Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Year in Review

Photo taken by moi at the Elmhurst Public Library, IL

Last night I started looking over the books I read in 2013. I managed 55, which is pretty good considering I didn't have a lot of free time for most of the year. What's curious is that Goodreads has me as reading 54 books this year, but as I was looking through the list I realized my least favorite read of the year (Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise) wasn't there and it's clearly listed as read in 2013. How odd. I'm not sure if I'm missing other books, so next year I plan on keeping tabs in my journal like I did in days of old.

The gender divide: 29 by men, 26 by women

Further breakdowns:
  • Fiction: 32 (17 by women, 15 by men) 58%
  • Nonfiction: 23 (9 by women, 13 by men) 42%
  • 2013 releases: 16 (8 by women, 8 by men) 29%
  • Audiobooks: 11 (4 by women, 7 by men) 20%
  • Memoir: 9 (5 by women, 4 by men) 16%
  • DNF: 8 (4 by women, 4 by men) 15%
  • YA: 4 (2 by women, 2 by men) 1%
  • Short story collection: 3 (1 by a woman, 2 by men) <1%
  • Books featuring Princeton: 3* (The Accursed, This Side of Paradise, Wilson) <1%


Best fiction:
The Spare Room by Helen Garner
Snake Ropes by Jess Richards
A Tidewater Morning by William Styron

Best Nonfiction:
Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg
The Passage of Power by Robert A. Caro
Wilson by A. Scott Berg

Best audiobooks:
My Life in France by Julia Child
The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Best Memoirs:
Prairie Silence by Melanie Hoffert
My Life in France by Julie Child
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeannette Winterson

Biggest surprises (in a good way):
Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin for fiction
Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg for nonfiction

Overall Best Book of the Year:
Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg

 Wishing you a healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year filled with great reading!

*Not intentional, it just happened.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Extreme Measures, the Reading Edition

I purged, weeded, culled--whatever you want to call it--the shit out of my books earlier this year in an effort to make them more manageable for the move from the Midwest to New England. I am again overwhelmed as I unpack them and try to decide what goes where.

Many of the books that made the move are ones I've read, but so many of them I have not. I no longer want books overflowing in every room and want to take better care of those I do have. Buying more books when so many sit unread no longer works for me. Even before I worked at a bookstore my book buying habit had become unmanageable.

Ultimately, I want to curate a personal library that matters to me.

But how do I know which books truly matter to me unless I read them?

So, I've decided to take The TBR Triple Dog Dare challenge, which means that from January 1 to April 1, 2014 I'll read only books that I own as of January 1, 2014 (the only exceptions are book club reads and review copies that may pop up).

The last purchase of the year, made 12/28/13
To help me resist temptation and to keep me more focused, I've been unsubscribing from the email newsletters of publishers and the like. I know I'll hear chatter about books that I just have to have to read on other book blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, but I'm hoping that cutting out direct messaging will help a bit.

And you know what happens on April 1st? Nevada Barr's next Anna Pigeon novel, Destroyer Angel, is scheduled for release that day. That will be my treat for accomplishing this challenge.

Wish me luck, and if you, too, are desperate to read the books that you already own CLICK HERE to sign up for The TBR Triple Dog Dare challenge.

p.s. Thanks (I think) to Thomas at My Porch for bringing this challenge to my attention.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge

I love the passionate, positive energy that surrounds this reading challenge.
The 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge was set up to help overcome gender bias in the reviewing of books by Australian women. The challenge encourages avid readers and book bloggers, male and female, Australian and non-Australian, to read and review books by Australian women throughout the year. You don’t have to be a writer to sign up. You can choose to read and review, or read only.
One of the reasons I'm into this challenge is that I have relatives in Sydney that I hope to visit within the next few years and would like to know more about Australian literature by the time I get there.

This will be my third year signing up for this challenge. During the last two years I've discovered some fantastic writers (like Helen Gardner and Anna Funder) who I don't think would have crossed my path had I not been on the lookout for Australian woman writers.

I'm signing up at the Miles level again this year which is to read 6 books and review at least 4. Although I didn't do so hot with my 2013 reading challenges, throughout the year I've been buying books by Australian women writers when I saw them at library sales. Here's a snap of some of them:

I also have Miles Franklin's My Brilliant Career ready to go on my Kobo ereader.

To learn more about the challenge and perhaps sign-up for it yourself click here.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Back to the Classics Challenge 2014

I need some support if I'm going to make it through my Classics Club reading list, so I'm signing up for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2014 hosted this year by Books and Chocolate

Here are this year's required categories and the book I'm thinking of reading for each:
  1. A 20th Century Classic: The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  2. A 19th Century Classic: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  3. A Classic by a Woman Author: The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett
  4. A Classic in Translation: The Drinker by Hans Fallada
  5. A Wartime Classic:  Three Soldiers John Dos Passos
  6. A Classic by an Author Who Is New To You:  So Big by Edna Ferber

Optional Categories and the book I'm considering:

  1. An American Classic: The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  2. A Classic Mystery, Suspense or Thriller: Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
  3. A Historical Fiction Classic: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo 
  4. A Classic That's Been Adapted Into a Movie or TV Series: Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austin
  5. Extra Fun Category:  Write a Review of the Movie or TV Series adapted from Optional Category #4. 
Click here to sign-up to take the challenge yourself!

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Troop by Nick Cutter

The cover drew me to this book and I was intrigued by the blurb from Steven King: "The Troop scared the hell out of me, and I couldn’t put it down. This is old-school horror at its best." 
From the publisher: Lord of the Flies meets The Ruins in this frightening novel written in the bestselling traditions of Stephen King and Scott Smith. Boy Scouts live by the motto “Be Prepared.” However, nothing can prepare this group of young boys and their scoutmaster for what they encounter on a small, deserted island, as they settle down for a weekend of campfires, merit badges, and survival lessons. Everything changes when a haggard stranger in tattered clothing appears out of nowhere and collapses on the campers’ doorstep. Before the night is through, this stranger will end up infecting one of the troop’s own with a bioengineered horror that’s straight out of their worst nightmares. Now stranded on the island with no communication to the outside world, the troop learns to battle much more than the elements, as they are pitted against something nature never intended…and eventually each other. “Lean and crisp and over-the-top....Disquieting, disturbing,” says Scott Smith, author of The Ruins and A Simple Plan, The Troop is a visceral burn of a read that combines boldly drawn characters with a fantastically rendered narrative—a terrifying story you’ll never forget.

The impetus behind the bio-engineered nightmare is certainly believable and apt commentary on how far some people will go to loose weight. Pop a pill. Or, better yet, let tape worms do the work for you! Creepy.

However, the characters are stereotypical and the plot too formulaic to hold my interest.  

And there is too much animal cruelty.

I got about halfway through the book before deciding I couldn't go on, and that was with some skimming through parts with animal cruelty. While I can understand the author's choice to include some animal suffering in a book like this (scientific experimentation, supporting evidence of character psychosis or sensitivity), it was too gratuitous for me. One or two scenes, sure. But I stopped after five.

On the other hand, I don't mind humans "getting it" and thought the descriptions of what happened to them yucky and disturbing. I may have enjoyed this one during my teenage years. The Troop reminded me of David Morrell's Creepers, another book that sounded really good and got great reviews, but the characters were painfully stereotypical and the action predictable.

Recommendation: If you like gross, gory books, you might like this one. If you're a horror/thriller aficionado you'll probably want to skip it.

Oh, and P.S. When it comes to book blurbs, Stephen King is on probation with me.

Nick Cutter
Gallery Books, February 25, 2014
Source: NetGalley digital review copy
Rating: DNF so no rating

Friday, December 20, 2013

2013 Reading Challenge Recaps

Book Boxes with Dog Bed
I signed up for three challenges in 2013 and, like everyone else who takes on book challenges, looked forward to all the great reading I'd do. In the end I completed only one challenge this year.

The Big Excuse: Looking back, I was clueless about how time consuming selling our house, buying a house, and then moving across the country would be. I've moved a lot in my life: North Carolina (twice), Illinois (twice), Missouri, Nebraska, and Nevada. However, during those moves I was in the Marines/college/graduate school and most of my possessions easily fit in my car or, at most, in a small moving van. This was my first move from a house I'd owned and lived in for close to ten years. It's amazing how much stuff two people can accumulate in that time. It's also amazing how much stuff they still have to move after months of purging and weeding. And my books have been in boxes since mid October, oh my!

Anyway, my point is that I did not complete all the challenges that I'd signed up to do, but they did turn me on to some really fantastic reads. The links below go to reviews I've posted here on WildmooBooks.

Challenge #1

American Revolution Reading Challenge hosted by War Through The Generations
I signed up at the Dip Level: read 1-3 books. I ended up reading three, so yay for me! 100% completion rate.
Books read:
  1. George Washington: The Crossing by Jack E. Levin
  2. Revolutionary Summer by Joseph Ellis 
  3. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA novel, good read, sorry I didn't review it)
  4. I also read a good chunk of Henry Knox: Visionary General of the American Revolution by Mark Puls, but didn't finish it. 

Challenge #2

TBR Pile Challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader
For this challenge you choose 12 books that have been on your to read list for at least a year. I read three, which gives me a 25% completion rate. These were three excellent reads and I highly recommend them all.
Books read:
  1. Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg--favorite nonfiction read of the year!
  2. My Life in France by Julia Child
  3. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Challenge #3

Australian Woman Writers Challenge hosted by AWW
This is the challenge that I feel the worst about. I did much better in 2012 and hope to redeem myself in 2014. I signed up at the Stella Level: read 4, review 3. I ended up reading only one. Boo for me! Another 25% completion rate. However, that one book was one of my favorite novels of the year.
Book read:
  1. The Spare Room by Helen Garner (not yet reviewed)

To sum up: All things considered, I guess I didn't do that horribly. It could have been worse. I could have not read anything. I could have died. Life is good!

Thank you to all the hosts for your hard work developing and maintaining these challenges!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

DUST by Patricia Cornwell

This is book number 21 in Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series.

I can't not read this series. I'd feel like I was missing out on catching up with old friends if I didn't read the latest release. You know how it goes with old friends: some you run into and wonder how you were ever friends in the first place, others you hope to see more often than you currently do. I'm somewhere in between with Kay Scarpetta and her crew.
From the publisher: Massachusetts Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta has just returned from working one of the worst mass murders in U.S. history when she’s awakened at an early hour by Detective Pete Marino. A body, oddly draped in an unusual cloth, has just been discovered inside the sheltered gates of MIT and it’s suspected the identity is that of missing computer engineer Gail Shipton, last seen the night before at a trendy Cambridge bar. It appears she’s been murdered, mere weeks before the trial of her $100 million lawsuit against her former financial managers, and Scarpetta doubts it’s a coincidence. She also fears the case may have a connection with her computer genius niece, Lucy. At a glance there is no sign of what killed Gail Shipton, but she’s covered with a fine dust that under ultraviolet light fluoresces brilliantly in three vivid colors, what Scarpetta calls a mineral fingerprint. Clearly the body has been posed with chilling premeditation that is symbolic and meant to shock, and Scarpetta has reason to worry that the person responsible is the Capital Murderer, whose most recent sexual homicides have terrorized Washington, D.C. Stunningly, Scarpetta will discover that her FBI profiler husband, Benton Wesley, is convinced that certain people in the government, including his boss, don’t want the killer caught. In Dust, Scarpetta and her colleagues are up against a force far more sinister than a sexual predator who fits the criminal classification of a "spectacle killer.” The murder of Gail Shipton soon leads deep into the dark world of designer drugs, drone technology, organized crime, and shocking corruption at the highest levels. With unparalleled high-tension suspense and the latest in forensic technology, Patricia Cornwell once again proves her exceptional ability to surprise—and to thrill.
It's not obvious from the description above that Cornwell is trying to do some different things with her writing and this series. There's the standard gory murder scenes, technical autopsy scenes, and  Scarpetta paranoia scenes. Her crew still vacillates from unease with one another to outright sniping.

Yet readers familiar with the series will see that Cornwell is trying to bring more intimacy into the story. Scarpetta is showing more emotional vulnerability beyond the standard paranoia. Cornwell even places her in her childhood home in Florida for the first time, at a holiday gathering in her narcissistic mother's house. (I think its a first, unless I'm not remembering scenes from books past.) There's also a deeper vibe buzzing through some of the old relationships, as if, after twenty years together, some of the harder edges are worn down.

Cornwell has always talked about how she feels the need to live in the world she writes about. So she flies helicopters, scuba dives, watches autopsies, etc. In this book she really brought current events into this story. The school shooting in Newtown, CT is the "one of the worst mass murders" mentioned in the synopsis above. At one point Scarpetta says to her husband,
"A mother has a son with severe developmental problems so she teaches him how to use a damn Bushmaster assault rifle, for God's Sake?...Then maybe he can massacre an entire elementary school so he feels powerful for a moment before he takes his own life."
I was surprised, perhaps a little taken aback, to have the tragedy of that shooting used in this way. Yet it makes sense in the world of Scarpetta. And there is a related plot connection with other unstable teenage boys in the story, but made me uncomfortable.

Cornwell also includes her usual nuggets of neat information. This one is a myth-buster regarding putting Vicks up your nose to block out unwanted scents: "Now you've just trapped all those molecules of putrefaction inside your nose like flies on flypaper."

To be honest, I had moments of wanting to throw in the towel while reading this book--I really don't have the stomach anymore for gruesome details on how someone was murdered and what their injured flesh looks like--but I'm still curious about what Cornwell does with these characters, so I'll keep an eye out for book #22.

Patricia Cornwell
Putnam, 2013
Source: bought the ebook and read on my Kobo
Recommend to: folks who already read the series. If you haven't read Cornwell, definitely start at the beginning with Postmortem.

Monday, December 16, 2013

First post from New England!

We've been in the new house almost two weeks and its starting to feel like home. My Mom and her friend Marge, who is like a second mom, came for a long weekend to help us get settled. We've had workers in and out just about every day doing "things." We're trying to get all the little tweaks done by the end of the year so we can start 2014 with a clean slate.

The first time I checked my mailbox I was delighted to find some bookish gifts from Thomas at My Porch (and The Readers). He sent me a book bag from Green Apple Books & Music in San Francisco for my book bag collection AND a Barbara Pym tea towel. Thank you, Thomas!

I've been on two bookish excursions since we rolled into town. The first was to R.J. Julia. Finally! I'd driven passed this bookstore many times over the almost two years we've been scoping out the area and house hunting, but we were always either on a time crunch or the store was closed. It's a fantastic bookstore, and was definitely worth the wait. I can't share with you what books I purchased, as they are Christmas gifts, but I did buy a copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane to help the store win an event with Neil Gaiman!

The second excursion was to the local library to get our library cards. It is, of course, the most important card in my wallet.

On the reading front, I've recently read:
  • DUST by Patricia Cornwell: Not Cornwell's best, but there's a shift occurring in how and what she writes that I'll discuss in a review later this week.
  • THE SPARE ROOM by Helen Garner: A superb, short novel that I read for the Australian Woman Writers Challenge (which my participation in this year has been sorely lacking). It is one of the most emotionally true stories I've read about illness, care-giving, and friendship. 
  • DRESS YOUR FAMILY IN CORDUROY AND DENIM by David Sedaris (on audio): This book got me through Ohio and Pennsylvania on the drive out here. It was my first full Sedaris. I've heard him on NPR, of course, and now plan on listening to all of his books. My favorite parts of this book are his stories about and impersonation of his brother. 
Currently I'm reading:
  • LIT: A Memoir by Mary Karr (the first book checked out of new library): Fantastic sentences.
  • WILD JUSTICE by Kelley Armstrong (a review copy): I didn't read the first two books in this series, but I'm enjoying the story so far. Its my I-have-to-read-for-a-few-minutes-in-bed-before-I pass-out book.
  • WILSON by A. Scott Berg (on audio): My listening got derailed because I wasn't able to listen to it on the drive from Chicago due it being on my iPhone and not having a way to play it in the vehicle I was driving.
So, that's what's been going on in my life with books. I'm looking forward to getting back into a blogging routine and catching up on my blog reading.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Town House Books in St. Charles, IL

We were supposed to hit the road for New England today, but, alas, the closing date on the new house has been delayed a couple days. So, I took advantage of being in the Chicagoland area an extra weekend and visited Town House Books in St. Charles, IL for Small Business Saturday.

Situated on a corner in the historic district of downtown St. Charles, Town House Books is the kind of bookstore that no bibliophile can resist walking past. It's been in business since 1974. I've been meaning to visit this bookstore for years and I'm so glad I had this opportunity.

I arrived shortly after their opening hour of 9 am and was greeted by a friendly bookseller. Aromatic scents wafted into the bookstore from the attached cafe.

Shelf talkers are sprinkled throughout each section of the store. The above was the first to catch my eye. The Dud Avacado by Elaine Dundy. I'd never heard of it. Have you read it?

There's also a plethora of face outs and books on display. Prairie Silence by Melanie Hoffert was one of my favorite reads of 2013.

I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of sections the store had as well as their depth. They carry the latest releases, staples, classics, and perhaps some books that are out of print.

These are the books I bought (links to Goodreads):
I hope Town House Books had a great Small Business Saturday! Check out their website at and if you're in the area it's worth a trip.
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