A Challenging Season

Okay, let’s try to think happy thoughts, like maybe I will actually live to see 2018. (That’s looking pretty iffy with the incoming administration, but stranger things have happened.) So let’s take a look at the upcoming reading challenges.

The PopSugar reading challenge has become something of a staple in my life, so I will be setting up a 2017 shelf for that one. I have just now discovered the Goodreads group devoted to this one, and I am pleased to see that PopSugar has been paying attention to its discussions and suggestions. Another Goodreads challenge group I joined this year is the one for Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge. I stand a solid chance of completing that one this year! I’m looking forward to next year’s, but as far as I know, they haven’t posted it yet. I’m also looking forward to next year’s Award-Winning Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Challenge, even though I’m still behind on the 3-month version running through the end of this year.

I am continuing my Completist Christie Challenge, of course, and I welcome people to join me. I don’t feel like administering others’ involvement, but discussion on the post is certainly fine. Likewise, I will be repeating my Personal Reading Challenge in 2017, so watch for that post. (Yes, I know, I still need to go in and do a massive update on the 2016 post.)

And now my friend Michelle Stockard Miller has created an entire Facebook group just for reading challenges, the aptly named Sleep Less – Read More. And…wow…okay, let’s see what I’m letting myself in for.

I am selecting the Mt Vancouver challenge level in the Mt TBR Reading Challenge 2017. That’s 36 books from my TBR piles. Here’s hoping I upgrade and scale even larger peaks as the year goes on! It looks like I will be joining several of the challenges posed by Bev Hankins. The Follow the Clues Mystery Challenge puts a clever spin on the game by requiring links in a “chain of evidence.” I’m going for a six-book “infraction” to start with and maybe I’ll be able to level up! Oh, and sure, let’s do the Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunts. Both of them, why the hell not! I’ve just printed off the checklists and noted the date ranges on them, and my goal is at least six checks on each list.

Jamie Ghione is running several challenges in 2017, and I think I will give the Humor Reading Challenge a shot at the Cartoonist (1 to 5 books) level.

I was considering using the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge to bridge 2016 and 2017, but I just don’t think I’m up for it this time. It starts next week, and I need to get focused on NaNoWriMo instead.

I might host a real challenge myself for 2017. I’ve been trying to make “Start Less – Finish More” my personal reading mantra, and I track my ratio. I’m not doing all that well. So the No Book Left Behind Challenge would be for encouraging me to go find all those books I have abandoned and either finish them or give up on them. It should be a nice complement to Bev’s Mt TBR challenge. And maybe I can find a Keep Them Moving challenge over on the BookCrossing forums. Oh, dear, that’s another dangerous place!

Review: The Seven Dials Mystery

The Seven Dials Mystery
The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book #34 for 2016
Habitica’s Legendary Book Club Modest Reading Challenge Task: A book that you’ve already read at least once
Old Firehouse Books Summer Bingo Square: A book that’s been on your shelf for more than five years

Ah, Bundle and Battle, together again! This made me want to go read The Secret of Chimneys again. It’s a pity Christie didn’t do more with these characters. But given how this novel ended, I guess I’m not surprised.

I was expecting this to be a quick re-read, but I was amazed at how much time I spent chasing down odd vocabulary words and trying to figure out what kind of “automatic” pistol Stevens had managed to procure for Jimmy. I’m pretty sure it was an ACP .455, which appears to me to be a semi-automatic, despite its name. I’m also pretty sure that Christie was poking fun at pulp thriller writers of the day when Jimmy made it clear that he wanted a “blue-nosed,” fully automatic pistol. And I think it’s more than a little sad that a century or so after the ACP was introduced, so many people are still using “automatic” and “semi-automatic” interchangeably.

But I digress. I was also amazed at how little of the plot I remembered. The plot twist really got me, even though I avoided some of the red herrings and, really, I ought to have known better. Some of the explanations regarding the origins of the Seven Dials Club weren’t completely satisfying, but if not examined too closely, they make for some cleverly constructed clues.

I really enjoyed the humor sprinkled throughout this book. There was a distinct P.G. Wodehouse influence, and Christie’s snarky asides and gift for snappy dialogue were delightfully evident. There’s even a fun little subplot of romance, complete with a proposal scene that puts Jane Austen to shame. I’d recommend this to anybody looking for a light-hearted mystery romp set in the late 1920s.

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Review: A Natural History of Dragons

A Natural History of Dragons
A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #4 for 2015
PopSugar Challenge Criteria Met:
-A book set in a different country
-A book a friend recommended
-A book that made you cry

The plot may have been all over the place and a little oddly paced, and a few things may have been a bit predictable, but I enjoyed the heck out of this faux memoir. The voice was consistently well executed throughout and made it easy to immerse myself in this tale of adventure and dragon lore.

Brennan set Lady Trent’s story in an alternate world that is analogous to our Victorian era without actually being our Victorian era, and that may have helped prevent it from feeling derivative even though I was constantly reminded of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody Emerson and Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily, with a dash of Agatha Christie’s autobiographical Come, Tell Me How You Live as well. I occasionally wondered if this alternate reality was truly necessary for the insertion of real (if non-supernatural) dragons, and I’ve decided that it was. It was actually a very clever device to make the world, its dragons, and its characters feel extremely authentic.

I can understand some readers wishing for more dragons in the story, but there was enough dragon action to keep me satisfied, and I plan to read more in this series. I would recommend this especially to fans of Peabody and Lady Emily, but also to those interested in dragon tales and historical mysteries.

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Review: Strip Tease

Strip Tease
Strip Tease by Carl Hiaasen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #33 for 2014

As usual for Hiaasen, this was bizarrely and somewhat crudely entertaining. I have never seen the movie, so I don’t know how it compares, but it sounds like it stayed pretty true to the book. I tried to envision Demi Moore in the lead role but it didn’t work. Oddly enough, my brain kept trying to cast Ving Rhames as Shad (who is white in the book), even before I found out he played Shad in the movie.

A few things rubbed me the wrong way, such as Hiaasen’s assumption that all of Montana is a rural backwater full of uneducated and unprofessional hicks. But most of the time I was awed by his gift for juggling so many subplots and putting his characters in such zany predicaments. He also has a way of juxtaposing pathos with hilarity that really appeals to my dark sense of humor.

Hiaasen is definitely not for everybody, but if you like your crime fiction seedy and off-the-wall, I would recommend giving this one a try.

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Review: The Chocolate Bear Burglary

The Chocolate Bear Burglary
The Chocolate Bear Burglary by JoAnna Carl

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book #29 for 2014

I was pretty meh about this book. The protagonist was somewhat annoying, most of the other characters were kind of flat, and the whole scenario felt forced and gimmicky. I also figured out who the murderer was as soon as the character set foot on the page. Still, I didn’t really dislike the book. If I didn’t already have so much to read, I might be tempted to read more in the series to see if it gets interesting.

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