Category Archives: Challenges

Changes at Fairacre

Times are changing in the charming village of Fairacre…

In this time of changes in my life, I find great comfort in reading the books in the Fairacre series, by Miss Read (the pseudonym of British author, Dora Saint). Changes at Fairacre is the 18th book in the series, so I am getting close to the end of my time in Fairacre. I’ve been reading them slowly, savoring them, not wanting them to end. Since I only have two books left in the Fairacre series, I am grateful that Dora Saint wrote another series to follow — that takes place in a neighboring village called Thrush Green. So it will be awhile before I have to say goodbye to these gentle, delightful stories.

I think Changes at Fairacre is one of my favorites in the series so far. It was a tenderhearted story, with all the changes that were happening in the village and in the life of the main character. Time moves on in these books, and this main character, the village school teacher, faces new challenges and some losses that touched my heart. The seasons and each school year come and go. The children grow and change. Life goes on as the village faces all the problems of modernization. Changes.

From the Publisher:

Times are changing in the charming downland village of Fairacre, and Miss Read isn’t certain that it’s all for the best. The new commuter lifestyle has caused a drop in attendance at the local school, and officials are threatening closure. Miss Read worries about the failing health of Dolly Clare. Vegetable gardens have given way to trips to the Caxley markets, and the traditional village fete now includes a prize for best quiche. With her trademark patience and good humor, Miss Read hopes for the best and plans for the worst as the village grows increasingly modern. Despite all the innovations, Fairacre still retains its essential elements: gentle wit, good manners, and the comfort of caring neighbors.

A few of my favorite passages from the book:

“Everything was quiet. I leant out of the bedroom window and smelt the cool fragrance of a summer’s night. Far away, across Hundred Acre field, an owl hooted. Below me, in the flowerbed, a small nocturnal animal rustled leaves in its search for food. A great feeling of peace crept over me. The tranquillity of Dolly’s old abode and my new one enveloped me. I knew then that I had come home at last.”

“My bedtime reading at the moment was Virginia Woolf’s essay about my favourite clergyman, eighteenth century Parson Woodforde. I had come across her remarks on the entry: ‘Found the old gentleman at his last gasp. Totally senseless with rattlings in the Throat. Dinner today boiled beef and Rabbit rosted.’ ‘All is as it should be; life is like that,’ she comments.”

“There may be many changes in Fairacre, I thought, but the seasons come round in their appointed time, steadfast and heartening to us all.”

Painting by Robert John Hammond…

Classics Club Spin # 29

It’s time again for a Classics Club Spin! (Click here to see how a “SPIN” works.)  I missed the announcement of this new Spin, so I didn’t make a list of 20 books from my current Classics Club list. However, I want to participate, and so when I realized that a number (#11) had already been chosen (too late to put together a list), I looked at my list for my TBR Pile Challenge, and found that #11 on that list is also on my Classics Club list. Perfect!  So for Classics Club Spin #29, I will be reading Round the Bend, by Nevil Shute! And I’m looking forward to it!

The Cat Who Saved Books

The Cat Who Saved Books, by Sosuke Natsukawa, is a book I read for Dolce Bellezza’s fifteenth Japanese Literature challenge.  It is a book for book lovers! There are many books in that genre of books and bookstores, but this book was a sweet fantasy that didn’t disappoint. It’s a perfect read for a dark January afternoon.

From the publisher:

Bookish high school student Rintaro Natsuki is about to close the secondhand bookstore he inherited from his beloved bookworm grandfather. Then, a talking cat named Tiger appears with an unusual request. The feline asks for–or rather, demands–the teenager’s help in saving books with him. The world is full of lonely books left unread and unloved, and Tiger and Rintaro must liberate them from their neglectful owners.

Some wise words from the book:

“Suddenly the cat spoke.
‘ Books have a soul.’
‘ A book that sits on a shelf is nothing but a bundle of paper. Unless it is opened, a book possessing great power, an epic story is a mere scrap of paper. But a book that has been cherished and loved , filled with human thoughts, has been endowed with a soul”

“I think the power of books is that – that they teach us to care about others. It’s a power that gives people courage and also supports them in turn. [. . .] Empathy – that’s the power of books.”

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A Man and His Cat

My first book read in 2022 was a manga/graphic novel called A Man & His Cat, by Umi Sakurai. It is a story about a lonely widower who adopts a cat and of all the changes that happen because of that new relationship. It was delightful!  A gentle, sweet story that warmed my heart was the perfect beginning for 2022!

And then I discovered that it is the first in a series of six books — oh joy! — so I’m off to the library to find the other volumes!


I read this book as part of Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature #15 challenge.

 

The TBR Pile Challenge 2022


My friend, Adam (at Roof Beam Reader) is hosting his annual TBR Pile challenge again. He took a hiatus for awhile, but has brought this challenge back, and I’m so happy. I have such an enormous TBR pile that anything I can check off that list will be a major deal for me. So, my list will come from my bookshelves, and will include books that are part of my different personal reading projects/journeys, and some books that have been sitting there patiently waiting for me (some from many many years ago!).

Here is how this challenge works:

The Goal: To finally read 12 books from your “to be read” pile (within 12 months)

Specifics:
1. Each of these 12 books must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for AT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2021 or later (any book published in the year 2020 or earlier qualifies, as long as it has been on your TBR pile). Caveat: Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books ends up in the “did not finish (DNF)” pile.

Please visit Adam’s website here for more details.

Red = Link to my review
Blue = Read but not reviewed yet

My list of TBR books:

  1. The Enchantress of Florence, by Salman Rushdie
  2. Sons, by Pearl S. Buck
  3. Home, by Toni Morrison
  4. The Stranger, by Albert Camus
  5. Changes at Fairacre, by Miss Read
  6. The Joys of Motherhood, by Buchi Emecheta
  7. Green Mansions, by William Henry Hudson
  8. New Zealand Stories, by Katherine Mansfield
  9. Kokoro, by Natsume Soseki
  10. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
  11. Round the Bend, by Nevil Shute
  12. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith

Two Alternates, just because…

  1. Call It Courage, by Armstrong Sperry
  2. Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, by Jose Saramago

Thank you, Adam, for hosting this challenge again! It’s always a lot of fun as well as being very motivating to finish books I’ve been holding onto for years…and years.

 

Japanese Literature #15


My friend, Meredith (@Dolce Bellezza) is hosting her fifteenth Japanese Literature challenge. I have participated in it many times over the years and always enjoyed the books I read and the films I watched for it, so I am happy to join her once again. Here are her instructions:

The term ”challenge” comes from the early days of blogging, when reading challenges were set forth by so many of my blogging friends. But, this is not really a challenge; it is more of an opportunity to read and share works written by Japanese authors.

Here are a few guidelines:

  • Read as many books as you like from January through March. (Even if that is ”only” one.)
  • Make sure the work was originally written in Japanese.
  • Choose from classic to contemporary works, whatever appeals to you.
  • Leave a link on her website to your review.

I have a number of books I’d like to read for this challenge already on my bookshelves, but instead of listing them ahead of time, I’ll just keep a growing list of the books I read here on this post. Please check back often to see what I’ve been reading and enjoying for this challenge.

Red = Link to my review
Blue = Read but not reviewed

  • A Man and His Cat, (volume 1) by Umi Sakurai
  • A Man and His Cat, (volume 2) by Umi Sakurai
  • A Man and His Cat, (volume 3) by Umi Sakurai
  • A Man and His Cat, (volume 4) by Umi Sakurai
  • The Cat Who Saved Books, by Sosuke Natsukawa
  • Descending Stories, Volume 1, by Haruko Kumota

 

The Three Musketeers

November and December brought a fun reading experience for me. I participated in a “chapter a day” readalong with some Twitter friends. We read and posted quotes from The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas. The readalong was carefully planned by Deacon Nick Senger (@nsenger on Twitter), and was timed so that after reading one chapter a day, we would finish the last chapter on the last day in December. It has been a great adventure and a wonderful way to read a chunkster classic!

This is a book that I’ve always thought about reading but never got serious about moving it up higher on my TBR list. I think I was a bit intimidated by it, but it turned out to be a very enjoyable read. The characters are terrific, the action nonstop swashbuckling, and the story compels you through all 700+ pages. A total “entertainment”!

From the publisher (Oxford World’s Classics):

The Three Musketeers (1844) is one of the most famous historical novels ever written. It is also one of the world’s greatest historical adventure stories, and its heroes have become symbols for the spirit of youth, daring, and comradeship. The action takes place in the 1620s at the court of Louis XIII, where the musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, with their companion, the headstrong d’Artagnan, are engaged in a battle against Richelieu, the King’s minister, and the beautiful, unscrupulous spy, Milady. Behind the flashing blades and bravura, in this first adventure of the Musketeers, Dumas explores the eternal conflict between good and evil.

Some quotes that give you the flavor of the story:

‘You are not one of us,’ said Porthos. ‘True,’ replied d’Artagnan, ‘I have not the dress, but I have the heart and soul of a musketeer; I feel it, sir, and it impels me along, as it were, by force.’

D’Artagnan marvelled at the fragile unseen threads on which the destinies of nations and the lives of men may sometimes be suspended.

A rascal does not laugh in the same manner as an honest man; a hypocrite does not weep with the same kind of tears as a sincere man. All imposture is a mask; and, however well the mask may be made, it may always, with a little attention, be distinguished from the true face.

‘Perhaps so,’ replied Athos; ‘but, at all events, mark this well: assassinate the Duke of Buckingham, or cause him to be assassinated—it is of no consequence to me: I know him not; and he is, besides, the enemy of France. But, touch not one single hair of the head of d’Artagnan, who is my faithful friend, whom I love and will protect; or I swear to you, by my father’s head, that the crime which you have then committed, or attempted to commit, shall be indeed your last.’

I so enjoyed getting to know these four musketeers and tagging along with them on one adventure after another. I fell in love with d’Artangnon, who was so much more than he appeared in the beginning, and I appreciated the friendship of the four men. I also have a respect now for this author, Alexandre Dumas, who gave us such an interesting historical look at that time period, and wove a story of the political/religious intrigues of the time with the basic human fight between good and evil.

As I finish the last few chapters this week, I have one bit of advice for those of you who have thought about reading this book but never got around to it: just read it! It’s so much fun!

 

Looking Ahead

I have started looking ahead to my 2022 reading. I will continue with my personal reading projects, and  “round 2” of my Classics Club reading. I always look forward to the Readers Imbibing Peril challenge in the fall. And in January, I will again participate in Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge #15. It’s always such a lovely one. All of that should keep me busy and out of trouble next year!

Readers Imbibing Peril-XVI: Wrap-Up

This year’s Readers Imbibing Peril challenge was another fun reading experience for me. I do love this yearly ritual of celebrating everything spooky and mysterious in our reading! This was the sixteenth year for this challenge, originally started by Carl V. Anderson, (@Stainless Steel Droppings) and I hope it goes on for many more years.

I found a lot of enjoyable reading and watching for the challenge this year!  Here is a list of the books and short stories I read, and the films/series we watched for RIP XVI:

Peril of the Fiction:

  1. Mrs. Pollifax and the Second Thief, by Dorothy Gilman
  2. Devil in a Blue Dress, by Walter Mosley
  3. Pietr the Latvian, by George Simenon
  4. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving
  5. Bury Your Dead, by Louise Penny
  6. The Amethyst Box, by Anna Katharine Green

Peril of the Short Story:

  1. Hero, by Susan Hill
  2. A Christmas Tragedy, by Baroness Orczy
  3. One More Body in the Pool, by Ray Bradbury
  4. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, by Ambrose Bierce
  5. Sherlock Holmes: The Affair of the Christmas Jewel, by Barry Roberts

Peril of the Screen:

  1. Tale of the Nine-Tailed
  2. Perry Mason, the series
  3. Train to Busan

Reading The Three Musketeers


One classic book that has been on my TBR list since long ago is The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas. It is one of the books I included on my new Classics Club, List #2, for my second round of reading fifty books in five years, and I’m looking forward to finally reading it.

I discovered that another member of The Classics Club is hosting a read-along for the book. The challenge is set up in a chapter-a-day format, which simply takes the hesitancy out of starting a long book or series. This read-along started yesterday, October 25th, so I will read two chapters today, and be right on track. I’m so looking forward to reading this wonderful old classic!

A special thank you to Nick Senger (Deacon Nick) for organizing and hosting this read-along!

Click here to read information on the read-along.

 

Read-a-thon Wrap-Up, October 2021

Painting by Deborah DeWitj

9:00 p.m.  My Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon is over now. It’s been a long time since I pulled an “all-nighter.” (I get more excited about pulling an “all-dayer” these days, even though I do love naps!)  So although I’d love to stay up all night and read, I will leave the “night owl reading” to others and wish you a very happy reading night!

Thank you so much to all the organizers of the read-a-thon! I know it is a lot of work for many people, and I just want you all to know how much I appreciate you working to keep this fun tradition alive and thriving after so many years.

Here are the books I read and thoroughly enjoyed for this read-a-thon:

Read-a-thon Afternoon, October 2021

Owl illustration, by E.K. Belsher

6:00 p.m.:  I really enjoyed the books I read this afternoon for my OWL-themed Read-a-thon! And while looking for owl photos and art for my posts, I found the beautiful owl illustration above. It is by E.K. Belsher, an artist from Vancouver, BC.  Please visit her website here to see more of her extraordinary illustrations.

After a lunch break, I finished listening to the beautifully-written classic, I Heard the Owl Call my Name, by Margaret Craven. The location of the story was here in the Pacific Northwest, on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, so I am familiar with and particularly liked the descriptions of the landscape of that area.  Also, because I have long been fascinated by the culture of the Native Peoples of that area, this story really resonated with me. It was a great choice for my “owl theme” for this read-a-thon, and I will be writing a full review of the book in the next few days because it is also one of the books on my Classics Club list to read 50 books in 5 years.

A short story I read this afternoon, also has “owl” in the title, but has nothing to do with owls.  An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, by Ambrose Bierce, is a powerful and moving story, set during the Civil War. Peyton Farquhar is a wealthy planter and slave holder who was helping the confederates during the Civil War. He was captured by Union soldiers and and is being prepared for execution by Hanging at Owl Creek Bridge. The story of how he was captured and of his attempted escape is told in a flashbacks. This story was originally published in 1890 and packs a powerful punch. I think it’s eerie enough to count it as one of my short stories read for the RIP-XVI challenge.  I vaguely remember seeing a film of this story long, long ago (was I even in high school yet?) and remember being haunted by it for a long time afterward.

The next book I read this afternoon was a fun book for middle grade readers written by Jean Craighead George.  It is called There’s an Owl in the Shower. I have read and loved many of JCG’s stories about nature and animals. In this book, Borden Watson was a young boy whose father was a logger who had lost his job due to the new government law, the Endangered Species Act, which included protections for the Spotted Owl.  The forest Borden’s father had been logging was home to the owl species.  Borden was very proud of his father, and so was very angry that a little bird could cause his father so much pain and stress.  A hero had been felled by a measly little bird.”  And then, while Borden was in the forest determined to shoot and kill Spotted Owls, he finds an owlet that had been blown out of the nest. He brings it home, not realizing it was a Spotted Owl, and his family take care of the cute little thing. This owlet, and all that the family learned about the lives of owls while helping it survive, changed their understanding of the complex issues surrounding endangered species. It’s an interesting book that helps young people understand both sides of the issue and learn about the fascinating lives of owls.

Spotted Owl

My next book has been sitting on my bookshelf for a couple of years. It’s a lovely looking book, and I was anxious to finally read it. The Secret Life of the Owl, by John Lewis-Stempel, is a little gem full of all kinds of information, poetry, tidbits of history…all about owls. He also talks about each of the different types of owls in Britain, so although it is short, it is packed with learning for anyone interested in owls. And according to Mr. Lewis-Stempel, we all are interested in owls!

A collection of books and information on owls would not be complete without some of the poetry about these amazing birds. One joyful poem is The Owl and The Pussycat, by Edward Lear. I have a book of this short poem with illustrations by Jan Brett, an illustrator I love, so of course I added it to my pleasurable day of reading about owls.

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After dinner, I will spend a few more hours reading a book that my blogging friend, Nan, (Letters from a Hill Farm) recommended to me recently. It’s called The Owl Service, by Alan Garner, and I’m about of 1/3 of the way through it. I may not finish it tonight, but will count it as part of my OWL day.

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My afternoon was packed with some wonderful reading. I’m off to dinner now, and will check back in with you all at the end of my day.

painting by Jesse Willcox Smith