2017 Back to the Classics Challenge

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It has been awhile since I joined any challenges, but I saw this one pop up and instantly I knew I had to participate.

Had you asked me a year ago, I would have told you that I had no interest in reading classics anymore. The seem so cumbersome and heavy. There are so many books being released now that are so awesome that I figured classics were a thing of the past.

And then I discovered Serial Reader.

When I first heard about Serial Reader on Litsy (another obsession of mine), I thought ok, great. Just not for me. Because, once again, I had no intentions of reading another classic. But then I had a sudden change of heart. That was in July and since then, I have finished four classics that I doubt I would have read ever otherwise: Anna Karenina, The Jungle, A Christmas Carol, and The Abbot’s Ghost.

I think the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017, hosted by Karen over at Books and Chocolate, is the perfect way to plan out my reading year as far as Serial Reader is concerned.

(Copied directly from her blog, I have added my title choices in red)

Here’s how it works:

The challenge will be exactly the same as last year, 12 classic books, but with slightly different categories. You do not have to read 12 books to participate in this s

  • Complete six categories, and you get one entry in the drawing
  • Complete nine categories, and you get two entries in the drawing
  • Complete all twelve categories, and you get three entries in the drawing

And here are the categories for the 2016 Back to the Classics Challenge:

1.  A 19th Century Classic – any book published between 1800 and 1899. North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell.

2.  A 20th Century Classic – any book published between 1900 and 1967. Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later, such as posthumous publications. Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser.

3.  A classic by a woman authorAgnes Grey, Ann Bronte.

4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language. (You can also read books in translation for any of the other categories). Something by Chekhov.

5.  A classic published before 1800. Plays and epic poems are acceptable in this category also. The Castle of Ontranto, Horace Walpole.

6.  An romance classic. I’m pretty flexible here about the definition of romance. It can have a happy ending or a sad ending, as long as there is a strong romantic element to the plot. Mathilda, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.

7.  A Gothic or horror classic. For a good definition of what makes a book Gothic, and an excellent list of possible reads, please see this list on Goodreads Zofloya, Charlotte Dacre.

8.  A classic with a number in the title. Examples include A Tale of Two Cities, Three Men in a Boat, The Nine Tailors, Henry V, Fahrenheit 451, etc. Twelve Years a Salve, Solomon Northrup.

9.  A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title.  It an actual animal or a metaphor, or just the name. Examples include To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, The Metamorphosis, White Fang, etc. The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle.

10. A classic set in a place you’d like to visit. It can be real or imaginary: The Wizard of Oz, Down and Out in Paris and London, Death on the Nile, etc. The Beautiful and the Damned, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Because who doesn’t want to be part of the glitz and glamour of NYC’s upper crust in the 1920s!

11. An award-winning classic. It could be the Newbery award, the Prix Goncourt, the Pulitzer Prize, the James Tait Award, etc. Any award, just mention in your blog post what award your choice received. This one has me stumped so I plan on seeing what everyone else chooses. Lol.

12. A Russian Classic. 2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, so read a classic by any Russian author. The Gambler, Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

And now, the rest of the rules:

  • All books must be read in 2017. Books started before January 1, 2017 do not qualify. All reviews must be linked to this challenge by December 31, 2017. I’ll post links each category the first week of January which will be featured on a sidebar on this blog for the entire year. 
  • You must also post a wrap-up review and link it to the challenge no later than December 31, 2017. Please include links within your final wrap-up to that I can easily confirm all your categories. 
  • All books must have been written at least 50 years ago; therefore, books must have been written by 1967 to qualify for this challenge. The ONLY exceptions are books published posthumously.
  • E-books and audiobooks are eligible! You may also count books that you read for other challenges.
  • Books may NOT cross over within this challenge. You must read a different book for EACH category, or it doesn’t count.
  • Children’s classics are acceptable, but please, no more than 3 total for the challenge.
  • If you do not have a blog, you may link to reviews on Goodreads or any other publicly accessible online format. 
  • The deadline to sign up for the challenge is March 1, 2017. After that, I will close the link and you’ll have to wait until the next year! Please include a link to your original sign-up post, not your blog URL. 
  • You do NOT have to list all the books you’re going to read for the challenge in your sign-up post, but it’s more fun if you do! Of course, you can change your list any time. Books may also be read in any order. 
  • The winner will be announced on this blog the first week of January, 2018. All qualifying participants will receive one or more entries, depending on the number of categories completed. One winner will be selected at random for all qualifying entries. The winner will receive a gift certificate in the amount of $30 (US currency) from either Amazon.com OR $30 worth of books from The Book Depository. The winner MUST live in a country that will receive shipments from one or the other. For a list of countries that receive shipments from The Book Depository, click here.

 

Obviously I reserve the right to change my mind and substitute other titles for those listed above, blah blah blah. I would love to hear some of the titles other people are planning to read for this challenge!

 

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Book Review: Not Just Evil

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Not Just Evil: Murder, Hollywood, and California’s First Insanity Plea

David Wilson

Diversion Books

216 pages

Synopsis:

Marion Parker was just 12 years old when, in 1927, a young man walked into her school and told the secretary he was sent by her sick father to pick her up. The school released Marion, and it soon become clear what an error they had made. Marion’s family soon made contact with her kidnapper, and despite their best efforts to deliver the requested ransom to him, Marion’s dismembered body was discovered.

William Hickman was quickly discovered to be the perpetrator and a manhunt ensued. After his capture, Hickman ended up admitting to his grisly crime, but claimed insanity. His love for Hollywood films ensnared the film industry in his crime, which had the ability to cripple the burgeoning enterprise.

An insanity defense was something completely new for the time, and the Court fumbled to try and make sure that Hickman was given a fair trial that followed the newly enacted laws.

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My thoughts:

I have been an avid reader of true crime since I was a teenager, but I’ll admit to being a little burnt out on the subject. TC books tend to bleed together and become very formulaic. I appreciated that Not Just Evil was able to seem fresh and offer a new perspective. The “Golden Age of Hollywood” setting was very special and added a glamorous element.

I also thought the birth of the insanity plea was fascinating. Reading about what we now know to be standards during a time when the court system was really just trying to navigate their way through uncharted territory brought an entirely new perspective.

I don’t often get squeamish when reading about violent crimes, but this was an entirely new level for me. It was shocking what Hickman put poor Marion through and although it has been almost 90 years since her brutal murder, my heart ached for what she went through.

If you’re a fan of true crime or just looking for something a little different, definitely pick this one up.

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Book Date: 12-12-16

untitledIt’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week.  It’s a great post to organise yourself. It’s an opportunity to visit and comment, and er… add to that ever growing TBR pile! So welcome in everyone. This meme started with J Kaye’s Blog   and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at the Book Date. And here we are!

I had a pretty bad blogging week last week and haven’t blogged since last Monday. I made up for it though by reading a bit more than normal. It’s difficult to stay in the swing of things with all the holiday festivities going on!

What I finished:

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I actually finished to 5 star books last week. That rarely ever happens!

The Sun is Also a Star is YA, so not a genre I gravitate towards. I read Yoon’s first book Everything, Everything, only because my mom handed me her copy and told me to read it. I was blown away, and I couldn’t put the damn thing down. So I didn’t even look at the synopsis of her new book, I just added it to my TBR. Then it became a Book of the Month choice, and there you have it. I read within a few days of receiving it in the mail, and I think I actually liked it even better than her last book. It has such great insights on love, familial relationships, and the ways we affect others without even realizing it. Definitely one of my favorites of the year.

The Fall Guy was another Book of the Month choice, and I can absolutely say I NEVER would have read it if it hadn’t been a selection. I added it to my box on a whim but had never seen it around and I had no familiarity with the author. Then the bad reviews came pouring in on Litsy and I figured I’d made a huge mistake. Luckily I still picked it up, because it was fantastic. The characterization was perfectly on point and the setting and sharp prose added an extra element. It actually reminded me a bit of American Psycho, by Brett Easton Ellis.

My third book this week was less of a hit. Fire Angels is a title I got off of Netgalley and it is the fictionalized account of the fire at Our Lady of the Angels Catholic school in Chicago in 1958. Kern chose to tell the story from the viewpoint of “fire”, which I just couldn’t embrace. I feel guilty about it, because I think she is a great writer and it was obvious she put a lot of thought and care into the book, but I felt like it would have made more sense to pick 2-3 children to focus on before the fire and then continue their story during and after the fire. I will post an in-depth review in the upcoming weeks that will provide a better explanation of why I didn’t care for the book entirely.

Currently reading:

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I’m not very far along, but The Santa Claus Man is a book I HAD to read in December. It is the story of John Gluck, Jr., a man who started an organization to answer Santa’s mail in NYC in the 1910s. I know there was scandal involved as well, but at 50 pages in, I’m not there yet. It’s really putting me in the holiday spirit though!

Down Among the Dead Men is similar to other books I’ve read this year about morgues and autopsies (freakish and morose, I know!). Morgue, by Vincent DiMaio and Working Stiff, by Judy Melinek, were done better in my opinion, but this is still an interesting read. It is my first time using Hoopla to access ebooks and so far, I’m not sure if the selection is that much better than my library but I am definitely keeping an open mind because the hold times for ebooks at my library are ridiculous. If you’re a fan of Hoopla, I’d love to hear!

Serial Reader:

img_2593For an explanation of the Serial Reader app, click here.

I finished A Christmas Carol this past week, so I can finally say I’ve read another Dickens! A Tale of Two Cities was pretty dreadful for me, so I’ve kept away from Dickens for the past ten years. I knew Serial would be the way to tackle him and I was right. I loved A Christmas Carol and it was short enough that Dickens long windedness didn’t bother me.

I am now doing a Litsy readlong with The Abbott’s Ghost, by Louisa May Alcott (#spirited if you want to follow along with us on Litsy!). It is another short one, only 9 issues, so I will finish it before the weekend. So far feelings are mixed on this one but I loved it from the get go. The characters all seem to be hiding something and no one is particularly likeable so I love it!!

What is everyone else reading this week?

 

Book Date: 12/5/16

untitledIt’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week.  It’s a great post to organise yourself. It’s an opportunity to visit and comment, and er… add to that ever growing TBR pile! So welcome in everyone. This meme started with J Kaye’s Blog   and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at the Book Date. And here we are!

Finished this week:

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Only one book finished this week (although I did finish The Jungle and Anna Karenina on the Serial Reader app, so when you add those two I actually had a very successful week!). Parkland was over 500 pages and very dense. It was not a quick read by any stretch of the imagination and it actually took me a week and a half to read, which is longer than I typically take to read print books. It was phenomenal though (pretty much everything Bugliosi has written is great but this is definitely up there with Helter Skelter). The amount of research that went into this is astounding.

Despite the length, I did feel a bit put off by the ending. Bugliosi chose to focus on November 22-25, 1963, with the majority of the focus being on the day of the assassination and the following day. As such, the book pretty much ends with Lee Harvey Oswald being shot by Jack Ruby. A small amount of the following interrogations with Ruby were included, but not much. And no afterword to tell us what happened years down the road. I understand why Bugliosi stopped where he did but I would have liked even more.

Currently reading:

img_2531The Fall Guy was a Book of the Month choice two months ago. I added it on a whim and then instantly regretted it. It’s a book I had never heard of by an author I had never heard of, which usually means I pass right by it. Then I saw the Litsy reviews. The title is listed twice on Litsy. On one version, it had a 23% rating, so very concerning. The other version had a 0% rating. I literally don’t think I have ever seen that on Litsy. Ever. So I was like Oh shit. And I considered skipping it all together but I had decided to spend the month of December catching up on all of my BOTM books (7 including the three I got this month). And I started it yesterday because I needed something “easy” after Parkland. And OMG I can’t put it down. I have probably 75 pages to go and I wanted so badly to just finish it last night but I tried to pace myself to avoid a book hangover.

I am still reading Fire Angels on my Kindle app. I don’t dislike it but I also don’t particularly like it. While the subject is interesting (a school fire at Our Lady of the Saints Catholic school in Chicago in 1958), I think that the book lacks a clear focus and the fact that it is told in the viewpoint of “fire” is odd to me and so far unsuccessful. I am about halfway through so hopefully I can finish it soon.

Serial Reader:

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For an explanation of serial, click here.

I have been using Serial since mid July and had yet to finish anything (and that is despite me being dedicated and reading at least one issue per day!). Until this week, that is. Last Tuesday I FINALLY finished Anna Karenina. I practically cried tears of joy. Let’s just say it wasn’t for me.

Then today I finished The Jungle. That one went much better. I loved it. In fact, had the second half been as engaging as the first half, I would have given it five stars and named it one of my favorite reads of 2016. I found the second half to be a bit tiresome though, especially as the book got more and more political at the very end. Still very good though, if not the most depressing book I have ever read.

I am now halfway through A Christmas Carol, which I have actually never read. I am a bit intimidated by Dickens after reading A Tale of Two Cities in college (and hating it), so I have stayed away from him since then. I am enjoying this one much more though.

On Wednesday I will be starting The Abbott’s Ghost: A Christmas Story, by Louisa May Alcott. Some other readers on Litsy are doing a readalong so I decided to join in. At only 9 issues, it will be a quick read.

What is eneryone else reading this week?

Book Review: I See You

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I See You

Clare Mackintosh

Sphere

368 pages

Synopsis:

Zoe Walker is on her commute home on the subway when she spots herself in the classifieds section of the newspaper. She is fairly certain it’s her, but when she calls the phone number associated with the ad, she discovers it is not a working number. Zoe attempts to brush it off but she has a nagging feeling that there is something untoward about the whole situation. As the days go on, she realizes she can’t speak of the issue without sounding like a complete nutcase. She can’t help but notice that there are other women appearing in the ads every day as well, and when she recognizes one of the women as the victim of a recent crime, she is terrified.

My thoughts:

I LOVED Clare Mackintosh’s first book, I Let You Go. I found it to be well written and captivating, two traits that don’t always go hand in hand with psychological thrillers. I often feel like they have only one or the other (or in very sad cases, none of the above). I felt so strongly about it that when I heard she had a new book coming out, I had to have it. I See You isn’t due to be released in the U.S. until 2017 but has already been released in the U.K. I found it on Book Depository for less than $12 (and Book Depository offers free shipping worldwide), so I jumped on the chance to order it before its U.S. release.

I thought the pacing of I See You was done very well.  As the reader, I always had the tingly sensation that something was amiss and that Zoe was right to be fearful. I’ve seen quite a few reviews denouncing Zoe and annoying and I agree, she wasn’t the most relatable character. She seemed a little flighty and naïve, and I certainly didn’t trust her judgment. I thought Mackintosh did a great job of subtly sketching Zoe’s romantic relationships in a way that added to the suspense of the story.

I See You didn’t quite live up to I Let You Go in my opinion. It was a great read in its own right and I thought the premise was promising. I think, in the end, the characters just didn’t strike me in the way her previous characters did. It’s definitely still worth a read though!

Disclosure: I purchased this book for my own collection.

 

 

Book Review: My Name is Lucy Barton

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My Name is Lucy Barton

Elizabeth Strout

Random House

193 pages

Synopsis:

Lucy Barton is a young mother recuperating in the hospital in the 1980s. Her mother, with whom she has had a contentious, cold relationship with her entire life, comes to the hospital to care for her and the two share memories and gossip from their quiet hometown. Her mother’s presence gives Lucy the opportunity to reflect on the relationship she has with her mother.

My thoughts:

I don’t have a lot to say about this one.  As I was reading it, Lucy’s experiences really resonated with me and were a cause for introspection. However, now that it has been some time since I have read it, I find that most of it has slipped away from me. I can barely grasp onto my initial thoughts, and that is disappointing.  Do I think it is worth a read? Absolutely. It is SHORT–the publisher may call it 193 pages but it reads at less than 100 because of page breaks, etc. I read it in two sittings and could have easily read it in one had I planned accordingly.

This was my first Strout and I do think I want to give her another shot. Maybe Olive Kittrdge? I would love suggestions from my blogger friends!

 

Book Date: 11/28/16

untitledIt’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week.  It’s a great post to organise yourself. It’s an opportunity to visit and comment, and er… add to that ever growing TBR pile! So welcome in everyone. This meme started with J Kaye’s Blog   and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at the Book Date. And here we are!

Finished this week:

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Last week, I gave my husband the option to choose my next read out of my TBR pile. It was just spur of the moment, I wasn’t sure what to read next and he was right there and offered his help. He choose Kindred for the sole reason that it was a library book, so “it will probably be due back soon.” Gotta love the pragmatism. I really enjoyed it and it was a nice change of pace from what I normally read, with having a time travel element and being written in the 70s. However, it was also a very difficult book to read because it dealt a lot with slavery and racism. I discovered it on Litsy, as it was the November choice for the Litsy Feminist Bookclub (@litsyfeministbookclub).

As I mentioned last week, The Couple Next Door was not my favorite of the year by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, if I had a list for books I disliked the most this year, it would probably find its way on it.  I just didn’t care for the writing style at all. It felt very remedial to me. The ending did nothing for me one way or the other because I just didn’t care by that point.

Currently reading:

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First off, Vincent Bugliosi. That’s truly all I need to know in order to pick up one of his books. But I have been fascinated by JFK’s assassination since I read 11/22/63 so when I saw this, I added it to my TBR right away. I was afraid that, being nonfiction, it would be a slow read for me. It’s not. I cannot put it down. Bugliosi is so great at including every little detail.

Fire Angels is my current ebook. I found it on Netgalley, and it isn’t a book I have been seeing around but I took a chance on it anyway. I am not very far in but so far I am intrigued. It is the fictional account of a deadly fire that killed 92 children at Our Lady of the Angels Catholic school in Chicago on December 1, 1958. I can tell just a few chapters in that it is very well written. Kern took a risk in writing the book from the perspective of the fire, which is very odd to me and a choice I really have to fight against because it doesn’t appeal to me at all. So far I have been able to ignore the viewpoint because, for the most part, it has been very unobtrusive. Luckily.

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For more information on the Serial Reader app, click here.

Guys!!!! Do you see that?!?! Only two more issues left of Anna Karenina!! I did it!! And I am so thankful it is almost over. So so thankful. I am not a fan. I found pretty much the entire novel to be pretty torturous. I know I am in the minority, but I truly can’t understand the appeal. I really can’t.

I don’t have much left of The Jungle either. I will be sad to see this one end. I enjoyed almost every part of it. It will likely be one of my favorite books of the year, as well as one of my favorite classics of all time.

What’s everyone else reading this week?