Tag Archives: Alphabet Soup Challenge 2014

2014: Year in Review

Yes, I know I’m late getting on the bandwagon of looking back on 2014. I was behind on book reviews and wanted to make sure all my 2014 books were reviewed before I looked back on the year.

So, how did I do on my reading challenges? Let’s take a look.

100 Book Challenge: I was so close this year at 98 books. If I would stop reading such long books (I read 12 books over 500 pages, although no 1000+ page books) I might actually reach 100. I’ll try again this year.

Check Off Your Reading List: I wanted to read a Pulitzer Prize winner a month, and I didn’t make it. Instead of reading 12 Pulitzer’s, I only read nine. However, if you include books that won any award, I made it to 17. So, I’ll count it as a qualified success.

Global Reading Challenge: Of the seven continents, I only got five. Turns out, I’m not good at picking books because of their setting.

Back to the Classics: There were six main categories and five optional categories. I managed eight out of the 11 categories, and while I put Justin Morgan Had a Horse in the historical fiction category, it would also have fit in the classic by an author new to me category, so I’m counting this challenge completed. Of the books in the challenge, I only read one (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain) specifically for the challenge.

Alphabet Soup Challenge: This was another challenge I got close on but just couldn’t finish. I was missing an I author (I started a John Irving book at the end of the year, so that will be my first book for 2015), an X author, and a Y and Z title. I do like the alphabet challenge, so I’ll continue this one in the future. Our family has a big chart in a hall with columns for myself, Mr. Curiosity and Miss Adventure to record our alphabet challenge books. I like that we can all participate.

For challenges this year, I probably won’t do so many. The alphabet challenge will stay, and I’m still working on my Pulitzer Prize list. We’ll see what else I can come up with, but it probably won’t be much. Any more than those two categories just feels like too much work.

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A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay

Published: 1991

Genre: epic fantasy

Length: 514 pages

Setting: mostly Arbonne and Gorhaut, a Medieval setting with a French and German feel

Interest: I wanted a “K” author for my Alphabet Soup author challenge. I like Kay’s work, so it was an easy choice. I’m just sad my local library system doesn’t have much of his work.

Summary: Arbonne is a country devoted to music, love, worship of the goddess Rian, and women have power. Compare that to their northern neighbor, Gorhaut, where the god Corannos rules in a cold, harsh climate and women are subservient to the men. Galbert de Garsenc, the High Elder of Corannos, is working on the weak King of Gorhaut to invade Arbonne and burn the followers of Rian. Opposing him is his son, Blaise, who has renounced Gorhaut after a treaty he disagreed with. Blaise has been travelling as a coran for hire. He ends up in Arbonne and is goaded into declaring himself the true King of Gorhaut by his father’s actions. Gorhaut and Arbonne go to war.

Final thoughts: It took a while for me to get into the book, mainly because of all the difficult names. I had a hard time keeping everyone straight and even remembering who people were when they reappeared in the story (I’m not good with names, in books or real life). Once I got the names straight, I was hooked and didn’t want to sop reading. By the end, when all the machinations bore fruit, I had a hard time putting the book down.

I liked all the singers and their importance in the story. There was even a bit of unrequited love, with a cheeky singer catching the eye of Blaise. At least Kay was realistic and didn’t let the interest bear fruit since the two weren’t on the same level of society.

Title comes from: Arbonne was the setting for much of the story and the bards are a major part of society in that country.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 93/100 in my 100 Book Challenge, and a K in my Alphabet Soup Author challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

Published: 2013

Genre: historical fiction

Length: 407 pages of text, 424 total pages with references

Setting: England, 1543-1549

Interest: It was looking for a Q-titled book and found this one. I do enjoy a good historical fiction on occasion.

Summary: Katherine Parr has just buried her second husband. She’s called back to court to attend Lady Mary (the King’s daughter by a previous marriage). While at court, she catches the King’s eye. Although she has other desires (namely Thomas Seymour), you don’t say no to the King. They are married and Katherine embarks on a life trying to keep the King’s fickle attention. It’s made harder when the King can’t make up his mind about religion – is he going to support reformation, like Katherine does, or go back to the Catholic church. She survives the King, but makes a mistake in marrying Thomas Seymour.

Final thoughts: I was captivated by Katherine. She always seemed to present just the right public face needed in a situation. The only problem was that meant she could never be herself. She tried to influence the King to promote reformation, and it almost sent her to the Tower. She kept her head, but also had to keep her tongue. It would be so hard to always, always have to play a part.

I was also so disappointed in how Seymour turned out. I thought Katherine would finally get her chance at an enjoyable marriage, but no. Seymour seemed to love Katherine, but he really just loved the power she represented. And then she finally has a baby to love, and dies in childbed. She survived the King, but her life afterwards wasn’t much better.

The book was a great story about the politics of life at court and the changeable nature of King Henry. I appreciated the fact that all the main characters and major events actually happened. Fremantle just created a story around the known events of the court.

Title comes from: A chess move Katherine uses once when playing the King.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 91/100 in my 100 Book Challenge, and a Q in my Alphabet Soup Title challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image or subtitle to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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The Children of Men by P.D. James

Published: 1992

Genre: science fiction

Length: 241 pages

Setting: 2021, England

Font: Sabon

Interest: I was looking for a book to fulfill an Alphabet Soup Challenge and saw this one. I’d watched the movie and found the premise interesting. I didn’t realize the movie was based on a book.

Summary: Theodore, the narrator, is a 50-year old Oxford don living in a time when children have stopped being conceived. The Omegas, the last generation of children, were cossetted and the res of the world is fighting ennui. Why bother doing much of any improvements to the world if there is no one to inherit it. England is run by a Warden, with foreign young(ish) people shipped in to maintain the country, mandatory fertility testing, forced suicides for the elderly, and criminals shipped to the Isle of Man. Theodore gets involved with a group trying to revolt against the Warden. Things get very serious when one of the group shows up pregnant and trying to hide until the baby comes.

Final thoughts: The book was not as action-packed as I remember the movie being. The first half of the book is basically about how society changes when there isn’t another generation to follow. I wanted more science in the fiction – why did it happen? Wouldn’t IVF still work? Yes, she addressed this issues, but I wasn’t satisfied with the answers she gave. I also was dissatisfied with the ending. The baby is born, Theodore shoots the Warden and takes up the mantle, immediately going a bit power mad. It didn’t seem to fit his personality that was presented in the rest of the book.

Title comes from: A line in the burial service Theodore says in the book

Reading challenges fulfilled: 89/100 in my 100 Book Challenge, and a J in the Author Alphabet Soup Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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The Circle by Dave Eggers

Published: 2013

Genre: fiction (the book’s description made it sound more of a thriller than it actually is)

Length: 491 pages

Setting: California, near future

Interest: I was looking for an E author for my reading challenge and this book sounded interesting.

Summary: Mae is a new hire at The Circle, a computer company that has integrated all online interactions into one identity, TruYu. Mae starts in Customer Experience, and is gently chided when she tries to live a life outside of the company. Doesn’t she like her job and her coworkers? Why would she want to keep things to herself? That’s selfish, or are those actions illegal? Eventually, Mae is convinced to “go transparent” and wear a video camera at all times. Politicians around the world are doing the same, to eliminate backroom deals and improve transparency in the government. The Circle is nearing Completion and Kayden is the only one at the company who seems to think it would be a bad thing to have Circle technology monitoring and recording everyone all the time. The other founders just think of all the crime that would be prevented and money that can be made. Kayden tries to convince Mae to help stop Completion, but Mae had drunk the Kool-aid and just thinks of new and faster ways to reach the ultimate goal.

Final thoughts: I found this book to be highly disturbing. It’s a little heavy-handed in its message, perhaps (social media taken to the EXTREME), but I couldn’t stop thinking about the book while I was reading it. Mae didn’t have time to live a life because she was so busy commenting on other people’s lives and their comments. The Powers That Be kept adding more and more screens to Mae’s life that she had to pay attention to – starting with two screens and working up to eight, plus voices in her ear for her opinion. You had no time to yourself because that was selfish. Why wouldn’t you want to share your experiences with those who couldn’t it themselves? Are you ashamed? Mae lost her friends and family when she went transparent and couldn’t understand why. She didn’t even realize how empty her life was except at odd moments when she would tamp down the emptiness in her life with more work and comments. She also felt so brave by sending frowns to people or organizations. Wow – sending a frown to an organization like ISIS is really going to make a difference. They’ll stop their evil ways when they see how many frowns they’ve amassed. Or not.

The technology is so pervasive and easy to use to monitor everything. Mae couldn’t see how it could be bad to know everything about everyone all the time. What do you have to hide? I don’t know, but I don’t want the government or a computer organization knowing everything about me. It made me a little skittish about social media for a while. I’m still not sure how much of my life I should share online, because once you put it online, it doesn’t go away. Of course, in the book, if you didn’t document your actions online, they didn’t really happen.

Title comes from: The name of the company Mae worked for.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 83/100 in my 100 Book Challenge, and an E in my author Alphabet Soup Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!


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How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charle Yu

Published: 2010

Genre: science fiction

Length: 233 pages

Setting: Universe 31, some futurish time

Font: Spectrum

Interest: I was looking for a Y author and I vaguely remember hearing good things about this book when it came out.

Summary: Charles is a time machine mechanic. He uses that job to stay in a perpetual quasi-life, living in the Conditional Tense. At the same time, he’s looking for his father. His father was an early pioneer in time travel devices, but he was never able to get recognition for his work. Charles gets stuck in a time loop and finally figures out how to take charge of his life, and where his father got stuck in time.

Final thoughts: An interesting premise that won’t be well understood unless you’re already steeped in science fiction and time travel tropes. The idea that reality is a story with heroes and protagonists and there are parts of the world that are unfinished was interesting, but I had a hard time wrapping my brain around Charles’ world. I did enjoy the interstitial pages from the book Charles was reading/writing.

Title comes from: It was the name of the book Charles wrote to guide himself to success.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 80/100 in my 100 Book Challenge, and a Y in my author Alphabet Soup Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Published: written in 1921 in Russian, originally published in English in 1924, 2009 in this particular translation

Genre: dystopian science fiction

Length: 216 pages

Setting: the City, a future time

Interest: It was suggested somewhere as an influential, classic science fiction book.

Summary: Δ-503 is a mathematician working on The Integral, a space ship designed to take their perfect, mathematical society to the stars. Society has become perfectly regimented so everyone knows their place and what to do at all times during the day. But things are not as perfect as Δ-503 believes. He becomes involves with I-330, who absolutely fascinates him. She’s part of a conspiracy to bring down the Glass Wall (that separates their perfect city from wild, untamed nature). Δ-503 is willing to do anything to keep I-330’s attentions, but in the end, the conspiracy is crushed and everyone gets their imaginations surgically removed so they are perfectly happy.

Final thoughts: This reminded me a lot of Brave New World and 1984, which it should since We inspired those books. Sadly, neither of those books is high on my list of favorites. It takes a while to get into the book, since you have to get a picture of the society, and Δ-503 isn’t very good at describing the society he takes for granted as absolutely perfect. Of course, not everyone’s going to be happy in the regimented society. It shows the Russian mindset of the author that the State wins in the end, not the revolutionaries. It’s interested to see Δ-503 change from a cog in the wheel (and a happy one at that) to someone who wants something (to be with I-330). He’s willing to do anything to get what he wants, even break out of his mold in society.

Title comes from: The narrator names the book. It is an attempt to record what “we” think about events (since he considers himself a spokesman for society.

Awards won: a Prometheus Award in 1994

Reading challenges fulfilled: 67/100 in my 100 Book Challenge, a Z in my Author’s Alphabet Soup Challenge, and (I didn’t realize until I started the book) a Classic in Translation in my Back to the Classics Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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Pandora’s Clock by John J. Nance

Published: 1995

Genre: thriller

Length: 357 pages

Setting: December 22-24th, present to the time of writing, on board Flight 66

Interest: I was looking for an N author, and this book sounded interesting

Summary: Ernest Helms is exposed to an unknown but highly deadly virus while he is in Germany. When he boards a plane for the U.S., his heart attack starts an international incident. The German minister overseeing the research at the private German company sends up a red flag on the passenger, but offers no real details. The airplane is suddenly a pariah. No one wants a potentially highly infectious and deadly disease on their home soil. In the U.S., a CIA agent decides to kill two birds with one stone. He hires a Russian operative to blow up the plane (removing the vector), and place the blame for the incident on the up-and-coming terrorist group, Aqbah. The captain of the flight manages to avoid being shot down and it turns out the disease was only transmitted via blood.

Final thoughts: I chose the book because I thought the concept was fascinating, and rather topical with the Ebola epidemic ongoing. There’s a horrible disease on an airplane, everyone’s potentially infected. What do you do with the airplane? I thought the scenario played out was fairly realistic, although I’m not sure we needed the rogue CIA agent framing the terrorist group.

I also found the women in the story to be shallow and single noted (“Oh, my, aren’t you a fine, handsome man who will save me from this disaster). Sex and a manly man aren’t the first things I would think of in a disaster. Annoying to say the least. Finally, I kept wondering what the people on board were doing with themselves as this disaster played out over several days. They were able to bring on food and water, but the bathrooms never got cleaned out so would they even be functional after that amount of use? And what did the people do all day? You can only sit so long. Focus on the captain and the action, and it’s all good.

Title comes from: The airplane was a Pandora’s Box of germs and they only had so many supplies to stay up in the air.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 66/100 in my 100 Book Challenge, and an N in my Author’s Alphabet Soup Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog

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The Volunteer by Carter Coleman

Published: 1998

Genre: fiction

Length: 296 pages

Setting: the Umsambaras mountains region of Tanzania, present day

Interest: It fulfilled two of my book challenges

Summary: Jordan Rutledge is a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania teaching people how to farm fish. He’s also a deeply troubled, lonely young man who’s used the Peace Corps to run away from his failed relationship with Anna. During the story, he spends his time either obsessing about Anna or raising a crowned eaglet, Pasipo. Then he meets Zanifa, a 16-year old school girl who brings him his weekly chickens for Pasipo. Zanifa turns into his new obsession, especially when he learns she’s engages to Kimweri, the sultan of the Umsambaras. Even worse, Kimweri want Zanifa to undergo jambo (female circumcision). Jordan then conceives of a plan to put Zanifa in a boarding shcool in neighboring Kenya, all the while introducing Zanifa to the pleasures of oral sex.

Final thoughts: I did not like Jordan, especially in his relationship with women. (I need to read a book where the guy is not all about sex – this is the second book in a row where the guy is creepy.) He was completely flabbergasted that Anna wouldn’t forgive him for his multiple bouts of infidelity and take him back. Then, he decides to seduce Zanifa, “for her own good” of course. Too much “Come one, it’ll be OK” and “trust me”s for my taste. I wasn’t sure if I wanted Jordan to get Zanifa away. I did for her sake, but not his. The ending gave me a nice middle ground that I hadn’t thought of. The setting was quite impressive, and I loved his work with Pasipo, even if it was just another example of him being special and not needing to follow the rules.

Title comes from: Jordan, the main character, was a Peace Corps volunteer

Reading challenges fulfilled: 61/100 in my 100 Book Challenge, a V in my title Alphabet Challenge and Africa in my Global Reading Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike

Published: 1981

Genre: fiction

Length: 467 pages

Setting: Brewer, Pennsylvania in 1979

Font: Janson

Interest: It’s a Pulitzer Prize winner

Summary: As the Arab oil crisis continues, Rabbit’s Toyota dealership is doing pretty well. Harry’s life seems to be on the upswing. He and his wife have joined the newer country club and they like to party with a new set of friends. Then, Nelson comes home from Kent, bringing his friend Melanie. Turns out, Nelson had gotten Pru pregnant back at Kent and he’s come home to take a job selling cars for his father before marrying her. Harry is not pleased to have Nelson back home and working a the lot. He’s also fixated on the possibility that Ruth, his lover for a summer years ago, had a daughter from that relationship. The book ends with Harry and Janey heading to a Caribbean vacation with their new, swinging friends, Nelson running off back to Kent, the baby’s birth, and Harry and Janet moving into their own home.

Final thoughts: I really don’t like Harry Angstrom (no big surprise – I didn’t like him in the last book, either). His relationship with women pretty much revolves around sex. He’s snobbish, bigoted, and wants Nelson nowhere near. I wouldn’t have bothered with the book if it wasn’t a Pulitzer Prize winner. The sad this is the last book in the series also won a Pulitzer Prize so I have another one to read. Harry doesn’t do much of anything. He just goes along with the flow and hopes things get better. You do get a great snapshot of middle class life during the late 70s, but that doesn’t provide enough for me to enjoy the book.

Title comes from: Harry and Janet are firmly settled in middle age and comfortably well off. Now that they are in the upper middle class, the Angstroms are trying to keep up with the Jones’.

Awards won: National Book Critics Circle Award in 1981, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award in 1982

Reading challenges fulfilled: 58/100 in my 100 Book Challenge, a U in my author Alphabet Soup Challenge, and 6/12 in the Check Off Your Reading List Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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