The Sunday Salon: Personal Reading Challenges

In this week’s Sunday Salon post I thought I would mention some of my personal reading challenges for 2010 and beyond.

You can see my current list of 2010 challenges elsewhere on this blog, but there are also a few other challenges I want to set for myself. These will be perpetual challenges – no time restrictions.

Short Stories

Although I read a lot of novels, I don’t often read short stories. One of my personal ongoing challenges is to read as many short stories as I can, particularly by writers I’ve never read before. I know there are existing short story challenges and groups out there that I could join but I’ve decided not to as I don’t know how much time I’ll be able to devote to this and I don’t want to feel under any pressure. I’ll just see how much I can fit in around my other reading.

I will try to read at least one short story every week, (though sometimes I might read more than one and sometimes I might not read any). On Saturdays I’ll post a wrap-up listing the stories I’ve read and a mini-review of each one.


I have read most of Shakespeare’s tragedies, but only a few of his comedies and histories. So, I’m setting a personal challenge for myself to read all of Shakespeare’s plays, including the ones I’ve read before and to post my review/thoughts on each play.

I have Shakespeare’s Complete Works sitting on my bookshelf, so all I need to do is find the time! I don’t expect to progress very quickly through this challenge. If I can read at least 3 or 4 plays this year I’ll be happy.


I feel ashamed of my lack of knowledge of poetry and would like to do something to change this. I want to refresh my memory of some of the poems I’ve read and enjoyed in the past, as well as discovering other poets whose work is new to me (and there will be a lot of those!). This is a huge challenge for me, as I’ve never read very much poetry at all. I don’t want to set any targets for this – I’ll just try to read some poems when I’m in the mood for it and will share my opinions with you.


These are not public challenges, though you’re welcome to join me if you want to. They are simply personal ‘reading resolutions’ to motivate me to spend some time reading in areas I’ve been neglecting.

Do you have any personal reading challenges of your own? What are they?


New Book Arrivals – 23rd January 2010

Here are two books that I received today. The first book is one that I won from Goodreads: Spring Bear, a novella by Betsy Connor Bowen.


In Evvie Mallow, author Betsy Connor Bowen has created a contemporary classic. Born and raised in the Maine woods, her family disintegrating around her, Evvie is caught in a conflict between irreconcilable forces – the instinct to protect her unborn child and the freedom to choose a life for herself. With dignity and grace, she keeps a Yankee’s silence about her own acts of courage and self-sacrifice. This slender book will take its place among the timeless tales that enrich our imaginations.

I also bought The Sunne in Splendour from Amazon. I’ve never read any of Sharon Kay Penman’s books before but I thought I would try this one as I’ve seen so many good reviews.


A glorious novel of the controversial Richard III – a monarch betrayed in life by his allies and betrayed in death by history

In this beautifully rendered modern classic, Sharon Kay Penman redeems Richard III – vilified as the bitter, twisted, scheming hunchback who murdered his nephews, the princes in the Tower – from his maligned place in history with a dazzling combination of research and storytelling.

This magnificent retelling of his life is filled with all of the sights and sounds of battle, the customs and lore of the fifteenth century, the rigors of court politics, and the passions and prejudices of royalty.

Fiendish Fridays #1: Count Fosco

Fiendish Fridays is hosted here at She Reads Novels, profiling some of our favourite literary villains. You can see a complete list of previous Fiends and suggest one of your own here.

#1 – Friday 22 January 2010: Count Fosco

Name: Count Isodor Ottavio Baldassare Fosco

Appears in: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Who is he? Count Fosco is an Italian friend of Sir Percival Glyde, a baronet who marries Laura Fairlie.

What is he like? He’s old and very fat with a fondness for wearing brightly coloured waistcoats and playing the concertina. Doesn’t sound like a typical villain, does he?

What makes him a Friday Fiend? Although Sir Percival is the nastier of the two and initially appears the more villainous, it quickly becomes obvious that Fosco is more dangerous due to his intelligence, charm and ability to fool people (even Laura’s half-sister Marian Halcombe originally admits to liking him, though her opinion changes drastically later on). Fosco is the brains behind the scheme to steal Laura’s identity and gain her inheritance.

Redeeming features: He shows tenderness towards his pet mice and birds, and admiration for Marian Halcombe (although this unfortunately doesn’t stop him trying to destroy her sister’s life!)

Fiendish Fridays

This feature is currently taking a break but will be back soon!

Have you ever noticed how the villains are often more interesting and more memorable than the heroes? In my new feature, Fiendish Fridays, I will profile a different literary villain every two weeks.

If you’d like to submit a Fiend of your own, you’re very welcome – send me an email at helenlovesbooks81[at]gmail[dot]com. I will be using the format shown below, but you can present the information in any other way you wish. Please try to avoid any major spoilers.

Appears in:
Who are they?
What are they like?
What makes them a Friday Fiend?
Redeeming features (if any):

Of course, you’re also welcome to comment on any existing Fiendish Friday posts. I hope you enjoy this new feature!

Friday Fiends

A new Fiend will be posted every other Friday.

#1 (22 January 2010) – Count Fosco from The Woman in White
#2 (29 January 2010) – Thenardier from Les Miserables
#3 (5 February 2010) – Biju Ram from The Far Pavilions
#4 (19 February 2010) – Waleran Bigod from The Pillars of the Earth
#5 (5 March 2010) – Black Jack Randall from the Outlander series
#6 (19 March 2010) – Mrs Danvers from Rebecca

Happy 101 Award/Honest Scrap Award

I’ve received two awards recently and I’m ready to pass them on. The first is the Happy 101 Award from Helen’s Book Blog – thanks! Here are the rules:

List 10 things that make you happy and then give this award to 10 book blogs that brighten your day.

1. Reading
2. Blogging
3. My family
4. Summer
5. Music
6. Animals
7. Traveling
8. Chocolate
9. Weekends
10. Writing

I’m giving this award to:

1. English Major’s Junk Food
2. Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before
3. The Ladybug Reads
4. Jenny Loves To Read
5. Diary of an Eccentric
6. The Book Resort
7. The True Book Addict
8. Alaine – Queen of Happy Endings
9. Mindful Musings
10. The Bibliophilic Book Blog

The Honest Scrap Award was received from Ash at English Major’s Junk Food and also from Ann at All Write With Coffee… Thanks, Ash and Ann! The rules for this award are:

1. The Honest Scrap Blogger Award must be shared.
2. The recipient has to tell 10 (true) things about themselves that no one else knows.
3. The recipient has to pass on the award to 7 more bloggers.
4. Those 7 bloggers should link back to the blog that awarded them.

Here are my 10 things…not very interesting, but I’ve tried to make most of them book-related.

1. When I was younger I was a big fan of Enid Blyton. She wrote over 600 books for children and I think I must have read most of them! I loved her Malory Towers and St Clare’s school books, as well as The Famous Five series and The Five Find-Outers series, but my all-time favourite was The Valley of Adventure.
2. Although I love discovering new books, I also love re-reads. I like the feeling of revisiting old friends and familiar places, and even though I know what’s going to happen, I still laugh and cry in all the right places!
3. One of my first jobs was a Christmas job in a book shop – I was happy there but left before Christmas when I was offered a permanent job somewhere else.
4. A few years ago I took a proofreading course but it turned out to be more difficult than I thought to actually get to proofread any books – it did help me to get a job though (not my current job, but a previous one).
5. When I was a teenager I had a huge collection of Sweet Valley High and Babysitter’s Club books, but I sold most of them on eBay. Sometimes I regret it, but I just didn’t have room for them all.
6. I have a lot of very nice bookmarks that I’ve never used but I always find myself using the same ancient ones that I’ve been using for years.
7. Despite my love of books, I didn’t really enjoy English at school and I didn’t like most of the books we were made to read. My favourite school subject was History.
8. I’ve only been to the library once in the past year. I used to go almost every week – sometimes more than once a week – but recently I’ve been buying books instead of borrowing them. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to use the library more often this year.
9. On the subject of libraries, I used to volunteer in our school library, helping to shelve and catalogue books.
10. Although I only started this blog in October, I used to keep a record of all the books I read in a notebook. It’s interesting to look at and remind myself of some of the books I read before I began blogging.

I’m passing this award on to:

1. Brianne’s Book Blog
2. [Insert suitably snappy title here…]
3. What Book Is That?
4. Helen’s Book Blog
5. Debbie’s World of Books
6. Laura’s Reviews
7. A Book Blog of One’s Own

If any of you have already received these awards, I’m sorry! I tried to give them to people who haven’t had them before.

Review: Madame Verona Comes Down The Hill by Dimitri Verhulst

I’ve read good reviews of this book and really wanted to like it, but I just couldn’t. Although it’s very short (only 145 pages) it took me almost a week to finish it because I found it difficult to get interested in the story.

The book is set in the tiny and remote village of Oucwegne, a place that is slowly dying due to the lack of girls being born in recent generations. Madame Verona and her musician husband Monsieur Potter live in an isolated house at the top of a steep hill overlooking the village. As they get older, it becomes more and more difficult to walk up and down the hill. When Monsieur Potter hangs himself from a tree after being diagnosed with cancer, he leaves his wife enough firewood to last another twenty years. During those twenty years, Madame Verona lives alone with only an assortment of stray dogs for company, waiting for a luthier (cello-maker) to build her a cello using the wood of the tree from which her husband hanged himself. Eventually she places the last log on the fire and, as the title suggests, comes down the hill, knowing she won’t have the strength to go back up ever again.

The problem I had with the book is that there’s very little action, there’s no suspense as we know what’s going to happen right from the beginning, and there’s almost no dialogue. However, this is more to do with my own personal reading preferences rather than a criticism of the book itself – it’s not supposed to be a thriller after all. Most of the 145 pages are devoted to a string of humorous anecdotes describing life in an isolated village where only six people attend church, the men are obsessed with playing games of table football and a cow was once elected mayor. Most of the characters Verhulst describes are portrayed as eccentric and not particularly likeable. It’s easy to see why Madame Verona was in no hurry to rejoin the community, preferring to stay on the hill with her memories of her husband. The final few chapters, though, were poignant and moving and will be understood by anyone who has lost someone they love.

This book has been translated from the original Dutch, but even in translation Dimitri Verhulst’s writing is poetic and thought-provoking. If you can appreciate the beautiful writing for its own sake and are happy to read a book where nothing really happens, then you would probably enjoy Madame Verona. I would be prepared to try more of Verhulst’s books because he does have a very nice style, but this one just didn’t appeal to me.

Genre: General Fiction/Pages: 145/Publisher: Portobello Books (translated by David Colmer)/Year: 2009/Source: Won a copy in contest

Bloggiesta: Wrap-Up Post

Thanks to Natasha of Maw Books for hosting Bloggiesta and thanks to everyone who has commented on my posts this weekend! Bloggiesta has been very productive for me and I feel I’ve achieved a lot. I didn’t have time to do everything and there are still some more changes and improvements I’d like to make to my blog, but I made good progress and am very happy with what I’ve accomplished.

To see a list of everything I did during Day 1 and Day 2 please see my Friday and Saturday Progress Report. My list for Day 3 follows below.

Day 3
1. Spent some time cleaning up my Google Reader by going through my list of subscriptions and moving things into folders. This was a Mini-Challenge hosted last year at The Book Lady’s Blog.

2. Added meta tags to my blog.

3. Cleaned up my sidebars.
4. Updated my Review Policy.
5. Made a Favicon – I know it looks very basic but it’s better than using the default Blogger icon.
6. Got my Goodreads, LibraryThing and Shelfari profiles up to date with my most recently acquired books/latest reviews etc.

Time spent: 4 hours

Total time spent during the 3 days of Bloggiesta: 14 hours