Friday, December 30, 2011

A Year in Review... plus a few graphs

Up until yesterday we had been planning this glorious year end video summarizing our reading exploits. We had planned to make you laugh, cry, and basically rethink your life's purpose as we reflected on 2011.  All this sounded great up until the point when we actually had to shoot the video... nothing.  At least nothing that could stir the aforementioned emotions.  Soooo, instead we’ve decided to bore you with some awesome statistics....

For those of you who have been following our (Evan’s) reading progress throughout 2011 with bated breath, the following graphs contain all the fascinating details that will help you nerd up your New Year a little more!!! 

First, let’s have a quick look at our (Evan’s) reading statistics by month.

The heavenly bodies aligned in October, however there was definitely room for improvement in July, November, and March.  Honestly, the entire second half of the year was a bit light compared to the first half... huh.  Overall, 126 books surpassed our wildest dreams (yeah, we have weird dreams).  But let’s take a deeper look at the gruesome details...

In 2011 we read 12,212 pages and listened to 989 Compact Discs.  March was the month we did the most actual reading and May was the month we did the most listening.   Not sure what that means, but the bars and lines look pretty neat combined together.  Also, assuming each CD was an hour long, (which most are longer) we spent 11% of 2011 just listening to books!  Awesome!  One more chart....

Our literary awakening was partially inspired by the BBC Big Read list, so in the shadows we continue to have our eye on the prize.  Come to think of it, maybe people really don’t win prizes for completing reading lists...  At any rate, we checked off 27 BBC Big Reads this year and given our current progress we should complete book 200 sometime in the year 2014.  The bounce house and balloons are already reserved....

And finally, below are the Two Bibliomaniacs Book Awards for the books we read in 2011 (Links available on any book reviewed):

Best Fantasy / Science Fiction: Well of Lost Plots (Jaspier Fforde)

Best Dystopian: The Hunger Games (Susan Collins)

Best Mystery / Suspense: Shutter Island (Dennis Lahane)

Best Laugh Generating Novel: Mort (Terry Pratchett)

Best Novel Involving a Boat and Three People: Three Men in a Boat (Jerome K. Jerome)

Best Love Story: A Town Like Alice (Nevile Shute)

Best Classic: The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)

Best Sleep Inducing Read: Vanity Fair (William Makepeace Thackeray)

Best non-Fiction: Love Wins (Rob Bell)

Best Book that’s a Fairly Popular Movie from the 80’s: The Princess Bride (William Goldman)

Best Movie Interpretation of a Novel:  Rebecca (Masterpiece Theater’s 1997 version)

Best Children’s Novel: Swallows and Amazons (Arthur Ransome)

Biggest Pleasant Surprise: The Looking Glass Wars (Frank Beddor)

Best ReRead: I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith)

Best Long Novel: Les Miserable (Victor Hugo)

Biggest Disappointment: Middlemarch (George Eliot)

Best Scary Novel Other Than Bag of Bones: The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson)

Best YA: Howl’s Moving Castle (Diana Wynne Jones)

Best Novel Involving a Gentleman with Thistle Down Hair: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke)

Author Most Deserving of a Flick in the Nose: Ulysses (James Joyce)

We offer our sincerest apologizes to anyone who may have inadvertently fallen asleep during the reading of this post and smashed their nose into their keyboard.  Hope your literary endeavors were as enjoyable as ours!

God bless and here’s to a great 2012!          

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Top 10 Favorite Books We Read in 2011

Question:  Top 10 Favorite Books We (Evan) Read in 2011

Answer:  What better way to close out 2011 than reviewing our favorites of the year.  With 126 books read since January this will require some serious reflection...

  1. The Well of Lost Plots (Jasper Fforde) – The Thursday Next series is one of our favorite science fiction / alternate history series of all time.  Book 3 was another gem and our favorite of the series.
  2. A Town Like Alice (Nevil Shute) – A great love story and a great novel about perseverance.  Have we mentioned before that we love Joe Harman?!
  3. Shutter Island (Dennis Lehane) – Delightfully Disturbing.  Had us guessing until the last 10 pages.    
  4. Les Misérables (Victor Hugo) – Jean Jaljean won the Two Bibliomaniacs Man of the Year award in 2011.  We apologize for complete lack of clout tied to this award.  Anyway, great story, a little long, but great story!
  5. The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) – It took us a while to finally give this series a try, but once we started it barely took a weekend to finish!  Can’t wait for the upcoming movie.
  6. Mort (Terry Pratchett) – This is the novel that single handedly redeemed the Discworld series.  Now we’re fully drinking the Kool-Aid.
  7. The Waste Lands (Stephen King) – We started The Dark Tower series in 2011 and book 3 was momentous.  Can’t wait to find out what else lies ahead for Roland.
  8. The Princess Bride (William Goldman) – We weren’t sold on this one right out of the gate, but upon further reflection this book has to be in our top 10.  Such a fun reading experience.
  9. Three Men in a Boat (Jerome K. Jerome) – There wasn’t another book in 2011 that produced so many laughs.  Classic literature at its funniest!
  10. The Help (Kathryn Stockett) – The cast made this novel so memorable and several characters were nominated for the Two Bibliomaniacs Woman of the Year award in 2011.  Who won?  Considering this award didn’t exist five minutes ago, the judges are still deliberating....

Good luck closing out those last few 2011 reads and be sure to head on over to The Broke and the Bookish to join this week’s fun!

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Three Musketeers

The Three MusketeersThe Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
Evan’s ESS = 8 out of 10
Erin’s ESS =  out of 10
Content = PG (Adult Content, Violence, Hot Tempers, Treachery, Stabbing)

“I do not often laugh, sir,” answered the unknown.  “As you may yourself discover by the expression of my countenance.  But yet I mean to preserve the right of laughing when I please.”

Why: The title of this novel is deliberately misleading.  Dumas really missed the boat on this one by not calling this masterpiece The Three Musketeers and One er, Guardsman.  Who knew that “all for one, one for all” actually meant “all FOUR one, one FOUR all?  We didn’t, although the list of things we don’t know can at times be staggering (really, people actually make blankets with arm holes?).  Anyway, today, let’s concentrate on the things we do know...

In route to ask the captain of the Musketeers for a job, young d’Artagnan makes a habit of challenging anything with breath to a duel.  Three men in particular who fit this category are the infamous musketeers; Athos, Aramis, and Porthos and end up scheduling duels with d’Artagnan all on the same day.   Just as the first swordfight commences enemies of the Musketeers approach and three friends quickly become four.  From that point on, the group is nearly inseparable and find themselves engaged in a disturbing scheme involving the royal family and the Cardinal and a few other sinister people.  Love, honor, and life are all at stake as d’Artagnan and his three Musketeers fight to uncover the plot.     

Alexandre Dumas had us at The Count of Monte Cristo and now after The Three Musketeers he’s officially entered the very elite Two Bibliomaniacs Favorite Dead Author club.  Dumas was a brilliant writer and was able to pack oodles of action, mystery, and humor all into a great narrative.  The story was thick with storylines, yet easy to follow and the characters were all unique – although a tad bit touchy.

While the 3 musketeers were certainly admirable with a sword, they did struggle in the departments of money, love, and sobriety.  Although, come to think of it, even their swordplay could be called into question due to the frequency in which each member of the group was stabbed.  Of course, they were all mere flesh wounds.  Still, it was easy to root for the band of four friends and even more fun to question their rash decision making.   We only wish it was somehow possible to enjoy more of d’Artagnan adventures....

Oh, snap!  Something else can officially be remove from our above referenced list of things we don’t know.  The Three Musketeers is actually the first in a series that make up the d’Artagnan Romances.  Has anyone ever read Twenty Years After or The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later?  At least the titles seem to be pretty clear on the timeframe covered in the novels; although given Dumas’s record they probably take place something like 12 years later... 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Kicking and Screaming into Shakespeare

We first eyed the Shakespeare Reading Event a few weeks ago and scoffed at the notion.  Since that time we surpassed the 6 billionth mark of sitting through Gnomeo and Juliet with our children...  Maybe it’s a sign we should read more Shakespeare or maybe it's just time to buy our kids some new movies.  Either way, we’ve decided January is the month to confront Bill face to page.

Don’t get us wrong, Shakespeare is probably a good guy and all, but every since all his wherefore art thou’s in middle school the guy has intimidated the heck-fire out of us.  That being said, over the past 18 months we’ve seen significant growth in our literary prowess and next month we hope to slay the below 3 dragons. *gulp*

                King Lear

We’ll keep everyone updated on our progress throughout the month, but if you don’t hear from us every 4 to 5 days – PLEASE SEND HELP (or cookies)!!!

Special thanks to Allie over at A Literary Odyssey for hosting this event.  We ARE looking forward to reading a little Shakespeare...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Water for Elephants

Water for ElephantsWater for Elephants – Sarah Gruen
Evan’s ESS = 7 out of 10
Erin’s ESS = 7.5 out of 10
Content = R (Adult Content, Violence, Sexual Contact, Sexual Tension, Language, Elephants)

Why: We’ve (Evan) been hearing the hype and yet somehow managed to push Water for Elephants off until just last month.  Not a bad read, but let’s just say we’re not doing cartwheels.  That’s not to say that we couldn’t execute the maneuver with breathtaking precision if we were so inclined... We’re just say’in.

Presented through a series of flashbacks by a cantankerous nursing home patient, the story begins as Jacob Jankowski is confronted with the death of his parents.  Hastily, he drops out of school and flees to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.  After a fair amount of drama, Jacob is offered a position as vet with the traveling circus.  What follows is, well... a circus – especially when Rosie shuffles into town...

Honestly, we could go either way on this novel.  For some reason we are drawn to the enchantment of the circus, so the setting was interesting enough to keep our attention.  We thought the novel captured the spirit of the traveling circus and pulled the curtain on some of the more sleazy aspects of the business.  The treatment of the animals was at times appalling as was the practice of chucking circus workers from moving trains.

In many ways, the characters were almost as entertaining as the circus.  Jacob was complex and real.  The lovely Marlena was just as intriguing and provocative in real life as she was in her animal act.  The head animal trainer was pretty much a complete jerk-bag throughout.  Rosie the Elephant was incredibly enduring and a formidable animal character.  And the bearded lady... yeesh.     

So why didn’t we love this book? We’re not sure.  It just felt like something was missing.  Maybe there was too much bitterness and anger in the narrator or maybe the relationship between Jacob and Marlena could have been developed more or maybe a high flying monkey act should have been incorporated into the performance.  Whatever the case Water for Elephants was a good book, but not great, and definitely not in our top 10 for 2011 (which will be announced with much hoopla in the next week(s)).        

Finally, in order to hastily complete our commitment in the Books to Movie Challenge, the following paragraph will be dedicated to the movie version of Water for Elephants.  Our thoughts about the movie are eerily similar to the book.  The movie did a really good job of capturing people’s fascination with the traveling circus.  We longed to be standing right next to all the townspeople when the tents were being set up.  In general the movie stayed true to the book, although we thought the absence of Uncle Al, who was the circus owner in the book, was a big miss.  The big winner (no pun intended) in both the book, and the movie, was Rosie.  Can we please have a ginormous protective and lovable elephant for Christmas?  You can keep the hippopotamus!

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo CabretThe Invention of Hugo Cabret – Brian Selznick
Evan’s ESS = 9 out of 10
Erin’s ESS =  out of 10
Content = (Minor Adult Content, Thieving, Secret Messages, Clocks)

“Maybe it’s the same with people,” Hugo continued.  “If you lose your purpose... it’s like you’re broken.”

Why: Two weeks ago we were entirely blind to this books existence.  And then, without warning, a 30 second preview of Martin Scorsese’s, Hugo appeared on our television.  We nearly lost consciousness and may or may not have temporarily choked on a popcorn kernel. 30 seconds later we found out that Hugo was a book (aren’t all great movies?) and about 30 minutes later we had place a hold on The Invention of Hugo Cabret at the library.

After a family tragedy, Hugo Cabret is left to survive on his own within the elaborate passages of a Paris train station.  His talent for fixing things allows him to maintain his secrecy by continuing his uncle’s profession as the official keep the clock’s working guy.  Unfortunately, an untimely encounter with a local toy maker throws his life upside down.  Hugo finds himself caught in a world of secrets, intrigue, and lost dreams.  To solve the mystery will require Hugo’s greatest fixit job yet.

Wow!  Really, wow, what a unique reading experience.  The novel is 533 pages long with 280ish pictures scattered throughout.  Who knew?  We certainly didn’t.  Admittedly, our experience with graphic novels is limited, but never before have we seen illustrations move a plot forward with such skill and seamlessness.  We loved the sequence of four pictures depicting Hugo fixing the mouse near the beginning of the story, especially the toy maker’s hands.  The train sequence at the end of the novel actually felt a little like the approaching train was... approaching.  Now, we realize we’re gushing a little bit here, but The Invention of Hugo Cabret surpassed our expectations.  Let us wipe the drool from our chin and then we’ll try to be a bit more professional...

Okay, the storyline wasn’t blow-your-stinking-mind-good.  Simple and charming are probably better labels.  The Invention of Hugo Cabret is about the power of secrets and dreaming big, which are only enhanced by the various drawings and illustrations.  The novel is also historical fiction and brought in real life movie director, Marie Georges Jean Méliés as a primary member of the cast.  His story was quite interesting and the stills from his movies were incredible.  Oops, we’re gushing again.   

In conclusion, the writing was solid, but what made The Invention of Hugo Cabret so memorable was the experience.  Next on our agenda: to experience the movie.  We hope it lives up to our lofty expectations!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Howl's Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle (Castle, #1)Howl’s Moving Castle – Diana Wynne Jones
Evan’s ESS = 8 out of 10
Erin’s ESS =  out of 10
Content = PG (Minor Adult Content, Name Calling, Mild Violence, Premature Aging, Relentless Scarecrows)

“If I give you a hint and tell you it’s a hint, it will be information, and I’m not allowed to give that.”

“I assure you, my friends, I am cone sold stober.”

“You have no right to make jigsaws of people.”

Why: Rarely do we include three quotes in one review, although rarely have so many good lines appeared in one book. It was literally impossible to pick one... or even two.

Just as Sophie Hatter (no relation to the gentleman from Alice in Wonderland) has resigned herself to an uneventful career as hat maker, something remarkable happens. A surprise visit from the Witch of the Waste leaves Sophie transformed into an arthritic, old woman. On a whim, she decides to seek help at the infamous moving castle on the edge of town. What our young... er old heroine finds behind the castle door is nothing close to what she expected, although maybe that’s a good thing. Or is it...

The primary reason this novel works so well is the brilliant array of characters. Howl himself is probably best described by manipulating the lyrics to the chorus of a popular song:


He’s hot then he’s cold.
He’s yes then he’s no.
He’s in and he’s out.
He’s up and he’s down.

In the highly unlikely case that the previous illustration missed its mark, we’ll just say his personality is all over the map and super fun to read about! Furthermore, many of the characters in this novel are delightfully unique, yet provided a nice balance when all their eccentricities were displayed together.

The setting was vivid and easily a top destination place for our next vacation. The town of Market Chippings felt right out of a fairy tale and Howl’s moving castle was filled with surprises (and a fair amount of bedlam). Honestly, it would take an entire book to explore all the various aspects of the castle. For instance, the front door has the ability to open in 4 different locations. There are also some really impressive inventions around the castle, like seven league books, which allow the wearer to walk 21 miles with each step.

Overall, Howl’s Moving Castle was an easy and enjoyable read. The plot kept us guessing and the dialogue kept us laughing. However... the Academy Award nominated movie left much to be desired. Admittedly, we fell asleep shortly after the scarecrow part, so maybe things improved. We’re going to need some quality persuading to give it a second try...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Top 10 Childhood Favorites

Question:  Top 10 Childhood Favorite Books

Answer: How could we possibly pass up an opportunity to reflect on our favorite childhood reads?  We couldn’t.  Keep reading to explore the labors of our reflection, which took all of about 90 minutes and was much more difficult that we originally envisioned.

  1. James and the Giant Peach (Roald Dahl)
  2. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (Judi Barrett)
  3. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Judith Viorst)
  4. Sideway Stories from Wayside School (Louis Sachar)
  5. The Ramona Quimby series (Beverly Cleary)
  6. The Giving Tree (Shel Silverstein)
  7. The Babysitters Club (Ann M. Martin)
  8. But No Elephants (Jerry Smath)
  9. The Little House Collection (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
  10. The Boxcar Children (Gertude Chandler Warner)

There are sooo many other great books we missed as children, but we’re trying to compensate by living vicariously through our own children.  Sorry for the lack of commentary this week, but the effort to remember titles and authors made us sleepy...    

Have a great week and head on over to The Broke and the Bookish to join the fun!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin
Evan’s ESS = 9 out of 10
Erin’s ESS =  out of 10
Content = (Adult Content, Violence, Language, Sexual Content, Nudity, Intrigue, Direwolves)

Why: We have officially set forth on our journey through the acclaimed A Song of Fire and Ice series. Considering that the average book is over 850 pages, our expedition could take a considerable amount of time (we’re literally talking years). Book one already provided us with yet another reminder that reading about powerful kings and queens is much more enjoyable than actually participating in a real life game of thrones. At the very least, your life expectancy will improve...

Any type of comprehensive summary of A Game of Thrones is completely beyond our skill with a keyboard (or IPod Touch). We’re not even going to try. Instead we’ll provide the following to give you a sense of the plot. There’s a King and a whole lot of people who will stop at nothing to become king. There’s betrayal, murder, fighting, biting and a tribe of wandering horse warriors looming ever closer in the distance. And just when you think you have a grasp on the key players, everything changes.... Hope that helps.

Within the first few pages A Game of Thrones had an epic feel (and an execution). We couldn’t help but let ourselves get pulled into the plot despite minor difficulties sorting out all the complex family trees. Some might describe the novel as overly descriptive but we appreciated the many back stories and enjoyed the extra layers they added to the story. The novel often blurred the lines between good and bad and made it difficult to hand pick our hero and heroine. Although, in some cases the choice was brutally clear. *cough* Jamie and Cersie Lannister *cough* (allow us a second to retrieve a throat lozenge).

The novel bounces between many different perspectives and often did so at the most inopportune and suspenseful moments. We felt the balance between plot lines was reasonable and honestly, the novel felt like a twist between The Lord of the Rings and The Pillars of the Earth... only a pinch darker. The prevalence of rape, prostitution, and violence was at times disturbing. Be forewarned.

Another aspect of A Game of Thrones worth pointing out is the imagery of the approaching winter, which was really well done. It was a powerful tool and only made us more apprehensive of the weather about to hit northern Indiana. On the bright side, what appears to be coming to the Seven Kingdoms seems to a whole lot worse than anything we’re in store for. We were also intrigued by the Direwolve pups that were given as pets to several characters. These animals added an extra dimension to the story, and were downright judicious at times. Still, probably not the best family pet...

For anyone who’s already completed this series, are we in for an exciting ride or does A Song of Fire and Ice peak at book 1?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Books to Movies Challenge - December Check-In

Hurry up, there’s only one more month left to complete the 2011 Books to Movies Challenge!!!

Speaking for us, we’re going to need every last day to complete our last 3 requirements.  We’ve had to mix up our original choices and reprioritize our Netflix queue, but there’s an outside chance we can STILL cross the finish line victoriously.  Water for Elephants is first on the schedule, followed closely by Stand by Me.  We might retry the movie version of Howl’s Moving Castle; however the first 35 minutes inadvertently put us to sleep....     

Thanks again for everyone who participated in our first ever reading challenge!  Please be sure to link any of your recent posts in the Linky thing below! 

Good luck with all your December reading endeavors!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

2011 Reading Challenge Update - November

The month of November is history and despite numerous reading hours dedicated to the newly released Harry Potter Lego Wii game, we (Evan) ended with a respectable 8 books completed for the month.  At this point we’re trying to pad our stats before the end of the year and only the Books to Movies Challenge remains elusive... 

Most of our month was spent deep within the plot of A Game of Thrones, which delivered on the hype.  We also thoroughly enjoyed our read of Howl’s Moving Castle, although the movie was surprisingly painful.  Does it count towards the Books to Movies Challenge if we only watched half the movie???  We’ll have to get clarification from the couple hosting the challenge....  Some other highlights for the month were Anya’s Ghost, Prince Caspian, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Night Watch.

Here are the reviews that we posted in November that fit into our 2011 Challenges.

Rabbit, Run – John Updike
Something Rotten – Jasper Fforde
The Swiss Family Robinson – Johann David Wyss
The Prince of Mist – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Here’s an update on our 2011 Challenge.  All the inspiring details can be found HERE.

Books to Movies Challenge – 3/6
Gothic Reading Challenge – 8/8
Back to the Classics – 8/8
What’s in a Name Challenge – 6/6
2nds Challenge – 20/20
100+ Reading Challenge – 109/100

We’ve got Schindler’s List, The Three Musketeers, Unbroken, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and out first Ian Fleming novel coming up for December!  Yipee.  How’s everyone else looking to finish the year?