TBR Challenge 12th and Final!

I’m calling it here: I’ve completed the 2017 TBR Challenge.  By which I mean I am done, not necessarily that I completed the challenge fully or anything.

Here are the last books I read:

Lady of the Snakes by Rachel Pastan.  This novel is about an academic trying to balance her research and her family life.  It’s got nice details about academia and the fictional writer’s wife she’s devoted her work to is really well-fleshed out.  Though I have to admit the story hits a bit too close to home for me at this point in my life (minus the brilliant academic doing groundbreaking research part).  The characters were easy to identify with, the style flows nicely, and the hook of the research into a famous Russian writer and his wife is great.

A Dark Matter by Peter Straub.  I feel like Straub has been on my to-read list for a million years and I’ve never quite gotten around to him.   I like his style–it’s compelling and always has the feeling that there’s a lot lurkingn under the surface.  This particular novel is about a writer trying to work out (and through) a mysterious and deadly event which occurred involving his wife and group of friends decades ago.

Orphans of the Carnival by Carol Birch.  I learned about the main character of this novel, Julia Pastrana, years ago when I read a book about medical curiosities.  Hers is a heartbreaking story, both in life and after death.  But at the same time, she had such a rich, full life.  I didn’t think the contemporary storyline was entirely necessary, but I get why Birch did it.  The writing is lyrical and absorbing, and Julia really does come to life as a full, real person.  Knowing what was going to happen sure did lend a lot of melancholy to it, though.

I’ve got a few more round-up posts coming your way this month–the tally of what I’ve read in 2017, my favorite reads of the year, and the Most-Circulated at the Library, which I promise I will not forget this time.

In closing, here’s the official list of books I read off of my TBR list in 2017.  Not too bad!  Though I wish I’d enjoyed more of the ones I had once wanted to read.

TBR Challenge 2017, Completed:

The Man in the Picture: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill
The Father of the Rain by Lily King
Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
This House is Haunted by John Boyne
She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor
The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland
The Small Hand: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill
Medieval Women by Eileen Power
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor
20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill
Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz
Somebody With a Little Hammer by Mary Gaitskill
The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen
Pobby and Dingan by Ben Rice
The Gilly Salt Sisters by Tiffany Baker
Deception by Denise Mina
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
Delicate Edible Birds and Other Stories by Lauren Groff
Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill
A Sudden Light by Garth Stein
The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller
Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
House of the Lost by Sarah Rayne
Company of Liars by Karen Maitland
The Thing About December by Donal Ryan
Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart
Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville
The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier
The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic by Darby Penny and Peter Stastny

Stay tuned for 2018, when I’ll probably decide to do this or something like it to myself again.

–Marie

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TBR Challenge Update #9

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein.  A sad sort of ghost story, more about loss and keeping families together than anything else.  Now an adult, Trevor tells the story of the summer he was fourteen and visiting his family’s ancestral estate on Puget Sound.  Nicely atmospheric and some lyrical writing, there’s a melancholy sense of loss but also growth about this story.

The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller.  I’m a sucker for stories about outsider kids and outsider teachers coming together, so I liked this a lot.  I was reminded very much of Special Topics in Calamity Physics.  Iris is a budding journalist at an elite prep school in Massachusetts, and she’s recruited by a secret society to get some dirt on her science teacher (who has secrets of his own).  There’s a great mystery element, as Iris begins working to uncover Mr. Kaplan’s secrets, and as the past collides with the present.  It’s funny and smart and on the quirky side–a nice coming of age tale, too.  It’s also very self-aware, complete with references to Dead Poets Society.  A really fun read!

Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.  Her scholarship really can’t be topped–Ulrich makes the past feel real and tangible, and she presents her arguments and research incredibly well.  This book examines women’s lives and work in colonial New England, considering in particular what it meant to be a “goodwife.”

House of the Lost by Sarah Rayne.  I’ll be saving this haunted house tale for Halloween.  Check back then!

Slowly (oh so slowly) but surely, I am whittling down my TBR list!  It feels great to clean house.

–Marie

 

TBR Challenge Update #8

Here’s the latest batch of books I’ve read from my To-Be-Read list, for the TBR Challenge 2017!

Mercy Snow by Tiffany Baker.  I think I put all of her books on my TBR list as they came out, and am only now getting to them!  This story is about three women connected by long-buried secrets in a New Hampshire mill town.  Atmospheric and compelling!

Aaaaand that’s it.  Lots of duds this time around.  So I thought I’d pad out my content here with a list of the books I’ve read for the challenge since I began in March!  As in, completely read, not just begun and abandoned.

TBR Challenge 2017, Completed:

The Man in the Picture: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill
The Father of the Rain by Lily King
Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
This House is Haunted by John Boyne
She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor
The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland
The Small Hand: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill
Medieval Women by Eileen Power
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor
20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill
Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz
Somebody With a Little Hammer by Mary Gaitskill
The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen
Pobby and Dingan by Ben Rice
The Gilly Salt Sisters by Tiffany Baker
Deception by Denise Mina
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
Delicate Edible Birds and Other Stories by Lauren Groff
Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill

You can click on the TBR Challenge tag to see all of the updates for the challenge.  I’m at 753 to-read, somehow only two less than last time…

–Marie

 

 

TBR Challenge 2017 Update #6

Just a short one today, for the official “It’s Fourth of July Week in Camden and I’m Exhausted” edition.  I’ve managed to read three novels from my TBR list since last I updated.  And here they are:

Pobby and Dingan by Ben Rice.  What an odd yet touching little book.  It’s about a family of opal miners in Australia.  The daughter of the family has two imaginary friends, and everyone is very indulgent about them.  One day the imaginary friends go missing, and the little girl becomes very ill.  Her brother decides that he’s going to find them for her, and is convinced that his sister will recover as soon as he does.  It’s the kind of story where you get the feeling that a lot is happening in the background.

The Gilly Salt Sisters by Tiffany Baker.  A solid story of a very small Massachusetts town and the different people who live there, with a focus on the Gilly sisters, whose family has always owned a salt marsh on the edge of town.  There’s just the merest hint of something magical, but mostly it’s a story about secrets and forgiveness.

Deception by Denise Mina. A compelling thriller!  The husband of a psychologist arrested for murder sets out to figure out what exactly happened.  It’s fast and has a great narrator, and I like the open-ended wrong-footed feeling the story inspires.

I’m not sure what I’m in the mood for next off the list.  Some classic spine-tinglers?  More tales of sad people in small towns?  Some weird-sounding stuff that I don’t know where I heard about it?

Or, is it possible I have not actually read Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley?  Goodreads says I haven’t.  Seems strange, but if it’s on the internet it must be true.  I’ll pick that one up next.

Happy Fourth, American readers!

–Marie

 

TBR Challenge 2017 Update #4

I’ve hit the wall, folks.

Why, why do I have all this nonfiction on my TBR list?  What was I thinking? I read nonfiction sooooo sloooooooowly!  It’s insanely frustrating.  I’ll be five years completing my to-reads at this rate.  Ugh.  Also 100 pages before I give up?  Why on earth did I feel the need to be so generous?  Particularly with 820 books to read?  Sorry, dumping that guideline, too.

Gloves are off.  I need to deal with this list Kondo-style because life is too short to have a TBR list this long.  I will focus on the books that make me spark with joy and can be vertically folded and stored in a dresser.

Whining out of the way, here’s the update:

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey.  I’m glad I finally got around to this one.  I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed the movie.  And yet, it still left me a little cold.  There are some inspired passages, but on the whole it didn’t do much for me.

The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy by David Cannadine.  I just couldn’t!  I’m sorry!  It’s huge and I’m slow and I have a life to live!

A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois.  I’m not sure why this was on my list, to be honest.  I mean, it looks like a novel with an interesting hook, good characters, and from what I read it’s got a nice style, but it’s just not my thing, and it didn’t grab me.  The story is about a woman whose father wrote a letter to a Russian chess champion, and never received a reply–so she sets out to find the chess champion to get her father’s questions answered.

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones.  I remember why this one was on the list.  It got a ton of attention and positive reviews when it first came out, with a lot of praise given to the cracking dialogue and inventive storyline that gets wilder and wilder.  I could not get into it at all, I’m afraid, even though it has the tone and feel of Edward Gorey.

Young Lonigan by James T. Farrell.  Another case of why did I want to read this?  Did I hear about it because it influenced another book?  Was I reading a lot about tough neighborhoods in the early 20th century?  Because it was considered an offense to morals when it was published and I was curious?  Never mind, it doesn’t matter–it didn’t grab me at all.

So yeah.  Sorry to be a Debbie Downer this time around, but man.  No wonder some of these have been on my list for so long.  I’ll give Mark Haddon’s The Red House a try next, along with a biography of Julia Child called Dearie.

According to Goodreads I’ve got 819 books to go.  I have lost track of which ones I’ve actually read, which ones I didn’t like and gave up on, and which ones I’ve just booted without a second thought.  I’ll tally at the end of 2017 and not bother thinking about it now.

Surely I must be coming up on books I’m just dying to read!  Or happy surprises!  I really do want to read more than I discard.  We’ll see how it goes.

–Marie

 

TBR Challenge 2017 Update #3

Today in the continuing saga of reading my way through my Goodreads To-Be-Read list:

She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor.  I’ve read lots of books about English history in my non-fiction group (see our list here), so I’m familiar with the women covered in this book (Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, and Margaret of Anjou).  But it was great to see their lives and stories explored in a more fleshed-out way, particularly in the specific context of female leadership in England.

The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland.  I like historical fiction that has a good sense of time and place, but doesn’t get bogged down in detail–there’s a sense of reality that comes from the period detail being in the background, the everyday.  Maitland pulls that off well here, I think.  I also liked the novel as a suspense story, one that played on the tensions between the village, the ancient Owl Men, and the Benguinage.  It’s enthralling and atmospheric with a rich cast of characters.  And now I want to learn more about Beguinages!

The Small Hand: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill.  I’m now officially doing a Susan Hill feature for Horror Month, so check back then!

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne.  I own this.  I have owned this for years.  I tried once again to get into it and once again I’ve failed.  At least I’ve now watched the movie “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.”  Which is kind of like saying, “I haven’t read the book but I’ve seen the Wishbone episode.”

Medieval Women by Eileen Power.  I think this was on my list because of the many books I’ve read for my nonfiction book group about the Middle Ages.  Not sure where I heard about it, but glad I picked it up!  It’s a collection of lectures Power gave about different aspects of women’s lives in the Middle Ages, including women’s roles and functions, and the gulf between the ideal and the lives of actual women.  Gives a lot of cultural and intellectual context to lots of books I’ve read, both fiction and nonfiction.

Full disclosure: I am technically still in the act of reading She-Wolves and The Small Hand, but I’m going to finish both so they count.

To see previous updates on this challenge, click here and here.  Or just click the TBR Challenge 2017 tag at the bottom of the post.

Next up is another classic I have read the first three pages of at least four times (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and an 800-pager called The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy.  But it’s “a brilliant, multifaceted chronicle of economic and social change” according to The New York Times.  So maybe it will go quickly?

To-Read List Currently Stands At: 823.

–Marie

 

TBR Challenge 2017 Update #2

Man, why do I even bother with challenges when I can’t seem to keep from constantly cheating and finding loopholes to make them easier?!

This week’s cheat: if I can’t find a book readily through the interlibrary loan system, and it’s been on my to-read list for years, I’m not going to bother.  If I was that interested in a title I’d have bought, borrowed, or begged it by now.

Here’s my second TBR Challenge Update!

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore.  A poor girl makes a rich friend, and they spend the summer together at the rich family’s summer estate.  It turns out this rich family is pretty twisted and has lots of secrets, but that doesn’t stop the poor girl (with secrets of her own) for wanting to be one of them.  A good summertime read–I thought the best writing was the depiction of this lavish estate.

This House is Haunted by John Boyne.  Old-fashioned creepiness which I’ll elaborate on this Horror Month!  Loved this one!

The Keep by Jennifer Egan.  Smart, spooky, and really well-constructed (one narrative is about two cousins renovating an old castle in Europe, the other about the prisoner in a writing class telling their story).  I got to my page 100 benchmark, though, and then just skimmed.  Something about this just didn’t gel for me, but it might for you!

The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland.   Another one I could not get into.  Just the wrong time for me, I think. The set-up is interesting: the main character, Lena, is a transcriptionist at a city newspaper, a lonely, kind of faceless job.  There’s a stark quality to the writing that suits the character and setting.  But just not for me at this moment in time.  After I set this down I had a hankering to read Patricia Highsmith.  Unsure why.

Dark Echo by F.G. Cottam.  It’s about a haunted boat.  A haunted boat named the Dark Echo, built by a WWI vet and imbued with some nasty history.  I was not immediately sold, but I gave it a chance because I really loved House of Lost Souls.  The book is a nice mix of atmospheric horror and a mystery,  but I just didn’t respond to this the way I did to Cottam’s other book.  Classic case of the problem being me, not the book.

So there’s where she stands.  At least I’m still knocking them off the list at a steady clip.

As I look at the to-read list I put together on Goodreads over the years, I can chart my reading interests over time–historical mysteries giving way to the domestic suspense of the 1950’s and 1960’s, my period of obsession with American culinary history, the coming of age stories set in rural America, and on into horror stories and natural history.  It’s fun to see how reading changes and evolves over time.

Perhaps I’ve just outgrown a lot of the ones from further down the list.  Which of course doesn’t indicate any problems with the books themselves.  I’ve simply moved on.

Next will be She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth and The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland.

For the numerically inclined: we’re at 832 books to-be-read.

–Marie