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Aaaand that’s a wrap!

Listened to all the books in my category (well, Little Big Man was a DNF) and am now ready to place my bet. Had great fun with Literary Fiction & Classics, especially because for the first time I got to share the category, which makes it much more fun. In the end, Tanya and I agree that the winner should be:

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The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma, read by Chukwudi Iwuji

In all my years doing the Armchair Audies I have yet to pick the winner 😛 so maybe this is the year!

Iwuji did the book justice (a native Nigerian accent helped). It’s a story full of emotions, I laughed and cried, got outraged, was sick to my stomach and filled with hope for humanity. Iwuji made this happen without me being constantly aware of his presence.

My 2016 Armchair Audies posts:

And here’s the Ballot for the other categories (thanks Jennifer for once again organizing!)

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My first-ever book set in Trinidad and one of the few from the Caribbeans. Right now can only think of Wide Sargasso Sea and (partially) Captain Blood.

wellDon’t be fooled by the covers, that indicate a lighter type of story than this really is!

Went into the book without knowing anything except it’s nominated for the Audies 2016. It turned out to be a great surprise and one of those reading experiences enhanced by the audiobook.

The story begins in the 40s and mostly follows Marcia Garcia (can still hear the narrator in my mind saying  Má-cia-a Gá-cia), that at sixteen meets Farouk Karam, a Trinidadian policeman of Indian background. They set of on a stormy relationship that we follow throughout many years.

There’s a lot of topics running through book – social and racial status, matriarchal families, immigration – but it doesn’t feel crowded or overwhelming. It’s easy to become emotionally invested in Marcia and her family, and the two narrators (Bahni Turpin and Ron Butler) play a huge role in that. Their colorful narration perfectly fits the story and adds something to it. For a while I was talking to myself in their accents.

The main reason why I didn’t give it a 5/5 was that the second part was mostly an illegal immigration story set in the USA. I wish the author had just focused on Trinidad. It’s learning about the island, it’s people, culture, food and history that makes the book so unusual and special. Strangely enough, the strong sense of place is lost when we jump to the much more familiar Manhattan.

If you know of any more good books set in the Caribbean please let me know!

 

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Other thoughts: BookNAround, (yours?)

armchairaudiesRead for Armchair Audies 2016
Literary Fiction & Classics category

The-1938-ClubSimon and Kaggsy started a Club where bloggers review books published in the same year during the same week. I read Pablo Neruda’s 20 Love Poems and a Desperate Love Song for the 1924 Club last year but then life happened and I never posted anything. This time around I read Pomfret Towers for the 1938 Club.

I made the HUGE mistake of reading Invitation to Waltz (1932) right after Pomfret Towers. They’re both from the same period, both deal with a party at a big English country house, both follow shy girls maneuvering their way through a crowd of Characters. In my mind they’ve almost completely merged, so I had to really concentrate to write this post :S

pomfretIf you enjoy the likes of Dorothy Whipple, Barbara Pym or event P.G. Woodhouse you’ll like Thirkell. Her social criticism comes less from sharp wit than outright comedy (often of errors). Her characters are a bit exaggerated but never really cartoonish: the self-centered artist, the middle-age writer of very successful formulaic romances, the young social butterfly, the snooty butler, the crusty Lord of the house, his kind but depressed wife. There’s dancing, shooting parties and changing for dinner, so Downtown Abbey and Gosford Park fans will feel right at home. It’s also set in Barsetshire, the county created by Trollope. (Doesn’t it give you a comfy feeling just thinking about it?)

On the whole, I don’t think Thirkell worries too much about realism. She set out to produce a fun, light book that probably had her chuckle to herself while writing it, especially during her jabs at the publishing industry. It was predictable, full of happily-ever-after endings and a pleasure to read.

I was about to write that for a 30s book there’s almost no reference to the past war or hints of the one to come, but then realized something: the whole plot is triggered because the son and heir of the Pomfret Towers aristocrat is killed during the war. This is why his wife is depressed and mostly away from home (she  returned temporarily so the weekend party is in her honor), it’s why the moms are trying to get their daughters to cross the path of the distant-cousin-cum-heir, and why the cousin worries about the pressure of that’s to come and attempts to educate himself on the ways of a country gentleman.

So in a way that must have been the reality of 1938: the war can be a distant memory, but it changed everything and still has very clear impacts on the present.

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Other thoughts: Shelf Love, Iris, Books & More, Desperate Reader, (yours?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is my plan for #comicsfebruary.

Some old- and new-school super-hero stories, some high-brow Franco-Belgians. Some fantasy, some sci-fi, one memoire, one just plain… literary?

Are you joining the fun?

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I’ll skip the stats this year for lack of time, but still wanted to record for posterity a general impression of 2015 and make 2016 reading goals.

2015 was a good one, professionally probably the happiest I’ve ever had, but also did great travelling and really enjoyed family life (it helps we’re back to almost normal sleeping patterns…).

The highlights:

  • Watching David grow – how fascinating to see him become a little boy!
  • Visited 3 new countries: Lichtenstein, Morocco and Senegal (other travelling highlights: Edinburgh and Paris with BBFs, south of Portugal and Genova with family)
  • The Dave Matthews Band concert in Lisbon this fall was one of the best of my life
  • My quiz team was top-3 in the yearly Quiz League
  • Working on the inception of the Sustainable Development Goals

(see 2014, 2013 and 2012)

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It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a good reading year really makes a good year in general. To get me back into blogging and pre-David reading performance I joined lots of challenges and other community activities and managed to complete every one of them. This includes:

  • The Armchair Audies – always one of my favorite book blogging events
  • Jay’s Deal Me In Challenge – one short-story per week the whole year. Also a good challenge, although I didn’t blog much about it. Two quick thoughts: 1) German classic short-stories are great and want to read more of them and 2) modern short-stories are obsessed with infidelity!
  • The Re-Read Challenge – very worth while, led me to some of the year’s best
  • Graphic Novel Challenge – 2015 was my comics/GN year. Read an average of 2 a month.
  • Books in Translation Challenge – 12 books (one a month, yay!), written in Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, French, Spanish, German and Italian.
  • Book Riot Read Harder Challenge – It was an interesting one to join, although I ended up with the feeling it didn’t really challenge me much, as most of the books that ticked the boxes were already in my TBR. I’ll take that as a good sign!
  • Sherlockian Month
  • German Literature Month
  • A More Diverse Universe
  • Finding Ada

And looking back at my 2015 plans:

  1. Continue to re-read, 100 Years of Solitude and Emma a priority: re-read both and 3 others
  2. Read more sci-fi: read 15 sci-fi books, 9 more than in 2014. Highlights: The Martian, Saga, Station Eleven
  3. Read more in Portuguese, Spanish and French: read 2 in Portuguese (+1 than 2014), 4 in French (=) and 2 in Spanish (+2).
  4. Read the only two Brontë sisters’ books I’ve never read: fail in both
  5. Finish several series: fail in all but Narnia
  6. Participate in more blogging events: success – see above!

Plans for 2016

  1. Continue to re-read, at least at the same rate as 2015. Consider His Dark Materials, Atonement, Harry Potter, Lord of the RingsA Short History of a Small Place, some by Guy Gavriel Kay.
  2. Continue to read in different languages and in translation, also at least at 2015 rates
  3. New try: read the only two Brontë sisters’ books I’ve never read (Shirley and The Professor)
  4. New try: finish several series (The Tea Rose, A Series of Unfortunate Events, The House of Niccolo, The Dark is Rising)
  5. Less challenges, but more read-alongs/bookclub books, recommendations welcome!

Happy 2016 everyone!

 

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October is Sherlockian Month at Book Bloggers International and to celebrate it I listened to Benedict Cumberbatch read Sherlock Holmes: the Rediscovered Railway Mysteries and Other Stories by John Taylor using Canon Doyle’s style.

Come over and join the fun!

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La fièvre d’Urbicande (Les Cités obscures, 2) by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters

Les Cités obscures or Cities of the Fantastic is one of my favorite comics series. I’ve spoken about them before and I’m looking forward to the day they’ll finally explode in the Anglo-Saxon literary world.

Each City in this universe has a distinct architectural style that influences and is influenced by its political structure, life-style and even in the way people dress. Urbicand is a city of massive structures that evokes the Futurist architects popular in the early 20th century. Buildings are huge and the few inhabitants seem insignificant is comparison.

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We follow Eugen Robick, a urbatect (architect who designs entire cities) who is obsessively pursuing permission from Urbicande’s austere government to build a bridge. Without it, there’s an unbalance in the symmetry of his ambitious plans for the city.

Off-scene, some friends sent Robick a small, mysterious black cube built from an unknown material. Shortly after, he notices the cube is slowing multiplying and expanding. It continues to do so over the next months, passing through everything without damaging it and expanding to a point where it becomes a network that facilitates communication between different areas of Urbincande, areas that until that point had been mostly isolated.

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In the style of many Franco-Belgian comics, La fièvre d’Urbicande is a surrealist story with lots of food for thought. I especially appreciated the way architecture/aesthetics and politics mix and reflect each other. There is something inhuman about Urbicand, a city seemingly not designed with the human scale in mind. It reminded me of the plans by Nazi architect Albert Speer.

It’s a complex book, unapologetically intellectual, and really rewarding to read.

L’archiviste (Cities of the Fantastic spin-off) by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters

The Archivist is almost like a coffee-table book. There’s a story, but it’s clearly meant to be eye candy.

Isidore Louis is an archivist that is given the task of debunking the myth of the Cités obscures. Each page includes one of the visual materials he’s unearthed and with each page we also see him slowly becoming convinced of the Cities’ existence.

There are also a wonderful connections with Jorge Luis Borges. Because of spoilers I can’t say much about the main one, but the story is very similar to Borges’ Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.

I want to cover a wall just with posters from L’archiviste.

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Rat Queens Vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery by Wiebe & Upchurch

Even if I’d been immune to all the rave, Rat Queens would still have had me at this synopsis: “Who are the Rat Queens? A pack of booze-guzzling, death-dealing battle maidens-for-hire, and they’re in the business of killing all gods’ creatures for profit.

The plot is not ground-breaking and doesn’t deviate from the typical story about a group of coarse, bad-ass, bad-mouth, swashbuckling, bordering-on-mad mercenaries. Actually, I suspect the whole thing is a spoof of role-playing games that’s not taking itself too seriously.

Unlike unlike plot, character development is taken seriously and in this volume we’re already presented with interesting backstories that made me want to know more. Just the fact the mercenaries are all women (and such a diverse group is so many aspects!) gives Rat Queens extraordinary freshness. It’s impossible not to have a favourite but right I’m still divided between Dee and Violet.

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Chew, Vol. 2: International Flavor by John Layman, Rob Guillory

Another outrageous plot and I loved every minute of it. Not much more to say.

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The first two of the six books I’m reviewing for Armchair Audies’ Mystery category.

20613611Malice (Kyoichiro Kaga #4) by Keigo Higashino, narrated by Jeff Woodman 

The best thing about Malice is the way it moves away from the classic mystery novel timeline. The audiobook is about 7 hours-long and the mystery was solve less than 2 hours in. The rest of the story is all about the motive and peeling layers of backstories until the whole truth is uncovered. Malice is not about whodummit, but why. The pace is gentle, with no major action, but there were a couple of creepy scenes, made creepier by the narrator (good thing!).

It’s the fourth in the Keigo Higashino series, but the first to be published in English, so I suspect that’s why Detective Kaga does’t get as much character development as I’d like. A shame. I got really curious about him.

About the narration, I felt Jeff Woodman’s strength (sample) is to be able to make each character unique. I’ve still to decide if this always is a good thing, because it can work like book covers with faces: it plants images in your mind instead of letting you create them. For instance, Detective Kaga sounded meticulous, rational, introverted and Nonoguchi sounded old and frail. These were things I got more from their voices than what they were saying. Woodman also faltered a bit on the Japanese names, especially at the beginning.

I’m sorry to report that Malice still wasn’t the first Japanese book I’ve read with an interesting female character. I don’t want to generalize because I haven’t read Japanese literature that much, but this is starting to bug me: I need RECOMMENDATIONS! Help me break the spell!

51SYGEOC6xL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Hounded (Andy Carpenter #12) by David Rosenfelt, narrated by Grover Gardner

Hounded’s is about policeman Pete Stanton being accused of murder and asking lawyer Andy Carpenter to defend him – clearly I should be more impressed by this, because these two have History, but I’m starting at the series’ 12th book…

But to be honest, I don’t think this was the reason why I didn’t enjoy Hounded. The plot was completely over the top: Mafia, FBI, a contracted assassin, euthanasia pills for dogs gone missing, a new dead person in every chapter (or so it felt), a tech wiz that can find out anything (such a plot cop-out), a lovable orphan boy happily going to sport events a few days after his father is murdered in their home, a lawyer that conducts the worst witness interviews I’ve ever read about,…

BUT! I really liked the narration 🙂 For some reason, Grover Gardner’s voice reminded me of Sheriff Amos in Murder, She Wrote. Haven’t seen an episode in ages, but Gardner immediately brought Cabot Cove to mind, in a sort of genial, look-at-us-happily-solving-murders-among-friends kind of way. Listen to the sample to see what I mean. He brought to life a book I’d have dropped after a couple of chapters. My only tiny quibble was his struggle with Latino accents.

Even since Armchair Audies began in 2012 I’ve been and enthusiastic participant. Even during my blogging hiatus I listen to my category’s nominees (or at least the ones managed to get from outside the US).

I’ve always chosen History, but I’ve been increasingly bothered by the restriction in themes: large majority American history, and within that, mostly WW2. This year I even took a look at Non-fiction, but not much variety there either: American topics, all male writers, all male narrators.

Maybe I’m making too much of this, after all it is the American Audio Publishers Association!

Anywhoo, this year I’ve decided to armchair-judge the Mystery category. Unlike History, where I was always the only judge, Mystery is popular and I’m actually looking forward to seeing if all judges chose the same winner (right, Susie?).

So for the next couple of months I’ll listen to:

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  • The Dead Will Tell by Linda Castillo; Narrated by Kathleen McInerney; Macmillan Audio
  • Hounded by David Rosenfelt; Narrated by Grover Gardner; Listen & Live Audio, Inc.
  • Malice by Keigo Higashino; Narrated by Jeff Woodman; Macmillan Audio
  • Missing You by Harlan Coben; Narrated by January LaVoy; Brilliance Publishing
  • Providence Rag by Bruce DeSilva; Narrated by Jeff Woodman; Audible, Inc.
  • The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith; Narrated by Robert Glenister; Hachette Audio

Will you also join Armchair Audies this year?