Tag Archives: reading challenge

Weekly writing check-in: the one with the reading challenge

This week looks a lot like last week. I’m still in class, working on a new series (or so I hope), and reading/researching. I’m also hoping to start in on a reading challenge this year. I haven’t done one for a while, but War Through the Generations is hosting a stress-free World War II reading challenge this year. Check out their read-along books as well. I’ve been meaning to read All the Light We Cannot See, which is up first in March.

So? Join me? I’ll start doing mini-reviews again once I log a few books for the challenge.

Writing Work:

  • Planning/researching new series
  • Story Genius
  • Graphic design class


  • None


  • None


  • None


  • None

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Filed under Reading, Reading & Writing, War Through The Generations, Weekly Writing Check In, Writing

2012 Reading Challenge wrap up


So last night I finished my last book for the War Through the Generations 2012 WWI reading challenge.

I read seven books in all, which is the most I’ve read for this challenge since I started doing it. I signed up for the “wade” level of 4 – 10 books, so I accomplished that quite comfortably. And I still have more WWI books I want to read. Even so, I plan to sign up for the 2013 challenge: The American Revolution.

It’s perfect timing since this spring, Kyra’s class does a huge unit on the American Revolution and we plan to do the reading challenge together.

To sum up 2012, here’s a quick overview (with links to some reviews) of the books I read:

To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild (review here)

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Fantastic middle grade novel that should appeal to adults as well. One of my favorite constructs–the story within a story. This one is on audio as well and would make a good summer road trip book.

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

I discovered this one thanks to a Facebook post. Yes! Facebook! Good for something.

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd

WWI mystery. If you like the Maisie Dobbs series, this is a good choice for historical/WWI mysteries.

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by The Countess of Carnarvon (review here)

Not really connected to Downton Abbey, but still interesting.

World War One: History in an Hour by Rupert Colley (review here)

This book is exactly what it claims to be: a concise overview of World War I that you can read in an hour or so.

Not So Quiet … Stepdaughters of War by Helen Zenna Smith

Interesting if ultimately tragic (what else could it be) story about female ambulance drivers on the Western Front in WWI. Helen Zenna Smith is a pseudonym for Evadne Price, who had an interesting and varied writing career. Read more about her on here on Wikipedia.


Filed under Books, Reading, War Through The Generations

World War One: History in an Hour ~ a short review for a short book

Book #6 for the War Through the Generations WWI reading challenge, which means I have thoroughly “waded” into the challenge–and feeling quite proud of myself.

World War One: History in an Hour is exactly what it claims to be: a concise overview of World War I that you can read in an hour (or so–I spent about an hour and a half reading). It is also a better book to read at the start of a WWI reading challenge, not closer to its end.

That being said, it’s a great place to start if you don’t have a passing familiarity with WWI, or haven’t done any serious reading on the topic since 11th grade world history. The narrative style is engaging, and the book itself is broken into sections, which makes it easy to set down and pick back up again. The author doesn’t go into any great depth, but again, that’s not this book’s purpose.

The book also includes short biographies of some of the major players in the war along with a timeline.

So, if you’re looking for an introduction, or need a quick read to round out this year’s challenge, you can’t go wrong with this one, especially if it continues to be free on Kindle.

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WWI Read: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Book # 5 in the War Through the Generations WWI reading challenge: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle.

I was on the fence about whether or not I wanted to read this one. I knew it wouldn’t really have anything to do with Downton Abbey. What tipped the balance? This review on Amazon:

 … did not think the book would be 3/4 about war war war and her nursing abilities.

And I was all: Sold! Because that’s exactly what I wanted to read about. This is also why authors shouldn’t sweat the negative reviews. That being said, there’s controversy in some of the other reviews about how sanitized this version of Lady Almina’s life happens to be.

I suspect there might be some truth to this. The narrative is fairly scandal free, the author glossing over the fact Lady Almina remarries in the same year Lord Carnarvon dies and only briefly mentions the court case she becomes involved in (see Wikipedia for more info).

However, I did enjoy learning more about what went into running a private hospital during WWI and the problems encountered. Although in Lady Almina’s case, she solved a great many of these problems by throwing money at them–which seems to have been her SOP. Also fascinating was the time the narrative spent on the Earl’s interest (more like an obsession) in Egyptology. I hadn’t realized he was Howard Carter’s backer, and that together they discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

Was the read worth it? From my point of view, yes. If you already know a bit about WWI, you won’t learn a lot here. And of course, the narrative doesn’t contain swoon-worthy scenes between Matthew and Mary or one liners delivered by Dame Maggie Smith. However, it is an interesting look at a certain strata of British society before, during, and after the war.

And just because the book doesn’t have any Maggie Smith doesn’t mean this blog post will go without. Enjoy.


Filed under Book Review, Books, Reading, War Through The Generations

Mid-year-ish Reading Recap

I meant to write this one up at the end of June or beginning of July, but it has been a whirlwind of activity around here: horse camp, the Betsy-Tacy convention. I’m almost never this much of a social butterfly. July has been one hot, busy month, but totally worth it. In fact, I almost don’t know what to do with myself this weekend.

On to the reading (and watching) challenges!

Fifty/Fifty Me challenge

The challenge here is to read fifty books and watch fifty movies during 2012. Where I’m at:

  • Books: 52
  • Movies: 12

Yes, try not to laugh at that. All I can say is if I’m awake enough in the evenings to enjoy entertainment of some sort, I’m almost always going to reach for a book rather than fire up a movie. That’s just how I roll.

If you want to see what I’ve been reading, check out my Pinterest board. It has a list (minus the seven I read for the Rita contest and can’t disclose) of what I’ve read so far this year.

If you want to see the (limited) number of movies I’ve watched, look here.

War Through the Generations WWI reading challenge

I’ve made my goal! And by mid-year! However, I do hope to read a few more WWI books (at the very least).

To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild (review here)

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Fantastic middle grade novel that should appeal to adults as well. One of my favorite constructs–the story within a story. This one is on audio as well and would make a good summer road trip book.

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

I discovered this one thanks to a Facebook post. Yes! Facebook! Good for something.

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd

WWI mystery. If you like the Maisie Dobbs series, this is a good choice for historical/WWI mysteries.

That’s it! I hope everyone else is keeping on track with their reading/watching challenges so far this year. Hey, there’s still plenty of time to make your goals.


Filed under 50/50, Books, Reading, War Through The Generations

Review: To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918

First book in my War Through the Generations WWI reading challenge. I really enjoyed this book and it was a great way to kick off the challenge. If you’re interested in the war, in particular from the British perspective, and also enjoy personal histories, this may be the book for you.

To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild (Summary from Amazon):

World War I stands as one of history’s most senseless spasms of carnage, defying rational explanation. In a riveting, suspenseful narrative with haunting echoes for our own time, Adam Hochschild brings it to life as never before.

He focuses on the long-ignored moral drama of the war’s critics, alongside its generals and heroes. Thrown in jail for their opposition to the war were Britain’s leading investigative journalist, a future winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and an editor who, behind bars, published a newspaper for his fellow inmates on toilet paper.

These critics were sometimes intimately connected to their enemy hawks: one of Britain’s most prominent women pacifist campaigners had a brother who was commander in chief on the Western Front. Two well-known sisters split so bitterly over the war that they ended up publishing newspapers that attacked each other.

To the author’s credit, Adam Hochschild really does try to explain World War I, or at least, explain why it started. To do that, he takes us back beyond the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, into England, Europe, and the world several years before that event.

We see the British in the Sudan and get a comprehensive look at the Boer War. We meet the pairs we’ll follow from the war’s start to past its end, such as Field Marshall John French and his sister (and activist/suffragette) Charlotte Despard.   Despite the fact he was Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force and she was an outspoken opponent of the war, the two remained on good terms throughout the war. In fact, Charlotte seemed to have a soft spot for her younger brother, whom she called Jack. It was only later, over the question of Irish independence, that their relationship finally shattered.

There’s a good reason this book has been nominated for a 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award. While I’ve read other books on World War I, and even listened to more than one lecture series on the subject, this is the first time I really got a comprehensive picture of the entire war.

True, the focus is on Britain. However, Hochschild gives the reader enough of the big picture, both in the war and what’s happening in other countries, that the pieces all come together. The technique he uses–giving us the overview and then drilling down and showing us the individual lives of the pairs he follows in the narrative–is both effective and riveting reading.


Filed under Books, Reading, War Through The Generations

Fifty/Fifty check in: week 2

A little late with the Fifty/Fifty check in this week, although I got my reading and watching done (and some writing, that’s why I’m late with the check in).

In books, I was all about self-help. In movie(s), it was all about the crying.


The Productive Writer: Tips & Tools to Help You Write More, Stress Less & Create Success by Sage Cohen.

This book is pretty much what it says it is. Tips and tools for writing more and finding what you want to write as well. One huge plus is the author presents the material as options, not as “must do’s.” If you don’t know where to start in organizing your writing life, this would be a good first stop.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

It must be the New Year! We’re all about productivity and success. This was my audio book for the weekly commute and I also enjoyed. I’m all revved up now to tackle the world–or at least my little corner of it.


War Horse (film)

War Horse: A recent movie! In a theater! I know. And one that involves crying in public. Even better. Especially when it involves crying with one’s daughter in public.

Yeah, I took Kyra (and Andrew–I wasn’t too worried about him). Initially, I wasn’t sure this would be a good idea. Especially when Kyra sat through the Titanic preview (now in 3D!) with both hands clamped over her mouth.

Two and a half hours later, we emerged, tear-stained and emotionally drained. But it was worth it. She did like the movie; she loved Joey the horse (she’s a horse girl). Plus, both kids like history, so this spurred all sorts of conversations afterward. Kyra wants to learn more about World War I. (And how many nine-year-olds say that?)

Visually, the film is stunning (sometimes hard to watch, but stunning all the same). It’s been a while since I’ve sen a movie in a theater and I don’t regret choosing this one.

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Filed under 50/50, Books, Kids, Movies, Reading, War Through The Generations, Writing

Reading Challenges for 2012

Last year January, I remember reading a post on an email group from an author complaining about the number of books she had to read for the Rita contest. Her complaint, and I’m paraphrasing, was:

Eight books! I don’t even read eight books in a year!

My initial response, which was totally nonverbal, looked something like:


Seriously? You’re an author (and yes, yes she was) and you don’t read. Really? Her excuse? She had all these contracts and was just so busy. Because, you know, the rest of us aren’t.

I do understand not having enough time to do a lot of pleasure reading. Or, when there is time, being too tired. Just last night, I fell asleep reading, only realizing it when my Kindle pitched forward and thumped me on the chest.

And every once in a while, I’ll entertain the idea of simply being a reader–forget this writing stuff. Sadly, it never works out and I end up writing again. But my point is: why write if you don’t read or don’t like to read?

So with that in mind, I’m taking on two reading challenges this year. First, I’m doing the War Through the Generations challenge again. This year the challenge focuses on World War I. I’m doing something a little different this year, too. Normally, I’ve signed up for the “dip” level, which is 1 – 3 books (and yeah, you saw me skate in with book 3 at the last moment).

For 2012, I’m upping the number of books, trying the “wade” level of 4 – 10 books. Sure, to “win” all I really need to do is read one more than I normally do for this challenge. Still. It’s a little intimidating.

The other challenge is the Fifty/Fifty challenge. Fifty books and fifty movies, all in one year. You can combine this challenge with other ones, which is what makes it so great–beyond the neat community already starting up over there.

If you’ve never done a reading challenge, I think this one would be a great place to start. It’s meant to get you reading and watching things you haven’t read or watched before. Already there’s movie and books suggestions.

My personal goal, beyond the challenges, is to read 75 books. If I end up watching 50 movies, we might have to throw a parade.

Wish me luck. Or better yet, join in and keep me company.


Filed under 50/50, Books, Movies, Reading, Reading & Writing, War Through The Generations

Review: And The War Came: The Six Months That Tore America Apart

So yesterday, I sat down and finished the last book I wanted to read for the War Through the Generations Civil War reading challenge.

For my third (and last) book, I picked And the War Came: The Six Months That Tore America Apart by Jamie Malanowski, published by Byliner. I purchased this copy and read it on my Kindle Fire.

Product description (from Amazon):

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, Jamie Malanowski, lead writer of The New York Times’ highly acclaimed Disunion blog, masterfully recounts the origins of America’s greatest national tragedy in real time.

Drawing on diaries, speeches, and newspaper accounts of the six months leading up to the first shots fired on Fort Sumter, And the War Came chronicles the events that tore the nation apart, and delves into the hearts and minds of the men and women who tried in vain to avoid a conflict on American soil.

From the controversial election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 and the failed Crittenden Compromise to the secession of seven Southern states and the election of Jefferson Davis, Malanowski draws indelible portraits of the politicians and soldiers who controlled the country’s destiny. And by unfolding, week by week, the major issues and emotional nuances that led to the Civil War, he sheds new light on the darkest period in American history.

And the War CameAs Malanowski writes in the forward: The way we learn about history is strikingly at odds with the way we experience current events and life in general.

In the following pages, he does an excellent job of remedying this by presenting the six months that leading up to the Civil War in “real time.” In a combination of verbatim source material from diaries, speeches, editorials along with narrative written in mostly present tense, the era really comes alive.

I was immediately drawn into the narrative, which begins seven days before the election of 1860 and ends with the surrender of Fort Sumter. Each section, whether narrative, a diary entry, or an editorial, is fairly short. This makes the book fast paced and very easy to follow.

What it reminded me of is reading political blogs, news sites, and personal blogs. If you’re a news and political blog junkie, I think you’ll enjoy the way this book is written. Malanowski really does achieve his aim in putting us right there. A couple of times while I was reading, I had to pause and remind myself that the events described weren’t happening right now.

This is another one I recommend. It’s short, but packed with both information, attitude, and even humor (much of it at the expense of President Buchanan). If you’re looking for a quick, insightful way to round out your Civil War reading challenge, And the War Came: The Six Months That Tore America Apart by Jamie Malanowski would be a great choice.


Filed under Book Review, Books, Reading, War Through The Generations

2012: 50 books, 50 movies + me

I may be crazy, but I’ve signed up for a second reading–or should I say, reading and watching–challenge for 2012. So here’s the deal. In 2012 I will read at least fifty books and attempt to watch fifty movies.

Clearly, I’m more confident about the books (just finished book 67 last night for 2011) than I am movies (um … last movie I watched … yeah, I’m drawing a blank, unless you count the last part of Aquamarine that I watched with Kyra).

But after really thinking about it, I realized that a challenge where you sit back and relax for ~ 2 hours each week is probably a good thing. Between the stack of DVDs I have and streaming on my Kindle Fire, I am pretty much set for this.

Plus, I can totally combine this challenge with the War Through the Generations one. All in all, it looks like I will be thoroughly entertained in 2012.

So, anyone else with me? For more info, click on the image above. Or here. That works too.


Filed under 50/50, Books, Movies, Reading