Embarrassment of Riches TBR: June Check-In

At the beginning of the year, I decided to participate in the Embarrassment of Riches reading challenge hosted by author Patricia Burroughs.   The goal of the challenge is to make a dent in that stack of books I have intended to read, but never got around to picking up.

Given the size of the pile I have amassed, I aim to get through 24 of them before the end of the year – a silver level accomplishment.

So what have I read this month?

The Unlikely Spy – Daniel Silva:  As I said in last month’s TBR blog entry, this is Silva’s first novel and a bit of a departure from his later work.  Set during WWII and based loosely on actual events, Unlikely chronicles a German spy’s mission to obtain intelligence regarding the anticipated Allied invasion of France (D-Day), and British efforts to thwart such an effort by leaking false information through a network of double agents.  It’s a complex story with a great many players told from numerous perspectives.  So many, in fact, it becomes very difficult to differentiate between the characters and their motivations.  The female antagonist – aka the German spy – was the most interesting character in the entire novel.  She was strong, resilient, and sympathetic.  Her motivations were clear, and even though she did kill a few innocent Brits when her back was to the wall, I found myself rooting for her success.  Then Silva killed her.  In the most blasé fashion, as if it were an afterthought, he eliminated her and moved on without a backward glance.  The story went to shit for me after that, and was topped off by an ending that was a real blow to my intelligence as a reader.  I hate that.

Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie:  I have read my fair share of Agatha Christie over the years.  My favorite, and one of my top five favorite books of all time, is Murder in Mesopotamia.  So, it’s a little shocking that Murder on the Orient Express, arguably Christie’s most notable effort, remained steadfast on my TBR list.  Until now.  As always, the queen of murder weaves a riveting story complete with an impossible crime, an eclectic cast of characters (though they have more in common than one might think), and an improbable conclusion.  And she makes it work.  Brilliantly.

Inferno – Dan BrownInferno is by far the worst book I’ve read since…well…the Lost Symbol.   It started out promising.  I like a novel that drops the reader right into the action and Brown certainly accomplished that, but once you get past the initial  flash and bang, the story becomes heavy on tell and light show.  I know what you’re thinking:  It’s a Dan Brown novel – telling is part of the equation.  I get that, but in this case it’s boring, poorly written, and redundant.  How many times does Brown recount – frame by frame, word for word – the contents of the mysterious video sent by the bad guy to the unknowing accomplice?  Four.  It’s almost as if he has no faith in the reader’s intelligence.  That pisses me off.  Do you know what else pisses me off?  Making the reader (me) believe one thing then revealing it was all an orchestrated illusion thereby voiding the entire beginning of the story – the only interesting part of the entire book.

On a side note:  Dan Brown could do with a stint in adverb rehab; and it should be a crime to use the word ubiquitous and the phrase “sea of humanity” more than once per novel.

Just a thought.

Another note:  Inferno is a new publication and doesn’t count toward my goal in this challenge.  Bummer.  Such suckage should count for something.

Progress toward goal:  11 of 24. 

What’s next?

A Study in Scarlet – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

What’s on your TBR list?

Embarrassment of Richest TBR Challenge – April Check-In

At the beginning of the year, I decided to participate in the Embarrassment of Riches reading challenge hosted by author Patricia Burroughs.   The goal of the challenge is to make a dent in that stack of books I have been intending to read, but never got around to picking up.

Given the size of the pile I have amassed, I am aiming to get through 24 of them before the end of the year – a silver level accomplishment.

endersThis month I read:

Nothing!

That’s not entirely true.  I did read.   I just didn’t finish anything on my TBR list.

As I have said before, a multitasking overachiever, I am not.  Reading and writing – at the same time – during NaNo – well, that’s just beyond my capabilities.  I make no apologizes or excuses.  It is what it is.

So what’s on the agenda for May?

  1. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card – I’m about half done with this book.  It’s not my usual genre, but I do find it entertaining.
  2. Prague Winter, Madeleine Albright – This is not a quick read and I am still working my way through Hitler’s invasion of the Sudetenland.
  3. Gospel of Freedom, Jonathan Rieder – this is a new release and not on my TBR list, but it delves into the MLK’s mindset and the hostility leading up to his iconic Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  I am intrigued by this book, mostly because I have only studied the letter from a literary view – never historical.  I have high hopes for this one.

Progress toward goal:  7/24

What’s lying around on your nightstand waiting to be read?

Embarrassment of Riches – March check-in

At the beginning of the year, I decided to participate in the Embarrassment of Riches reading challenge hosted by Author Patricia Burroughs.   The goal of the challenge is to make a dent in that stack of books I have been intending to read, but never got around to picking up. 

Given the size of the pile I have amassed, I am aiming to get through 24 of them before the end of the year – a silver level accomplishment.

This month I read:

Portrait of a Spy by Daniel Silva.   I went into this book thinking it would be the story of head spymaster Ari Shamron.  I’m not sure where I picked up that notion, but as it turned out – not about him at all.  I have to say, I liked this one well enough but Silva committed a few plot sins:  1) He introduced a painting in the beginning of the novel, only to let it be forgotten until the wrap up at the end.   2) He killed a character in much the same way he did in a previous novel (The Defector).  3)  The conclusion and epilogue were overlong and burdensome to the story as a whole.  Despite this, I did find it entertaining, though a little redundant at times.

silva_largeFallen Angel by Daniel Silva.  Where to begin with this one?  I can tell you that after five consecutive Allon novels, this one was a chore to read.  In a departure from previous novels, Fallen Angel begins with a murder mystery.  Allon is brought in to investigate the death of a Vatican staffer, at the behest of the Pope’s personal secretary.  The story meanders briefly into the black market world of antiquities, offers the obligatory attempt on Gabriel and Chiara’s lives (sadly they missed her again), and pretty well flounders around in very familiar territory.  It was at this point I walked away from it – for about two weeks.  I honestly didn’t think I was going to be able to finish it.  Then, I gave it another go.   I’m glad I did because at the mid-point, the story took a turn and ended up in Jerusalem.  It is there, among the three Abrahamic faiths’ most sacred sites including the Temple Mount/the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the via Delorosa, the Western Wall, and the Mount of Olives, Gabriel unwittingly uncovers a plot that will most assuredly result in a third intifada.  When the plot is foiled, the story returns to resolve the murder mystery that was left hanging in the balance.  Thankfully, Silva took pity on his readers and wrapped up this useless plot element in a timely fashion.

One interesting note of the story:  Silva delved into the mysteries and controversies of “temple denial” – the denial of the existence of King Solomon’s first Jewish temple.  It’s a subject that I am not all that familiar, and it piqued my interest.  I smell a research project brewing.

Progress toward goal:  7/24

I am officially caught up with Silva’s Gabriel Allon series.  Just in time, too.  The English Girl will be released in July.  I think by then I will have recovered from my Allon fatigue.

So what’s up next for April?

I am still prodding my way through Madeleine Albright’s Prague Winter.  It’s a very interesting read, just not a quick one.  Maybe I will finish it in April.  Maybe not.  In addition, I’ve decided to give Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game a shot.  Everyone I know has read it, and they all rave about it.  I feel left out, so I will give it a go.  It’s not my usual fare, but after three solid months of Daniel Silva, I need a change of pace.  I’ve also started a compilation edited by George Mann entitled The Encounters of Sherlock Holmes.  It is a new book to my list, though, and will not count toward this challenge.  I wish it did.  I am enjoying the hell out of it.

What’s lying around on your nightstand waiting to be read?

Embarrassment of Riches – February check-in

At the beginning of the year, I decided to participate in the Embarrassment of Riches reading challenge hosted by Author Patricia Burroughs.   The goal of the challenge is to make a dent in that stack of books I have intended to read, but never found the time. 

Given the size of the pile, my goal is to get through 24 of them before the end of the year – a silver level accomplishment.

This month I read:

The Defector by Daniel Silva:  This novel picks up where Moscow Rules left off.  If you will remember, I did not care too much for that one, and I was a little worried.  It was all for naught.  Despite being a virtual sequel, The Defector was a spine tingling thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat and breathless with anticipation.  Would Gabriel make it out of the birch forest alive?  Would he save Chiara from certain death?

My only gripe – it could have ended five chapters sooner.

The Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva:  This one leaves the Russian oligarchs behind in the frigid Siberian tundra and returns us to the world of Renaissance art, Swiss corruption, and the empires of the rich and powerful built upon the ashes of the 6 million Jews who perished in Nazi death camps.  To me, this is when Silva is at his best.

I am currently reading Portrait of a Spy by…you guessed it…Daniel Silva, but I’m only about halfway through it.  One more left in this series, and I will be completely caught up.  Just in time for the summer release of The English Girl.

Progress toward goal:  5/24

What’s lying around on your nightstand waiting to be read?

Embarrassment of Riches Challenge – January check-in

At the beginning of the year, I decided to participate in the Embarrassment of Riches reading challenge hosted by Author Patricia Burroughs.   The goal of the challenge is to make a dent in that stack of books I’ve intended to read, but never found the time.

This month I read:

The Cold War – A New History by John Lewis Gaddis – This is non-fiction and as the title suggests, a historical overview of the Cold War from its postwar inception until its end in the early 1990s.  It was a fascinating read and I enjoyed Gaddis’ easy writing style and occasional sarcastic barb aimed at those leaders he felt lacking.  *cough cough Kennedy cough cough*

Slightly Dangerous – Mary Balogh –  No one have a heart attack.  This is indeed a romance novel.  I do enjoy a good romance every now and then.  This one I particularly enjoyed, probably because it is a take on Pride & Prejudice.  I like it so much I might put in the “will read again” stack.

Moscow Rules – Daniel Silva –  This is the 8th or 9th installment in the Gabriel Allon series I’ve been working my way through for a while now.  I must say, it was not my favorite – I would even go so far as to say I didn’t like it.  Yikes.  I hope I’m not coming down with a case of Silva fatigue.  I have to get through book 12 or 13 (I’ve lost count) before the next one comes out this summer.

My goal is silver so I’ve read 3 out of 24.

I’ll take that considering I can be a painfully slow reader.

So, what are you reading?  What’s in your TBR stack?

Things I learned this week (October 8 – October 15)

I learned this week…

…that looking for the perfect pumpkin is serious business in my house.  Last weekend we went to our favorite pumpkin patch.   In a dusty, weed filled field, we searched – row upon neatly constructed row.  There were big ones and small ones, fat ones and skinny ones.  Some that where lopsided, some with twisted and gnarled stems.  The search was exhausting, but finally we spied him – our perfect pumpkin.  His color lovely, his skin roughly textured.  He had character.  We quickly deemed him worthy of the noble position of front porch sentry.  He would guard our door faithfully when the hordes of trick-or-treaters come knocking.  And there he will stay – until he rots or is stolen and murdered by the evil neighborhood teenagers.

…that I still loath Beowulf with every fiber of my being.  While I can appreciate the artistry of the piece, a tale of a heroic warrior’s adventures of dragon slaying just isn’t my thing.  Giovanni Boccaccio, I’ve discovered, is my thing.  It has everything I love in a story – jealousy, betrayal, and murder with a slightly sick twist.  In The Decameron, Boccaccio tells us of a knight whose wife is in love with his best friend.  The knight plots the murder of his friend, cuts his heart out and then instructs his cook to make an elaborate dish out of it.  As his cheating wife cleans her plate and licks her lips, he says:

“What did you think of that, madam?”

“In good faith, my lord,”…”I liked it very much.”

“So help me God,”…”I do believe you did.  But I am not surprised to find that you liked it dead, because when it was alive you liked it better than anything else in the whole world.”

From “The Ninth Story of the Fourth Day” The Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio.

Yes.  Sick and twisted.  Definitely my thing.

…that I have broken my pledge to avoid the State Fair of Texas at all costs, two years in a row.  Last year my BFF Amy talked me into going.  I was powerless to refuse the only thing she asked to do while she was visiting from Florida.  This year, my resolve was crumbled by the most beautiful pair of blue eyes.

…that (in reference to the above) the Fair is still overpriced and crowded with rude, obnoxious people.  However, I did eat a Fletcher’s corny dog and a fried pumpkin pie.  Both pretty darn good.  Still, I don’t understand why anyone would coat their corn dog with mustard, then walk around trying to eat it.  Totally disgusting.

…that the discovery of the private study rooms at my campus library was a wonderful thing.  Sure, I don’t get to people watch and play my beloved “What if?” game.  I am saddened by that, but it is a small price to pay in order to avoid inconsiderate, germ-invested young people.  Plus, lack of distractions leads to increased productivity. I was able to get an entire blog finished on Tuesday and about 1000 words written in Retribution on Thursday.  Not too shabby.

…that technology is not always my friend.  This is the second time I’ve written this particular blog entry.  Very frustrating, but I am trying to look on the bright side – at least I didn’t accidentally delete the 21,000+ words I have managed to eek out for Retribution thus far.

…that I don’t get this whole Occupy Wall Street thing.  I saw an interview with one protester here in Dallas who boasted of quitting her job at Neiman’s so that she could protest.  Really?  What kind of message does that send?   Look, I’m all for exercising one’s constitutional right to assemble.  I understand that the country is angry, and rightfully so, but these folks need to consolidate their message if they want anyone with any power to incite change to take them serious.  Right now, they look like a bunch of campers making a mess at the local city park.  I feel sorry for the park employees who will have to clean up their mess once they are finally evicted.

…and finally…this week’s awww moment is brought to you by a crazy little squirrel who looks a bit like Einstein to me – well, if Einstein were a Russian squirrel with hairy ears.

Maxim Shipenkov / EPA

My summer reading

There is a temperate zone in the mind, between luxurious indolence and exacting work; and it is to this region, just between laziness and labor, that summer reading belongs.  ~Henry Ward Beecher

I don’t get to read as much as I’d like.  Most of my days are filled to the brim with work, school, and family.  What little time is left over for me, I tend to devote more to the task of writing than to the enjoyment of simply reading a book.  A prioritizing failure on my part for everyone knows that to be a good writer, you must first be an accomplished reader.  I am lacking in this department of late.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have lots of books that I intend to read.  They are piled on my nightstand, the floor next to my nightstand, all over my desk and even in a box in my closet.  I am a compulsive book buyer.  I just can’t muster up the time to read them and even if I do crack the spine on one, fifty pages in I find myself wondering how this work of complete shit ever made it to an editor’s desk.  

This summer I vowed to break my reading dry spell.  Classes are over until the fall.  I have a couple of day off during the work week from now until then.  What better time?  I also have a trip coming up – the perfect opportunity to make a dent in my pile.  So last weekend I started thumbing through the stacks and I found that my book clutter was all in vain.  There was nothing worth reading in any of the piles.  How could this be?  Perhaps it is because a lot of the books lean toward the heavy side – definitely not fun summer reading material.  So, off to my favorite local bookseller I go, member discount card in hand. 

I went with the intention of buying a good old-fashioned, trashy romance or two.  I perused the shelves endlessly and could find nothing that was even remotely appealing.  I did discover, though, that when I wasn’t looking paranormal romances seem to have overtaken the genre.  I’d rather put an ice pick through my brain than read anything about vampires or werewolves or whatever else constitutes paranormal these days (to this category I must exclude Frolay because that story is just good fun – love you tons, Helen).  Feeling slightly depressed, I meandered over to a table of high school English required reading selections.  I shuffled through them, considered for a minute rereading a few of my favorite classics – Of Mice and Men, Animal Farm, Alas Babylon.  None of which are light, easy summer reading.  I considered an Agatha Christie mystery.  I’ve always loved the antics of super sleuth Hercule Poirot, but even that didn’t tickle my fancy.  I’d all but given up hope when a lone display caught my eye.  On a whim, I picked up the first book that my fingers touched.  That is when I discovered the brilliant intrigue of Daniel Silva.

Not exactly a bodice-ripping romance.  But then, who was I kidding?  I was never going to be satisfied with such fluff, especially in light of what I’m currently writing.  There wasn’t a lot of description of the content given, just a brief snippet beneath the author’s picture on the back cover but something about it felt right.  I bought it and the next in the series.  Like I said – compulsive book buyer.

What I found within the pages of The Kill Artist was absolutely spine tingling.  Silva is a brilliant writer.  He sucked me into the depths of a story as exciting and thrilling as it was heartbreaking and tender.  For the first time in a very long time, I read a story with unbridled anticipation, page after page, word after word, craving to know what would become of Israeli assassin, Gabriel Allon.  The nature in which Silva crafted this story, brought this quietly powerful, yet shockingly fragile character to life, left me breathless and wanting more. 

Up next The English Assassin.  I can’t wait.