Stuff & Nonsense: reading challenge


Showing posts with label reading challenge. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reading challenge. Show all posts

02 January 2014

Failing At Reading Challenges; Or, I Said I'd Do What Now?

It occurs to me I was registered for two reading challenges in 2013 and I see, as I foretold last January, I did indeed start out strong with regular posts and then petered out after a few months. At least, that was so with the 2013 Graphic Novel Challenge.

I didn't read anything for the E-book Challenge. Which isn't to say I haven't been reading things on my Kindle. I just never wrote them up to count them against the challenge and now it is too late. Also, I've added about 20 new titles to my Kindle since starting the Challenge so am in even worse straits. Surprise.


Books I actually read for the 2013 Graphic Novel Challenge:
  1. Dawn of the Arcana, Volume One
  2. Twin Spica, Volume One
  3. Twin Spica, Volume Two
  4. Lola: A Ghost Story
  5. Adventure Time with Fiona & Cake, Issue One
  6. The Drops of God, Volume One
  7. Chi's Sweet Home, Volume Eight
  8. Yotsuba&!, Volume One
  9. Polly & the Pirates, Volume Two
  10. Ignition City
  11. Three Shadows
That's eleven out of twenty-four. Fabulous. Simply fabulous.

No challenges in 2014!

01 January 2013

Therefore, Be It RESOLVED

Too many books! Too. Many. Books. Toomanybooks. TOO MANY. Books for my birthday. Books for Christmas. Books unread from last year's birthday and Christmas. Incalculable free Kindle downloads. Half-forgotten Amazon pre-orders. A steady trickle of Kickstarter projects. And the library books! Oh, the library books.


Library cards are a gateway drug leading to rampant bibliophilia and book hoarding.

So I've signed up for two reading challenges to help me get through my enormous pile of unreads! Admittedly, I don't have the best record when it comes to reading challenges. I'll start out strong with regular posts and then peter out after a few months. Oh, I'll intend to catch up, but guilt and ennui will overrule the best of intentions and I'll fail so hard. However, neither of the challenges I'm signed up for require anything more strenuous than reading books and linking to my reviews, so ... success in 2013?

To the challenges!


Challenge the First: The 2013 Graphic Novel Reading Challenge! This challenge is being hosted by Nicola. I'm signed on for Advanced Level 2 of this challenge and am supposed to read 24 books, 12 of which need to come from these categories:
  1. manga: The Drops of God, Volume 1
  2. superhero: Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection
  3. classic adaptation: Jane Eyre: The Graphic Novel
  4. memoir: Marzi: A Memoir
  5. fantasy: The Last Unicorn
  6. translated from a foreign language: Three Shadows
  7. a single-issue comic book:
  8. science-fiction: Ignition City, Volume 1
  9. crime or mystery: Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story
  10. fairytale or mythology: Fairy Quest: Outlaws
  11. children's book: Zita the Spacegirl, Book One: Far From Home
  12. anthology: No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics
  13. Womanthology
  14. Courtney Crumrin, Volume 1
  15. Fun Home
  16. Polly and the Pirates, Volume 2
  17. Unterzakhn
  18. Greek Street, Volume 1
  19. Greek Street, Volume 2
  20. Emma
  21. Road to Oz (preordered -- out April 2013)
  22. Tank Girl, Volume 1 (remastered edition)
  23. Chi's Sweet Home, Volume Whatever I'm On
  24. Underground
This challenge runs from 1/1 through 12/31. I'll tag each post "graphic novel challenge 2013" and I may or may not create a page for the challenge, grouping all the posts together. Click here to sign up and get more information on this challenge.


Challenge the Second: The 2013 Ebook Challenge, because I keep downloading free ebooks to my Kindle and then not reading them since there are so many interesting physical books right in front of me. This challenge is hosted by Workaday Reads. I'm attempting the "Floppy disk" level which means I'll read 5 e-books:
  1. Charlotte Collins: A Continuation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice by Jennifer Becton
  2. Ridiculous by D.L. Carter
  3. The Inconvenient Duchess by Christine Merrill
  4. The Exploits of Lydia by Angela Darcy
  5. One Thread Pulled: The Dance With Mr. Darcy by Diana J. Oaks
Challenge runs from 1/1 through 12/31. I'll tag each post "Ebook Challenge 2013" and, as with the above, I may or may not create a page blahblahblah. Click here to sign up and get more information on this challenge.

03 December 2011

Gothic Challenge: Mistress of Mellyn

Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt (Doubleday, 1960) 
"There are two courses open to a gentlewoman when she finds herself in penurious circumstances," my Aunt Adelaide had said. "One is to marry, and the other to find a post in keeping with her gentility."
Martha Leigh, a gently bred orphan, had been given a crack at the marriage mart and failed to make a success of it. Too proud to live on charity, she becomes a governess to Alvean TreMellyn, a motherless girl with a cool and uncaring papa. Alvean is a handful, but Martha is sure she can rein the girl in and make a success of the situation. Her aloof papa, Connan TreMellyn, intrigues Martha and, while she knows better, she finds herself falling in love with him.

And growing up side-by-side with that love is the terrible suspicion Mrs. TreMellyn did not die in a train accident whilst eloping with a neighbor. No, the more Martha investigates, the more unlikely it seems Alice would ever have done such a thing. So what became of Alice? Does the key lie with Gillyflower, the housekeeper’s fey bastard granddaughter?

Mistress of Mellyn is a compelling read. I was immediately drawn into the mystery surrounding Alice's death and the many little details of daily life at TreMellyn. The mystery builds slowly, but satisfyingly, as Holt fully immerses us in Martha’s world which is full of well-crafted secondary characters that help give the story real depth and flavor -- I was especially fond of the housekeeper, Mrs. Polgrey, with her whiskey-laced cups of Earl Grey.

I must admit to be less fond of Connan TreMellyn. I didn’t doubt Martha’s affection toward him, but I was never really certain of his toward her. The entire time Connan said he was madly falling in love with Martha, he was carrying on an affair with a married neighbor. He doesn’t deny it, nor does he indicate he’s spent those months trying to break off the affair. No, to me, it seemed like Connan decided it would be a good time to remarry, the TreMellyn household liked Martha, the silly thing hadn’t hidden her affection as well as she’d thought, and he did find her both desirable and companionable ... so why not marry the governess?  A man could do worse.

Even though the romantic elements of the novel felt a bit false, the novel’s central mystery was very fascinating and I thoroughly enjoyed its resolution -- it was just so over the top and so thoroughly gothic!

05 November 2011

Gothic Challenge: The Lord of the Far Island

The Lord of the Far Island by Victoria Holt (Doubleday, 1975)
I could hear the whispering voices and my eyes were fixed on the door. It was slowly opening and there came to me the terrible realization that doom was just on the other side of the door.
Ellen Kellaway, orphaned at young age and sent to live with wealthy distant cousins, has reached adulthood and knows that her future will be vastly different from her young cousin’s. No teas, no balls, no opera for Ellen. No, soon Ellen will be sent into service as a governess or companion. Or, perhaps not ...

To her astonishment, her childhood friend, the handsome younger son of a very rich family, asks for Ellen’s hand in marriage. Oh, the bliss! The joy! The sense of triumph! The relief! And then tragedy strikes ... six days before their wedding, her fiancé commits suicide.

Overwhelmed by disbelief and grief, Ellen accepts an invitation from her hitherto unknown guardian to visit her father’s estate, Kellaways Island, off the coast of Cornwall. There Ellen begins to fall in love with her guardian despite suspecting he is up to no good. Long buried family secrets come to light, murder is attempted, and bad dreams come true.

Lord of the Far Island is a delicious Gothic romance. The plot twists work well, Ellen is a sympathetic heroine -- although, I must admit I wished she could have fallen in love with someone less creepy and manipulative. Jago is the classic dark, brooding, mesmerizing, antihero all Gothic romances need, but he just wasn't my cup of tea.

Regardless, I still had so much fun reading Lord of the Far Island that it made me feel a little less cranky about being without power, phone, and Internet for five days. This is the first Victoria Holt novel I’ve ever read and I look forward to reading many more.

03 November 2011

Gothic Challenge: Closed on Account of Rabies


Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;

I enjoyed Stories of the Macabre so much that I went looking through my library consortium’s catalog to see what other recordings might be available to me. As soon as I saw the title, Closed on Account of Rabies, I knew I had to give it a listen. I mean, doesn’t it look deliciously disturbing?


The audiobook collects fourteen of Poe’s stories and poems. Some have been set to song and all have accompanying atmospheric background music/sounds. I found the background music distracting as it frequently overwhelmed the performer -- too loud and/or too pronounced. Iggy Pop, Christopher Walken, and Gabriel Byrne performed excellent renditions of Poe's most famous horror stories, but I enjoyed them less than Ralph Cosham's on Stories of the Macabre, because the background music was so darn distracting.

That said, oh, you haven’t heard "The Raven" until you’ve heard it performed by Christopher Walken! (Just ignore the guitar).


Closed on Account of Rabies: Poems & Tales of Edgar Allan Poe written by Edgar Allan Poe & read by various (Mercury Records, 1997)

30 October 2011

Gothic Reading Challenge: Stories of the Macabre


"For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not — and very surely do I not dream. But to-morrow I die, and to-day I would unburthen my soul."

I’ve been listening to Ralph Cosham read Richard Adams’s Watership Down and he’s doing such a bang-up job that I started looking for other works read by him. Poe’s Stories of the Macabre seemed a good place to start -- being short and appropriately seasonal.

Stories of the Macabre comprises six of Poe's classic horror stories and two of his poems:
  • “The Bells” -- Oh, those bells! They’ll drive you mad, they will.
  • “The Cask of Amontillado” -- Man takes revenge upon a friend who has insulted him by bricking said friend up in a wall.
  • “The Tell-Tale Heart” -- Man kills his landlord who has a blind eye, because the eye is driving him crazy. Police investigate, madness ensues.
  • “The Fall of the House of Usher” -- Out of friendship, Man visits a crumbling house beset by madness and disease. Someone gets buried alive.
  • “The Raven” -- Man is visited by a raven while mourning the loss of his beloved Lenore. Man descends into madness.
  • “The Black Cat” -- Alcoholic Man sinks into depravity, commits murder, and is haunted by Basement Cat.
  • “Berenice” -- Man, affianced to his cousin, becomes inappropriately fixated on her teeth and removes them from her corpse (which, it turns out, is not actually corpse).
  • “The Man That Was Used Up” -- Man meets the famous Brevet Brigadier General, who is more than the sum of his parts. Or is he? (Not a horror story, actually, but a satire)
Cosham’s superb reading is full of enthusiasm and emotion -- there is absolutely no doubting the wild madness or cold, calculating, wickedness that possesses our protagonists. Indeed, the mad little laugh he gives during “The Tell-Tale Heart” sent chills down my spine and the calm, rational tone he uses while reading “The Black Cat” made my flesh crawl.

And, on a mostly related note, I give you a scene from Edgar Allan Pooh's "The Tell-Tale Heart:"


Stories of the Macabre written by Edgar Allan Poe & read by Ralph Cosham (Commuters Library, 2002)

20 October 2011

Graphically Challenged

Last week, after I posted about how we lack shelf space to accommodate our multitudinous manga/GN collection, I was struck by the embarrassing realization that I have only read about two-thirds of the manga/GNs we own. Some of it's a series problem -- I start reading a series and, even after I fall behind, keep purchasing the new volumes for "someday." Some of it is very much an author problem -- I'll buy anything if it has Gail Simone or Alison Bechdel's name on it. But, mostly, it's a magpie problem --- we snap up whatever looks interesting, because who knows when or where we might see it again.

So these things are bought, brought into our home, and shelved. I have every intention of reading them, but am easily distracted by all the books I see at work. That new manga can wait, I tell myself, while I read this doorstop Booklist thinks is the bomb. And then I never do read that new manga!

To catch up with our collection, I've decided to read at least one manga/GN a week until I run out (and with my birthday and Christmas coming, I guess I won't run out anytime soon!). Yes, it's a reading challenge. Yes, I've been a miserable failure at my other 2011 reading challenges, but this is a personal challenge and the books are a mere six feet from my reading chair -- I might actually stick to it.

Also, to tidy my blog a bit, I've condensed the "manga," "manhwa," and "graphic novel" labels down into one label -- "comic books." I reckon if you're interested in one of those things, you'll be interested in the others, so why not group them together?

06 March 2011

Gothic Challenge: Little Vampire Women

Little Vampire Women by Louisa May Alcott and Lynn Messina (HarperTeen, 2010)

The March family are impoverished, humanitarian vampires living in New England during the Civil War. Mr. March, a chaplain in the Union Army is away from home, and Mrs. March does her best to contrive a happy home for her four daughters and send them down a life-path which will turn them into "little vampire women."

I must admit that while I have watched several film versions of Little Women, I have never managed to read the novel in its entirety. However, when I saw the cover of Little Vampire Women with its pale, blood-covered young women, I immediately thought that this might be a version of Little Women I could stand to read. Surely it would avoid the mawkish qualities that drove me from the original novel?

Well, yes, and no. Yes, there's lots of blood, vampire defender training, and slaying of vampire hunters, but there's also plenty of sweet rhapsody over the perfection of "Dear Marmee," Beth's possession of Mr Laurence, Meg's courtship and marriage to Mr Brook, and a million other things that most girlish readers would enjoy. But I didn't. Much of the novel felt as Little Women had felt when I tried to read it all those years ago -- preachy and kind of smarmy in its sweetness.



I feel I should mention that Little Women is the only Alcott novel I don't get on with. Little Men was one of my favorite childhood reads and I adored her semi-autobiographical novel, Work: A Story of Experience, when I read it last April.

29 January 2011

The Pyramid & Four Other Kurt Wallander Mysteries by Henning Mankell


The whole situation is insane, he thought.

This collection consists of five short stories and novellas that have been arranged chronologically to trace Wallander's growth from rookie cop to seasoned detective. Any reader (or viewer of the BBC series) who has longed to know Wallander before he became a middle-aged divorced detective should The Pyramid a pretty eye-opening read.
  • "Wallander's First Case"
    Takes place in 1969, when Wallander is a young patrolman in Malmo, just beginning his relationship with Mona, the woman he will marry. One night, Wallander hears what sounds like a gunshot in his apartment building and, when he investigates, he finds a neighbor’s door ajar and a body on the floor. The death is ruled a suicide but Wallander isn’t convinced and he decides to investigate on his own time, acting against the rules of the police department, because it will also help him look like a successful detective-candidate ...
  • "The Man with the Mask"
    Christmas Eve 1975, Wallender's supervisor asks him it check out a grocery store on his way home. The old woman who owns the shop has called several times, reporting a strange individual outside her store. When Wallander arrives, the woman is dead and his is attacked by a desperate man. Wallander's only hope for rescue lies in his wife Mona. Eventually, she will become angry he has not come home from work and call the station looking for him ...
  • "The Man on the Beach"
    1987, Wallander is chief inspector in Ystad with a failing marriage. A local taxi driver picks up a fare who quietly dies in the back of his cab. An autopsy reveals the fare was poisoned earlier in the day. Wallander and his team learn that the victim had been staying in Ystad for the past week, traveling into Svarte by taxi each day to walk on the beach. It's quite a tangled story and the ending felt incomplete to me.
  • "The Death of the Photographer"
    It's 1988 and Wallander and Mona are separated. The body of a local portrait photographer is found in his studio. The victim seems like "regular guy" but Wallander refuses to believe that a normal man could be the victim of such a brutal attack. Eventually, it becomes clear there was more to the victim then met the eye ...
  • "The Pyramid"
    One night in December 1989, Wallander is called out to investigate the crash of a small unregistered plane. This plane, not appearing on radar as it flew into Swedish air space, appears to have been carrying a load of drugs. The crew is dead and there is not a lot of evidence to go on when Wallander called away to investigate arson and suspected murder at a local sewing shop. Why would anyone have anything against two dear old ladies? And why do they have such a big safe full of money? As Wallander tries to connect these cases, his father is arrested by the Cairo police while on holiday in Egypt! His crime? Trying to climb the Cheops pyramid!
Taken all together they paint an unrelentingly grim picture of a life curbed by dysfunctional relationships, senseless crime, and terrible weather. I do not recommend reading them all in one go, as I did, unless you enjoy depressing yourself. Certainly, there are moments of fine black comedy and the dull plod of police work is very realistically presented, but I didn't finish the collection with any feelings of affection for Wallander or his Sweden.

The Pyramid & Four Other Kurt Wallander Mysteries written by Henning Mankell & translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg with Laurie Thompson (The New Press, 2008)

21 December 2010

Gothic Reading Challenge: The Canterville Ghost


Even though the Gothic Reading Challenge doesn't officially begin until 1 January, I've already started. Oh, I didn't mean to. No, indeed. I was just on Amazon, looking for something short and free to read on my phone, when Oscar Wilde's The Canterville Ghost just leapt off the screen.

The Canterville Ghost is comedy in Gothic trappings -- sensible, modern, forward-thinking Americans buy a haunted English country house. Discovering a mysterious bloodstain, they set to cleaning it with Pinkerton’s Champion Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent! Confronted by a chain-clanking fiend, they offer him Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator! Oh, you almost have to feel sorry for the foul spectre -- he's only trying to carry out a job he's had for hundreds of years and here are these wretched, modern Americans, not taking things the least bit seriously! It's humiliating and, obviously, he must have his revenge:

The owl beat against the window panes, the raven croaked from the old yew-tree, and the wind wandered moaning round the house like a lost soul; but the Otis family slept unconscious of their doom, and high above the rain and storm he could hear the steady snoring of the Minister for the United States. He stepped stealthily out of the wainscoting, with an evil smile on his cruel, wrinkled mouth, and the moon hid her face in a cloud as he stole past the great oriel window, where his own arms and those of his murdered wife were blazoned in azure and gold. On and on he glided, like an evil shadow, the very darkness seeming to loathe him as he passed. Once he thought he heard something call, and stopped; but it was only the baying of a dog from the Red Farm, and he went on, muttering strange sixteenth-century curses, and ever and anon brandishing the rusty dagger in the midnight air.

Woooo ...

One of my local libraries has The Canterville Ghost in audio and I'm hoping to get my hands on it before Christmas, as I'm sure it would be a lot of fun to listen to!

10 December 2010

Nordic Challenge 2011

Zee from Notes from the North is hosting a Nordic author reading challenge and I've signed up! I blame this on Wallander, I really do. We've been borrowing episodes of the BBC series from Netflix and it has made for interesting watching -- interesting enough that I've been itching to try the novels that inspired them! Now I have the perfect excuse (as if I really needed one).

Dates: January 1, 2011- December 31, 2011

There will be 5 levels. The levels are:

  • Huginn and Muninn: Read 2 books
  • Freya: Read 3-5 books
  • Tor: Read 6-10 books
  • Odin: Read 11-20 books
  • Valhalla: Read 20+ books
There is no need to make a list before hand. Any book by any author born in a Nordic country (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and/or Sweden) or a book set in a Nordic country. They can be from any genre (I will be reading a mixture of classics, children’s books, YA and mystery).
While Zee says there's no need to start a list, I already know I'll be reading several of Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander novels/stories.  I'm also interested in reading Camilla Läckberg's The Ice Princess, but I'd otherwise like to stay away from thrillers. I might try a contemporary young adult novel like Nothing by Janne Teller ...

Can anyone tell me why there so many Nordic crime novels?  Or is it just that a preponderance of Nordic crime novels make it to the American market instead of, say, poetry or science fiction?

08 December 2010

GLBT Challenge 2011

I've signed on to participate in the GLBT Challenge in 2011. The idea behind the challenge is simply to read more books by LGBTQ authors or about LGBTQ issues and, obviously, I think that is a very good idea. (But then, you know, I'm a bit biased).


Under the challenge's rules I can read as many (or few) books as I'd like and I think I'll start with two and go on from there. I expect to read far more than a mere two LGBTQ books in 2011, but these two happen to be books I've been wanting to read for some time now:

Big Bang Symphony by Lucy Jane Bledsoe
As a college sophomore, I read and re-read Bledsoe's Working Parts so often that I pretty much have it memorized. It remains one of my favorite coming of age stories and I will nevernevernever loan my copy to anyone.

Stay by Nicola Griffith
Aud Torvingen returns! *swoon* I loved the first Aud Torvingen book, The Blue Place, and did mean to carry on with Stay ... but the world is full of books and I am so very easily distracted. Anyway, every darn time I see a Stieg Larsson novel go by on interlibrary loan, I am reminded that I still don't know what happened to Aud and I should borrow a copy of Stay. So I have. Finally.

05 December 2010

Gothic Reading Challenge 2011

Susan B. Evans is hosting the Gothic Reading Challenge and I, fool that I am, have signed up to read five books in the coming year.

Dates: January 1, 2011 – December 31, 2011
There is nothing better than a great Gothic read – crumbling old castles, mysterious legends, shadowy characters, supernatural beings and unexplainable events, make for some of the most haunting and captivating reading imaginable.

There are four levels of participation to choose from:

A Little Madness – Read just 1 novel with Gothic elements.
The Darkness Within – Read 5 novels with Gothic elements.
A Maniacal Frenzy – Read 10 novels with Gothic elements.
Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know – Read 20 novels with Gothic elements.
I am attempting the Darkness Within level and will be reading:
  • Library of America's Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories
  • Mrs. Gaskell's Tales of Mystery and Horror
  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I will be posting reviews as I finish the books -- probably, one every other month.