2010 Challenges = Completely Completed :o)

I started 2010 participating in three challenges: Aussie Author Challenge, hosted by Booklover; Canadian Author Challenge, hosted by Mrs. Q: Book Addict; Historical Fiction Challenge hosted by Alaine – Queen of Happy Endings. In October I picked up the Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) Challenge, hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. In addition, I have also completed my biggest 2010 Resolution, to read 5 books published in 2010.

I am happy to announce that I have completely completed all of these challenges, with no book overlapping and counting for more than one challenge. I have a separate page for this blog dedicated to keeping track of what I’ve read for my challenges, but I’ll post it here, too. Just to make it easy…

Aussie Author Challenge
Level: Tourist – Read three books by Aussie authors
1) Jennifer Government by Max Barry
2) The Secret River by Kate Grenville
3) People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Canadian Author Challenge
Level: Les Liseurs – Read three books by Canadian authors
1) Life of Pi by Yann Martel
2) The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro
3) The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Historical Fiction Challenge
Level: Fascinated – Read six historical fiction novels
1) Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
2) Betrayal of the Blood Lily by Lauren Willig
3) Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
4) Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
5) Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
6) Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

RIP Challenge
Level: Peril the Second – Read two “Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, or Supernatural” books/stories/poems/etc.
1) The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
2) miscellaneous works of Edgar Allan Poe, including the poems The Haunted Palace, The Raven, and The Conqueror Worm in The Complete Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe and the short storiesLigeia (1838), The Black Cat (1845), and The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether (1856) via PoeStories.com

2010 Resolution
Read five books published in 2010
1) The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
2) Changeless by Gail Carriger
3) Blameless by Gail Carriger
4) Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
5) Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig

Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig

First, and foremost, I’d like to share with you something I won from a contest Lauren Willig hosted on her website. In keeping with the Christmas-timed story of The Mischief of the Mistletoe, Dutton (the publisher) came up with the wonderful idea to create Pink Carnation Christmas ornaments–and I won one!!

The contest was to create an e-mail inbox for a character in one of the Pink Carnation books. While the winners of the ornaments were chosen at random, not for the effort or wit put into the inboxes created, I am very proud of how my inbox turned out. (I won’t copy and paste it here because 1) it’s long and 2) I don’t want to spoil anything for those who might be interested in reading the series. But if you click here, you will be able to see the page about the contest, and my entry (#27, Kristie) 🙂 ) And I even got a little note with my ornament, which makes up for the fact that Willig only comes within 2 hours of where I live on her tours and I can’t bring myself to drive that far for only a few hours 😦 Maybe someday…

Okay, now for the review…

Title: The Mischief of the Mistletoe
Author
: Lauren Willig
Genre
: historical fiction, romance, espionage
ISBN
: 9780525951872
Pages
: 339
Year
Published: 2010 (Oct. 28th)
Source:
personal collection
Rating
: 4/5
Reason for Reading: I avidly follow the Pink Carnation series (and this counted in my 2010 Resolutions)

Summary (from book jacket):

Arabella Dempsey’s dear friend Jane Austen warned her against teaching. But Miss Climpson’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies seems the perfect place for Arabella to claim her independence while keeping an eye on her younger sisters nearby. Just before Christmas, she accepts a position at the quiet girls’ school in Bath, expecting to face nothing more exciting than conducting the annual Christmas recital. She hardly imagines coming face-to-face with French aristocrats and international spies…

Reginald “Turnip” Fitzhugh–often mistaken for the elusive spy known as the Pink Carnation–has blundered into danger before. But when he blunders into Miss Arabella Dempsey, it never occurs to him that she might be in trouble. When Turnip and Arabella stumble upon a beautifully wrapped Christmas pudding with a cryptic message written in French–“Meet me at Farley Castle”–the unlikely vehicle for intrigue launches the pair on a Yuletide adventure that ranges from the Austens’ modest drawing room to the awe-inspiring estate of the Duke of Dovedale, where the Dowager Duchess is hosting the most anticipated event of the year: an elaborate twelve-day Christmas celebration. Will they find poinsettias or peril, dancing or danger? And is it possible that the fate of the British Empire rests in Arabella’s and Turnip’s hands, in the form of a festive Christmas pudding?

My Thoughts: While I did love this book, I didn’t love love it as much as Willig’s previous books. It felt a little slow-moving to me. Her other books have much more adventure and more danger more often in them, while this one had the most danger right toward the end and the characters did not travel far and wide. While that might not necessarily be the reason I didn’t enjoy it as much as the others, I think I know why: it was too realistic 🙂

I know! Why would I like a book less because it’s realistic?! But think of it this way. Arabella is one of four girls–as am I. They are less-well-off than others, but not poor–my family is maybe a little more comfortable than that. Arabella is a teacher–I have my teaching degree (although I don’t have a job right now). And while I already have a significant other–Nick :D–and he’s not a buffoon like Turnip, we definitely share awkward moments like Arabella and Turnip often did in the book. Also, the setting of the novel being in two locations not far from each other remind me of how little I travel.

But when I read books, it’s often for the same reason people watch movies: entertainment and to “get away.” I don’t have the means to travel, and books let me see new places (and different times). But because there were so many similarities in the book to my own life, I didn’t find it as entertaining as the other books.

BUT, I still loved the book–it just wasn’t up to my expectations, I guess.

My Thoughts on the Cover: LOVE IT! I just love so many of the covers for this series, which you may have recognized over my great consternation over the proposed cover for The Orchid Affair, due out in January (it was too bodice-ripper romance for the series, I felt) which I have written various posts on. Anyways, the images on the covers so often have these angelic, innocent looking faces and are just so perfect as resembling the heroines of their respective books.

A Favorite Quote:

“‘Sometimes,’ she [Arabella] said thoughtfully, ‘I think I would be happier if I thought less.'” (p245)

😀 😀 😀 I can’t wait for The Orchid Affair!! It comes out January 20th 😀 😀 😀

Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Title: Mini Shopaholic
Author
: Sophie Kinsella 
Genre
: chick-lit, fiction
ISBN
: 9780385342049
Pages
: 418
Year
Published: 2010
Source:
public library
Rating
: 5/5
Reason for Reading: #6 of the Shopaholic series

Book Description:

Becky Brandon thought motherhood would be a breeze and that having a daughter was a dream come true: a shopping friend for life! But it’s trickier than she thought. Two-year-old Minnie has a quite different approach to shopping.

Minnie creates havoc everywhere she goes, from Harrods to her own christening. Her favorite word is “Mine!” and she’s even trying to get into eBay! On top of everything else, Becky and Luke are still living with her parents (the deal on house #4 has fallen through), when suddenly there’s a huge financial crisis.

With people having to cut back, Becky decides to throw a surprise party for Luke to cheer everyone up. But when costs start to spiral out of control, she must decide whether to accept help from an unexpected source–and therefore run the risk of hurting the person she loves.

Will Becky be able to pull off the celebration of the year? Will she and Luke ever find a home of their own? Will Minnie ever learn to behave? And…most important…will Becky’s secret wishes ever come true?

My Thoughts: I loved this most recent–only a month old!–installment of the Shopaholic series. I’m beginning to pick up on a basic pattern to the books in the series: basically Luke is a workaholic and Becky gets into all sorts of trouble, most of which is to please Luke, and he doesn’t realize it, but it all works out happy in the end. I’m not saying the books are predictable–the problems Becky gets into are pretty hilarious! One thing I particularly liked about this book was that Kinsella sort of left the story a little open ended–something to do with a shopaholic boot camp, to kick the addiction :P–which could make a pretty humorous seventh installment in the series.

I do, however, dislike the title of this one: Mini Shopaholic. It doesn’t bother me that it is not following the norm of the previous five books (this can upset me, for some reason 🙂 ). But it does say Mini Shopaholic. To me, that led me to believe that the story was going to have more to do with Becky and Minnie. And, while there was a lot about Minnie towards the beginning, she sort of faded into the background and Becky became, again, the main focus. So, the title really could’ve been “Shopaholic Plans a Surprise Party”, as that is really what most of the story was about.

My Thoughts on the Cover: I think the cover is pretty self-explanatory. It’s not like the previous five covers, which sometimes bugs me, but I think it’s been a while since the last book and this is sort of a new stage in Becky’s life, so it’s okay. However, I also want to include another cover image for this book that I like. (The one above is the cover of the edition I have from the library.) I like this other cover more than the one I have because I think it just has a little more personality and character to it.

Quote I Like:

“If the will is there, anything is achievable with enough resources.” (p313)

I would like it better if there wasn’t “with enough resources”, but I could always just quote the first part 🙂

This is my second book finished–first
whole book read–during Dewey’s 24-Hour
Readathon 😀 😀

Blameless by Gail Carriger (spoilers abound)

Title: Blameless
Author
: Gail Carriger 
Genre
: fiction, fantasy/”horror” (alternative historical fiction?)
ISBN
: 9780316074155
Pages
: 355
Year
Published: 2010
Source:
personal collection
Rating
: 4/5
Reason for Reading: 2010 Resolution (read 5 books published in 2010)
continuing the Parasol Protectorate series (my review of PP #1, Soulless, found here and PP#2, Changeless, found here)

Book Description (back cover):

Quitting her husband’s house and moving back in with her horrible family, Lady Maccon is the scandal of the London season.

Queen Victoria dismisses her from the Shadow Council, and the only person who can explain anything, Lord Akeldama, unexpectedly leaves town. To top it all off, Alexia is attacked by homicidal mechanical ladybugs, indicating, as only ladybugs can, the fact that all of London’s vampires are now very much interested in seeing Alexia quite thoroughly dead.

While Lord Maccon elects to get progressively more inebriated and Professor Lyall desperately tries to hold the Woolsey werewolf pack together, Alexia flees England for Italy in search of the mysterious Templars. Only they know enough about the preternatural to explain her increasingly inconvenient condition, but they may be worse than the vampires–and they’re armed with pesto.

My Thoughts: Not quite as gripping as the second novel, Blameless falls more into the just under perfect category of 4/5 stars from me. I was expecting quite the story and adventure, what with the way Changeless ended. However, it was just sort of blah for me. Carriger didn’t write Lord Maccon to be quite deserving to win Alexia back. When all was said and done, he didn’t really arrive in the story as a “hero” until Alexia no longer needed rescuing–I can understand if perhaps this was to make Alexia a stronger heroine. However, the fact that Alexia yells at Lord Maccon for probably five minutes and then caves into his sexy doings without so much as a peep sort of has me feeling a little aghast. The fact that Carriger wrote Alexia this way just makes me sad–I mean, she’s supposed to be strong and logical. And while Alexia can also be emotional, I think it’d take a bit longer than five minutes for me to get over it if had ever Nick accused me of adultery and carrying another man’s child and it got out in public. Alexia’s caving in to Conall like this just makes me angry, as a woman, I guess. (And trust me, I never thought I’d say something offended me, “as a woman”.)

However, I love that because Alexia traveled to Italy, I now know more about the preternatural state and the history of them and their interactions with supernaturals (and yes, I understand this is all make believe). But this soul-stealer that the “infant inconvenience” will likely become has me greatly interested. Does a soul-stealer actually steal the soul away completely or just neutralize it like a soul-sucker? Here I thought maybe a preternatural and a supernatural would cancel out and the baby would just be normal. But I’m getting the feeling that the baby will be much more important than any other character.

Oh, and I’m also very curious to find out what happens between Lord Akeldama and Biffy. Technically Biffy could become a loner (meaning he would desert the Woolsey Pack) and spend his days with Lord Akeldama. I mean, that makes sense: a rove and a loner, both neither belonging to a hive/pack, loyal to no one but themselves. It would be weird, a vampire and a werewolf together (note how I don’t find anything odd about the fact that both are men 🙂 ). But, a preternatural and a werewolf is just as weird, I think.

My Thoughts on the Cover: Just like the previous two, the covers have no real hidden meaning and can be taken pretty literal. There is an ornithopter (aka a primitive helicopter) to represent the new mode of travel introduced in this story. And the backdrop is not England/London, but another city. I honestly don’t know what city this is supposed to be. It looks Parisian, but the majority of the story was in London or Florence. And I don’t see that ever-present landmark of Paris–the Eiffel Tower–but that could be because it wasn’t built by the time the story takes place. Anyone know what city it is?

A favorite quote of mine from the book:

“‘B-b-b-bastard,’ blubbered Alexia.
Madame Lefoux was clearly at a loss.
Alexia, taking pity on her, tried desperately to control herself and explain. ‘I was doing so well, being angry at him.’
‘So you are crying because you cannot be angry at him anymore?’
‘No. Yes!’ Alexia wailed.” (p237)

I like this quote because I often find myself in the same predicament. Not that Nick and I ever fight to the extreme as Alexia in Conall in this book, but I still find it hard sometimes to stay angry at Nick. That makes me even more upset, not being able to stay angry at him. I totally understand Alexia in this instance 😀

“technically” vs. “in reality”

Technically, I have fulfilled all requirements for the challenges/resolutions I’m doing this year 😀 Those are the Aussie Author Challenge, Canadian Author Challenge, and Historical Fiction Challenge and also reading 5 books published in 2010.

In reality, I don’t think I can say I fulfilled the challenges and be happy with it 😕 This is because I have used multiple books in more than one challenge/resolution.

Here is what is on my 2010: Books Read & Challenges page:

Historical Fiction Challenge
*Fascinated Level = read 6 Historical Fiction novels
1.
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
2.
Betrayal of the Blood Lily by Lauren Willig
3.
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
4.
Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
5.
Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
6.
The Secret River by Kate Grenville

Canadian Author Challenge
*Level 1 = read 3 novels written by Canadian authors
1.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
2.
The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro
3.
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Aussie Author Challenge
*Tourist Level = read 3 novels written by Australian authors
1.
Jennifer Government by Max Barry
2.
The Secret River by Kate Grenville
3.
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

2010 Resolutions
*read at least 5 books published in 2010
1.
Betrayal of the Blood Lily by Lauren Willig
2.
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
3.
The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
4.
Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
5.
Changeless by Gail Carriger

So, the books in red I’m using in multiple challenges. These are the ones it is now my goal to replace so there is no red at all. The Canadian Author Challenge is the only challenge I have totally completed, in reality 🙂 (It should be fairly easy, as I really only have to read four more books and then replace one book in one category)

Changeless by Gail Carriger

Title: Changeless
Author
: Gail Carriger 
Genre
: fiction, fantasy/”horror” (alternative historical fiction?)
ISBN
: 9780316074148
Pages
: 374
Year
Published: 2010
Source:
personal collection
Rating
: 5/5
Reason for Reading: 2010 Resolution (read 5 books published in 2010)
continuing the Parasol Protectorate series (my review of PP #1, Soulless, found here)

Book Description (from back of book):

Alexia Maccon, the Lady Woolsey, awakens in the wee hours of the mid-afternoon to finder her husband, who should be decently asleep like any normal werewolf, yelling at the top of his lungs. Then he disappears–leaving her to deal with a regiment of supernatural soldiers encamped on her doorstep, a plethora of exorcised ghosts, and an angry Queen Victoria.

But Alexia is armed with her trusty parasol, the latest fashions, and an arsenal of biting civility. Even when her investigations take her to Scotland, the backwater of ugly waistcoats, she is prepared: upending werewolf pack dynamics as only the soulles can.

She might even find time to track down her wayward husband–if she feels like it.

My Thoughts: While I found the first book in the Parasol Protectorate series, Soulless, to be a bit predictable, this second installment wasn’t all that predictable. I am starting to get used to the idea of supernaturals running around and being part of all the normal society in England. I still think it might be horribly wrong to have this set in the time of Queen Victoria, who, I hear, was one of the stuffiest/prude-ish monarchs of the British Empire. Plus, the idea that the dewan, potentate, and muhjah would have council with the queen is preposterous–the queen has little political power; it is the prime minister who should be doing that. (But, I admit, it makes for a better fiction novel to interject the queen.) And I also think it is wrong of Carriger to be using the term “ton”, referring to the British high society as the term really only applied during the Regency era, about 50 years before the time of this novel. Although, I do enjoy that in this series, the people who want to become supernatural are the only ones that “can”. The vampires and werewolves metamorphose only those who have petitioned to have it done to them (at least in theory). This makes the supernatural seem not so dangerous as other authors might portray them.

Anyways, technicalities aside, I found this book quite the cliff-hanger! I don’t tend to read mystery and horror novels where I assume this cliff-hanging is more common, so this was different for me. I did read large chunks of it at a time, because of this. And there was more mystery in this installment–as mentioned earlier, I found the first book rather predictable. (If I hadn’t owned the second book already, I’m not sure I would have read it because of my disappointment in the first.) I often found myself trying to figure out what was plaguing the supernaturals–the vampires, werewolves, and ghosts are plagued by something causing them to lose their supernatural powers and be “humanized”. Needless to say, I was unsuccessful at guessing what was the cause up until right before Alexia also figured it out.

~*~SPOILERS~*~
However, I was partially right in what I had been theorizing. Sort of. I had been thinking that maybe it was one of the Egyptian artifacts brought back (which it was), something like the Tablet of Akmenrah a la Night at the Museum 🙂 (which it wasn’t). I hadn’t really given much thought to the mummy being the cause, I thought it was more or less another artifact. But, learning that two preternaturals cannot occupy the same space makes sense. It was when Alexia was feeling funny near the mummy I started thinking it might be the cause.
~*~END SPOILERS~*~

And I DEFINITELY didn’t foresee the end of the novel. What a cliff-hanger!! Luckily for me, I was probably only half as surprised as I could’ve been, because I did foresee a small detail to the ending.

~*~SPOILERS~*~
As soon as Alexia and her crew had boarded the dirigible, and Alexia felt “airsick” that one morning, I began to think that perhaps she was pregnant. This wasn’t just because it sounded like morning sickness, but because I remembered Felicity had mentioned numerous times that Alexia was, basically, gaining weight. The two together added up as pregnant in my mind. And, since I didn’t realize before the ending that werewolves were not capable of procreating living children, I didn’t think twice about my theory. I really cannot believe Lord Maccon. Maybe he thinks that, because Alexia is so willing to be ravished by himself, he also thinks she loves it so much and wants it from others as well. But, then again, I can see where his fears lie in logic. However, if he happens to produce (I just have to be blunt about this) supernatural sperm and she produces preternatural eggs, they would cancel out to make regular/natural children?
~*~END SPOILERS~*~

But the ending is so different from that of the first novel. This ending leaves me craving for more and that is why I’m glad the third book came out only a couple of weeks ago. I kid you not when I say I finished this book when I woke up this morning and then got dressed and drove to the nearest bookstore and bought the third book. That is how much I want to know what happens!!

My Thoughts on the Cover: Pretty average. Obviously it is Alexia on the front, still looking unlike I picture her in the story. But the dirigible (that’s airship/zeppelin) floating in the background isn’t really what I picture. Yes, I know that’s what they really look like. But the way Carriger describes the dirigible makes me imagine a boat suspended from a big floating balloon (like a zeppelin), a la Captain Shakespeare’s ship in the movie Stardust. (Sorry about the photo, it was the best I could find to show you what I mean.)

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Title: Wench
Author: Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Genre: historical fiction
ISBN: 9780061706547
Pages: 291
Year Published: 2010
Source: library
Rating: 5/5
counts towards: Historical Fiction Challenge and 2010 Resolutions (read at least five 2010 books)

Summary from book jacket:

Tawawa House in many respects is like any other American resort before the Civil War. Situated in Ohio, this idyllic retreat is particularly nice in the summer when the Southern humidity is too much to bear. The main building, with its luxurious finishes, is loftier than the white cottages that flank it, but then again, the smaller structures are better positioned to catch any breeze that may come off the pond. And they provide more privacy, which best suits the needs of the Southern white men who vacation there every summer with their black enslaved mistresses. It’s their open secret.

Lizzie, Reenie, and Sweet are regulars at Tawawa House. They have become friends over the years as they reunite and share developments in their own lives and on their respective plantations. They don’t bother too much with questions of freedom, though the resort is situated in free territory–but when truth-telling Mawu comes to the resort and starts talking of running away, things change.

To run is to leave behind everything these women value most–friends and families still down South–and for some it also means escaping the emotional and psychological bonds that bind them to their masters. When a fire on the resort sets off a string of tragedies, the women of Tawawa House soon learn that triumph and dehumanization are inseparable and that love exists even in the most inhuman, brutal of circumstances–all while they are bearing witness to the end of an era.

An engaging, page-turning, and wholly original novel, Wench explores, with an unflinching eye, the moral complexities of slavery.

Something I feel I should add to this summary is about the main characters: Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet, and Mawu. All four of these women were slave mistresses to their masters. And all four of them had very different relationships with those masters. Lizzie cannot stop loving her master, Drayle, as he has always treated her well and their two children–his only two, as his wife could not bear children–keep her from doing anything bad towards him. Sweet does not mind her master, having given him 5 children, one a stillborn. Reenie does not like her master,”Sir”, who is technically her step-brother, for various reasons. And Mawu absolutely LOATHES her master, Tip, and does anything possible to get him to leave her alone. As all four women spend summers in the free state of Ohio, they are all tempted, in varying degrees and ways, to run. Of course I’m not going to spoil the ending–however, how I have described the women can give you a preview of what happens.

This novel was amazing! I love it. One of the first things that drew my attention to this novel is the location of the majority of the novel: Xenia, Ohio. I’m a proud Ohioan and, while I don’t live in Xenia, I love that this novel takes place in my own backyard, as the saying goes. I have been to Xenia–in fact, my mom grew up about 30 miles away in another small Southern Ohio town. My cousin was married in Xenia. SO, I had an interest in the location. It’s a bit of state history I didn’t know existed until now. The Author’s Note at the end of this novel states: “Tawawa Resort did exist…it opened in 1852 and closed in 1855. It i documented by historians that Souther slaveholders frequented the resort with slave entourages, and that these visits were a reason for the decline of the resort’s popularity. The presence of slave concubines is part of local oral history.”

I’m also beginning to love this time in American History. Unfortunately for me, my college courses in American History ended with the beginning of the Civil War or began with the end, called “Reconstruction”. So, the Civil War as a whole has escaped from me during my past four years. But I am getting more interested in it and am even taking a Civil War course online in the fall semester at university. (Yes, I graduated, but to stay on my father’s health insurance I need to take one university course.) And I’m very excited for it. My favorite war in American History is WWII, but I like the Holocaust most as a part of it (which doesn’t have much to do with the US), so I’m glad that I’m beginning to become interested in a war that was only American.

I WOULD HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS NOVEL FOR ANYONE INTERESTED IN THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR, SLAVERY, OR RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN MASTER AND SLAVE/SERVANT.