Semi-Charmed Winter 2016 Book Challenge complete!

Hi all! I hope you all had wonderful holidays (whether you celebrate Christmas or not) and made it to the new year healthy and happy!

For my first post of 2017, I am checking in for the Semi-Charmed Winter 2016 Reading Challenge, which I completed yesterday, managing to finish my final book while waiting for a delayed flight. Here’s what I read since the last time I checked in:

books2016

20 points: Read a modern retelling of a classic.

I read Splintered by A. G. Howard, with the classic being Alice in Wonderland. This book is kind of a mixture of sequel to Alice in Wonderland (the main character is a descendant of Alice who goes back to Wonderland) and a retelling of the original (the story discusses the original book as if it were real and C.S. Lewis had just misunderstood/got things wrong, and so retells the story as it “really” happened in this particular world). I thought this book was just okay. The discussion of mental illness was awful – for a supposedly modern-day story the treatment seemed very old-fashioned and harsh. The love triangle was unnecessary, Morpheus was such a caricature  of “bad guy” that I couldn’t take him seriously most of the time and Jeb annoyed me from the very start. But the actual writing was good and the reinterpretation of Wonderland was imaginative and interesting. I gave this one 3 stars.

30 points: Read a book with a character that shares your first or last name.

Thanks to fellow blogger Jamie I was actually able to find something for this! I read Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen. Interestingly, the character named “Beverly” (not my spelling, but oh well) is actually male in this book, which Beverley was before someone, somewhere decided it sounded more feminine. This was a quick read and nothing particularly special. I liked the descriptions of the scenery on the island and the changing relationships between the four main characters. The storyline with the two husbands annoyed me though – both couples had been having problems, but the minute the husbands appeared on the island all the wives wanted to do was have sex and forget anything else had ever happened. Uhh, no! Apparently this is a modern retelling of The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Armin (which I had never heard of!) so I may give that one a go. Enchanted August gets 3 stars from me.

30 points: Read two books: a nonfiction book and a fiction book with which it connects.

I had started reading The Once and Future King for this, but I realised that will be one I need to pick up and put down a lot over a longer period of time so I changed my mind. Instead I read The Asylum by John Harwood (fiction) and Bedlam: London and Its Mad by Catharine Arnold (non-fiction). The connection is asylums, or mental illness, or treatment of mental illness in Victorian times. You pick!

I really enjoyed The Asylum. It’s a little sensationalist maybe and there are a lot of events crammed in at the end with lots of complicated links between characters and weird coincidences. But while reading it I had no problem with suspending my belief and taking all the action at face value. Despite the subject matter (person incorrectly imprisoned in an asylum), it’s a surprisingly fun read and I got through it pretty quickly. 4 stars.

Bedlam had some interesting information and provides a starting point for people who want to know about Victorian treatment of mental illness and the history of asylums, but overall I felt like the author had tried to fit too much subject matter into a short book. Just as I started to get interested in something that topic was finished with and it was on to the next one. Particularly the final case studies and discussion of madness in literature section felt rushed and incomplete. 3 stars.

And that’s it. Done! Erin’s latest book challenge started on 1 January so I will be moving on to that now, starting with The Secret by the Lake by Louise Douglas.

Oh, and speaking of reading challenges, I’ve set my Goodreads goal for this year as 78.

What reading goals have you set yourself for 2017? Will you be taking part in any challenges?

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Semi-Charmed Winter 2016 Book Challenge: month 1

I’m hardly likely to read four whole books by the end of today, so I might as well get my check-in post out there today and use tomorrow for Kristen‘s link up 🙂

I changed some of my books from my original ideas (and of course some categories were still blank when I made my preliminary list), so here’s what I ended up reading in November:

winter-reading

5 points: Freebie! Read any book that is at least 150 pages long.

Saturday Requiem by Nicci French. I could not resist reading this book the minute it arrived, which is how it ended up being my freebie for this challenge. I adore these books, and this one was an excellent installment. I definitely did not guess who the killer was! The ending made me desperately wish the next book would come out right now (although I’m also sad because Sunday will presumably be the last in the series). 5 stars.

10 points: Read a 2016 finalist (longlist or shortlist) for one of the following literary prizes: National Book Award, Man Booker or Man Booker International.

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon was a 2016 National Book Award finalist in the Young People’s Literature category. I loved everything about this book! The characters… the style of writing. Admittedly the love story was little far-fetched, but it kind of had to be to work, and it didn’t spoil my enjoyment in any way. 5 stars.

10 points: Read a brand-new release (something published between November 1, 2016, and January 31, 2017).

Before You Leap by Keith Houghton was published on 1 November 2016! The synopsis sounded good, all the ingredients were there for it to be good, but it just… wasn’t. The plot managed to hold my attention well enough, but I didn’t really like the narrator and the style of writing didn’t do it for me. 2 stars.

15 points: Read a book by an author of a different race or religion than you.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker, who is African-American. I’ve been putting off reading this book and I have no idea why because it’s excellent! I was genuinely hooked from the very first page. 5 stars.

15 points: Read a book featuring a main character who is of a different race or religion than you.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. The main character/narrator is half native American (and half Caucasian, but obviously looks different enough to be referred to as “Chief”).  Another one that I had been putting off but ended up loving. The casual racism and misogyny is disturbing, but I just saw it as a product of the book’s time so it didn’t put me off in the same way it would in a modern book. And the writing is superb! 5 stars.

25 points: Read a book with an alcoholic beverage (neat or cocktail) in the title.

I read Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee for the simple reason that I already owned it. Somehow, this book even managed to make me feel nostalgic for the years of Laurie Lee’s childhood, despite the fact that even my parents weren’t born yet! The ending was just really annoying though – I know it’s only part 1 of an autobiographical series, but come on! It just… ends with no explanation. I gave this one 3 stars.

40 points: Read two books: one by an author whose first name is the same as the last name of the author of the other book.

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay and Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager.

I wanted to read Hour of the Bees so I went looking for an author with the last name “Lindsay” and Darkly Dreaming Dexter was the first one to appear. I had heard the TV series Dexter (which is based on this series of books was good), so I decided to give this a try. Unfortunately, I thought the book was just okay. It wasn’t as thrilling as I was expecting and in parts it felt more like it was written from the perspective of a child than a murderer/sociopath (maybe sociopaths do think like children? I don’t know, but either way it grated!). 3 stars for this one, and I won’t be reading the rest of the series.

Hour of the Bees, on the other hand, is adorable. Beautifully written, magical, touching, sad in places and I loved the main character! My only (minor) gripe is that it’s supposed to be for children but I suspect it will appeal more to adults (like me!) who read children’s books. I can imagine it being a bit boring for pre-teens based on the subjects my friends liked to read about when I was aged 10/11. 4 stars.

So that’s 8 books in 7 categories and a total of 120 points.
4 books, 3 categories and 80 points to go! I think should be able to complete the challenge by Christmas!

Have you read anything good this month?

 

Semi-Charmed Winter 2016 Book Challenge

The Semi-Charmed Winter 2016 Book Challenge categories have been announced and I almost missed it! Here are the rules and my preliminary list:

General Guidelines:

  • The challenge will run from November 1, 2016, to January 31, 2017. No books started before 12 a.m. on November 1 or finished after 11:59 p.m. on January 31 will count.
  • Each book must be at least 150 pages long. Audiobooks and large-print books are fine, as long as the regular print version meets the length requirement.
  • A book can only be used for one category, and each category can only be completed once.
  • The highest possible total is 200 points, and the first five people who finish the challenge will be invited to contribute a category for the summer 2017 challenge.
  • Have fun! Read some books you might not have read otherwise. Discover new authors and make new bookworm friends. (Yes, these are the most important rules!)

Challenge Categories:
5 points: Freebie! Read any book that is at least 150 pages long. Whichever book I happen to read that doesn’t fit in any of the categories will go here.

10 points: Read a 2016 finalist (longlist or shortlist) for one of the following literary prizes: National Book Award, Man Booker or Man Booker International. Uh, yeah. Let me think about that one. After a click glance I see nothing that looks appealing.

10 points: Read a brand-new release (something published between November 1, 2016, and January 31, 2017). Ugh, that’s two categories that want me to get a new book. I hate buying books before they’re available second hand! Well, there’s a new Cecelia Ahern book coming out in November, so maybe that?

15 points: Read a book by an author of a different race or religion than you. As an atheist, isn’t every religion different to mine? I suppose the category wants something more drastic than Christian though, so I will either read The Color Purple by Alice Walker or Midnight’s Children by Salmen Rushdie.

15 points: Read a book featuring a main character who is of a different race or religion than you. River God by Wilbur Smith is an option. Maybe.

20 points: Read a modern retelling of a classic (e.g. an Austen Project novel, Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler, etc.) — Submitted by SCSBC16 winner Kaity. Maybe Splintered by A.G. Howard since I want to read it anyway. (Man, these categories are not making it easy for me to progress with the BBC Big Read!)

25 points: Read a book with an alcoholic beverage (neat or cocktail) in the title. — Submitted by SCSBC16 winner Kerry. (And she was nice enough to come up with a long list of suggestions for you!) I am going to read Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee for the simple reason that I already own it but haven’t read it.

30 points: Read a book with a character that shares your first or last name. (Alternate spellings are okay, e.g. Megan and Meghan or Smith and Smyth.) — Submitted by SCSBC16 winner Ericka. Well, obviously I am going for first name since I don’t want to tell you all my full name, but the only book I can think of with a character named Beverly is It by Stephen King, so that’s tentatively my choice. But if anyone can think of a shorter book with a Beverly (or, better, the correct spelling of Beverley) in it please let me know!

30 points: Read two books: a nonfiction book and a fiction book with which it connects. For example: A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie and one of Christie‘s mystery novels that features poison, or The Monuments Men and All the Light We Cannot See. The possibilities are endless, so have fun with this one! — Submitted by SCSBC16 winner Bev. (And remember you must finish both books to get the 30 points! No partial points will be awarded.) If I read Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder, then maybe my non-fiction book can be something on the history of philosophy? Or there’s The Once and Future King, which is about King Arthur, then a factual book looking into the reality of the myth? Hmm, I’ll have to think more about this category.

40 points: Read two books: one by an author whose first name is the same as the last name of the author of the other book. For example: You may read a book by Martin Cruz Smith and a book by George R.R. Martin, or a book by James Joyce and a book by Joyce Carol Oates. The shared name must be spelled exactly the same, no variations. — Submitted by SCSBC16 winner Jamie. (And remember you must finish both books to get the 40 points! No partial points will be awarded.)
Very, very tentatively: The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye and Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons.

Are you taking part in the challenge? What are you reading?
Any suggestions for the categories I’m not sure on?

Winter Reading Challenge – final check in

The 2015 winter reading challenge ended last night, so it’s time for my final check in. Aaand… I actually managed to complete it! I finished reading my final book on 24 January, So here are the books I read for the last few categories:

10 points: Read a book that someone else has already used for the challenge. Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery (read by Emma from Ever Emma). I read Anne of Green Gables years ago, but never got round to reading any of the other in the series, although I’ve wanted to for a while. So when I saw that Emma had mentioned this in her check in, I decided to take the opportunity. Nothing much really happens in this book, but I enjoyed it anyway. I love Anne and her imagination. I gave it 4 stars.

30 points: Read a nonfiction book and a fiction book about the same subject. Megan said she would be fairly lenient with this category, so I’m hoping my “subject” counts.

Non-fiction book: Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine by Anna Reid. Long-term readers may know that my grandad was Ukrainian. A few years ago, I decided I wanted to learn more about his country, but barely any books came up when I searched Amazon. Then the whole Russia taking back Crimea thing happened and suddenly there were loads of books! This one was actually originally written in the 90s (so why didn’t it show up before?!), but has been updated to include everything up to 2014. I thought it was a good introduction to the history of Ukraine for those who know zero about it (which, much to my shame, includes me!). I also liked that the author was actually there and included a lot of personal anecdotes – I just can’t get on with history books that are all about facts! I gave this one 4 stars.

Fiction book: Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov. This is a weird book about a Ukrainian writer/journalist who lives in Kiev with his pet penguin. When the book begins, he’s struggling to find work, but then a local paper recruits him to write obituaries… for people who are still alive (so the newspaper has then on hand instantly when they actually do croak). When the subjects of his obituaries start to die, thing begin to get really strange… I actually enjoyed this book, weird as it was. There’s just something about it that makes it fun. And I loved Misha the penguin. 4 stars.

The subject, in case it wasn’t obvious, is Ukraine.

So, that’s that. Now I shall read whatever I want until it’s time for the summer reading challenge.

Winter Reading Challenge 2015: Month 2

First of all, Happy New Year everyone!
I know it’s 2016 now, but the challenge is still from 2015. Sadly, December was so full of cross stitch and Christmas markets that I barely had time to breathe never mind read so I haven’t completed the challenge yet. I did get a little closer though, and moved one book to a different category so I could include another one I had read in December. Here are the categories I completed this time:

5 points. Read a book that has between 100 and 200 pages. The Seeing by Diana Hendry (176 pages). This is an intense and disturbing book. It reminded me of The Chocolate War in that something that seemed harmless at first ended up being taken too far, eventually ending in tragedy, 4 stars.

10 points. Read a debut book by any author. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. I originally had this under the “verb” category, but I’ve moved it to here. I gave it five stars last month.

15 points. Read a book published under a pseudonym. Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon (real name: James Leslie Mitchell). This was a strange book. I really enjoyed the description of how the town came to be at the beginning and it was fun to read a book that was written in Scots, but some parts seemed to drag on forever. I gave it four stars.

15 points. Read a book with a one word title. Siege by Sarah Mussi. This is the story of a school shooting, but written from the point of view of somebody who is inside the school when the attack starts. It’s intense and quite disturbing in parts. I devoured it in one sitting and gave it four stars.

20 points. Read a book with a verb in the title. Don’t Stand So Close by Luana Lewis. I read this book in November but thought I couldn’t fit it into a category, then I realised I Let You Go was a debut so I was able to rearrange things a bit. This is a thriller with various twists, along the lines of Gone Girl and other books that are popular at the moment. A girl turns up at Stella’s house in the middle of a freezing cold night demanding to see her husband, Max. Stella is terrified but eventually lets her in. Who is this girl and what is her connection to Max and Stella? And what happened to Stella that made her so terrified to answer her own door? The author of this one was a clinical psychologist before turning to fiction writing and you can tell she knows her stuff where that’s concerned. I guessed some of the “mysteries” easily, but for a debut it was excellent. Four stars.

That’s it for this month. I have 2 categories still to go, and I’ve started reading books for both of them. Current total: 160 points. 40 to go!

Semi-Charmed Winter 2015 Book Challenge – preliminary list

The categories for Megan’s Winter Book Challenge came out today and I am ridiculously excited… even more so than usual! Admittedly this is partially because I was among the first finishers last month and got to pick my very own category, but the others on the list are pretty amazing as well. Basically, seeing this post appear on Megan’s blog made my day (yes, I do know what they say about simple things thanks…)

I want to share my preliminary list with you, but first, as always, the rules.

General rules:

  • The challenge will run from November 1, 2015, to January 31, 2016. No books that are started before 12 a.m. on November 1 or finished after 11:59 p.m. on January 31 will count.
  • Each book must be at least 200 pages long, unless otherwise noted. Audiobooks and large-print books are fine, as long as the regular print version meets the length requirement.
  • A book can only be used for one category, and each category can only be completed once. If you want to switch the category of a book during a later check-in, that’s fine, just be sure to account for that in your point total.
  • Rereads can be used for a maximum of three books in the challenge. This rule is meant to encourage you to try new books while still allowing you to revisit books from your childhood or young adulthood that you might get more out of now. Please reread the entire book within the time frame of the challenge in order to count it; no simply finishing old books or partial rereads.
  • The highest possible total is 200 points, and the first five people who finish the challenge will be invited to contribute a category for the summer 2016 challenge.

And now for the exciting part: the challenge categories!
5 points: Read a book that has between 100 and 200 pages.Verflixt – ein Nix! by Kersten Boie. I sort of feel like I’m showing off by adding books in another language, but I’m totally lagging on my German reading lately and this one has 175 pages so… *shrug*
10 points: Read a debut book by any author. (The book does not have to be a 2015 debut.)The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivy. I bought this a while ago and I knew there was a good reason I hadn’t started it yet 😉
10 points: Read a book that does not take place in your current country of residence. – So basically what you’re saying is pick a book, any book 😉 Books don’t often take place in Switzerland – unless they’re Heidi of course. For now I’ve chosen Summer’s Child by Diane Chamberlain for this because I got it for my birthday and haven’t started it yet.
10 points: Read a book that someone else has already used for the challenge. — Submitted by SCSBC15 finisher Kristen @ See You in a Porridge. – Well obviously I have to wait and see what everyone else reads for the challenge before picking this one.
15 points: Read a book published under a pseudonym (e.g. Robert Galbraith, Sara Poole, J.D. Robb, Franklin W. Dixon, Mark Twain, etc.). — Submitted by SCSBC15 finisher Megan M. – I’m thinking Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (real name:  Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski) for this because I’m way, way behind on reading the BBC Big Read Top 200 for my 35 before 35. Also, Wikipedia says he was Polish-British but the place he was born is actually now in Ukraine which please me a lot (my grandad was Ukrainian)
15 points: Read a book with “boy,” “girl,” “man” or “woman” in the title (or the plural of these words). – Again trying to get somewhere with The Big Read I’ve picked Man and Boy by Tony Parsons. I just ordered it from Amazon without even checking to see what it’s about so that should be fun…
15 points: Read a book with a one-word title (e.g. Attachments, Americanah, Uglies, Wild, etc.). – I’m tentatively saying Persuasion by Jane Austen, again for The Big Read, but let’s be honest… I totally failed to even start this one for the last reading challenge I did so I’ll probably end up changing it.
20 points: Read a book with a person’s first and last name in the title (e.g. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle). – I have options here! Currently thinking either Lottie Biggs is NOT Desperate by Hayley Long (second book in a series I’ve already read book 1 of) or The Thousand Autumns of Jacob Zoet by David Mitchell.
20 points: Read a food-themed book. — Submitted by SCSBC15 finisher Jamie @ Whatever I Think Of! – I’m not actually 100% sure what a food-themed book is yet, but I’m guessing one where food plays a major role in the story? Four Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris is looking favourite so far (I adore her books, especially The Lollipop Shoes, which is the sequel to Chocolat)
20 points: Read a book with a verb in the title. (For any grammar nerds out there, I mean “verb” in the most general sense, so gerunds count. For non-grammar-inclined people, just use any book that appears to have a verb in the title!) I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh would appear to have a verb in it. Two in fact 😉
30 points: Read two books with the same title (by different authors). — Submitted by SCSBC15 finisher bevchen @ Confuzzledom. – See that? That’s ME that is! My very own category. Obviously I kind of new this was coming so I prepared early and actually have two options. I’ve decided to go for The Missing though, one book by Andrew O’Hagan and one by Chris Mooney. The former is a non-fiction book about children going missing so I can see that being a difficult read! (In case anyone was looking for inspiration, my second option was Without A Trace. I have books of that title by Lesley Pearce and by Liza Marklund but there are others out there).
30 points: Read a nonfiction book and a fiction book about the same subject (e.g. a biography and historical fiction novel about the same person; two books about a specific war or event; a nonfiction book about autism and a novel with a character who has autism, etc. The possibilities are endless!). – I’m drawing a complete blank for this one so far so I’ll have to get my thinking cap on. Any suggestions?

So, that’s it for now. I can’t believe I actually have to wait all the way til 1st November to start reading. Aaaah!
Here’s a picture of my piles of books waiting to be read (the ones I already have anyway):

Winter books 2015If you want to join in (which you really should!) you can link up your preliminary list here or just start reading in November and visit Megan’s blog to check in on 1 December. And don’t be put off thinking you’ll never complete the challenge – doesn’t matter! Whether you read all the books or just one it’s all good fun and an excellent way of discovering new (sometimes amazing!) books that you might never have even looked at otherwise.

2014 Winter Reading Challenge – month 2

I’m a day late with my check-in post because I’ve only just got back from Zurich. Another month of the winter reading challenge is over and I still haven’t completed it… mainly because I was waiting for my final book to arrive. I found it in my mailbox when I arrived home today though, so I’ll be done soon. On the meantime, here are the categories I managed to complete this month.

5 points: Freebie! Read any book that fits the general rules.
The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley – This is the sixth book in the Flavia de Luce series and so far I’ve loved them all. In some ways, this book felt like a filler, or a kind of bridge between past events and what’s to come. There seemed to be less happening than in previous books in the series. But I love Flavia so I gave it five stars anyway. My full review is here.

15 points: Read a book that was originally written in a language that is not your native language.
Die Nacht des Zorns by Fred Vargas (original French title: L’armée furieuse) – My boss gave me this book for my birthday in August so it was about time I read it! It’s a crime novel, but the quirky characters make it different to your usual crime/thriller. I guessed the twist before I got to the end, but I still enjoyed the story and will probably pick up another book in the series at some point. I gave this one four stars out of five. You can read my full review here.

15 points: Read a book written by a local author (either an author from your state if you live in the United States, or from your country if you live somewhere else).
Liebesfluch by Beatrix Gurian – I tried to read a book by a Karlsruhe author for this one, but when it turned out the one I had chosen only had 190 pages and I failed to find another one that interested me, I had to widen my search to all of Germany. Beatrix Gurian is the pen name of Beatrix Mannel, who was born in Darmstadt and now lives in Munich. Liebesfluch is a young-adult thriller novel. Sixteen-year-old Blue is overjoyed when she gets job as an Au pair in Germany. Okay, the Odenwald isn’t as exciting as her home city Las Vegas, but the twins are adorable and she’s excited to explore the village her grandmother came from. When she makes friends with Ju and Felix life seems perfect. But appearances can be deceiving and soon not only Blue but the twins lives are at risk…
This was another book that I really enjoyed. Each chapter started with an extract from a letter… but it wasn’t clear until the very end who the letter was from – or indeed to. Every time I thought I knew what was going on, the author managed to lead me in the wrong direction, but in the end everything did make sense. I also liked that the book was written mostly from the Au pair’s perspective – as a foreigner in Germany it was interesting to see things through similar eyes (although Blue is obviously much younger than me and I’ve never been an Au pair). Some parts were slightly less believable than others but overall the author did a good job. 4 stars.

That makes 35 points for this month. Added to last month’s 140, that gives me a total of 175 so far with one more category to go: “read a book from a genre you don’t usually read”, which is worth 25 points.