Category Archives: Challenges

January Checkpoint: 2018 TBR Pile Challenge


I’m taking part in the 2018 TBR Pile Challenge this year, and it’s time to check in on how I’m doing so far. This is pretty easy to do since I haven’t read any of my books yet, so I’m not doing too great! However, I’m planning to start one of them in the next day so that I will have at least read some for this challenge in January.

From Adam at Roof Beam Reader, here is the challenge ‘Question of the Month‘:

Which book on your 2018 list has been on your shelf the longest?

This would probably be Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I can’t remember how long I’ve had this book on my shelf, but I think it must be since college (which for me was 20 years ago). I’ve actually tried to start it several times but never gotten past the first chapter. Everyone says this is his most accessible book and a really good classic, so I’m determined to persevere.


Boo! Hopefully I can update this next month.

Are any of you participating in the challenge? Feel free to leave a link to your list in the comments–I’d love to see what you’re planning to read!

2018 TBR Pile Challenge

2018tbrbuttonAlthough it’s still 2017 and I plan to finish up my current reading challenge before the year is out, I’m committing to a new challenge for 2018–the TBR Pile Challenge. I’ve never completed this challenge, but I am still determined to get through some of the books sitting on my real and virtual bookshelves. Here’s my list:

My 2018 TBR Pile Challenge List

  1. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
  2. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  3. Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
  4. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  5. City of God by Beverly Swerling
  6. Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman
  7. The Submission by Amy Waldman
  8. Just Kids by Patti Smith
  9. The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton
  10. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta


  1. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
  2. The Group by Mary McCarthy

Check out Roof Beam Reader’s post for specifics on the challenge. Adam always does a great job of hosting, so come and join the fun!

The Classics Spin (yet again!)

classics_club_buttonThe Classics Club has come up with a fun way to get us motivated and reading our classic books–the Classics Spin! The rules are:

  • Go to your blog.
  • Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club List. Confession: I’m constantly updating my list so I usually cheat on this part and just pick what I want.
  • Try to challenge yourself: list five you are dreading/hesitant to read, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favorite author, rereads, ancients — whatever you choose.)
  • Post that list, numbered 1-20, on your blog by next Monday (that’s tomorrow!).
  • Monday morning, we’ll announce a number from 1-20. Go to the list of twenty books you posted, and select the book that corresponds to the number we announce.
  • The challenge is to read that book by January 5th, even if it’s an icky one you dread reading!

So here goes. In honor of this month being Non-Fiction November I’ve decided to include a special non-fiction section. I’m also putting five works of Victorian Lit (The Classic Club’s November theme) and five books with a holiday/winter theme for December. The last section will be books that have been recommended to me but that I haven’t found time to read yet.

Classic Non-Fiction

  1. A Vindiction of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft
  2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  3. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
  4. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
  5. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

Victorian Lit

  1. (6.)  The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
  2. (7.) Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  3. (8.)  Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
  4. (9.)  David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  5. (10.)  The Professor by Charlotte Brontë

Holiday/Winter-Themed Lit

  1. (11.) Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
  2. (12.) The Gift of the Magi and Other Stories by O. Henry
  3. (13.) A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  4. (14.) If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
  5. (15.) The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (too recent to technically be called a classic, but I’m including it anyway because it’s based on an old folk tale)

Classic Recommendations

  1. (16.) The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  2. (17.) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  3. (18.) Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  4. (19.) Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster
  5. (20.) Far From the Maddening Cry by Thomas Hardy

Good luck to everyone who’s “spinning” this time around. Hopefully we’ll get our lucky number!

Once Upon a Time VIII

onceup8275Carl does some of the best reading events around. I’ve participated in his R.I.P. challenge for two (three?) years running now, and this year I’ve decided to jump into his Once Upon a Time challenge, which asks readers to 1. Have fun! and 2. Participate by reading as few or as many books as they want that fall into one of the following broad categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology.

My plan is to join in by reading at least one book in any of the four categories as well as hopefully participating in the read-along of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in June.

I’m not sure yet exactly what I’ll be reading, with the exception of Violet Kupersmith’s The Frangipani Hotel, which I’m reviewing later this week. This is a book of short stories based on Vietnamese folk tales, so it segues nicely with the challenge.

If you have recommendations of books I should consider reading for Once Upon a Time, please feel free to let me know in the comments!


2014 Africa Reading Challenge

africa_map-2Okay, so I said that I was only going to do one challenge this year. But I also have a personal goal to read more African literature, and when I saw that Kinna was going to host the Africa Reading Challenge again this year I knew I had to join in. The challenge is very low-key in that there is only one level of participation–to read 5 works of African literature sometime during the year, either fiction or non-fiction. At least 3 of those must be by African writers.

I already have a few books on my shelf all ready to go for this challenge, and I have ideas of others I’d like to read. My tentative list at the moment includes:

  1. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)
  2. What is the What by Dave Eggers (Sudan)
  3. Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (Kenya)
  4. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah (Sierra Leone)
  5. We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (Zimbabwe)
  6. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (Ethiopia)

A big thank you to Kinna for deciding to host this challenge again, and I look forward to reading African literature with you in 2014!

I Hereby Declare 2014 the Year of (Almost) No Challenges

With a title like that, I don’t even need to write a post, do I? Pretty much says it all.

I have a really hard time resisting challenges. Really hard, because I’m a competitive person (with myself, anyway) and they’re fun and sociable and all that. But I always underestimate what they will entail in terms of actual time and commitment and then end up feeling like a jerk for not finishing, even though I know there is probably no one who gives a hoot except for me.

So. In the new year of 2014 (!), I’m going to focus on ONE challenge. If I happen to dip my toes in a few others along the way (like O’s Russian Literature Challenge) so be it, but I’m only going to formally commit myself to one. Mainly this is because it also represents something that I know I need to work on–trimming down my TBR. Thus I’ll be participating in Adam’s 2014 TBR Pile Challenge, for which I’m planning to read the following books that have been on my shelves (physical or digital) for more than a year:

  1. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948)
  2. The Group by Mary McCarthy (1954)
  3. Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon (1995)
  4. Room by Emma Donaghue (2010)
  5. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (2003)
  6. Accordion Crimes by Annie Proulx (1996)
  7. Taft by Ann Patchett (1994)
  8. When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka (2002)
  9. Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett (1996)
  10. Nowhere Else on Earth by Josephine Humphries (2001)
  11. The Magicians by Lev Grossman (2009)
  12. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943)

And my two alternates:

  1. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (2009)
  2. Metropolis by Elizabeth Gaffney (2005)

Thanks to Adam for hosting this challenge again and giving me some much-needed motivation to read books that I already own.


Weekend Cooking: An Expat Thanksgiving

For those of you in the U.S. who celebrated Thanksgiving this past Thursday, I hope you had a great holiday. Because here in France it’s not an official holiday, we had to wait until today to celebrate with some fellow expat friends, and I’m still in something of a turkey coma. We ate ALL DAY LONG. But it was good, and I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting a couple of other women who have roots in the Southern U.S., so we had fun chatting about common experiences and laying on our thick Southern accents for the amusement of the rest of the guests. Good times.

I have several recipes that I traditionally make for Thanksgiving, generally sides as that’s what I always get assigned to bring (I’m not sure why, but over the years we’ve fallen into certain roles in the group, and mine is veggie girl). This year I was very short on cooking time because we had another event to attend this morning, so I basically had to prepare everything either last night or at the last minute. One of the dishes I made was a new recipe that didn’t require much cooking, and the result seemed to be a hit, so I’ve decided to share it with you. It’s really easy and has a very mild flavor, with just enough crunchiness.

brussel-sproutsCrunchy Sweet Brussels Sprouts Salad
Recipe originally from The Food Network

1 pound Brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Shred the Brussels sprouts by removing the core and thinly slicing (I basically just chopped off the bottom part of each sprout, as “removing the core” is easier said than done). Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the Brussels sprouts, nutmeg, and salt and pepper, to taste. Cook, stirring, until the Brussels sprouts are bright and slightly wilted, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the walnuts and the cranberries and toss to combine. Turn out into a serving bowl and serve warm.

I’d never had Brussels sprouts like this before, but they were delicious. I have a few sprouts leftover that I didn’t cook, and I think I’m going to do the same thing with them tomorrow except I’m going to throw in a little bacon.

Did you celebrate Thanksgiving this past week? Try any new recipes that are worth sharing?

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs…

Two R.I.P. Movies

Although I don’t watch a lot of movies these days, for some reason I ended up watching two in the past week, both of which I think qualify as ‘Peril on the Screen’ choices in keeping with my R.I.P. season reading and watching. I enjoyed both films, but they were very different in spirit–the first is a gothic romance (not too scary, but lovely and atmospheric) while the second is a psychological thriller that freaked me out in a hands-over-my-eyes kind of way.

1. Jane Eyre (2011) – I know several other bloggers who are participating in a readalong of Jane Eyre at the moment. While I love the novel and would have loved to join in, I’ve just got too much on my plate at the moment. Lucky for me, my husband borrowed the latest film version for me, so I was able to return to the story in an (albeit limited) way. I’d never seen this version before, and I thought it was well done. It cuts down the story quite a bit in order to fit the constraints of the genre, but I didn’t find that too distracting. The mood of the original text is maintained in the atmospheric setting and cinematic effects, and the actress who plays Jane is really good, especially. I wasn’t as convinced by Mr. Rochester, who wasn’t dark and moody enough for my tastes, but overall I liked the film and would recommend it.

2. Black Swan (2010) – And now for something significantly creepier…I heard a lot of talk about this movie when it came out several years ago, but I’d never had the chance to see it myself. It was on tv in English the other night, though, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about. It’s the story of a young ballerina who wants to play the Swan Queen in Swan Lake, a role that requires her to play dual parts–that of the ‘good’ White Swan and the ‘bad’ Black Swan. As she plunges into the role, desperately trying to please her ballet teacher, her fragile psyche suffers. I don’t want to give anything away, but suffice it to say there is lots of freaky going on.  I loved the way the film draws you in with the music, dancing, and world of ballet as seen from the perspective of Nina, the heroine.

Hopefully I’ll get a chance to watch a few more films during R.I.P. season, as I’ve got a taste for them now. I definitely prefer atmosphere and psychological terror over gore, so I’ll be looking for other movies that fit this description.

Do you enjoy watching scary movies? Have any good ones to recommend?


R.I.P. VIII: Readers Imbibing Peril

RIP8main1It’s that time of year again! R.I.P. (Readers Imbibing Peril) is a two-month extravaganza of “all things ghostly and ghastly” according to its host, Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings. I participated in R.I.P. for the first time last year and it wasn’t a great success for me, but I’m hoping to do better this time (no stinkers, please!) so during the month of September and October I’ll be reading books that can be classified as:

Dark Fantasy.

You can choose different levels of participation during R.I.P. season, and I’ve decided to go for…


in which I’ll read four books of any length that I feel fit the R.I.P. definition of literature.  Just looking at my TBR list, I’ve identified some possible candidates:

Frost Hollow Hall by Emma Carroll – “A ghostly tale about love, loss and forgiveness with an instant classic feel” (from the publisher)

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins – “Pursuing questions of identity and insanity along the paths and corridors of English country houses and the madhouse, The Woman in White is the first and most influential of the Victorian genre that combined Gothic horror with psychological realism.” (from Goodreads)

The Twelve by Justin Cronin – “A heart-stopping thriller rendered with masterful literary skill, The Twelve is a grand and gripping tale of sacrifice and survival.” (from the publisher)

The Seduction of Water by Carol Goodman – A novel of suspense centered around a woman’s search for the truth about her mother’s life and mysterious death.

I hope to see some of you around during R.I.P. season and look forward to sharing the chills and thrills!

Year One of the Classics Club


It’s my one year anniversary of joining the Classics Club! If you see that widget over on the right hand side of the page, you’ll notice that I’ve accepted the challenge of reading 50 classic novels in 5 years (August 26, 2017), and one of those years has now passed. So today I’m reflecting on the progress I’ve made toward this goal and what being part of the Classics Club means to me.

I decided to join the CC because I’d seen fellow bloggers signing up and it sounded like fun, but also because I sometimes need a little motivation to read the classics on my own. I studied literature at university and even taught it for several years after, but I don’t necessarily turn to the classics as my first choice in reading for pleasure. However, I do feel like classics are considered as such for a reason, and although my definition of a classic may be a bit broader than for some (not just books by dead white guys), these are books that I knew I would get something out of reading–whether I loved them, hated them, or fell somewhere in between.

So, over the past year I have:

  • read 5 out of the 50 books on my list, or 10%
  • not always read the books I thought I would
  • not always enjoyed the books I thought I would (and vice-versa)
  • participated in Classics Club events, including memes, the CC Spin, and a sync read of a book which I still haven’t finished *ahem*
  • made a lot of new friends
  • added a lot of additional classic books to my TBR list

All in all, it has been a great experience, and although I’ve not made as much progress as I’d hoped, for some reason that is no longer the most important thing. My goal is not just to be able to check off 50 classic books read, but to gain an appreciation for the classics, to have fun, and to maybe learn something along the way, and in that light I think I’m doing okay. I’m definitely looking forward to the four years to come.

P. S. Classics Club moderators and fellow members–you guys are the best. Thanks for letting me hang out and talk books with you.