Reflections on Reading Challenges

>> Tuesday, June 30, 2009

This started as a WAY too long comment on Vasilly’s post about reading challenges. So I decided to save it and let it percolate for a few days, then expand on my thoughts to post here. It’s a lengthy post, but it turns out that I had a lot to say on the subject.

Challenges: love ‘em, can’t let ‘em go once I join.




For about 2 1/2 years I joined and completed lots of challenges. Although I enjoyed the way the challenges stretched my limits in terms of the books I chose, I found a downside too. I'm pretty much incapable of giving up on a challenge I join, so I found myself putting aside books I really wanted to read for books I felt I had to read for a challenge. I also found myself finishing books I might otherwise have set aside because it was a book for a challenge. I usually have no trouble giving up on a book I’m not enjoying, but if I’d listed it for a challenge I felt like I couldn’t. Looking back at my lowest rated books on Goodreads over the past couple of years clearly shows that the lowest rated books are books I’d listed for challenges. Apparently my compulsion to complete the challenge was too strong to overcome my desire to only read books I’m enjoying.

Along the way I started to think about what it was about the challenges that I liked. Was it the joining, the making of the lists, the checking off and completing? Frankly I enjoy all of them. I have to say that my very favorite part is the list making and planning of what to read next. I’m usually reading one book and listening to a second, but I’m also thinking and planning what I want to read next. The challenges are great for that. They give me a reason to make lists. I enjoy making lists almost as much as I enjoy reading. My TBR list is an example of list making gone mad. It’s actually a multi sheet excel spreadsheet that I’ll have to talk about in its own blog post someday soon. The trouble I ran into with too many challenges on my plate was that my reading was becoming overplanned. I’d see or hear about a book that sounded good, but knew it would be ages before I could read it due to having to finish challenge books in time.



Balance is the key for me.



Beginning in January 2009 I made a conscious decision to severely limit the challenges I joined. I had a select few favorites that I wanted to do again (What's in a Name and Southern Reading to name a couple). I also geared my TBR challenge choices for this year to listing only "the next book" in 24 different series I've started but not finished. Yes I have a serious series addiction (again probably worthy of its own blog post). The only unplanned challenge I've joined this year is the Sookie Stackhouse Challenge.

I have to say that this choice to de-challenge my reading has been completely refreshing and freeing for me. I even changed the name of my blog to "Whimpulsive" to celebrate making this choice. I didn't want to ban challenges from my life completely because I really do enjoy some of them. I’ve channeled my list making pastime into the ongoing adding to and rearranging of my TBR list based on the latest book to catch my attention or be waiting on the library hold shelf with my name in it.

What I’ve discovered is that something I enjoy even more than completing a lot of challenges is the return of spontaneity to my reading choices. If I see a review on a blog that looks interesting - I'm right on the library website requesting it. If I don't feel like reading what I did have as 'next' on my list - fine! I can pick up something else instead.

I'm definitely not anti-challenge, but I am very pro-BALANCE!! For me, being selective and joining just a few challenges but leaving room for spontaneity has been a great choice. My recommendation is to join as many challenges as you want to, but don't let the challenges crowd out those "Whimpulsive" reads.







(The photos are the windows in the building across the street from my office. I love the distorted reflections of both old and modern buildings blended into interesting shapes and textures.)

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Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

>> Sunday, June 28, 2009

Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Publication Date: 2000
Pages: 251
Challenges: Support Your Local Library Challenge #30


I hadn’t heard of Laurie Halse Anderson until recently. Mostly because I didn’t read much YA until recently either. I decided to start with her historical fiction books.

This book tells the story of fourteen year old Mattie Cook. She helps her widowed mother run a coffee house in Philadelphia. Her grandfather and his pet parrot also live with them. Mattie is a tough ambitious girl who wishes her mother would expand the coffee house and build their business. Mrs. Cook however would rather play it safe and see Mattie successfully married off.

Plans change drastically when the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1973 ravages the city of Philadelphia. Thousands of victims lead to fear and panic. Many inhabitants of the city flee and families touched by the disease struggle to survive. Mattie’s family does not escape the fever and Mattie ends up growing up much faster than either she or her mother anticipated.

I liked this book, but it was definitely on the young end of the YA age range. Clearly well researched with a likeable heroine, it avoids being too predictable. The appendix at the end gives some additional information about the 1793 epidemic which was a nice enhancement to the story and excellent teaching points for the intended young audience.

Rating 3.5/5

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Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

>> Thursday, June 25, 2009


Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Publication Date: 2009
Pages: 345
Challenges:
Support Your Local Library Challenge #29

In 1985 when Libby Day was seven years old, her mother and two sisters were horrifically murdered in their Kansas farmhouse. Libby got out of the house and ran in hid in the January night. Her testimony that her fifteen year old brother Ben murdered the rest of the family sent him to prison for life.

Libby spent the rest of her childhood with a series of family members and as an adult lived off the trust fund of donations made by people touched by the little girl’s tragic story. Twenty-five years later, the trust fund is running out and Libby is in no way prepared to truly take care of herself financially.

When a group of true-crime junkies who call themselves the “Kill Club” contact her, Libby agrees to appear (for a fee) at their meeting. She finds out that they’re sure Ben didn’t kill his family. When Libby agrees to talk to people connected with her family (again for a fee) she soon finds herself questioning things she’s been sure were true.

The book plays out alternating Libby’s present day search for people and answers with flashbacks of what really happened that fateful day. I went back and forth with myself several times about what I thought was going to be the real story and the final chapters had to be read in one sitting.

Gillian Flynn’s first novel, Sharp Objects was an incredibly well written, but also incredibly disturbing book. This one is much the same way. I liked it, but probably not as much as Sharp Objects. It’s a good suspense/mystery story, populated with even more seriously disturbed people than her first book. None of the characters were likeable, but I couldn’t put it down. This one maybe went a bit heavy on the gruesome as opposed to psychological scary end of the realm for me, but I still thought it was good.

If you’re prone to nightmares (Bookfool) or don’t like the gruesome stuff, avoid this one. If you read Sharp Objects I’ll be curious to think how you feel this one compares.

Rating 4/5 stars

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Library Loot – June 24

>> Wednesday, June 24, 2009



Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. I’ve managed to keep my library stack manageable lately. I need to stop letting books jump off the shelf and into my hands, though. The book I own are staring at me and wondering if I’ve forgotten them.

Need to renew:

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. Since I’ll be watching the movie for MyFriendAmy’s Summer of Hitchcock, I figured I’d best read the book before August 10th.


New this week:

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. I’m about halfway through this one right now and enjoying it. Freaky stuff, but good.


In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White. Thanks to a bunch of folks who talked this one up early, I was first on the library waiting list.



Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. I’ve never read anything by her, but wanted to start with her historical fiction stuff. This one looks to be written on the young end of YA, so it should be a quick read.


Other stuff:
Rear Window is the next Hitchcock movie we’re watching and discussing for MyFriendAmy’s Summer of Hitchcock. I’ve seen this one, but I don’t think The Hubster has seen it before.

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The Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge

>> Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I blame this on twittering book bloggers.



Yes, I’m severely limiting my challenges this year and I’ve been enjoying the freedom it’s brought to my reading, but I’m making an exception and joining this challenge primarily because I’d already planned on reading these books.

Beth at Beth Fish Reads has decided to host
The Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge

Beth made it nearly irresistible to begin with and then the peer pressure from a whole bunch of twittering book bloggers (you know who you are!!!) just kept up the encouragement so here I am signing up

The rules are really pretty simple:

It's easy, it's fun, it's for you! And you have an entire year to complete the challenge.

Between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010, catch up on Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire series. No matter if you're starting with book 1 or book 8, you have a year to read all about Sookie. Read Sookie in print, listen to the audio, read an eBook -- format is not an issue.

The Books:

Dead Until Dark
Living Dead in Dallas
Club Dead
Dead
to the World
Dead as a Doornail
Definitely Dead
All Together Dead
From Dead to Worse
Dead and Gone
For more details and information check out the official challenge post linked above at Beth’s Blog.

Now I haven’t even read the first book, so I have the whole series to read. I’m not too concerned about whether or not I’ll like the books because enough folks I know who share my reading tastes have enjoyed them that I’m nearly certain that I will too.

I like that I have a whole year because I don’t like to read too many books in a series too close together. A year for 9 books gives me time to space them out.

So yes. I’m in.

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The Secret Keeper by Paul Harris

>> Saturday, June 20, 2009

Genre: Fiction
Publication Date: 2009
Pages: 318
Challenges:
Support Your Local Library Challenge #28

Wow this is good. I always get a little nervous when I start reading a book for which I’ve already seen many glowing
reviews. There’s the fear of being let down and ending up feeling that it was overhyped. That is most definitely not the case for this book.

Danny Kellerman is a journalist who spent some time in Sierra Leone near the end of the brutal civil war. While he was there he met and fell in love with an American aid worker who worked at an orphanage for former child soldiers. When Danny returned to England, Maria explained to him that she had to stay to continue her work. They don’t stay in touch and Danny moves on with his career and relationships. Four years later, Danny receives a letter from Maria telling him she is in trouble and needs his help. Danny then finds out that in the three works since she wrote the letter, Maria has been killed in a roadside robbery.

Because of the letter, Danny doesn’t believe the official story of Maria’s murder. He talks his boss into sending him back to Sierra Leone to do a follow up story on the changes there since the end of the war. In reality he wants to find out what really happened to Maria. When they were together four years earlier, Danny knew Maria had been keeping things from him. When he gets to Sierra Leone and starts asking questions, he finds out that there are even more secrets than he could possibly suspect.

The book alternates the current story of Danny’s return to the corrupt political environment of postwar Sierra Leone with flashbacks telling the story of his earlier trip there during the war. It bounces back and forth but the shifts are clearly labeled at the beginnings of the chapters.

Danny has issues. He’s got issues with his father, issues with his girlfriend, issues with authority. He’s mixed up already, and the return to Africa has him on the edge of holding it together.

The tension builds and the mystery is played out both in the present and the past. I kept changing my mind as to how the story would play out and in the end it was a suspenseful, although brutal story. The violence is there and a key part of the story. The stories child soldiers are terrifying and heartbreaking. I didn’t want to put the book down and was very glad to have read it on a weekend when I could let other things wait while I kept reading.

Paul Harris is a journalist who spent some time covering the war in Sierra Leone, so he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about the people and places in Africa and the journalists who cover their stories.

I definitely recommend this book.

Rating 4.5/5

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Charity Girl by Georgette Heyer

>> Thursday, June 18, 2009



Genre: Regency Romance
Publication Date: 1970
Pages: 255
Challenges:
Support Your Local Library Challenge #27


I’ve seen reviews of Georgette Heyer’s books on many blogs over the past couple of years. Although she was quite a prolific author (writing over 50 novels between 1921 and her death in 1974), I hadn’t read any of her books. The majority of her books are historical romances set in Regency England. I knew from the reviews I’d read that her books contain a lot of wit and humor, so I decided to give this one a try.

Charity Girl is actually one of her later books. In it, the young Viscount Desford finds his chivalry causing complications.

When he finds young Charity Steane running away from her aunt’s house, Viscount Desford feels obligated to help her avoid returning to her life there as a near servant after she was abandoned by her presumed-dead rascal of a father. He has to find a way to preserve not only Charity’s reputation, but his own. He manages to arrange for her to stay with his lifelong friend Henrietta Silverdale while he heads off to find Charity’s grandfather in an attempt to convince him that his granddaughter needs his help. Of course it all turns out good in the end, but you knew that already, didn’t you? It’s not quite as predictable as you think, however.

While I enjoyed this book, it didn’t necessarily turn me into an instant Georgette Heyer fan. It was entertaining enough, but just not one I loved. I’ll probably give one of her earlier books a try next time.

Rating 3/5

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The Apprentice by Tess Gerritsen

>> Saturday, June 13, 2009


Genre: Mystery
Series: #2 in the Jane Rizzoli/ Maura Isles series
Publication Date: 2002
Pages: 366
Challenges: Support Your Local Library Challenge #26, TBR 2009 Challenge Alternate #8


This is the second book in a mystery series featuring Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles. It picks up a year after and continues storylines started in The Surgeon, so I think reading this without having read the first in the series might be confusing.

A brutal serial killer is on the loose in Boston. Certain aspects of the crimes are quite similar to those committed by The Surgeon. Since he’s in prison, is this a copycat who has added his own awful twists to the crimes or is it someone who has been mentored by or is a mentor to that twisted killer? Detective Rizzoli is determined to solve the crimes and not let her recovery from The Surgeon’s torture and her possible obsession with him get in the way of her investigative skills.

Although Dr. Maura Isles is also a continuing character in this series, she’s pretty much a bit player in this book. Detective Rizzoli is the primary on the case and the primary character in the book. The murders are brutal and not for squeamish readers. Neither are the autopsy descriptions you’d expect in a book featuring a medical examiner.

I thought the story moved along well. There are plenty of twists and turns with enough hints to make the reader wonder who Jane should and shouldn’t trust. This is the kind of murder mystery/ police investigation type of series that I enjoy a lot.

I’ve tried to make a concerted effort this year to continue with series I’ve started and I’m looking forward to reading the next in this one.


Rating 3.5/5

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Library Loot - June 12

>> Friday, June 12, 2009


Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Alessandra that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

I had every intention more returns than check-outs this week. Oops !!

Renewed:

Charity Girl by Georgette Heyer. This is most likely my next read

New this week:

The Apprentice by Tess Gerritsen. The second in her Detective Jane Rizzoli/ Dr. Maura Isles series is also one of my TBR Challenge alternates this year. I’m trying make an effort to read “the next book” in many of my current series.

The Secret Keeper by Paul Harris. After reading so many good reviews lately, I was pleasantly surprised that the waiting list wasn’t too bad for this one. I can’t renew it due to holds, but I have until June 29th to get it read.


Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. I’ve had this one on my TBR list for ages. Since I’ll be watching the movie for MyFriendAmy’s Summer of Hitchcock, I figured I’d best read the book before August 10th.



Other stuff:
North by Northwest is the first Hitchcock movie we’re watching and discussing for MyFriendAmy’s Summer of Hitchcock. I’m really looking forward to watching some of his movies I’ve never seen. It looks like I should be able to get all of them from the library. Check out the schedule for The Summer of Hitchcock and join the fun.

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Reunion in Death by J.D. Robb

>> Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Series: #14 in Eve Dallas series
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Publication Date: 2002
Pages: 371
Challenges:
TBR 2009 Challenge Alternate #7

This series is a bit of brain candy for me. I’ve never read any of Nora Roberts other books, but I enjoy this series she writes under the J.D Robb name. I like the combination of Police Procedural, Romance, with a bit of Science Fiction tossed into the mix.

It’s primarily a police investigation and chase story. The setting in 2059 New York is far enough in the future for some fun stuff like off-planet travel, droids and flying cars. The romance between Lieutenant Eve Dallas and her too-sexy to be true husband, the ridiculously wealthy Roarke is over the top, but in this series the story always gets back to catching the bad guy. The humorous comments from Eve’s aide Peabody gets funnier and funnier with every book in the series. This time around we get to meet Peabody’s “Free-Ager” parents. The relationship between these hippie commune types and their cop daughter was fun to see developed a bit further. As usual, the cast of regulars is there in all their craziness.

The killer this time is a woman Eve was instrumental in sending to prison ten years ago. She’s out now and has gone right back to her murdering ways. She’s after revenge and has her killers eye trained on Eve’s husband.

As usual it was a fun bit of entertainment. One of those series that I come back to about once a year or so.


Rating 3/5

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Haunted Ground by Erin Hart

>> Sunday, June 7, 2009


Genre: Mystery
Publication Date: 2003
Pages: 328
Challenges:
Support Your Local Library Challenge #25

I first heard about this book on a discussion thread for the mystery lovers group on Goodreads.

I’d never heard about ‘bog bodies’ until I heard about this book. This is a small excerpt from the
archaeology.org page about them.
Over the past centuries, remains of many hundreds of people--men, women, and children--have come to light during peat cutting activities in northwestern Europe, especially in Ireland, Great Britain, the Netherlands, northern Germany, and Denmark. These are the "bog bodies." The individual bog bodies show a great degree of variation in their state of preservation, from skeletons, to well-preserved complete bodies, to isolated heads and limbs. They range in date from 8000 B.C. to the early medieval period. Most date from the centuries around the beginning of our era. We do not know exactly how many bog bodies have been found--many have disappeared since their discovery.
This book opens with the discovery of a well preserved decapitated head of a young red-headed woman in a peat bog near a small Irish village. The age of the head will determine whether it is a case for the police or archaeological research. Could this be the wife of a local landowner who disappeared over two years ago with her young child? Many of the villagers suspect her husband knows more than he says about her disappearance. It’s soon clear that this is someone who has been dead for hundreds of years. What is not clear is who was she and where is the rest of her body?

Investigating this case are archaeologist Cormac Maguire and pathologist Nora Gavin. Also involved in the investigation of the young mother and child is local detective Garrett Devaney. The multiple mysteries play out a bit slowly at first as details of the story and the backstories of Maguire, Gavin and Devaney are skillfully doled out bit by bit. As the clues are gathered the answers to all the questions are quite satisfactorily revealed.

Erin Hart’s debut novel is a fascinating mixture of mystery styles. It is part medical/forensic mystery, part police procedural, part gothic suspense with bits of history, archaeology and Irish folklore all mixed in. The primary and secondary characters are interesting and well written. I enjoyed this book a lot and have added Hart’s second book (also featuring Maguire and Gavin) to my TBR list.
Rating 4/5

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Audiobook – Miss Julia Paints the Town by Ann B. Ross

>> Saturday, June 6, 2009


Genre: Fiction
Series: #9 in the Miss Julia series
Publication Date: 2008
Read by: Cynthia Darlow

I love listening to this series. It’s light and lighthearted. Very enjoyable driving around town listening.

Miss Julia is a very proper Southern woman of a certain age. She likes nothing better than when things in Abbotsville, NC go as they should. When they don’t, she often finds herself in far more complications than she expected.

This time around a New Jersey developer wants to tear down the old courthouse building in Abbotsville and replace it with an eight story condo building. He plans to market it using the pleasant life and residents of Abbotsville as a drawing card for wealthy retirees. Miss Julia is just heartbroken at the thought of the courthouse being torn down and is determined to save it.

Before she can get very far on her plans to thwart the project, she finds herself busy due to turmoil among her friends. It seems that several of the husbands among her circle of friends are missing or acting strangely. Pretty soon, she starts wondering if her husband Sam might be up to something she should be concerned about.

The usual cast of quirky and eccentric characters is on hand to both assist Julia in her well intentioned, but misguided as usual meddling.



Rating 3/5

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I surrender – ratings will commence soon

>> Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Rating books – I’ve resisted for years, but I’m caving in and implementing a rating system here at Whimpulsive. I know lots of readers like them and I’m no longer against including them.

It’s actually been a gradual process for me. After years of refusing to assign a rating to the books I read, I blame the beginnings of this on the Book-A-Week Yahoo group. I joined that group in January 2008. One of the requirements of the group is posting a review of our books and including a rating using whatever system we choose. Since I didn’t have a rating system I borrowed one.

I’d been a member of Goodreads for about six months at the time and although I hadn’t been using their 5 star ratings, I decided to go ahead and use their system. It ranges from a “didn’t like it” single star to an “it was amazing” 5 stars. I began with going back and rating the books I’d catalogued on Goodreads (beginning with 2006) and started rating my books but only posting those ratings on the Book-A-Week group and on Goodreads. Over time I’ve become more comfortable with assigning ratings and have even struggled with sometimes wanting to add or subtract a half star (Goodreads does not currently support half stars, but they’re high on the request list).

So now with 2 ½ years of book ratings under my belt I’ve decided to figure out a better definition of what the various star ratings mean to me. I went to my Goodreads bookshelf and sorted by rating. I liked being able to go back and look at all my 1 star books together, all the 2 stars, etc. I think looking at them this way helped me to come up with better descriptions of what my personal star ratings mean.

No stars – I couldn’t even finish it

1 star – I didn’t like it but I managed to finish it. I probably finished it out of some sort of misplaced sense of obligation due to having the book on a challenge list.

2 stars – It was OK. Not good, but seriously just OK. I probably kept reading hoping I would like it better or there was some plot point I had to know the answer to even though getting to that answer was maybe more work than pleasure.

3 stars - I liked it. I didn’t think it was great, but I thought it was good entertainment. Many of the series books I read are in this range – they’re enjoyable, but not great literature. These are books I might recommend, but only if I really know that your reading taste meshes with mine or if you already have an interest in the subject.

4 stars – I really liked it. I really think you might like it too. These are books I’d recommend but maybe with a caveat that ‘it’s not for everyone’. Many of these I pass along to The Hubster. I’m more comfortable recommending these books to a wide audience.

5 stars – It was amazing. I’d recommend this to just about anyone. These are the books that really made an impression and I’ll remember them for a long time. I’ve probably handed my copy to someone or said “you really should read this”.

So – there you have it. I need to put together something on the sidebar so I can keep this on the main page here, but I will start posting a rating at the bottom of my reviews. I’m not going to go back and edit already published posts. My bookshelf is accessible on Goodreads (via the link on the sidebar) if you want to check on how I’ve rated a particular book before today.

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