2014 State of the Blog and Wrap-Up

State of the blogAnother year, another State of the Blog. Time to look back…and forward.

First, the basics

  • Books read in 2014: 52 (9 since 10/1)
  • Pages read: 17,452 (3,004 since 10/1)
  • Books reviewed: 49 (11 since 10/1)
  • Books not enjoyed: 7 (3 since 10/1)
  • Books not finished: 3 (0 since 10/1)
  • Library books: 11 (4 since 10/1)
  • PaperbackSwap books: 1 (1 since 10/1)
  • Re-reads: 3 (1 since 10/1)

Genre breakdown (year totals)

  • Fiction: 29
  • Non-fiction: 23
  • Young adult: 8
  • History: 18
  • Fantasy: 10
  • Mystery/thriller: 11
  • Humor: 2
  • Gender/sexuality: 4
  • Paranormal/supernatural: 7
  • Biography: 2
  • First in a series: 2
  • Children’s literature: 1

Reading challenges

  • Reading Outside the Box: 2/4
  • The Mount TBR Challenge: 4/12

Well, poo. I think my downfall on these was relying too much on the library. My local system has many of the books on these lists, but they’re not all available at my nearest branch. Trying to coordinate inter-library loans with any kind of accurate timing is just too hard. Here’s what I managed to read in 2014!

Some thoughts

  • Fairly balanced between fiction and non-fiction this year. Go me!
  • Once again my reading slumped off in the last few months of the year. This doesn’t make me upset so much as just kinda bum me out.

Looking ahead

  • I’ve got a couple great books — including Froggy Style and the sequel to The Mangle Street Murders — waiting for me on my bedside table.
  • Just a few more working days until the long Christmas break. Come on, December 24th!

How did your 2014 reading turn out? What are you most looking forward to in the new year?

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Review: The Christmas Cantata

The Christmas Cantata, Mark SchweizerIt’s three weeks until Christmas, and the normally cheery town of St. Germaine, North Carolina is stuck firmly in the dumps; in the words of Police Chief/choir director Hayden Konig, everyone is “crabby.” What everyone needs is something to get them in the Christmas spirit — fast.

The first glimmer of light winks on when Hayden discovers a worn copy of La Chanson d’Adoration, a cantata by Elle de Fournier. He’s never heard of the piece or the composer, but a faded note in the music states that it premiered in St. Germaine on Christmas Eve 1942.

As Hayden works with the choir to ready the odd but spellbinding piece in time for the Christmas Eve service, he also speaks with the town’s oldest citizens who might remember meeting the composer. It turns out the answers he wants might be closer than he thinks.

A sweet Christmas story

The Christmas Cantata is set in the same town and stars the same characters as The Cantor Wore Crinolines, one of author Mark Schweizer’s dozens of novels about Hayden and St. Germaine.

The focus of this novella is not murder, fortunately, although there are mysteries aplenty: Who composed La Chanson d’Adoration? Can the choir prepare it in time for Christmas Eve? How many flasks does Marjorie really have hidden in the choir loft?

Schweizer’s book switches back and forth between the present, with its small-town personalities and situations, and the past, showing how Elle de Fournier came to St. Germaine and the tragic truth behind her composition.

The story is tender, heartbreaking, and ultimately sweet and satisfying. It’s by no means a fluff piece, but it’s got all the best themes — love, forgiveness, kindness, laughter — of a Christmas story. Highly enjoyable, perfect for cozying up with under a blanket with some hot chocolate.

What’s your favorite Christmas read?

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Review: The Private World of Georgette Heyer

The Private World of Georgette Heyer, Jaine Aiken HodgeGeorgette Heyer wrote more than 50 novels and has been a beloved author for more than 90 years, but she kept her professional and personal lives so separate that for many years any real information about her as a person were inaccessible.

The Private World of Georgette Heyer is the result of author Jane Aiken Hodge’s painstaking interviews and research, and is part-biography, part-critique of Heyer’s incredible novels.

An amazing lady

I read and adored several of Heyer’s historical romances (The Masqueraders, The Grand Sophy, Lady of Quality, and The Corinthian), but wanted to learn more about this woman who created such an incredible body of work.

In many respects, Georgette Heyer — real name Georgette Rougier — led a normal life. Her husband Ronald was a barrister in the English courts, and the Rougiers spent their time raising their son, entertaining friends, and taking yearly vacations. Their lives were private and quiet. Only their closest family and friends knew Heyer was a popular author, and she did her best to keep it that way.

She hated publicity, gave only a few interviews in her entire life, and kept just a handful of fan letters. I can only imagine how she would react to her Wikipedia page or her fan-made website — knowing what I do about her, it would probably be sharp and caustic.

A lifelong learner

As an author, Heyer was meticulous, particular, and prolific. She fought with her publishers over phrasing, character names, cover designs, and book sales in America (a place she didn’t like, and never went). Writing supported her family, but it was also her passion.

Anyone who reads historical romance knows that a great deal of research goes into creating the details that make a story feel alive and authentic. I knew Heyer conducted such research when writing her historical novels, but I had no idea what a research powerhouse she was.

Her house contained hundreds of volumes of research, including ancient texts and notes she pulled from other books and resources. When you read details about clothing, dances, travel methods, armor/weaponry, and period language and behavior in any of her stories, you can bet your sweet bippy it’s a real detail.

She made it all seem effortless — the mark of a true genius.

Want to add to your TBR?

As she shares Heyer’s life story, author Jane Aiken Hodge weaves in summaries and short reviews of Heyer’s novels, comparing the plots and themes of each with what was happening in Heyer’s life when she wrote them.

As a reader it’s helpful to see these summaries — it makes it easier to decide which of the novels to read first, and which might be fine to skip. By the time I finished reading Hodge’s book I’d written down six more of Heyer’s novels I want to read. To the library!

Anyone else out there love Georgette Heyer? Which of her books is your favorite?

Non-Fiction November(Even though this review was posted in December, I read this book as part of Non-Fiction November. Click the link to see posts from this and previous years!)

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Review: No Ordinary Time

No Ordinary Time, Doris Kearns GoodwinWhen Hitler began his invasion of Western Europe in May 1940, Franklin Roosevelt faced a dilemma. He was part-way through his second term as President, and his New Deal was only beginning to benefit a country trying to claw its way out of the Great Depression. America’s military was at its smallest and least prepared since WWI, and few people were interested in jumping into an expensive war that was happening halfway across the world.

No Ordinary Time follows Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, their family, and Franklin’s closest advisors from May 10,1940 until after his death in April 1945. Author Doris Kearns Goodwin chronicles the transformation of the American military from “barely passable” to one of the strongest forces on the globe, the shifts in culture that brought more women and African Americans into the workforce, and changed the course of history.

636 pages of awesome

After wooing me with Team of Rivals and The Bully Pulpit, I knew I could expect great things from Doris Kearns Goodwin for No Ordinary Time. The book is well-researched, fascinating, and incredibly tight despite its massive scope.

FDR held the office of President for more than 4,400 days (he died less than 30 days into serving his fourth term), and accomplished an unbelievable amount in that time. He led the country through the Great Depression and WWII, and — thanks in great part to Eleanor — pushed through some of the first legislation preventing discrimination based on gender or race.

Reading about Franklin and Churchill’s efforts at preventing Hitler from steamrolling through Europe, and preparing their own militaries and people for a hideous war, was interesting, but Goodwin never stops halfway.

No Ordinary Time is just as much about Eleanor Roosevelt as it is her husband. Eleanor was a polarizing figure — loved by those who saw her as championing domestic causes like women’s rights and civil liberties, hated by others who saw her as an aberration, a wife who didn’t know her place.

Just as interesting were the glimpses into the Roosevelt’s personal lives and their flaws: Franklin’s affair before his Presidency and his habitual flirtations, Eleanor’s inhibition, inability to forgive, and unwillingness to play second fiddle to Franklin.

I appreciate that Goodwin did not hide or ignore these flaws. They are what made the Roosevelts human, and contributed to the decisions they made while they lived. I finished the book having developed a great respect for the couple, as well as a healthy dislike for some of their choices.

A fantastic read

WWII brought some of the biggest changes to the American military, culture, and political landscape. Many of the changes were brought about by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and yet most of us know little about who they were.

No Ordinary Time is a detailed peek into the lives of those living at the White House during one of America’s most trying times, and it should be required reading.

(I read this book as part of Non-Fiction November. Click the link to see posts from this and previous years!)Non-Fiction November

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Review: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England

The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England, Ian MortimerIt’s common knowledge that if you want to learn about a foreign country, the first thing to do is invest in a guide book. And thanks to author Ian Mortimer, the same can be said of foreign times.

The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England is perfect for those intending to visit 14th century England. Everything you need can be found within its pages: what to wear, how to speak, where to stay, and how to avoid running afoul of the law.

Mortimer’s guide covers over 600 years of history in the present tense, bringing the 14th century alive in a way few other history books can.

Permission to squee?

I’m fangirling so hard right now, I can’t even.

Writing an engaging history book is a challenge, especially when the author has to go wide (600 years) and deep (travel, clothing, language, behavior, diseases/medicine, etc.). Ian Mortimer’s Time Traveler’s Guide is a fantastic balance of history and storytelling — something I just can’t resist.

He’s an expert historian, and it shows. Time Traveler’s Guide quotes dozens of primary sources and includes many examples of artwork from the 14th century.

Some of the smaller details — such as how the monetary system operated — got a little dull, but didn’t at all hamper my enjoyment. Other parts — especially the descriptions of plague and leprosy — were intense and hard to stomach.

I wish that Mortimer would write an entire series of guides (Regency England, Revolutionary France, etc.), but sadly he hasn’t. I’ll have to console myself by finding copies of his five other books, the most recent of which is called Medieval Intrigue: Decoding Royal Conspiracies.

What’s your favorite historical period? Would you actually like to visit?

Non-Fiction November(I read this book as part of Non-Fiction November. Click the link to see posts from this and previous years!)

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