Reading Challenge Roundup

Isn’t this time of year when we assess where we are with our reading?  I’ve taken stock and here are the hard numbers.  I enjoyed most if not all of the books I read this year, and I cannot wait to see what 2015 has in store for me.

2014 War Through the Generations Challenge With a Twist

  • signed up for Expert: Read 2+ books for each war for a total of 12 books
  • read 34 (including 2 per war)

2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

  • signed up for Renaissance Reader – 10 books
  • read 38

2014 Portuguese Historical Fiction Challenge

  • signed up for Afonsine – 1 to 3 books
  • read 1

Dive Into Poetry 2014

  • signed up for Dive in and read 7 or more books of poetry
  • read 24

New Authors Challenge 2014

  • signed up for 50 New-to-Me Authors
  • read 84

2014 European Reading Challenge

  • signed up for Five Star (Deluxe Entourage) — at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.
  • read 28 (Italy, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Austria, Scotland, England, Crete, Greece, Ireland, France, Germany, Portugal, Monaco, Hungary, Norway)

Ireland Reading Challenge 2014

  • signed up for Shamrock level: 4 books
  • read 4

How did you do on reading challenges this year?

The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon by Richard Zimler

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 318 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon by Richard Zimler set during the 1500s at the time of the Lisbon Massacre of April 1506, in which about 2,000 Jews were killed.  Zimler breathes life into this time period and the Jewish Kabbalah, a time in which Jews were in hiding and many were converted to New Christians (Marranos) in 1497 — some after fleeing Spain — to remain safe from persecution. Even their conversion is not enough to satisfy Old Christians as they run rampant through the city killing Jews, putting their heads on spikes, throwing them on pyres, and more.  King Manuel I, while more tolerant of the Jewish community, allowed the massacre to rage on, and eventually, 30 years later, the inquisition was established in Portugal, just as it had been in Spain.  Berekiah Zarco, a young manuscript illuminator, becomes caught up in the search for a killer, after he discovers his uncle, the keeper of forbidden Hebrew texts, has been murdered.

“We are all of us deep and wide enough to welcome a river of paradoxes and riddles into our souls.” (page 21)

Berekiah, also known as Pedro as a New Christian, worked with his uncle illuminating texts for others that were hiding from the Christians and trying to keep their Jewish faith alive, but he is unaware of how his uncle smuggled precious texts out of the city and into Turkey so as to keep them from being lost.  Zimler demonstrates through Zarco’s search for his uncle’s killer how the Jews were forced to wear a great many masks to hide their religion, but at the same time, these masks could be false ones and even the most trustworthy in the community could be hiding nefarious deeds.  The tale is told as Zarco unravels the mystery of his uncle’s death, and while he becomes absorbed in vengeance and the search for justice, his Muslim friend, Farid, who cannot speak except with his hands, steers him in the right direction and reminding him of compassion and empathy along the way.

“Yet the wall tiles and window eyelets, desks and chairs returned my gaze without the slightest quiver of motion.  The room was empty, seemed hollow, like the rib cage of an animal whose heart had suddenly ceased beating.”  (page 57)

With a turncoat in the Jewish community, Zarco narrows the field to a few suspects and sets about finding the truth, even as the Old Christians continue to rage, pillage, and kill Jews in their wake.  While the dialogue is a bit comical after a time, with Zarco accusing elders in the community of being murderers and them immediately denying it and him accepting their answers, in the context of the time period in which elders were to be believed, the conversations make sense.  Zarco’s life is in endanger at every turn as he seeks the killer, but he relies on his Kabbalist faith to see him through and finds a strength through his uncle’s teachings.

The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon by Richard Zimler provides a window into the early 1500s when Jews were being pushed out of their homes, and much of the situations during this time mirrors the reasons reiterated during the time of the Nazis — that the Jews were taking all of the jobs and the money away from those who were true Portuguese.  Christian versus New Christian and Jew, Kabbalah was all the Jews had to cling to as a way to survive persecution and continue flourishing.  It is a harrowing story of evil, death, and perseverance, but it is also about the ties we have to our faith and family, even after much of our family has passed on.

About the Author:

Richard Zimler was born in Roslyn Heights, a suburb of New York City, in 1956. After earning a bachelor’s degree in comparative religion from Duke University (1977) and a master’s degree in journalism from Stanford University (1982), he worked for eight years as a journalist, mainly in the San Francisco Bay area. In 1990, he moved to Porto, Portugal, and he has taught journalism for the last sixteen years, first at the College of Journalism and now at the University of Porto. Richard has both American and Portuguese nationality.

1st book for the 2014 Portuguese HF Challenge.



16th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge(Set in Portugal)



26th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.




51st book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

2014 Reading Challenges

Everyone got a jump ahead of me on signing up for challenges this year. At least that’s how it seems to me. Anyway, here are my reading challenges and goals. I’ll try to update this if I decide on more or less. 

Click on the images for the challenge rules and sign-up pages.

1. Dive Into Poetry Reading Challenge 2014

Goal: Dive in and read 7 or more books of poetry



2.  2014 War Challenge With a Twist

Goal: Expert: Read 2+ books for each war for a total of 12 books



3.  2014 European Reading Challenge

Goal: Two Star (Adventurer): Read two qualifying books.

**I could increase this personal goal throughout the year.

I’m already revising this goal to Five Star (Deluxe Entourage): Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.

4.  2014 Portuguese HF Challenge

Goal: Afonsine – 1 to 3 books



5.  2014 New Author Challenge

Goal: 50 New-to-Me Authors



6. 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Goal: Renaissance Reader – 10 books




7. 2014 Ireland Reading Challenge

Goal: Shamrock level: 4 books


What reading challenges have caught your eye that you’d think I’d be interested in?