who'd been drinking. Myron overhears them, and makes them promise to call him if they ever need a ride. He, in turn, promises not to ask questions and not to tell their parents. Two days later, one of the girls calls him in the middle of the night, asking to be picked up in mid-town Manhattan and dropped off at a friend's house where she is supposed to be spending the night. Myron does so, but doesn't feel right about the situation. He tries to get her to talk, but she refuses - reminding him of his "no questions" promise. He doesn't tell the girl's parents about the incident - after all, he promised. When the girl turns up missing the next day, Myron is naturally suspected. After being confronted by the girl's angry and worried mother, he promises to find her and bring her home. Myron Bolitar always keeps his promises.

I had this book on audio - just like I've done with many of the earlier books in the series. The regular reader - Jonathan Marosz - is wonderful. I hear his voice in my head when I get Myron in print. This book was read by the author. He was a very good reader, but he's not Jonathan Marosz. Now I'm having a hard time deciding if Myron seemed different this time because it was written that way, or because of the different reader. Part of what is fun about Myron Bolitar is his smart aleck internal dialogue. There really isn't much of that in this book. But, it was very good all the same. Maybe it was better because of it. After 7 books, it is time for Myron to grow up some. I hope this is the start of a new direction for this series. I give the book 4 stars.

Apr 15, 2009, 1:03am Top

Another reason I like stopyourekillingme is because of the books that were released under 2 different titles. Several times I have bought the SAME BOOK, just with a different title. I have learned to check the site first, BEFORE making the same mistake.

At least, I usually do!

Apr 17, 2009, 6:20pm Top

Book #37

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. Category #2 - Civil War. Will also fit in historical settings and new-to-me authors.

This book is about a wounded confederate soldier, Inman, who is still in hospital in Raleigh until he is fit enough to return to the front. One day, he decides that he'd rather go back home to the girl he's come to realize that he'd like to marry. So, he walks away, heading back to his home on Cold Mountain, in western North Carolina. Meanwhile, Ada, the girl back home, is also struggling with her situation. Raised in the city and moved to the backwoods by her widowed father for his health, she now finds herself orphaned and alone following her father's death, and totally unprepared for rural life alone. Over the next weeks and months, Inman travels slowly westward as he worries about avoiding the home guard on the lookout for deserters and finding enough food to keep up his strength while his wound continues to heal. He meets several people who befriend him and who need his help in return. While Inman is traveling, Ada takes in Ruby, a homeless local girl who comes to live with Ada to help her and teach her how to run the farm and support herself.

Inman's and Ada's stories are told in alternating chapters, and by the end of the book they both have grown into different, stronger people than they were when Inman left for war. This is not the kind of book I read very often, but I came to enjoy its laid back pace and wonderful descriptive language. I had this on an audio version that was read by the author. He is not a dramatic reader, but soon I came to like the flat tone of his voice which let the words come through to tell the story. Every once in a while, I could detect a bit of southern accent lurking behind his words, which had a far greater impact in making these characters seem real and full-bodied than if professional reader had been used. The biggest complaint I have about the book is the epilogue. Normally, I like having these because then I know that all the loose ends have been wrapped up neatly and that everyone lives happily ever after, or whatever. In this book, however, I think it might have been better to leave it off, and let us imagine how everyone ended up, and how things worked out. I think the book might have been more interesting in hindsight if the ending were not so clean cut. That is a very uncharateristic comment for me to make, and I might not have apprecieated it if, in fact, the author had not included the epilogue. In any case, I enjoyed the book very much and have given it a solid 4 stars.

Edited: Apr 20, 2009, 6:39pm Top

Book #38

Old School by Tobias Wolff. Category #5 new-to-me authors

This is the first person account of a boy in his last year of an exclusive east-coast prep school during the 1960-61 school year. The school emphasizes writing and literature and each year hosts several prominent writers who come to talk to the boys. One feature of each author visit is a competition whereby students submit orginal compositions and the visiting author chooses one for a private audience. The three visiting authors during the year in the story were Robert Frost, Ayn Rand, and Ernest Hemmingway, and the narrator discusses his hopes and fantasies of these famous people reading his work and launching him on a stellar writing career, and then his let down when another boy's work was chosen.

I thought the story was a good one, even though I'm only marginally familiar with these writers, and probably missed many of the innuendos of the story. The last part of the book left me totally baffled and I still don't understand it, or why the author chose to end this way. Most of the reviews of the book here are very positive, so in this case, I think the problem is mine. I chose this book because it is the community book read being sponsored this spring by all of our area public library systems and the National Endowment for the Arts. I'm going to be watching the Sunday paper arts section for discussion of the book to find out what I missed, and I've private messaged a local librarian whose LT review got multiple thumbs-up, but until I can discover what I missed, I'm giving the book only 2-1/2 stars. But please don't let my comments sway you away from it if you're tempted to give the book a try. Just promise to explain it to me when you've finished!

Apr 20, 2009, 7:16pm Top

I posted to your 75-book challenge thread when really I wanted to post to your 999 thread, so here goes: If you haven't read This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff, you've got to! It's one of the best coming of age/memoirs that I've ever read! I haven't read Old School, but I've read some of his short story collections as well as his brother's version of his life (Tobias grew up with his mother while his brother lived with their dad and both are writers), but none of these stories come even close to This Boy's Life.

FYI: I've created a second thread as well--the first one was getting too unwieldy.

Apr 20, 2009, 7:23pm Top

I've never even heard of Tobias Wolff before this book was promoted for the community-wide book read. I'll look for This Boy's Life, because I liked most of what I read here, I just didn't get the ending!

I found your new thread and was posting over there while you were busy posting here!

Apr 21, 2009, 12:32am Top

He! He! This Boy's Life is real-life funny! Don't watch the movie of the same name though; it's supposed to be a very depressing version of this great book!

Apr 22, 2009, 12:21pm Top

Book #39

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. Category #3 foreign settings - Norway - with bonus for Norweigan author. Also fits in new-to-me author.

I've seen this book mentioned here too many times to count, and from the first I had no interest in it. I wasn't tempted to go read it, the rave reviews did not sway me, I just knew this was not the kind of book that I would appreciate. Well, there is much truth to that last comment, but despite every intention of NOT reading the book, it somehow came to be in my house and the audio disks were loaded into the player and, as I sat in my chair quietly doing needlework, I was carried away by the story. This is the story of a man, recently widowed and retired, who leaves his home in Oslo to live in a remote cabin in the woods in Northern Norway. While there, with winter approaching (both literally and figuratively), he takes stock of his life, especially the summer of 1948 when he was 15. That was the year he spent with his father in a similar cabin in the woods on the Swedish border just after the war ended. Several things happened that summer - some fully disclosed and others only hinted - that were to have a lasting impact on the boy's life.

The comment I made about not being able to appreciate this book is a reflection of my own inability to appreciate and understand the subtlties of the writing and the symbolism, and to be able to make my own connection and draw my own conclusion. (I would not have even been able to make the painfully obvious connection about the winter and summer if I had not seen Joycepa's review of this book earlier - thanks, Joyce). Perhaps it is time to take a class in interpreting literature at the community college, because I did enjoy the book very much, but am feeling cheated by my own lack of ability to see beyond the print. So, as far as plot, there isn't much. The descriptive language in the book is beautiful, the settings are clear, the (few) other characters are real. I wasn't as moved by the book as others seem to have been, but what do you expect from a philistine? I give it 3-1/2 stars, because I still liked it very much.

Apr 22, 2009, 12:37pm Top

I find that I seem to have made an inpromptu tour of Scandinavia - having read books from Iceland, Sweden, and Norway. I am currently reading Smila's Sense of Snow, set in Denmark and featuring a Greenlander woman. So, I think it is only fitting that I include a Finnish book. Any suggestions? Even my non-Scandinavian books were in northern settings (Ireland and Newfoundland, Canada) so I'm tempted to finish out the year "travelling" in the North. Are there any other cold country books that are recommended? (This would be the perfect place for a Russian novel, but I don't know if I'm up to that challenge.)

While I'm rambling a bit, I notice that - at 39 books - I'm nearly half way through the challenge and having a blast! I only wish I could read as fast as I am finding books for the different challenge categories. And, best of all, I am finally getting out of some of my reading ruts.

Apr 22, 2009, 5:01pm Top

How about a totally fun read like Dr. Zhivago? Grin!

Apr 22, 2009, 6:17pm Top

#190 Funnily enough, I actually thought about that one! I got about half way through it last fall before bogging down. I was thinking about renting the movie and then trying it again.

Apr 24, 2009, 6:25pm Top

Book #40

Hot Water by P. G. Wodehouse. This could fit in foreign settings and new-to-me authors, but I'm putting it in category #9 mysteries, because that one had fallen behind the other two.

Hilarious farce featuring a variety of Americans and Brits coming together at a French chateau. Lots of intrigue and mistaken identities. Delightful.

I think it was CatyM who recommended this book, and several other Wodehouse titles. I absolutely devoured it. Very funny stuff, and I'll be looking for more whenever I need something light. 4 stars.

Apr 24, 2009, 7:41pm Top

P.G. Wodehouse is highly addictive, and always cheering. Try the Wooster and Jeeves books, they can be read in any order. I have a few that I pull out periodically when I've had a very bad day.

Apr 24, 2009, 7:55pm Top

#189 I haven't read this but want to and I think it would be an appropriate Finnish title - Tove Jansson's The Summer Book.

Apr 25, 2009, 12:35pm Top

#194 Yes, that would be an appropriate book. I didn't realize that this would be hard. There seem to be only a few English translations of Finnish books listed here, and only a few of THOSE are available at our local library (as in maybe 3). However, this happens to be one of them, so I may just go for it. I was confused at first that it was translated from Swedish, but then discovered that the author is, indeed, Finnish. I didn't realize that some Finns' native tongue is actually Swedish. Thanks for the suggestion.

Apr 30, 2009, 4:30pm Top

Book #41

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. I'm putting this in category #9 Mysteries, etc, but it would also fit in foreign locations and new-to-me authors.

I got this book solely on the basis of a recommendation here (sorry - don't remember who). This is definitely a case of not being able to judge the book by the cover - which had absolutely no appeal (I offered it to my husband last week, and he turned up his nose, too). Once I started it, though, there was no stopping. This is a very chilling account of Leo, a prominent member of the Soviet security police in Moscow in the early 1950's, at about the time of Stalin's death. He is totally devoted to the soviet philosophy, which does not allow for the existence of violent crime in the state. Since all citizens are equal, there is no reason for anyone to attack another. When a young boy is found murdered, the son of one of Leo's colleagues, he helps to deny the family's insistence that the death was not accidental as officially claimed. After Leo is exiled after coming under suspicion for another matter, he encounters another case of a murdered child with frightenly similar details. He begins to investigate the possibility that both deaths were caused by the same person - placing himself in danger of being found guilty of anti-communist activities.

The descriptions of the fear and danger that even innocent and loyal citizens faced daily were incredible. In this society, everyone knew someone who had been arrested, and no one was arrested who wasn't guilty. If the government ever admitted that it made a mistake in one matter, then every action ever taken could be called into question. The denial of rights of an individual were absolutely justifiable in order to maintain order in the state. The supremecy of the state was paramount. Everyone was paranoid and fearful on a daily basis. The rewards of better housing and access to better food and shops, which were granted to favored public servants and their families, could be taken away without warning. Leo, a dedicated enforcer of these official whims, knew the dangers better than anyone. Which made his decision to conduct an unofficial - and illegal - investigation all the more perilous.

This was one of those wonderful can't-put-it-down books. I stayed up far past midnight last night, then finished it after waking this morning, ignoring all chores and other work which should have been done instead. What a ride. I don't want to describe any more of the plot, because the suspense of not knowing what would happen was so much of the pleasure of the book. However, I found it to be a marvelous look at the ways people behave when they've been deprived of home and family - as many of these characters had been in the war recently ended - and deprived of freedom and safety - as most of them were even after the war was ended. I give it 4 stars and recommend it as an action-packed thriller.

Apr 30, 2009, 4:34pm Top

I am finally half-finished with the challenge. This thread is getting pretty long, so I'm going to play the second half over here:


May 1, 2009, 8:15pm Top

I'd go over to your new thread, but thought it more appropriate to comment here...

I, too, loved Child 44 and found myself surprised when two people (whose opinion and taste I highly value) to whom I recommended it, didn't love it, or even like it very much. I'm happy you liked it, because my own reaction to the book was so strong -- I end up feeling a little protective of the books I love.

May 1, 2009, 8:23pm Top

#198 Was it you who recommended it? I wish I could remember who it was so that I could thank them, and give them a mental "reliability" rating. I know what you mean about feeling protective about books you love - I'm disappointed whenever someone else doesn't share my enthusiasm.

May 1, 2009, 8:36pm Top

It may well have been, my review was glowing. But it has been a popular book.

One person thought the ending relied too heavily on coincidence, which is true. I just thought the rest of the book more than made up for that. The other person found the setting too dismal and didn't want to subject himself to that. This was the same person who gave me his copy of The Worst Hard Time, mind you!

May 3, 2009, 1:59pm Top


I'm not generally too bothered by coincidental endings - the author presumably knows the ending in advance and writes towards it, so it would be pretty hard to avoid that, I think. Just as long as it's as believable as the rest of the book, I don't have a big problem with it.

I'll admit that the beginning was a little iffy for me - the setting WAS pretty grim, and I was a little uncertain. But I felt exactly the same way about WHT, so his argument doesn't hold water.

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