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Now that 2013 has come to an end, it’s time to count up the challenge books and see where I stand.

american revolution buttonWar Through the Generations: 2013 American Revolution Reading Challenge

Goal: 4-10

Books read: 3

Thoughts: I’m not happy that I failed to complete my own challenge, but I just wasn’t motivated to read about this war, even though I do find it interesting.

1. The Turncoat by Donna Thorland

2. Jack Absolute by C.C. Humphreys

3. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

historical fiction reading challenge

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2013

Goal: 25+

Books read: 37 — COMPLETED 🙂

Thoughts: This is always an easy challenge for me, so in 2014, I will set a higher goal to see if I can clear more historical fiction books off my shelves.

1. The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock

2. Circles of Time by Phillip Rock

3. The Secret of the Nightingale Palace by Dana Sachs

4. The Klipfish Code by Mary Casanova

5. A Future Arrived by Phillip Rock

6. The Flowers of War by Geling Yan

7. The Turncoat by Donna Thorland

8. The Crooked Branch by Jeanine Cummins

9. Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada

10. The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen

11. The Clover House by Henriette Lazaridis Power

12. The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver

13. The Last Telegram by Liz Trenow

14. The Wars by Timothy Findley

15. Seduction by M.J. Rose

16. The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein

17. Jack Absolute by C.C. Humphreys

18. The Last Van Gogh by Alyson Richman

19. Resistance by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis

20. Defiance by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis

21. Victory by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis

22. I’ll Be Seeing You by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan

23. Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan

24. City of Hope by Kate Kerrigan

25. Letters From Skye by Jessica Brockmole

26. Winter in Wartime by Jan Terlouw

27. Gracianna by Trini Amador

28. Rutherford Park by Elizabeth Cooke

29. His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire, Book 1) by Naomi Novik

30. Rising Sun, Falling Shadow by Daniel Kalla

31. The English German Girl by Jake Wallis Simons

32. Sophia’s War: The End of Innocence by Stephanie Baumgartner

33. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

34. The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley

35. Wolfsangel by Liza Perrat

36. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

37. City of Women by David R. Gillham

P&P bicentenary

The Pride & Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge

Goal: 9-12

Books read: 21 — COMPLETED 🙂

Thoughts: I really enjoyed this challenge, and I’m thinking about doing a Jane Austen challenge on my own in 2014.

1. Dear Mr. Darcy by Amanda Grange

2. Pride & Prejudice (Marvel Illustrated) by Nancy Butler and Hugo Petrus

3. The Man Who Loved Jane Austen by Sally Smith O’Rourke

4. Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen by Sally Smith O’Rourke

5. All Hallow’s Eve by Wendi Sotis

6. For All the Wrong Reasons by Mary Lydon Simonsen

7. A Walk in the Meadows at Rosings Park by Mary Lydon Simonsen

8. A Pemberley Medley by Abigail Reynolds

9. Darcy and Elizabeth: The Language of the Fan by Mary Lydon Simonsen

10. Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton

11. Spies and Prejudice by Talia Vance

12. Mr. Darcy’s Promise by Jeanna Ellsworth

13. The Red Chrysanthemum by Linda Beutler

14. The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle

15. First Impressions by Alexa Adams

16. Second Glances by Alexa Adams

17. Holidays at Pemberley by Alexa Adams

18. Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field by Melissa Nathan

19. “Jane & Bingley: Something Slightly Unsettling” by Alexa Adams

20. Project Darcy by Jane Odiwe

21. Undressing Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos

ireland reading challenge

Ireland Reading Challenge 2013

Goal: 4

Books read: 3

Thoughts: I love reading books set in Ireland, but time just got away from me this year. I had a 4th book picked out, but just didn’t get to it.

1. The Crooked Branch by Jeanine Cummins

2. Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan

3. City of Hope by Kate Kerrigan

dive into poetry challenge

Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013

Goal: 1

Books read: 2 — COMPLETED 🙂

Thoughts: I’m glad Serena challenges me to read poetry every year. I don’t think I could read as many poetry books as she does, but I’ll try to read a couple more next time around.

1. Eyes, Stones by Elana Bell

2. Love: Ten Poems by Pablo Neruda

Literature & War Readalong 2013

Books read: 4/12

Thoughts: I really love these readalongs, and even though I didn’t get to participate every month (either because of time or because I couldn’t get the book through my local library), I enjoyed reading the discussion posts. With the focus on WWI in 2014, I hope to participate more often.

February — The Flowers of War by Geling Yan

March — The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen

April — The Wars by Timothy Findley

June — Winter in Wartime by Jan Terlouw

goodreads challengeGoodreads 2013 Reading Challenge — COMPLETED 🙂

Read: 102/100 books

Final thoughts:  Overall, I think I did really well, just got a little pressed for time at the end of the year.

Did any of you participate in any reading challenges last year?  How did you fare?

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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city of hope

Source: Review copy from William Morrow
Rating: ★★★★☆

As I walked I breathed in the wet, muggy air and remembered where I was: New York.  Not Ireland, where the air was fresh and sharp, and filled with the waft of turf fires and wet grass and mint.  I brought myself back to my previous time here, full of purpose and determination.  This time was the same.

(from City of Hope)

City of Hope is the second book in a trilogy by Kate Kerrigan (which began with Ellis Island) about a headstrong Irish woman torn between her home in Ireland and New York, the city that enabled her to emerge from poverty, experience freedom, and take control of her life.  The novel opens in 1934, and Ellie Hogan is a successful businesswoman in her small Irish town, but the sudden death of her husband and childhood sweetheart, John, prompts her to leave it all behind and rush back to New York.

Ellie expects to return to the glittery, bustling, vibrant New York she left behind 10 years ago, but the Great Depression has taken its toll.  She is unable to lose herself in fine clothes and fancy parties when the streets are cluttered with the homeless, remembering the days when she and John had no money and little to eat, which is why she went to New York the first time as a maid to a spoiled, wealthy socialite.  Ellie needs to find a purpose, something to distract her from her grief, and she soon finds that helping the poor — many of whom were well-to-do before losing everything they had when the stock market crashed — is her calling.

Using her determination and her business acumen, Ellie feeds and shelters these men, women, and children, and in return, builds friendships and community.  Ellie must deal with men upset that their wives earn more than they do, figure out her feelings when someone from her past shows up at her door, and navigate both the rise of the labor unions and the mob.

Ellie is such an intriguing character, even though I find her annoying at times, especially her penchant for running away from her feelings.  But I still can’t help but like her determination and her courage.  Even when I didn’t agree with her decisions, Kerrigan made it possible for me to understand her.  I also loved the assortment of characters, from the warm and loving Maidy and the sharp-tongued Bridie to the strong and caring handyman, Matt.  Kerrigan makes all of them in their varied circumstances feel real, and she also brings Depression-era New York City to life.

Kerrigan provides enough information from the first book to make City of Hope a stand-alone novel, but I think readers should start with Ellis Island to really understand Ellie.  Readers who enjoy immigrant stories will want to give these novels a try, as they show what life was like for people trying to achieve the American Dream and personalize the experience by focusing on a woman ahead of her time.  Ellie is a complex character, and you never know what she’s going to do next, so I can’t wait to see how her story plays out in the final book.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on City of Hope tour.  To follow the tour, click here.

Book 3 for the Ireland Reading Challenge

historical fiction reading challenge

Book 24 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received City of Hope from William Morrow for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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ellis island

Source: Review copy from Harper
Rating: ★★★★☆

Not indeed that I had been planning to do anything in particular — but nonetheless, I realized how much I had been enjoying the anonymity that New York afforded me.  While I had been living my life free from the microscopic study of curious neighbors since I left Ireland, I only became aware of my freedom in that moment. (from Ellis Island, page 249)

Set in the 1920s, Ellis Island is the story of Ellie Hogan, a young woman who emigrates to New York City to escape the poverty of rural Ireland and work as a maid for a socialite in the hopes of earning enough money to pay for the surgery that will enable her husband to walk again.  Ellie has loved John Hogan since they were children, and when his involvement in the Irish Republican Army leaves him unable to work, she doesn’t think twice about taking matters into her own hands and taking up an old friend’s offer to bring her to America.

Ellie doesn’t want to be away from home for more than a year, just long enough to get her and John set for the future, but New York City opens up a whole new world for her.  The city offers freedom from her cold and disapproving parents, freedom from poverty, and an independence she could never know back home as a farmer’s wife.  She is introduced to modern conveniences like electricity, toasters, and warm showers.  She observes and then later enjoys the excesses of the wealthy and develops a love and appreciation for fine clothes, cosmetics, linens, and other material things.

When an affluent young man shows an interest in her, she begins to realize how far she has come.  But when circumstances send her back to Ireland (and John), she realizes how much she has changed and must choose between love and a world full of possibilities. Kate Kerrigan has created a believable heroine in Ellie.

She did an admirable thing, a selfless thing, in leaving behind everything she knew and everyone she loved to take care of her husband.  And one can understand how easy it might be to then become a bit selfish, having been given a taste of freedom and modernity.  However, as the story progressed, I grew tired of Ellie’s whining.  She had been luckier than many immigrants, and even though she was a hard worker, luck did play a role in her success overseas.  It was exasperating to see her place such a high value on material things, but Kerrigan did such a good job evolving Ellie’s character over the course of the book, that I couldn’t help but root for her even when I wanted to shake some sense into her.

Kerrigan also gives readers a good idea of what New York City and Ireland were like in the 1920s — New York City in a period of prosperity, and Ireland recovering from its War of Independence.  Given the way America and Ireland pulled so violently at Ellie, it’s not surprising they were more like characters than just settings.  Kerrigan made the people Ellie encountered in both countries seem real — from Isobel, the needy socialite, to Maidy and Paud, John’s aunt and uncle who adopted him when he was a child and basically adopted Ellie, too.  Even using the first-person narrative, Kerrigan was able to portray a cast of well-developed characters and rich landscapes.

Ellis Island is about one young woman’s immigrant experience and a testament to the American Dream, though I’m not sure the title is a good fit given that Ellis Island itself barely factors into the story.  Kerrigan paints a picture of New York City as a true melting pot and a land of plenty but also shows how hard it can be to leave home — even when a better life might be had elsewhere.  Ellis Island calls on readers to think about their priorities in life, whether where we come from makes us who we are, whether love really is all you need, and how we define and balance freedom, success, and home. Ellis Island is the first book in a trilogy.  Stay tuned for my review of the second book, City of Hope.

Book 2 for the Ireland Reading Challenge

historical fiction reading challenge

Book 23 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received Ellis Island from Harper for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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the crooked branch

Source: Review copy from NAL
Rating: ★★★★★

Ginny turns in circles, looking for any trace of life, a single green leaf, a purple blossom, a breath of prayer.  But there is nothing, only the stench of death now, rising up from the soil, clinging to the thick air like a fetid warning.  Everything, everything is rot.

(from The Crooked Branch, page 3)

The Crooked Branch follows two desperate mothers struggling through vastly different hardships, one in present-day Queens and the other in Ireland in 1846-47 during the Great Hunger, also known as the potato famine.  Majella’s present-day story centers on her inability to adapt to motherhood and her fears about her mental health.  She feels like she failed baby Emma from the beginning because she had a c-section after a long and difficult labor.  She loves her daughter, but worries that she’ll never be the mom she dreamed of being, feels that she’s lost the person she was in her life before, and thinks she’s going crazy.  She doesn’t think it’s postpartum depression; she thinks being a bad mother has been passed down through the generations and is in her genes — and the dreams, the blow-ups, and the inappropriate comments she can’t help making must prove it.

Majella’s relationship with her own mother is hardly a model one.  Her mother is so far removed from anything that’s real, rambling on and on about random things and never stopping to listen to her daughter, who is falling apart at the seams.  When Majella finds a diary written by an ancestor who survived the famine in Ireland, there’s one passage that makes her believe she is genetically programmed to fail at motherhood.

Back in 1846, Ginny Doyle is living a happy existence with her husband, Raymond, and their brood, Maire, Michael, Maggie, and Poppy, when the blight suddenly descends upon their farm and ruins their potato crop.  With all the other crops and farm animals — aside from a few hens and the cabbages and turnips Ginny grows in her own garden — needed to pay rent to their English landlord, those potatoes were all the family had for themselves until the next harvest.

It’s not long before the blight leads to mass evictions and widespread hunger.  Parents waste away and watch their children do the same.  Neighbors steal from one another.  The “famine fever” spreads.  The Doyles are better off than many of their neighbors, but still, Raymond thinks their only hope is for him to set sail for New York and stay with his brother while he gets a job and sends money home to his family.  When months go by with no word and no money and their food runs out, Ginny is forced to take matters into her own hands and make an impossible decision in order to keep her children alive.

The Crooked Branch is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.  Normally when I read a novel that weaves together the past and the present, I find myself drawn to the historical story and think the present-day story is just so-so.  But this time around, I was equally captivated.  Majella’s first-person narrative was so honest and even funny.  It brought me back to when I was a new mom, and at times, it felt like I was reading about my own life.  Ginny’s story (told in the third-person) was so heartbreaking, but her strength, determination, and her fierce love for her children were admirable.  I can’t imagine what it must have been like to live during the famine, and Cummins does an excellent job portraying the fear, helplessness, and desperation of the Irish people.  Majella’s and Ginny’s stories alternate by chapter, so just when you think your heart is about to burst, there’s an injection of humor and snarkiness that makes the depressing scenes more manageable.

The Crooked Branch is a story with motherhood at its core, how parenting comes with its ups and downs, no matter the time or place.  Majella’s problems may seem insignificant in comparison to Ginny’s, but her fears and inner turmoil are authentic.  Cummins paints a picture of two women willing to do anything to protect their children and addresses the issue of heritage and one’s identity after becoming a mother.  It’s a tale of mothers and daughters — Majella and the mother she feels she never knew, and Ginny and Maire, who was forced to grow up too soon.  Cummins’ prose flows so beautifully that it’s easy to get lost in the story and breeze through a whole chunk of pages without even realizing it.  The connections between the past and the present are satisfying, and the characters are so fascinating that I didn’t want the novel to end.

Book 1 for the Ireland Reading Challenge

historical fiction reading challenge

Book 8 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received The Crooked Branch from NAL for review.

© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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It’s the time of year where I start thinking about new reading challenges.  I’m going to keep my challenge participation light again in 2013.  Here are the challenges I’ve selected:

american revolution button

January 1 – December 31

I’m signing up for the Wade level of 4-10 books for the American Revolution Reading Challenge 2013 at War Through the Generations that I’m co-hosting with Serena.  I don’t own any books about the American Revolution, so I think I’m going to start this challenge by browsing my local library.  The Girl and Jerry have signed up as well for the Dip level of 1-3 books.

historical fiction reading challenge

January 1 – December 31

I’m signing up for the Ancient History level of 25+ books for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2013 at Historical Tapestry.  It’s not much of a challenge for me to read historical fiction, but I can’t resist this challenge and want to see how many books I can read in this genre in a year.

dive into poetry challenge

January 1 – December 31

I’m signing up for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013 at Savvy Verse & Wit.  Since I already comment on all of Serena’s weekly Virtual Poetry Circle posts, I’m committing to review at least 1 poetry book and participate in her National Poetry Month blog tour.  There are several options for this challenge, so I hope you’ll see how easy it is to get your feet wet in terms of reading poetry.

ireland reading challenge

January 1 – December 31

I’m signing up for the Shamrock level of 4 books for the 2013 Ireland Reading Challenge at Books and Movies.  I probably should have signed up for this challenge long ago since I tend to read a handful of books every year that are written by Irish authors, set in Ireland, or feature Irish characters or Irish history.

Literature and War Readalong 2013

I also want to take part in the Literature and War Readalong 2013 at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat.  Caroline hosts a discussion on a war-themed novel once a month throughout the year.  I plan to read as many of these books as I can get my hands on.  Here’s the schedule:

January 28: The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers (Iraq War)
February 28: The Flowers of War by Geling Yan (Chinese/Japanese War)
March 28: The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen (WWII)
April 29: The Wars by Timothy Findley (WWI)
May 31: All That I Am by Anna Funder (WWII)
June 28: Winter in Wartime by Jan Terlouw (WWII)
July 29: Children of the New World by Assia Djebar (French/Algerian War)
August 30: Grey Souls by Philippe Claudel (WWI)
September 30: There’s No Home by Alexander Baron (WWII)
October 28: Everything Flows by Vasily Grossman (Post-War)
November 29: Death of the Adversary by Hans Keilson (WWII)
December 30: The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh (Vietnam War)

What challenges are you committing to in 2013?

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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