30 Reads Went Fast!

Standard

When I signed up for the Goodreads 2013 Reading Challenge, I expected it to play out much like 2012. I would start out strong  by reading one book every week or two, but then summer would hit and all my time would be devoted to writing (and crafts). By the time fall hit, I’d slowly get back into the swing of things, but not fast enough to avoid a December scramble to reach my reading goals. Whew! Now that I’ve written it out, I can’t believe I put myself through this every year!

To my great surprise, 2013 turned out to be quite different from my usual reading year. On October 13th, I officially completed my goal of reading 30 books.

Screen Shot 2013-10-26 at 4.24.37 PM

An incredibly lucky streak of fantastic books prevented the summer lull from taking hold and I suspect the extra time afforded to me thanks to having a student teacher had something to do with it as well.

Some of my favorite books this year include:

The Maisie Dobbs Series

A feisty, smart, and compassionate female lead sits at the heart of this series. Set in post WWI London, historical fiction has never been more engaging with interesting (and highly accurate) insights into the culture of the time. As a mystery series, Maisie Dobbs never fails to offer up unorthodox cases of intrigue that always tie to the evolution of the main character. All 10 books are unputdownable!

Original Bliss by A.L. Kennedy

A subtle, sparsely written novel about two disillusioned people who find comfort in one another. As their impossible relationship flourishes, they find reasons to feel alive, again. A truly remarkable read.

Divergent (Series) by Veronica Roth

Easily one of the best Young Adult series I’ve read in a long time. Roth’s wholly original take on the concepts of free will and choice pushes these ideas to a new level. Her apocalyptic world of a faction-based society poses powerful questions about government, society, and truth.  Anything that challenges young people to question perception and think for themselves is well worth reading!

Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins

Rather than write another biography about Jane Austen’s life, the authors of this book instead pick apart the world she lived in. Meticulous research of primary sources reveals incredible details about marriage, childbearing, childhood, work, religion, healthcare, clothing, and death in the early 19th century.

Gabriel’s Inferno (Series) by Sylvain Reynard

The fact that this is a romance novel with an intellectual edge makes this guilty pleasure one of my favorite books. Thematic references and quotes from Dante’s The Inferno  are brilliantly linked to both the story and characters. In many respects, it is refreshing to read a romance novel that works both the brain and the heart.

The Odd Sea by Frederick Reiken

Don’t let the minimalist style fool you. Reiken’s tale of a family coping with the tragedy of a missing son is a highly emotional and powerful read. Grief is explored from multiple angles and the ending invites serious contemplation.

Even though I’ve reached my 30, I’m still reading. My lucky streak of good books is still going strong and I have the additional goal of reading 2 more non-fiction books about writing and/or the publishing industry.

– – –

How’s your reading life?

– – –

c.b.w. 2013

Book Review: The Odd Sea

Standard

The Odd SeaThe Odd Sea by Frederick Reiken

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When sixteen-year-old Ethan Shumway walks down the driveway towards Baker’s Bottom Pond, no one in his family could have known it would be the last time they’d ever see him. Both tragic and resilient, The Odd Sea follows the story of a family coping with the sudden loss of a son and brother.

Ethan’s younger brother Philip watches helplessly as his mother descends into manic depression and his father throws himself into manual labor as a means to deal with his grief. Meanwhile, Philip’s sisters deal with loss in polar opposite ways. The eldest relies on anger and avoidance, while the younger latches onto Philip.

Philip’s naïve hope of finding his brother plays out as he spends his free time searching the woods and Ethan’s favorite places. He hangs out with Ethan’s girlfriend and reads his diary for any clues that might lead to where his brother is hiding. As Philip gets older, his search changes shape as he realizes the possibility that Ethan could be dead. He never truly accepts that reality, but he learns there is a delicate balance between hope and the truth.

The emotional journey of loss deepens with each passing year as the hole of Ethan’s absence never really closes. While Philip and his family find different ways of living with their grief, all find comfort in the love they have for each other.

Frederick Reiken explores the impact of a missing person with so much intensity, Ethan’s disappearance becomes a personal experience. He makes solid choices in imagery that beautifully reflect the emotional conflict between grief, frustration, and guilt from needing to move forward. Subtle and simplistic, Reiken’s writing allows a highly charged story to flow naturally without turning into something melodramatic and unbelievable. This careful sense of storytelling is what makes an unconventional ending work in such a beautiful and realistic way.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

– – –

c.b.w. 2013

Book Review: A Matter of Class

Standard

A Matter of ClassA Matter of Class by Mary Balogh

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Regency England, the upper echelons of society thrive on outward appearances and intrigue. Reginald Mason has the look of a gentleman, but his recent behavior of “sowing his wild oats” and accruing massive gambling debts is making it more difficult for his “new money” family to fit into wealthy society. As it stands, Reginald’s father is in the midst of a feud with the Earl of Havercroft, whose estate abuts his lands. Gambling debts and less than appropriate behavior is only giving the Earl more ammunition to persuade proper society to snub the Mason family as a whole.

When the young daughter of the Earl runs off with a coachman in a mad dash to the Scottish border, the scandal soils the family name and leaves Lady Annabelle virtually untouchable to any prospective suitor. To make matters worse, the Earl of Havercroft is in a precarious financial situation as he is going broke.

The Mason family sees an opportunity to elevate their status by marrying their son off to the disgraced Lady Annabelle. They have the money to save the Earl of Havercroft from bankruptcy and they have leverage over their son. Reginald will lose all claim to the family fortune if he does not settle down and marry Lady Annabelle, while the Earl realizes he has no choice but to hand over his daughter to the only eligible bachelor who will have her.

On the surface, Reginald and Lady Annabelle appear hostile to one another and resent the ultimatums presented by their parents. However, not all is as it seems. Beautifully rendered flashbacks offer a tantalizing trail of breadcrumbs that quickly allows readers to become willing accomplices in the ruse.

Balogh scores high marks for capturing the atmosphere of the English gentry and conceiving a delicious twist ending. However, several passages in the novel suffer from chronic repetition of phrases and plot points. For such a short book, the reader can be trusted to remember what happened just a few pages ago. Despite this flaw, A Matter of Class offers a satisfying take on historical romance.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

– – –

c.b.w. 2013

Book Review: Gabriel’s Rapture

Standard

Gabriel's RaptureGabriel’s Rapture by Sylvain Reynard

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The sequel to Gabriel’s Inferno follows the same route of its predecessor in that it is smart, sexy, and heartfelt. Picking up where the first left off, Julianne and Gabriel continue their romantic getaway in Florence, Italy. They remain wrapped in bliss until returning home, where every obstacle imaginable threatens to tear them apart.

One of Gabriel’s ex-lovers is out for revenge, while a lovesick suitor is desperate for Julianne’s affection, (and poses serious competition). However, both of these issues are relatively minor in comparison to the outright violation of the university non-fraternization policy. Gabriel’s plan to remain chaste until the end of the semester was misguided and the college administration is very aware of an inappropriate relationship between a professor and a student.

All of these problems highlight the cracks in an already fragile relationship. Issues of trust, equality, and jealousy create an internal struggle in conjunction with everything going on around them. The connection that Julianne and Gabriel share is put to the ultimate test, which leads to an evolution of sorts for both individuals. Gabriel embarks on a journey to come to terms with his past and transform into the man he wants to be, while Julianne finds the strength she never knew she had.

When these two characters evolve past their demons, the love they have for one another only grows. For all the strife they endure, the last few pages make it all worthwhile. This is a love story from beginning to end that sizzles with sensuality and crackles with wit.

While Reynard’s writing is elegant as ever, Gabriel’s Rapture falls a little short of the first book in the series. It’s clear the author did incredible research on legal procedures, but the scenes that include these details draw on much too long. On the other hand, scenes where more details would have been welcomed whip by with little or no attention, (such as a particularly romantic day between Gabriel and Julianne). Had it not been for this imbalance, the rating would stand at four stars instead of three.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

– – –

c.b.w. 2013

Goodreads 2012 Challenge: Achieved!

Standard

Aside from setting my 2012 writing goals, I decided to give myself an additional goal by joining the Goodreads 2012 Reading Challenge. After all, to be a writer is to be a reader. Even though I already have a habit of reading a respectable number of books each year, I thought it might be fun to set a number and go for it.

The first six months of 2012 went very well as I averaged about 1 book every week or so, but by summer I got very distracted with writing and craft projects. As a result, I had to start reading like a lunatic from September to December! Despite my irregular reading schedule, I managed to reach my goal of reading 30 books before the end of the year. Yay!

I did it!

I did it!

In addition to reading 30 books, I made a secondary goal of writing a snapshot review for each book, (see My Bookshelf). Most of the time, I was able to stay on track with this, but there were multiple times throughout the year where I fell behind (most notably November and December). That being said, I’m happy to report every review was completed before the end of December.

While all the titles I read are listed on My Bookshelf, I really love seeing a grid of book covers that shows the wide variety of books I read this year. I read everything from classic literature, non-fiction, and biography to trashy romance novels, young adult, and children’s books. There’s nothing like a little diversity to fire up my muse!

Book List #1

Book List #2

Book List #3

Now, it looks like a I cheated a bit with Mr. Happy and friends, but these books are very special to me. I read them when I was a kid and they were always among my favorites. As an adult, I haven’t so much as seen a Mr. Men or Little Miss book until I went to London in 2011. My love of them was rekindled and so was my desire to read them again. This year I received a boxed set of the first ten books in the series as a gift for Christmas and I was so excited! They are still wonderful little books!

– – –

As for the 2013 Reading Challenge, I’ve already jumped in with a goal of reading 30 books.

Are you up for the challenge? Check out Goodreads and sign up!

– – –

c.b.w. 2012