20 Books of Summer 2017: Sign Up

My favorite reading challenge is back! Cathy at 746 Books is hosting her annual 20 Books of Summer reading challenge. It’s just like it sounds: read 20 books—any 20 books—between June 1 and September 3, 2017 (visit Cathy’s site for more information). This is the third year I’ve participated and the last two years have taught me that reading 20 books is far easier than reading and reviewing 20 books. Last year, I read 20 books, but most of them were off-list and few were reviewed.

Past lessons:

  1. Don’t scrape the bottom of the TBR pile. A little excitement for each title is required.
  2. Cool it on the lit fic…which I haven’t done.
  3. Leave room for procrastination.
  4. Don’t read 100 Years of Solitude on a deadline.

There are other lessons, I’m sure, but these were the biggest obstacles of past years. Three months always sounds like plenty of time at the start, but stuff comes up—late nights at the office, social obligations, and so on.

I’ve also picked books that other reviewers have described as impossible to put down. This signs me up for a few late nights, but the hope is that I’ll finish everything I start because all the books are just awesome. I’ve always been more inclined to finish books in a few long sessions rather than in 30-minute installments over a week.

I aim to keep my schedule: reviews on the 3rd, 6th, 9th, 12th, 15th, 18th, 21st, 24th (and sometimes the 27th). BUT, with Rule 4 in mind, I’ve made a spreadsheet of dates and marked the last 20 as dates to post books read during the challenge. A little jiggling was required to leave room for the NetGalley books I’ve already read/reviewed that’ll be published during the challenge.

Wish me luck and go sign up!
Happy Summer!

20 Books of Summer 2017 Reading List

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Still chugging away on the list of Pulitzer winners. Given my own eye issues, I struggle with books about blindness, but it’s on my list and everyone seems to like it. I haven’t heard from any traumatized reviewers. A good sign, right?


Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is a favorite and A Spool of Blue Thread was beautifully written. Breathing Lessons won the 1989 Pulitzer, so I can’t resist the hope it’ll surpass both.


The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

I read the first third of this book when it was published. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” is a favorite story of mine, so I can’t resist stories that add Gawain as a character. However, The Buried Giant is tedious. Soon after quitting, I found a stack of reviews saying the ending makes the meandering worthwhile and friends I trust have strongly recommended it. Arguably, this breaks Rule 1, but the curiosity has been mounting for so long that I really want to read it now.


A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

I was briefly subscribed to a YA monthly box. YA has been making a comeback lately and letting a pro recommend some new books seemed a safe way to check it out. This was the first book I received and it has been hailed as a great example of clever world-building and lovable characters.


Dead Wake by Erik Larson

I read the first quarter of this book but was interrupted. There are so many names/places/dates that I’ll need to start at the beginning, but it’s completely fascinating/horrifying and the amount of research is incredible. I’ve been saving it for a time with few distractions. Larson’s style offers a unique representation of history. I have all of his books (except one). Each is better and more tightly written than the last.


The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

This book keeps popping up online even though it’s no longer recent. It sounds a little like those over-sharing autobiographies that try to one-up each other: “I see your miserable childhood and raise you one narcissistic parent.” Sharing is good and useful, but some details are no one’s business. When the gratuitous details aren’t even the author’s, it feels exploitative. There’s a line and I’m curious where this book falls along it.


Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

This book has spent a long time on my shelf since I picked it up for less than a dollar at a used book sale. I bought it mostly for the cover; it looks sophisticated and mysterious. Having just read New Boy, I’d like to try another of Chevalier’s books. This one should be better; it allows for more originality since, as far as I know, it’s not a retelling of a famous story like New Boy.


Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier

I’m a big fan of Daphne du Maurier (see JI, MCR, and R). Hungry Hill sounds like a stylistic departure from her others and I’m curious to see her writing from a new angle.


The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead

I dislike paying full price for books. It happens sometimes when a) I am really excited about a book, or b) when I feel bad for blocking a beloved author’s royalty check. Whitehead is on my radar for The Underground Railroad but I haven’t found a copy yet. I’m not in a rush, though. I like to read an author’s latest after reading some of their earlier stuff. This way, every book is potentially better than the last, not worse. The plot of The Intuitionist sounds weird, but good weird.


The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie

I’m reading the Miss Marple stories in order and this one is next. I love the small-town vibe of these stories.


My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

From what I hear, people all but take time off from work to read this book (and its sequels). This has been on my TBR for a while and I thought the summer challenge would be a great time for it. I need at least one compulsively readable book to make up time at the end!


Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

I don’t read much science fiction, so I often feel lost when browsing. The sci-fi on my shelf was all gifted to me or recommended by a trusted friend; this one’s the latter. It’s the first of a trilogy, so it’s not impossible books 2 and 3 won’t supplant two books on this list if the series is spectacular. It would have to be super-spectacular though; they’re not short and this year’s page count is already pushing it.


Roverandom by J.R.R. Tolkien

A short book! I read this when I was little—before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings—and the illustrations caught my eye when I was browsing my shelves. It’s such a sweet and imaginative story. Rumor has it that Tolkien wrote it for his son after his favorite toy was lost at the beach.


The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri

I borrowed this book from a friend years ago and feel uncomfortable each time I see it on my bookshelf. Even worse: it’s sitting there with the second book of the series right behind it. I must read and return it (with its accompaniment) for the sake of my conscience. If this book is really good, the second may supplant some other book on this list. I don’t know why I haven’t read it; I suspect I’ll like it.


She by H. Rider Haggard

Now that I’m long out of school, I’ve been rereading books assigned for papers/presentations. Sure, I’ve already read this book, but I read it from the perspective of “what’s the theme of this book so I can pull quotes and write a paper.” For the most part, all the books from HS/University are much better now. After I read The North Water, I read Heart of Darkness, which made me think of H. Rider Haggard.


Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

A short fiction collection is a good add for summer reading—stories can be read nightly for steady, effortless progress.


The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

I picked this up a couple weeks ago and read the first chapter. I was surprised that it was good, really good. So many people seem to have a beef with Hemingway that I’d about written him off. I thought about reading it then, but when I realized how badly I wanted to read it I put it aside for the summer challenge. Also, it feels like a summer book somehow.


A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Secret: I have never finished this book. I’ve read the opening chapter about five times to marvel at it, but I haven’t read much farther. I’m not sure why. It’s fragmented and I had an odd worry that each section wouldn’t live up to previous sections. I wanted to quit while it was ahead. Reading Manhattan Beach (which is amazing) gives me renewed energy for this book. Egan has an odd representation on this blog: one rave and one lackluster review. Here’s hoping for two rave reviews.


White Teeth by Zadie Smith

This book is supposed to be funny and clever and I keep seeing Zadie Smith’s name around. She gives great interviews and I’m excited to read one of her books. When I ask people to recommend “something funny,” White Teeth comes up a lot.

Book 20: TBD

There’s an expression: Know Yourself. I tend to procrastinate and have yet to stick to my summer list. This year, I’ve built in a detour to keep me on the straight and narrow. What will it be?—a sequel to something above? something irresistible from NetGalley? or something recommended by a fellow blogger?

(Originally, Brideshead Revisited held this spot, but it’s a long book and I don’t expect it to read quickly. I’m excited about it, but everything I’ve heard says it lacks the satirical edge that I loved in A Handful of Dust. Best to read it without a time limit.)


This is the easy part of the challenge: I can look at the pretty stack of books and feel the optimism: not only am I going to read them all, but I’m going to review them all, have a great time, and make a huge dent in my TBR. Such joy! A few weeks from now, I’ll be looking at the stack and urgently dividing the number of minutes until the deadline by the number of unread pages. But for now: joyous optimism!

Happy Summer, All! I look forward to seeing everyone’s summer lists!

Monthly Round-up: May 2017

It’s good to have a light month before the 20 Books of Summer 2017 reading challenge, but more on that June 1… (so excited!)

Books Reviewed:

  1. The North Water by Ian McGuire (4.8)
  2. Minds of Winter by Ed O’Loughlin (3.8)
  3. House of Names by Colm Toíbín (4.9)
  4. The Ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers (5.0)
  5. New Boy by Tracy Chevalier (3.4)
  6. The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami (4.6)

Books Read:

  1. …I didn’t keep track this month. Oops! Work was hectic and my reading comprised short fiction before bed. I’ve joined NetGalley and shifted my queues around to review books near their publication dates. Most have been good with a few being excellent: House of Names and Manhattan Beach are first to mind. The latter, by Jennifer Egan, isn’t out for a while yet so the review will be up in October.

Current State of the TBR:

  • Kindle Titles: 79 (includes rereads)
  • Paperback Titles: 175 (includes rereads)
  • NetGalley Queue: 12

Reading Ireland Month 2017: Sign Up

reading-ireland-month_2017Hooray! It’s time for the Reading Ireland Month 2017 challenge hosted by 746 Books and Raging Fluff. I really enjoy this challenge since it pushes me to read new authors and it’s wonderfully laid back without frantic check-ins or that horrible sense of “falling behind.” Blogging is supposed to be fun, right? 😛 If you’d like to join in, take a look at Cathy’s announcement on 746 Books for more information and an enticing list of Irish authors.

Since 2017 is the year of Planning Ahead, I started early with my reading and lined up a bunch of posts for the month. Last year I was a little slow on the reading/reviewing, so this list includes some from last year that I finally read.

March 3: Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

gullivers travels_cover

Shipwrecked and cast adrift, Lemuel Gulliver wakes to find himself on Lilliput, an island inhabited by little people, whose height makes their quarrels over fashion and fame seem ridiculous. His subsequent encounters – with the crude giants of Brobdingnag, the philosophical Houyhnhnms and the brutish Yahoos – give Gulliver new, bitter insights into human behaviour. Swift’s savage satire view mankind in a distorted hall of mirrors as a diminished, magnified and finally bestial species, presenting us with an uncompromising reflection of ourselves. (Goodreads)

All books read for homework back in the day are so much better now. Sure, I assign myself reviews (read: Book Reports), but they’re far more relaxed than term papers and the feedback is friendlier.


March 6: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

picture of dorian gray_cover

Combining elements of the Gothic horror novel and decadent French fiction, the book centers on a striking premise: As Dorian Gray sinks into a life of crime and gross sensuality, his body retains perfect youth and vigor while his recently painted portrait grows day by day into a hideous record of evil, which he must keep hidden from the world. For over a century, this mesmerizing tale of horror and suspense has enjoyed wide popularity. It ranks as one of Wilde’s most important creations and among the classic achievements of its kind. (Amazon)

From last year’s list to this year’s. The only reason I have for my procrastination is that I forgot how good this book is. I read a kid’s version a long, long time ago, but the “grown-up” unabridged version is far better. (No surprise there, but I did miss the illustrations.)


March 9: The Gathering by Anne Enright


The nine surviving children of the Hegarty clan are gathering in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother, Liam, drowned in the sea. His sister, Veronica, collects the body and keeps the dead man company, guarding the secret she shares with him—something that happened in their grandmother’s house in the winter of 1968. As Enright traces the line of betrayal and redemption through three generations, she shows how memories warp and secrets fester. As in all Enright’s work, her distinctive intelligence twists the world a fraction, and gives it back to us in a new and unforgettable light. (back cover)

At some point, I’m going to set up a page for the Man Booker Prize and commit to reading them all. It hasn’t been around nearly so long as the Pulitzer so it’s one of those “attainable” reading goals. In the meantime, the first half of this book is beautifully written in spite of how painful the writing is in a few places. Some passages sound as though she worked so hard to be different/profound that she came up with bizarre or unintentionally silly phrasing. I’m still trying to work “genital grief” into conversations and it’s going as well as you’d imagine. Plus, there is a line about sex that beats the strange armpit-biting thing from The Narrow Road to the Deep North.


March 12: The Green Road by Anne Enright


In The Green Road, internationally acclaimed author Anne Enright presents her most unforgettable novel to date. Spanning thirty years, The Green Road tells the stories of the Madigans, a family on the cusp of either coming together or falling irreparably apart, and their indomitable matriarch, Rosaleen. In masterful prose, Enright weaves together a spell-binding story of family and fracture, selfishness and compassion. (back cover)

Before encountering Anne Tyler (Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant), I would not have picked up a book with this type of descriptions, but she sold me on books about families. Once I put this book on my list, I started seeing Anne Enright’s name everywhere. I prefer her writing style in this to The Gathering, so if you’re still trying to decide between Enright books—I’d recommend this one.

March 15: Dubliners by James Joyce


Joyce’s aim was to tell the truth– to create a work of art that would reflect life in Ireland at the turn of the last century and by rejecting euphemism, to reveal to the Irish their unromantic reality, which would lead to the spiritual liberation of the country. Each of the fifteen stories offers glimpses into the lives of ordinary Dubliners– a death, an encounter, an opportunity not taken, a memory rekindled – and collectively they paint a portrait of a nation. (Amazon)

I’ve read a few of these stories, but never the whole collection. I’ve heard such wonderful things about “The Dead” that I worry it won’t live up to expectations. I’m trying hard to stuff those down before I pick it up. So far, so excellent, however.


March 18: Dinosaurs On Other Planets by Danielle McLaughlin


In a raw seacoast cabin, a young woman watches her boyfriend go out with his brother, late one night, on a mysterious job she realizes she isn’t supposed to know about. A man gets a call at work from his sister-in-law, saying that his wife and his daughter never made it to nursery school that day. A mother learns that her teenage daughter has told a teacher about problems in her parents’ marriage that were meant to be private—problems the mother herself tries to ignore. McLaughlin conveys these characters so vividly that readers will feel they are experiencing real life. Often the stories turn on a single, fantastic moment of clarity—after which nothing can be the same. (Amazon)

I will admit it: I wanted to read this the instant I saw the title/cover. Shallow? Maybe. But it looks (and sounds) amazing. I’m not expecting literal dinosaurs, but I do hope…


March 21: The Master by Colm Tóibín


Like Michael Cunningham in The Hours, Colm Tóibín captures the extraordinary mind and heart of a great writer. Beautiful and profoundly moving, The Master tells the story of a man born into one of America’s first intellectual families who leaves his country in the late nineteenth century to live in Paris, Rome, Venice, and London among privileged artists and writers.
In stunningly resonant prose, Tóibín captures the loneliness and the hope of a master of psychological subtlety whose forays into intimacy inevitably failed those he tried to love. The emotional intensity of this portrait is riveting. (back cover)

I read Brooklyn late last year and enjoyed Tóibín’s writing style. I was torn between The Master and Nora Webster then noticed this edition had an excerpt of Nora Webster so I get one and a teaser for the other. Also, I was in a used bookshop and the copies of Nora Webster were covered in notes. I can barely tolerate my own notes in books, let alone someone else’s. Notes rarely age well and crooked highlighting makes me nutty.


March 24: In the Woods by Tana French


As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.
Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox—his partner and closest friend—find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past. (Amazon)

I read this book a long time ago, about when it first came out, and didn’t like it. Then I started blogging more regularly and seeing Tana French’s name everywhere when she had a new book out. Seems like a good time to give this one a second chance (and possibly read all her others).

March 27: Without My Cloak by Kate O’Brien


When Anthony Considine creeps into Mellick town with a stolen horse in 1789, it sets the destiny of his family for decades to come. By the 1850s, through thrift and hard work, his son Honest John has made the Considines a leading Mellick family. With his father’s money, John’s son Anthony builds a grand country house for his wife and children – but especially for his youngest son Denis, who he adores, little knowing that one day Denis will threaten the toil of generations with his love for a peasant girl . . . (Amazon)

I don’t read as many classics as I should so I Googled “Irish classics” or somesuch to round out my list and ran across Without My Cloak. I flipped through it and the writing was so beautiful that I picked it up despite many reviews calling it a slow read. (But I did schedule it for the end of the month, just in case.)

March 30: Monthly Round-up: March 2017


So what do you think? Have you read any of these?

Monthly Round-up: January 2017

How is it the end of January already?

Books Read:
Murder of the Century by Paul Collins
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
The Bullet Catch by John Gaspard
The Miser’s Dream by John Gaspard
Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

Reviews Posted:
The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
How Right You Are Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

This “working ahead” thing is great. I slid February’s reviews around to accommodate The Sellout and Murder of the Century because I was excited about both. Ideally, The Sellout would have gone up with The Vegetarian for a 2016 Man Booker Prize combo. There may be theme-months forthcoming, but February is shaping up to be a month of odds-and-ends:

Upcoming Reviews in February:
Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Murder of the Century by Paul Collins
The Tale of the Unknown Island by Jose Saramago (translated)
-Eli Marks 1-3 (The Ambitious Card, The Bullet Catch, and The Miser’s Dream) by John Gaspard
My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk (translated)
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson