Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Welcome to the 2014 Read 52 Books in 52 Week Challenge


Also the home of  Well Educated Mind, Nobel Prize Winners, Around the World  and various mini challenges.  
The rules are very simple and the goal is to read one book (at least) a week for 52 weeks.

  1. The challenge will run from January 1, 2014 through December 31, 2014. 
  2. Our book weeks will begin on Sunday  
  3. Participants may join at any time.
  4. All books are acceptable except children books.**
  5. All forms of books are acceptable including e-books, audio books, etc.
  6. Re-reads are acceptable as long as they are read after January 1, 2014.
  7. Books may overlap other challenges.
  8. Create an entry post linking to this blog. 
  9. Come back and sign up with Mr. Linky in the "I'm participating post" below this post.
  10. You don't have a blog to participate.  Post your weekly book in the comments section of each weekly post.  
  11. Mr. Linky will be added to the bottom of the weekly post for you to link to reviews of your most current reads. 
All the mini challenges are optional. Mix it up anyway you like. The goal is to read 52 books. How you get there is up to you. 

**in reference to children books. If it is a child whose reading it and involved in the challenge, then that's okay.  If an adult is doing read aloud with kids, the book should be geared for the 9 - 12 age group and above and over 100 pages. If adult reading for own enjoyment, then a good rule of thumb to go by "is there some complexity to the story or is it too simple?"  If it's too simple, then doesn't count.  

Sunday, September 14, 2014

BW38: Armchair Traveling through the 20th Century






The 20th Century, 1901 to 2000, was dominated by war and strife including The Great Depression, World War I and II,  the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall. But it also was a period of great achievement with the Wright brother's first airplane flight, the production of the model-T, the roaring 20's, Babe Ruth, Golden Age of television, the first space flight, the beginning of the movie series, Star Wars and the creation of the world wide web.  

Literature wise, we had the beginnings of literary modernism influenced by poets T.E. Hulme and Ezra Pound. Their usage of plain speech, free verse and vivid imagery helped shaped modern imagery. As modernism developed, T.S. Elliot's Wasteland and James Joyce Ulysses were seen, not only as controversial, but innovative and transformed the image of modernism.  

With the advances of technology during the 20th century, books became easier to produce and gave rise to popular literature.  With the rise of popularity, we had the birth of literary criticism and awards including The Nobel Peace Prize for Literature, the Nebula, and British Fantasy Awards.  

Such a wide variety of authors including Marcel Proust, Thomas Mann, Joseph Conrad to J.R.R. Tolkein, Jean Paul Satre, Graham Greene, and Daphne Du Maurier to Philip Dick, Robert Heinlein, to Sylvia Plath and Thomas Pynchon to Orhan Pamuk, Umberto Eco and J.K. Rowling. 

Too many resources to list so check out the ever helpful Historical Novels and Goodreads Popular 20th Century Literature


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Sunday, September 7, 2014

BW37: Banned Books Month





Banned Books Week is September 21 through 27th.  I thought we'd get a head start and declare the rest of the month - Banned Books Month. The most frequently challenged books in the past year due to offensive language, violence, sexually explicit, unsuitable for certain age groups and drugs or alcohol are:  


  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey 
  2. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
  6. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
  9. Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
  10. Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
This year, the banned books committee will highlight graphic novels since Captain Underpants and Smith's Bone series are in the top ten.

Many events will be taking place across the nation and also the blogosphere as people take to the internet for a virtual read in of banned books.

Check out the American Library Associations website for all activities and lists relating to most challenged books, including classics such as The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, Ulysses and All the Kings Men to name a few.

Join me in reading a banned book or two or three this month. 


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Link to your reviews:    Please link to your specific book review post and not your general blog link. In the Your Name field, type in your name and the name of the book in parenthesis. In the Your URL field leave a link to your specific post. If you don't have a blog, tell us about the books you are reading in the comment section of this post. 


Sunday, August 31, 2014

BW36: Native Son by Richard Wright





The 22nd  novel in Susan Wise Bauer's list of fiction reads from her book The Well-Educated Mind is The Native Son by Richard Wright.  Written in 1940, The Native Son is  set in 1930's and tells the story of  a 20 year old poor black man, Bigger Thomas, who kills a young white girl.  Wright was determined to portray racism in its grittiest form and his book shocked both the White and African American communities when it was released. 


Amazon Review: 


Bigger Thomas is doomed, trapped in a downward spiral that will lead to arrest, prison, or death, driven by despair, frustration, poverty, and incomprehension. As a young black man in the Chicago of the '30s, he has no way out of the walls of poverty and racism that surround him, and after he murders a young white woman in a moment of panic, these walls begin to close in. There is no help for him--not from his hapless family; not from liberal do-gooders or from his well-meaning yet naive friend Jan; certainly not from the police, prosecutors, or judges. Bigger is debased, aggressive, dangerous, and a violent criminal. As such, he has no claim upon our compassion or sympathy. And yet...

A more compelling story than Native Son has not been written in the 20th century by an American writer. That is not to say that Richard Wright created a novel free of flaws, but that he wrote the first novel that successfully told the most painful and unvarnished truth about American social and class relations. As Irving Howe asserted in 1963, "The day Native Son appeared, American culture was changed forever. It made impossible a repetition of the old lies [and] brought out into the open, as no one ever had before, the hatred, fear and violence that have crippled and may yet destroy our culture."
Other books had focused on the experience of growing up black in America--including Wright's own highly successful Uncle Tom's Children, a collection of five stories that focused on the victimization of blacks who transgressed the code of racial segregation. But they suffered from what he saw as a kind of lyrical idealism, setting up sympathetic black characters in oppressive situations and evoking the reader's pity. In Native Son, Wright was aiming at something more. In Bigger, he created a character so damaged by racism and poverty, with dreams so perverted, and with human sensibilities so eroded, that he has no claim on the reader's compassion:
"I didn't want to kill," Bigger shouted. "But what I killed for, I am! It must've been pretty deep in me to make me kill! I must have felt it awful hard to murder.... What I killed for must've been good!" Bigger's voice was full of frenzied anguish. "It must have been good! When a man kills, it's for something... I didn't know I was really alive in this world until I felt things hard enough to kill for 'em. It's the truth..."
Wright's genius was that, in preventing us from feeling pity for Bigger, he forced us to confront the hopelessness, misery, and injustice of the society that gave birth to him. --Andrew Himes

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

BW35: Ray Bradbury

August 22, 1920 to June 5, 2012

I have been in a creative writing mood lately so was fascinated when I came across Ray Bradbury's speech from a 2001 writing symposium.   He talks about ways for writers to improve their craft by reading one short story, one poem and one essay every night for a 1000 nights.  In particular,  quality short stories from authors such as Roald Dahl, Guy de Maupassant, and the lesser-known Nigel Kneale and John Collier. And one should read a wide variety of essays from areas including archaeology, zoology, biology, philosophy, politics, and literature.  By the end of that period, your mind will be full of ideas and images to use in your writing.  Stuff your head with literature, good literature, not the modern stuff,  and you'll never run out of ideas. He also suggests writers write one short story a week for a full year instead of working on one novel as a way to practice your craft. Maybe I'll take him up on that...next year. *grin*

Seems to me his idea to read one short story, poem and a essay a night could apply for readers as well. You know me and my rabbit trails.  Just think of all the directions our reading could take. And who knows, a few of you may even be inspired to write.  I may just have to come up with a Ray Bradbury mini challenge for next year.  Who knows where it will lead.

Anyway, in honor of Ray Bradbury's birthday,  read one of his works this year.


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Sunday, August 17, 2014

BW34: Flufferton Abbey


April Lady
 The moonlight glinted on the pistol, and the hand that held it. Letty cried: "Don't, don't!" and tried with feverish haste to unclasp the single row of pearls from round her throat.
"Not you!" said the highwayman, even more ferociously.
"You!" The pistol was now pointing straight at Nell, but instead of shrinking away, or making hast (as Letty quaveringly implored her to do) to strip off her bracelets and rings and the large pendant that flashed on her breast, she was sitting bolt upright, her incredulous gaze fixed at first on the hand that grasped the pistol, and then lifting to the masked face.
"Quick!" commanded the highwaymen harshly. "If you don't want me to put a bullet through you!"
"Dysart!"
"Hell and the devil confound it!" ejaculated his lordship, adding,however, in a hasty attempt to cover this lapse: "None o' that! Hand over the gewgaws!"
"Take the pistol away!" ordered Nell. "How dare you try to frighten me like this? Of all the outrageous things to do -! It is a great deal too bad of you! What in the world possessed you?"
"Well, if you can't tell that you must be a bigger sapskull than I knew!" said his lordship disgustedly. He pulled off his mask, and called over his shoulder: "Bubbled, Corny!"
"There, what did I tell you?" said Mr Fancot, putting up the weapon with which he had been covering the coachman, and riding up to bow politely to the occupants of the carriage. "You ought to have let me do the trick, dear boy: I said her ladyship would recognise you!"
"Well, I don't know how the devil she should!" said the Viscount,considerably put-out.
"Oh, Dy, how absurd you are!" Nell exclaimed, trying not to laugh."The moonlight was shining on the ring Mama gave you when you came of age! And then you said Not you! to Letty! Of course I recognised you!"



One genre I didn't mention last week is the Regency Romance period which flourished between 1811 to 1820's during the shift from the aristocratic Age of Enlightenment to the artistic movement of Romanticism.  Since the period overlapped the Napoleonic wars, writers expanded on themes of the drama of wounded soldiers, mystery, adventure and of course, romance.  Regency romances are light and fluffy reads and since most are set in England, hence the term Flufferton Abbey. 

The queen of the Regency Romance is undoubtedly Georgette Heyer.  Although Jane Austen lived and wrote her books during the 1800's, Heyer created the Regency England genre of romance novels. Back when I was a teen in the 70's, Harlequin romances and historical romances were my favorite reads and I actually still have a few in my shelves, all yellowed and well read. 


Authors to check out,  besides Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer,  are Julie Quinn, Mary Balogh, and Loretta Chase to name a few.  Be sure to peruse  Goodreads list of  Popular Regency books.  And we can't forget the classic authors whose best known works were written during the Regency period: Percy Bysshe Shelley and Sir Walter Scott as well as poets Lord Byron, William Blake and John Keats.

Join me in flufferton abbey this month and read a book from the regency era. 

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

BW33: Armchair Traveling through the 19th century



The 19th century, from 1801 to 1900, brought us the continued development of the United States and Canada,  civil war between the north and the south and ending of slavery; the Victorian age with the reign of Queen Victoria, and the Golden Age of romanticism and poetry in Russia.

Alexander Puskin pushed Russian literature to a whole new level and influenced a new generation of poets including Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy (2nd cousin to Leo Tolstoy), Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov and Konstantin Nikolayevich Batyushkov to name a few.

The Victoria period revolved around Queen Victoria and writers who were born and died during that period of time include Lord Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning,  Elizabeth Barrett Browning  Emily Bronte and Charles Dickens to name a few.

In the later half of the century, the United States saw the evolution of penny dreadfuls, later know as dime novels about the Old West with themes of gunslingers, outlaws, and lawmen.

Currently in my backpack are:  Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian, Daughters of the Loom by Tracie Peterson, Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson and Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy.

Be sure to check out Historical Novels online for their huge selection of 19th Century European, 19th  Century American and  Old West selection of books as well as Goodreads Popular 19th Century literature.


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Sunday, August 3, 2014

BW32: 100th Anniversary of World War I




August 1st marks the anniversary of the beginning of World War I.  The event that sparked the war. On June 28, 1914, The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, along with his wife, Sofia,  by Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, Bosnia. 

In a nutshell:  Austria-Hungary blamed the Serbia government for the attack and declared war on them on July 28th and shelled the Serbian capital.  Russia, Serbia's ally mobilized again Austria-Hungary on August 1.  Then France allied with Russia and then France and Germany declared war against each other on August 3rd.  When the German army invaded Belgium, Allie Great Britain declared war against Germany. 

To honor the anniversary of World War I, join me in reading All Quiet on the Western Front




Synopsis:  Paul Baumer enlisted with his classmates in the German army of World War I. Youthful, enthusiastic, they become soldiers. But despite what they have learned, they break into pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches. And as horrible war plods on year after year, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the principles of hate that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against each other--if only he can come out of the war alive.
This month, I'll also be reading Mark Helprin's A Solder of the Great War:






Synopsis: For Alessandro Giullani, the young son of a prosperous Roman Lawyer, golden trees shimmer in the sun beneath a sky of perfect blue. At night the moon is amber and the city of Rome seethes with light. He races horses across the country to the sea, and in the Alps he practices the precise and sublime art of mountain climbing. At the ancient university in Bologna he is a student of painting and the science of beauty. And he falls in love. His is a world of adventure and dreams, of music, storm, and the spirit. Then the Great War intervenes.

Half a century later, in August of 1964, Alessandro, a white-haired professor, still tall and proud, finds himself unexpectedly on the road with an illiterate young factory worker. As they walk toward Monte Prato, a village seventy kilometers distant, the old man tells the story of his life. How he became a soldier. A hero. A prisoner. A deserter. A wanderer in the hell that claimed Europe. And how he tragically lost one family and gained another.

The boy is dazzled by the action and envious of the richness and color of the story, and realizes that the old man's magnificent tale of love and war is more than a tale: it is the recapitulation of his life, his reckoning with mortality, and above all, a love song for his family.


For more choices, check out Historical Novels selections about World War I,  or Goodreads selections of World War I historical fiction and Non Fiction.


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Sunday, July 27, 2014

BW31: Come In by Robert Frost



I'm off in the mountains this weekend, so leaving you with something simple this week.





Come In

by 

Robert Frost

As I came to the edge of the woods,
Thrush music -- hark!
Now if it was dusk outside,
Inside it was dark.

Too dark in the woods for a bird
By sleight of wing
To better its perch for the night,
Though it still could sing.

The last of the light of the sun
That had died in the west
Still lived for one song more
In a thrush's breast.

Far in the pillared dark
Thrush music went --
Almost like a call to come in
To the dark and lament.

But no, I was out for stars;
I would not come in.
I meant not even if asked;
And I hadn't been. 

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

BW30: World War I and II European Theatre

Abandoned building in Black Forest, Germany
Next month we are coming up on the 100th Anniversary of World War I and currently my son's personal interest of late is all things world war II. We've been watching Great Courses lecture series on WWII: A Military and Social History, plus the history channel just did a marathon run of their series, The World Wars.  I recently finished The Monument's Men, hubby is reading John Toland's The Last Hundred Days and James just finished The Book Thief and is now devouring William Shirer's  Berlin Diary.   His birthday is coming up in August and one of the things on his list is the dvd of the tv miniseries War and Remembrance.  It aired back in the 80's and starred Robert Mitchum and Jane Seymour.  I remember reading Herman Wouk's book way back when and probably still have it on our shelves somewhere.  I'll have to see if I can find it.  

Several years ago I discovered Bodie and Brock Thoene's Zion Covenant and Zion Chronicles series which followed the struggle of  Jewish people from the time of Hitler's takeover through Israel's statehood in 1948.  After I read the first book, I was hooked, collected and read every single book.  The story has been on my mind of late, so think I'll be rereading  Vienna Prelude.  




Synopsis:  No one is safe. . . .  In 1936 Nazi darkness descends upon Europe. Every person is only one step away from being swept into the nightmarish tide of evil. Blond Elisa Lindheim, a violinist with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, adopts an Aryan stage name for protection. But her closest friend, Leah, a talented Jewish cellist, is in a perilous position.
There are those who choose to fight Hitler’s madness. Elisa’s father, Theo. A courageous American reporter, John Murphy. Winston Churchill, the British statesman. A farm family in the Tyrolean Alps. The Jewish Underground. But will all their efforts be enough to stop the coming Holocaust? And now Elisa must decide. If she becomes part of the Underground, she will risk everything . . . and put everyone she loves in danger.

Which brings us back to World War I and II and armchair traveling.  After hanging out for several months in England, it's time to move on.  And since the theatre of operations is so huge - from Poland,  to the Mediterranean to the Middle East and North Africa, it's a pretty broad range of countries from which to choose.  Dip your toes in, dive in with both feet or hang glide across the continents and see where the wind takes you.

Currently in my backpack are: Rebecca Cantrell's A Night of Long Knives, Thomas Keneally's Schindler's List and Mark Helprin's  A Soldier of the Great War.

Check out historical novels huge list of selections as well as the Goodreads World War II fiction and WWII Holocaust Fiction and Non Fiction

Read books set during World War I or II or just read books set in those countries - it's up to you.  

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

BW29: Armchair traveling through the 18th Century

Caspar David Friedrich



The 18th century, from 1701 to 1800, began in the the age of Enlightenment, turned to Romanticism in the later part of the century.   In the late 1700's in Germany, Wiemar Classicism was dominant, combining the elements of romantic, classical and enlightenment.  Rather than the seriousness portrayed by English romanticism, German writers veered towards beauty, humor and wit.

Key literary figures during that period of times were Germany's Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel; French writer Fran├žois-Marie Arouet, better know as Voltaire; Irish poet, essayist and cleric Jonathan Swift; British writers Henry Fielding and Jane Austen, among others.

Currently in my backpack is Henry Fielding's The History of Tom Jones, Matt Rees Mozart's Last Aria, Diana Gabaldon's Voyager and Mathew Gregory Lewis's The Monk.  

Be sure to visit Historical Novels which has a great list of books from Britain, the European Continent and North America.   Plus Goodreads list of Popular 18th Century Literature.  Also check out The Search for National Identity - Russian Literature of the 18th Century.

Join me in exploring the 18th century.  


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Sunday, July 6, 2014

BW28: Thomas More and Utopia


We are moving on from the philosophical ideas of steampunk to the philosophical ideals of a perfect society, or maybe not so perfect.  

Today is the anniversary of the death of Sir Thomas More. He was tried for treason when he refused to sign the Act of Succession and when he refused to accept King Henry III as the head of the Church of England. He was beheaded on July 6, 1535 and his final words were "The King's good servant, but God's first."  He was canonized by the Catholic Church as a saint in 1935. 

More wrote many works including Utopia, and essentially popularizing and influencing the genre of the Utopian literature. Utopia is essential an ideal society and Dystopia is a society in decline, characterized by dehumanization, strife, or totalitarian government to name a few.  The earliest novel about a utopian society was The Republic written by Plato in 350BC.   Dystopia is an offshoot of Utopian literature, popularized in the early 1900's.

Goodreads provides the best synopsis:


First published in 1516, Thomas More's Utopia is one of the most important works of European humanism. Through the voice of the mysterious traveler Raphael Hythloday, More describes a pagan, communist city-state governed by reason. Addressing such issues as religious pluralism, women's rights, state-sponsored education, colonialism, and justified warfare, Utopia seems remarkably contemporary nearly five centuries after it was written, and it remains a foundational text in philosophy and political theory.
Since Susan Wise Bauer includes Thomas More's Utopia in the list of great history/political reads in Well Educated Mind, now seems like a good time to read it. 

Currently in my stacks, along with Utopia, are James Hilton's Lost Horizon, Veronica Roth's Divergent,  Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash and Cormac McCarthy's The Road.  

Check out this list from Utopian Literature and the ever popular goodreads list of Best Utopian and Dystopian fiction.

The theme of the month for July is reading Utopian/Dystopian novels.


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