2011 Reading Challenge Results and More

I knew at the end of last year that I had signed up for too many reading challenges, especially since the little one was going to be born early on in the new year (2011), but I signed up for a ton anyway.

For those who are interested, I’m going to share with you some results.  First I read 107 books this year, which is a feat considering the life changes of a new baby and house that occurred.  I finished 2 read-a-longs (IT by Stephen King and Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles), but failed a third (Villette by Charlotte Bronte).  I hosted my own challenge — 2011 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge, which wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped, but was renewed for 2012.

Ok, the challenges I failed to complete are:

  • 2011 Audio Book Challenge, which I signed up for 3 audio books and only listened to 1.  I had grand plans for listening to 2 others, but alas, with no commute and working from home, that didn’t happen.
  • Nordic Reading Challenge 2011, which I signed up to read 3 books, particularly those by Steig Larsson that I’ve wanted to read forever.  It just didn’t happen.
  • 2011 Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge, which was informal with Dar of Peeking Between the Pages, and I’m not sure if she read any either.  I only have to read beginning with book 5 through the rest, but it didn’t happen either.

These are the challenges I completed:

Ireland Reading Challenge, which I signed up to read 2 books.

Wish I’d Read That Challenge 2011, which I signed up to read 3 books and actually read 18.

2011 New Authors Reading Challenge, which I signed up to read 25 new-to-me authors and read 77.

2011 U.S. Civil War Challenge that I co-host with Anna and barely finished with just three books.

2011 Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge that I signed up to read 5-10 books and actually read 33.

South Asian Reading Challenge, which I signed up to read 3 books.

Finally, even though the Reagan Arthur Challenge is perpetual, I’m dropping this from my list because I never seem to get to the books.

This year I’m experimenting with selling my Best of 2011 list to those interested for $9, and the list includes just poetry and fiction since that’s mainly what I read and review here.  Anyone who wants the list can send payment through PayPal to savvyverseandwit AT gmail DOT com or if you need other arrangements send me an email, and I will email you the link and password for the list.

In 2012, I hope to read as much or more books, finish all my challenges, and have lots of fun with the blog and reading. I also plan to get back to writing…

Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell

Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell is a re-imagining of Pride & Prejudice set during the U.S. Civil War and opens during the battle of Vicksburg, Miss., which was the final surge of the war between union or Yankee troops and southern confederates.  Darcy is a captain in the confederate army and readers are dropped right into the action of war as the novel opens.  He’s commanding his troops as union soldiers pin them down, but then they suddenly withdrawn.  Caldwell’s prose is descriptive down to the sidearms used by the battling troops.

The book quickly turns to the Bennets’ story as they mourn the loss of their only brother Samuel and decide to move to Rosings, Texas to run a different cattle ranch and leave their home in Ohio.  Imagine the tensions following the Civil War between former Confederates and the new Yankees who migrate to the rejoined nation of the United States.  Beth Bennet and Darcy meet and sparks fly in more ways than one, and this is coupled with an underhanded attempt by George Whitehead to usurp cattle ranches, land, and power through a complex plan with help from a darker Denny and a gang of former confederate soldiers still bitter from their loss.

“‘I’m sure you did,’ Bingley laughed.  ‘They’re very nice people Will; they’re just a bit . . . boisterous.  There’s not a mean bone in their bodies.  Once you get to know ’em, you’ll see.’

‘And why should I do that?’

Charles frowned.  ‘They’re my family now, Will.  You’ll be in their company in the future if you’re goin’ to be in mine.  I won’t throw off my wife’s family.’

Darcy had the good manners to be abashed.  ‘You’re right, Charles.  I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have said that.’

‘I know Miz Bennet can talk a blue streak, but she don’t mean anything by it.  It’s just her way.  ‘Sides, you can’t say anything bad about Mr Bennet, or Beth.’

‘She’s a bit of a tomboy, isn’t she?’

Bingley shrugged. ‘She grew up on a farm, Will. What did you expect?’ He elbowed his friend with a grin. ‘She sure cleaned up nice, though. Almost as pretty as my Jane.'” (page 41)

Caldwell’s prose is exactly as it should be incorporating southern manners, but spicing it up with more than sexual tension.  Darcy continues to be proud, but softens around Beth, and Beth continues to be prejudiced against confederates, until she meets her intellectual match in Darcy.  What’s unique is that Caldwell changes the characters just enough to reflect the tensions and angst following the Civil War without losing the spunk of Austen’s characters.

Picturing Darcy as a dark, handsome, rugged cowboy should be enough for some readers, but there is mystery, suspense, and romance to satisfy everyone else.  Austen purists may wonder at the modernity in some of the scenes, but they worked for the most part.  Caldwell also uses some of the most famous lines from Austen’s work in new ways, but they flow so well with the story that readers will smile as they recognized the phrases.  Even more intriguing is the inclusion of another Austen character who is the reverend in Rosings, Texas.  Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell is an escapist novel to a time in American history where things were uncertain and volatile even though the U.S. government had re-unionized.  A quick read, with action and intrigue for any Austen lover.


This is my 3rd and final book for the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge 2011.


This is my 77th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles

Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles is set during the U.S. Civil War in Missouri, which is torn apart by Union ties and Confederate rebel robberies and mischief.  Adair Colley’s father is taken by Union militia on suspicion of helping rebels, and the union soldiers have ripped through their home and taken many of their belongings.  Following the capture of her father, she and her sisters walk to inquire about their father’s imprisonment and to possibly barter for his freedom.  However, along the journey, Adair’s tactless mouth gets her in trouble and she is imprisoned in St. Louis and her sisters flee to relatives.  The novel is about the civil war peripherally and directly and how it impacts Adair and her life.

“There will be trouble in Missouri until the Secesh are subjugated and made to know that they are not only powerless, but that any attempts to make trouble here will bring upon them certain destruction and this . . . must not be confined to soldiers and fighting men, but must be extended to non-combatant men and women.” (Page 1 from beginning correspondence)

Jiles peppers the beginning of each chapter with “authentic” correspondence and dispatches from union and confederates alike, as well as from ordinary people.  On some occasions, these passages speak directly or indirectly to the action in the chapters they precede, but on others they do nothing more than offer additional background to the war and its terror.  They do provide a certain authenticity to a novel that is more fanciful in nature as Adair seems younger than her 18 years.  She sees the world as a young girl who believes that justice always prevails, and despite the challenges she faces, she seems unable to let go of her naivete.  She often is surprised by how people act and react, which she finds extremely disappointing.  Unfortunately, not much changes with Adair’s character throughout the book.  At times, she can be cunning and quick to make decisions that are beneficial, but at other times, she’s fumbling around and unable to be courageous.

“Do you not want out of here? He said.  He seized up the papers.  You think perhaps you care for me.  Would you care for me if you were not here? And dependent on my good will?” (page 126)

Jiles does have her moments where she demonstrates the changes in Missouri from farmland and traditional ways of life to a more industrialized and modern society.  Questions also are raised about whether Adair would have fallen in love with a union soldier had the war not taken place and they were not thrown together.  Readers may enjoy the plight of Adair, but they also may grow frustrated with her lack of growth and the plodding nature of the prose throughout the book.  War scenes only occur once or twice in the book, and while most of the book is about Adair and her journey, there are a couple of chapters thrown in that focus only on Major Neumann after he is sent to the war front from the St. Louis prison where Adair is held.

Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles illustrates the transitions Missouri and its people endured as a result of the war and its aftermath, and the harsh conditions the war brought to union and confederate alike is well depicted.  However, dialects and uneducated speech are not done well, and there are no quotation marks at all.  Moreover, the characterizations falter in several points in the book, and there are some convenient plot devices used to get Adair where she needs to go and to save her from discovery.  The ending left a great number of unanswered questions given the cryptic prose used by Jiles in the final moments of Adair’s story.  While Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles didn’t work most of the time, readers interested in the social impact of the U.S. Civil War might enjoy the story.

Please do check out the discussion for the read-a-long on War Through the Generations if you’ve read the book.


This is my 47th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.



This is my 2nd book for the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge 2011.



Enemy Women Read-a-Long at War Through the Generations

Anna and I hope you will join us for the August read-a-long of Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles as part of the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge 2011.

We will read a handful of chapters every week throughout August, and every Friday, we will post discussion questions on War Through the Generations.

We welcome you to post your thoughts on your blog and provide a link or just type your thoughts in the comments section of the discussion post; whatever works best for you.  You can answer our questions or just discuss whatever you found most interesting in each section.

If you are interested in reading along with us, please let us know.  You don’t have to be participating in the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge 2011 to join us!

Here’s a bit about the book from the publisher:

For the Colleys of southeastern Missouri, the War between the States is a plague that threatens devastation, despite the family’s avowed neutrality. For eighteen-year-old Adair Colley, it is a nightmare that tears apart her family and forces her and her sisters to flee.

The treachery of a fellow traveler, however, brings about her arrest, and she is caged with the criminal and deranged in a filthy women’s prison. But young Adair finds that love can live even in a place of horror and despair. Her interrogator, a Union major, falls in love with her and vows to return for her when the fighting is over. Before he leaves for battle, he bestows upon her a precious gift: freedom.

Now an escaped “enemy woman,” Adair must make her harrowing way south buoyed by a promise … seeking a home and a family that may be nothing more than a memory.

Here’s the schedule for the read-a-long:

Week One: Prologue – Chapter 6; discussion on Fri., Aug. 5

Week Two: Chapters 7-15; discussion on Fri., Aug. 12

Week Three: Chapters 16-24; discussion on Fri., Aug. 19

Week Four: Chapters 25-31; discussion/final thoughts on Fri., Aug. 26

Civil War Challenge Participants’ Giveaway

For those participating in the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge, we’ve got a giveaway going on for those interested in participating in the August Read-a-Long of Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles.

There are 2 copies up for grabs and the giveaway is international. So what are you waiting for? Go on over and enter.

Jarrettsville by Cornelia Nixon

Jarrettsville by Cornelia Nixon begins in 1869, four years after the Confederate surrender and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, in Jarrettsville, Md., just below the Mason-Dixon line.  Tensions continue to run high in this town with former Confederate and Union soldiers continue to hold their prejudices and wear them on their faces and express them in their venomous words.

With tensions running high, the only possible outcome for a young love between Martha Jane Cairnes, the daughter of a Southern and loyal Confederate family, and Nick McComas, a former Union soldier and advocate of Black rights, is heartache and murder.

Nixon rips pages from events in her family history to create a novel that breaths life into the tensions following the U.S. Civil War.  Despite the reunification of our nation, both sides are unwilling to let go and reconcile.

“‘We’ve got to get the Black Code back, by God.  Negroes roaming around free, reeling drunk, menacing descent women? We can’t have that here!’

‘And the women are worse than the fellows.  They’re degenerates, full of disease, corrupting our youth.  Even the little girls, I swear.’

‘That’s right, Negro girls can’t help themselves.  They’re overheated by nature, worse than the fellows, I swear.'”  (page 106 of ARC)

Martha is a strong-willed woman who sets her sights on what she wants and goes after it, while Nick is more deliberate and cautious in his approach to decisions.  However, when love takes them over, passions get out of control, leading them into compromising situations.  Then the rumors begin among the former Confederates about Nick and Martha, equally untrue and equally damaging to their reputations.  Unfortunately, these rumors are what slices and dices their relationship, particularly since it is so new and untested and both sides are tragically unable to confide in one another with the depth that friends would do.

The novel is broken into four parts, plus an epilogue, and those readers looking for integrated points of view throughout the story will find Nixon took a different approach, instead breaking up the narrative into parts dominated by one point of view or by several witness’ points of views in the final section.  The format is a bit disconcerting when the first sections end in the same place, but are told from different points of view.  However, although the events are similar, there are moments where more is revealed by one point of view than another, which helps explain more of the characters’ motivations.  Although not an ideal format for this historical fiction novel, it is easy to understand Nixon’s decision for choosing it.

Overall, Jarrettsville by Cornelia Nixon provides an inside look at the tensions that still plagued the south following the resolution of the civil war and how it tore apart families, friends, and neighbors.  Additionally, it depicts the struggles that the families in the south faced in light of scarce resources and finances.  Nixon is a talented writer who can deftly translate a portion of her ancestral history into a compelling tale of fiction.

About the Author:

Cornelia Nixon is the author of two novels, Now You See It and Angels Go Naked, as well as a study of D. H. Lawrence. She won first prize in the 1995 O. Henry Awards. She teaches in the M.F.A. program at Mills College, near San Francisco.

I hope you enjoyed this latest Literary Road Trip in Jarrettsville, Md., following the U.S. Civil War and assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

This is my 1st book for the U.S. Civil War Reading Challenge 2011.

This is my 6th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Confession time, I’ve wanted to read this book since I picked up an ARC at the 2009 Book Expo America.  This is my 4th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.

My 2011 Reading Challenges

With the baby coming in the new year, I’m going light on the reading challenges, though I do still have the perpetual Reagan Arthur Challenge, which will carry into the new year and beyond until I quit.

Let’s start off with the challenge I will host in 2011 and the one I co-host every year with Anna at Diary of an Eccentric.

I’ll be reading about 5-10 poetry books, one of which will be for the group read-a-long and discussion, for my Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.  The challenge officially requires participants to only read 1 book and just give poetry a chance in 2011.  I’m hoping a lot more of you that don’t read poetry will sign up to try just one book.  The challenge runs from January through December 2011.  Check out the details here.

War Through the Generations, a blog dedicated to war-related reading challenges, is hosting a U.S. Civil War reading challenge in the new year.  For this one, I’m going light with 3-5 books (or up to 2 movies).  I could end up reading more books, but I don’t want to over-commit myself.  The challenge runs through January through December 2011.  I hope many of you will join us for this challenge.

I really enjoyed this challenge this year, and I’m signing up to do it again in 2011.  While I did increase my goal to 50 new-to-me authors this year, in 2011, I will be sticking with the 25 new authors limit.  I read way more than 50 new-to-me authors this year, reaching 62.

These new authors don’t have to be debut authors, and the challenge runs from January through December 2011.  Check it out.

I’ll be signing up for the Wish I’d Read That Challenge 2011 at the curious level, with 3 books.  I could end up reading more than that.  One book I’ll plan on reading is Persuasion by Jane Austen and perhaps the Stieg Larsson series.  The challenge runs from January through December 2011.

I also enjoyed the Ireland Reading Challenge this year, and I am signing up to read for it again.  Carrie has a great list of suggested books and authors.  The challenge runs from January through November 30, 2011.  I’ll be signing up for the Shamrock level again with 2 books, and I plan on participating in the read-a-long.

Finally, I’m signing up for the Nordic Reading Challenge 2011, which runs from January through December 2011.  I’ll be reading for the Freya level of 3-5 books, with the intention of reading the Stieg Larsson series. I’ve meant to read these books for a long time.

That’s it for now.  How many have you signed up for?

***As of Jan. 6, 2011***

Ok, I broke down and signed up for a more informal challenge because I failed the Sookie Stackhouse Reading challenge last year, and this one gives me a chance to redeem myself.

Dar at Peeking Between the Pages is hosting her own 2011 Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge, and I’ve decided to throw in too.

I’ll be reading the remaining books in the series that I failed to read in 2010.

I hope you’ll join us.