Category Archives: Completed Challenges

Chunkster Challenge 2012

January 1 – December 31, 2012

January 1, 2013 UPDATE: I not only met my goal for this challenge, I exceeded it! My longest read was Fall of Giants by Ken Follett at nearly 1000 pages. I will be joining this challenge in 2013 as well!!


I am not only co-hosting this challenge – I’m joining it! Sign ups may be found on this post.

Last year I did not reach my goal for this challenge, so I’ve chosen a different level this year:

The Plump Primer level challenges the reader to read SIX chunksters. As I read them, I’ll be listing them below with links to reviews.

  1. The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman (624 pages) – COMPLETED January 8, 2012; rated 5/5; read my review.
  2. 11/22/63 by Stephen King (824 pages) – COMPLETED March 12, 2012; rated 4.5/5; read my review.
  3. Overseas by Beatriz Williams (464 pages) – COMPLETED May 20, 2012; rated 4/5; read my review.
  4. The Memory of Love by Aminata Forna (450 pages) – COMPLETED June 17, 2012; rated 5/5; read my review.
  5. With My Body by Nikki Gemmell (462 pages) – COMPLETED June 23, 2012; rated 3/5; read my review.
  6. The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani (470 pages) – COMPLETED July 2, 2012; rated 3/5; read my review.
  7. The Emperor of Lies by Steve Sem-Sandberg (664 pages) – COMPLETED July 26, 2012; rated 5/5; read my review.
  8. Fall of Giants by Ken Follett (985 pages) – COMPLETED September 23, 2012; rated 4/5; read my review.
  9. The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer (602 pages) – COMPLETED December 16, 2012; rated 5/5; read my review.


Chunkster Challenge 2011

February 1, 2011 – January 31, 2012

I joined this challenge in 2011 at the Does the Book Make My Butt Look Big level (read six chunksters in 12 months as follows: 2 books which are between 450 – 550 pages in length; 2 books which are 551 – 750 pages in length; 2 books which are GREATER than 750 pages in length).

The 2012 Challenge began on January 1st this year…and because I think it is unlikely that I will complete the 2011 challenge, I’m throwing in the towel on that one, and starting fresh for 2012.

Here is what I read in 2011:

(2) Books between 450-550 pages:

  1. Sing You Home, by Jodi Picoult – COMPLETED March 5, 2011; rated 4/5; read my review (480 pages)
  2. The Raising, by Laura Kasischke – COMPLETED April 9, 2011; rated 4/5; read my review (461 pages)

(2) Books between 551-750 pages:

  1. Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann – COMPLETED June 30, 2011, rated 2.5/5; read my review (597 pages)

(2) Books greater than 750 pages:

  1. Steinbeck: A Life in Letters edited by  Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten- COMPLETED August 16, 2011; rated 5/5; read my review (898 pages)

2011 Memorable Memoirs Challenge – COMPLETED!

January 1 – December 31, 2011

December 16, 2011: I have completed this challenge! Many thanks to Melissa for hosting. Follow the links below to read my reviews of the books I read for the challenge.


Once again Melissa at The Betty and Boo Chronicles is hosting The Memorable Memoir Challenge – a challenge that introduced me to looks of awesome books in 2010. So, it was a no brainer to do this one again. Melissa writes:

About the Challenge: If you enjoy reading memoirs or really haven’t explored them as much as you’d like to, then this is the challenge for you.  Anything that in your mind qualifies as a memoir will meet the challenge requirements. Letters, diaries, autobiographies, books on writing memoirs … in my book, they all count as Memorable Memoirs.  Books, e-books, audiobooks are all fine.

Requirements:  It’s up to you!  I want this to be a fun and low-key challenge, yet one that will be worthwhile of your valuable reading time. If that means reading one memoir, that’s great.  If that means reading three dozen, even better.  You decide what works for you.  Overlaps with other challenges are more than fine … even encouraged.

Sign ups are here.

Review link ups coming soon.

I’ve learned from past experience that I should not overextend on challenges. So I’m planning to read SIX books for this challenge. I’ll list them as I go…

  1. The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure – COMPLETED April 22, 2011; rated 4/5; read my review.
  2. The Boy in the Moon by Ian Brown – COMPLETED June 18, 2011; rated 5/5; read my review.
  3. The River of Forgetting by Jane Rowan – COMPLETED September 1, 2011; rated 4/5; read my review.
  4. Love at First Bark by Julie Klam – COMPLETED October 22, 2011; rated 4/5; read my review.
  5. Maman’s Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan – COMPLETED December 8, 2011; rated 4/5; read my review.
  6. The Puppy That Came for Christmas by Megan Rix – COMPLETED December 16, 2011; rated 3.5/5; read my review.

Wrapping up Challenges for 2010

Here is my final wrap up post for challenges in 2010…

Thank you to Book Chick City for hosting the Thriller-Suspense Challenge for 2010. The goal was 12 books (to see links to from participants for ALL REVIEWS for this challenge, go here). I reached my goal right at the end of the year. My favorite read for this challenge was a toss up between 31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan, City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris, and The Search by Nora Roberts. You can see all the books I read with links to their reviews by visiting this post on my blog.

Once again, I enjoyed participating in Literary Escapism’s New Authors Challenge. I set a goal of reading 50 new to me authors in 2010 and (as in the past) I exceeded this goal. I read 75 new to me authors (a whopping 78% of my total reading!). You can see all the authors I read this year with links to reviews of their books here.

Teddy’s ARC Challenge helped me keep on top of all the review books that came to my doorstep in 2010. I wanted to read at least 25 ARCs and I exceeded that number. You can see my list of books read for this challenge (with links to reviews) on this post. Although I will continue to be overwhelmed with ARCs and review books in 2011, I’m not officially signing up for this challenge this year…but, I’ll continue to track my reads!

Lurv A La Mode hosted the Year of the Historical Challenge and I hoped to read 12 books for this challenge. Alas, I didn’t make that goal…but I did read 10 historical fiction books in 2010. My favorite of the year was a toss up between By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan and The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt. Check out all the books I read with links to their reviews here.

I’m not joining as many challenges in 2011 – but I will be posting a few…so stay tuned!

Reading Challenges Update

Since we are well into November and the end of the year is fast approaching, I thought I should go through my remaining reading challenges and see where I am. Here is my update as of today:

COMPLETED Challenges in the last couple of months:

The Women Unbound Challenge asked that participants read nonfiction and fiction books related to the rather broad idea of ‘women’s studies.’ Hosted by Eva, Care, and Aarti, the challenge allowed readers to choose their level of participation…and I chose to read 8 books. I actually finished this challenge awhile ago, but enjoyed it so much, that I kept reading books that fit its criteria. I’m calling it quits now after having completed 13 books (5 nonfiction and 8 fiction). You can see the books I read with links to my reviews here. To get links to all the great reviews of women’s study books, check out this page on the challenge blog. This was a wonderful challenge…and if they host it again in 2011, I will join!

The Chick Lit Challenge was hosted by Twiga…and I really enjoyed this one. The challenge was to read 8 books, and I completed 9. Here is my list of books read with links to reviews. If you you are interested in getting more links to reviews of great women’s fiction, check out this post. As for the books I read, they were mostly excellent. My top three favorites (in order of most favorite) were: Get Lucky by Katherine Center, The Blessings of the Animals by Katrina Kittle, and Promises to Keep by Jane Green.

Hosted by Melissa at The Betty and Boo Chronicles, The Memorable Memoir Challenge was one of my most enjoyable challenges in 2010. I discovered that I really do love memoirs…and I read some excellent ones for this challenge. You can check out the books with links to my reviews here. The goal was to read four books, and I managed to read seven…four of which I gave my top rating of 5 stars (the rest were rated 4 stars and 4.5 stars!). I hope Melissa hosts this one again in 2011 because I would definitely join.

I’m pretty proud that I managed to finally complete one of my own hosted challenges this year! The Chunkster Challenge is hosted on its own blog – and it actually runs through the end of January – so, although I’ve already met my goal to read six chunksters, I’m going to keep adding to my list here until the challenge ends. And in case you are wondering…I am planning to host this challenge again in 2011 (more details later).

Another one of my favorite challenges in 2010 is the Orbis Terrarum Reading Challenge hosted by Bethany. As with other favorite challenges, I surpassed the goal I set for myself. I set out to read 8 books from around the world, but ended up completing 9 books. You can see the books I read with links to their reviews on this post. I would also encourage you to visit the dedicated blog where you can find reviews to hundreds of books from around the world. I will definitely do this challenge again in 2011!

I love reading books by new-to-me authors and so every year I join Literary Escapism’s New Author Challenge. In 2010, I set a goal to read 50 new-to-me authors…so far I’ve read 64. I’m going to keep adding to my list for this challenge until December 31st. If you want to be really impressed, check out the hundreds of links to reviews which are accumulating over at the challenge blog.

Teddy’s ARC Reading Challenge helps me read all those ARCs that keep piling up on my shelves. My goal for this year was to get through at least 25 of them and so far I’ve read and reviewed 29. Based on the dozens more patiently waiting for me, I’m going to continue adding to my list until December 31st. And, in case you’re wondering – yes, I will join this challenge again in 2011 if Teddy decides to host it.

I’m still working on several other challenges in 2010 – some I will probably complete, others I am afraid will drop by the wayside.

2010 Challenges I am close to finishing:

Lurve A La Mode is hosting The Year of the Historical Challenge which requires that I read twelve books of historical fiction. I should be able to finish this one as I’ve already read and reviewed ten books. I love historical fiction, and so far this challenge has rewarded me with some awesome books (with two of them competing for my top ten of 2010 list: The Children’s Book by AS Byatt and By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan).

The Suspense-Thriller Challenge is one I thoroughly enjoy as it gives me permission to sink into books which are simply entertaining and fun to read. Hosted by Book Chick City, I need to read and review 12 books to complete this challenge. I’m close having read ten thus far. I’m looking through my stacks and hoping to squeeze in the final two before the end of the year.

Michelle hosts the ever popular Book Awards Challenges…for Book Awards IV, I need to complete 10 different books from 10 different awards. I hope I can finish this one – I have three left to read. I can see I am going to have to move a few books up in the stacks if I am going to have any hope of finishing!

Challenges I am unlikely to Complete in 2010…or I give up:

I completely spaced out on the South Asian Author Challenge hosted by Swapna. The goal was to complete five books…and I have only managed one so far. It is highly unlikely that I will be able to succeed at this challenge…but, in the spirit of optimism, I will keep it posted until the end of the year just in case!

I started out very enthusiastically with The Social Justice Challenge – and actually kept up with it through July. Then the bottom dropped out of my life with my sister getting very ill and needing me back in New Hampshire. I don’t feel so bad about this challenge, however, because it looks like I participated a bit more than a lot of people…and in fact, the hosts themselves look like they may have given up on the challenge too (the last post to the dedicated blog was in July). The best part about this challenge was it got me to read outside my comfort zone…and prompted me to do some good things in the world.

The Short Story Reading Challenge (hosted by Kate’s Book Blog) seemed like the perfect challenge for me – I used to read a ton of short stories, and I had lots of books on my shelves for this challenge. But out of the five collections I wanted to read, I’ve only read one so far. There is no way I’ll finish this one before December 31st…so I’ve given myself permission to throw in the towel on it.

The Aussie Author Challenge (hosted by Book Lover Book Reviews) also seemed like a no brainer – and yet given an entire year to complete three books, I’ve only managed to read one. Live and learn, right? Well, I still have all those Aussie Author books sitting on my shelves…and some day, I will read them! But not this year…

I cannot believe that I didn’t come close to completing the O.A.T.E.S. Challenge (hosted by Trish at Hey Lady! Watcha Readin’). I love the authors represented by this challenge – but managed only to do the “A” part of it (Atwood)…and read two books by her. Given that there is only 6 weeks left in the year, I’m quitting this challenge … but I am determined to get to those authors in 2011!

I also have bombed on the Scandinavian Challenge which is especially embarrassing given that I have Swedish roots! The goal was to read six books by Scandinavian authors…I’ve read two and doubt I’ll get to four more before the end of the year…so this one can be considered “failed.” Oh well – at least I read two!

So there you have it! Have you been doing an accounting of where you stand in your reading in 2010? I know that going through all of this has helped me narrow down how I want to organize my reading in 2011!

Completed: Nonfiction Five Challenge

Many thanks to Trish’s Reading Nook who hosted the 2010 Non-Fiction Five Challenge. I love this challenge because it encourages me to read some of the amazing non fiction books I have on my shelves. Since I typically read about 90% fiction…and I need a challenge like this to get me to pick up some of the other books out there.

The challenge was to read five non fiction books before the end of September, and I am happy to say I finished this challenge early (and read six books instead of five). All the books I read were terrific (none rated less than a 4/5), but my favorite was the last book I read: Wild Comfort by Kathleen Dean Moore.

To see my list of books read, with ratings and links to my reviews, visit this page.

Social Justice Challenge: Poverty

This month’s theme for The Social Justice Challenge is poverty.

We all know what poverty looks like, right? We see it on our streets daily – the homeless sitting on street corners, the elderly struggling to pay for medications and groceries, the young who are often hungry and sad. Most of us probably have a vision in our heads of who the poor are and why they ended up that way. Some of our visions may be correct; some may be based on myths…but regardless, we cannot deny that poverty is a huge problem globally.

When I thought about what I wanted to do for this month’s theme, I decided I wanted to look at poverty differently. I did not want to feel hopeless about it. I wanted to understand how individuals could tackle the issue of poverty and find a solution for it. That thought process led me to read a book which brings a new vision to the idea of poverty. That book led me to an organization which is about “supporting choice, not charity, and embracing dignity, not dependence.” Below I’ve given you some information about both the book I read this month, and the organization which I have joined in order to have a positive impact on one of the biggest problems humanity faces: Poverty.

Book Read: The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz (Completed July 17, 2010; rated 5/5; read my review)

This is a fantastic book – hopeful and optimistic, it follows the journey of the author from America (where she was educated as an international banker) to Africa, India and Pakistan. The author is the creator and founder of The Acumen Fund which offers a revolutionary approach to ending poverty in the world. I loved the book and highly recommend it.

Action: Joined the Acumen Fund Community

Their vision:

[…]working toward a world where every human being has access to the critical goods and services they need—affordable health care, water, housing, energy—so that they can make choices for themselves and pursue lives of greater purpose.  This is where dignity starts—not just for the poor but for everyone on earth.

How they do it:

Using the compassion of philanthropy and the rigor of the marketplace, Acumen Fund brings together the best of business and charity. We invest patient capital to identify, strengthen, and scale transformative businesses with the aim of effectively serving millions—and someday billions—of the world’s poorest.

Check out some of their events.

FAQs about The Acumen Fund.

Quilts for Kids – Finished!

As part of the Social Justice Challenge in May, I decided to make a quilt for an organization called Quilts for Kids whose mission is:

Transforming discontinued, unwanted and other fabrics into patchwork quilts that comfort children with life-threatening illnesses and children of abuse.

I finished this quilt over the weekend and mailed it off today where it will get a label and be sent to a child in a hospital. Quilts for Kids have distributed thousands of quilts for children with terminal illness who are in hospitals nationwide. Check out the gallery of quilts on their site. Want to make a quilt for this organization? Visit this page for FAQs.

Here is my finished quilt (click on photos to enjoy a larger view):

There is No Me Without You – Book Review

Haregewoin had one color photo of Atetegeb holding her baby. She enlarged this photo until its lines turned all pastel and soft. She framed it and centered it on the wall above the sofa. She framed a smaller black-and-white photo of Atetegeb and Suzie as teenagers laughing together. Under the glass she placed a slip of paper upon which she’d typed the words from a pop song: “There is no me without you.”

A child cannot live without a mother or father. A mother or father cannot live without the child. – from There is No Me Without You, page 134 –

A widowed, middle-class woman grieves for her daughter who dies horribly from AIDS. More than a year later, depressed and still mourning, she enters a church to request a hut in the cemetery near her daughter’s grave – she has decided to go into seclusion and live out the rest of her life in grief. Instead of seclusion, however, the priest offers her something different – to become a foster mother to an orphaned teenage girl whose mother has died from AIDS. The decision to accept the priest’s offer is a turning point for  Haregewoin Teferra and her life begins again.

She had lost her daughter. And God sent her these precious children. – from There is No Me Without You, page 259 –

There is No Me Without You is Haregewoin’s story told by award-winning journalist Melissa Fay Greene. When Haregewoin took in her first orphan, her heart was opened to the plight of her country’s children. Thousands of Ethiopians were dying from a virus with no cure, and leaving behind their children who were shunned because of fear. The options for these children were few – many ended up on the streets, starving, selling sex for food, or dying from the same disease which had taken their parents. Haregewoin Teferra was an angel of mercy. Very quickly she  found her small home filled with children who had no other place to go.

Greene provides the historical backdrop for the AIDS pandemic in Africa which later made its way to every country in the world. She explores the variety of theories about why AIDS arrived in the human population…the most compelling of these being the theory of serial passage – that a weak pathogenic virus is strengthened through mutation of the virus as it is injected from one host to another. In the case of AIDS, unsterile injections of vaccines in third world countries may have been the genesis of the disease whose roots have been found in African monkeys. I was shocked to learn that even as late as 2000, there was an estimated thirty to fifty billion unsterile injections occuring per year…even though a single-use autodestruct disposable syringe had already been developed. Why were these new syringes not being used? Of course, the reason is money.

Global health experts agree that safer needles are a crucial step toward eradicating the iatrogenic spread of diseases, but where will the funding come from? WHO’s budget is insufficient and the big donors are not coming forward. – from There is no You Without Me, page 84 –

Greene reveals the incredible poverty and poor delivery of medical services which has allowed AIDS to continue killing people by the thousands in Africa, while in the United States people are surviving the disease because of access to life saving drugs. She examines the greed of the pharmaceutical companies who initially charged upwards of $15,000 per year for the latest AIDS drugs, while production costs for those drugs were somewhere in the range of $200. Patent protection contributes to the inability for poor countries to acquire the medications needed to save their communities. When GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) patent on AZT expired in 2005, generic drug makers were able to provide the drug for $105 per year, a marked decrease from GSK’s price of $3893.64 per year. Despite the ability to now provide generic first line AIDS drugs to patients, multinational drug companies continue to fight for exclusive patents on the second line drugs…a move that makes them out of reach for poor countries.

The statistics Greene shares with her readers is stunning and heartbreaking; the numbers staggering:

  • 81% of Ethiopia’s people live on less than two dollars a day; and 26% live on less than a dollar a day (page 12)
  • By 1999, UNAIDS estimated that 33 million people around the world were living with HIV/AIDS and that 16.3 million people worldwide had died from the disease. (page 113)
  • In 2000, AIDS had killed more than twenty-one million people, including four million children. More than thirteen million children had been orphaned by AIDS – twelve million of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Twenty-five percent  of those lived in two countries: Nigeria and Ethiopia. (page 20)
  • By 2000, Ethiopia had the world’s third-largest HIV/AIDS-infected population, trailing only India and South Africa. (page 117)
  • Spending on health per person in Ethiopia in 2002 was two dollars per year – across all of  sub-Saharan Africa during that time, it was ten dollars per person per year (page 14)
  • In 2005, Ethiopia had 1,563,000 AIDS orphans; and 4,414,000 orphans from all causes – the second highest number in Africa (page 268)
  • In 2006, 4.7 million people were in immediate need of lifesaving AIDS drugs, but only 500,000 had access to them. During that time, sixty-six hundred Africans were dying each day of AIDS. In Zimbabwe, a UNICEF report stated that every twenty minutes a child either died from AIDS or was orphaned by the disease. (page 25)

The hardest hit by the AIDS pandemic in Africa are the children who continue to be orphaned by this disease. They are also the most innocent of victims – often being born HIV positive because their mothers are ill with the disease.

In North America and Europe, it had been discovered that triple-dose combination therapies, beginning twenty-eight weeks into a women’s pregnancy, could reduce transmission of HIV to the baby by 98 percent and save the mother, too. Public health campaigns, counseling, prenatal care, and ARV therapy for HIV-infected pregnant women in the United States reduced childhood infections to below 2 percent of births. In 2002, the number of new cases of pediatric AIDS was ninety-two.

And in 2003, fifty-nine.

But fewer than 10 percent of HIV-positive pregnant women in Africa had access to these drugs.

So, in Ethiopia, the number of new pediatric cases in 2003 was roughly sixty thousand. – from There is No Me Without You, page 214 –

In light of these kinds of statistics, Haregewoin’s mission to help the children of her country is even more poignant. Greene’s writing is compelling. She intersperses the facts with beautiful descriptions of Africa and its people. She captures the stories of individual children with a tenderness which made my heart ache. Many of the children mentioned in the book go on to find homes in adoptive families. Some do not.

Perhaps the strongest element of this book was Greene’s portrayal of Haregewoin herself. No one is perfect, but it would have been easy for Greene to place Haregewoin on a pedestal – make her into a saint. Instead, Greene describes Haregewoin’s weaknesses, struggles and ultimate triumph through a lens of honesty. Times were not easy. Choices made were not always the right ones. And yet, imagine stepping forward to take on what Haregewoin Teferra took on. She was essentially a volunteer who lived, breathed, and slept her mission of saving children. Sadly, Haregewoin passed away from natural causes last year. Her work, however, continues to live on.

There is No Me Without You is another one of those books which is hard to read. It is painful. At times it made me angry. There seems to be no end to the suffering in Africa. And yet, it is also a book which is important to read. There is hope within the pages – a glimpse of the humanity and kindness that can overcome the worst of situations. And for that reason, it is a book I recommend.

Visit the author’s website.

How you can help.

Help Ethiopia Readsdonate books to Ethiopian Libraries and connect children to books.

Social Justice Challenge: Update on Quilts for Kids

**Enjoy a larger view on all photos with a click

Now that I’m back from New York City, I decided to get busy on this project. Yesterday I cut all the fabric, laid out the design and then pieced about half of the quilt top. Today I got really motivated and pieced the rest of the top and attached the borders. Then I decided to do a pieced back as well…but I kept it all really simple.

This is about as simple a quilt as you can make – simply cut 5.5″ squares arranged as you like into rows…then stitch them together. I used only  one border which is 1.5″ wide. The back is just strips of certain fabrics I really loved inserted between two strips of the main backing fabric. The main fabric for this quilt is Wendy Slotboom‘s Lily Pond – I love the pinks and calm greens in this fabric…and it is fun with the turtles and frogs. I used some other coordinating fabrics in my stash as well. The total size is going to be about 43″ X 38″ which is a good size for a lap quilt for a child.

I hope to have this quilted and bound by next weekend so I can send it off to Quilts for Kids. I like to imagine some child finding comfort beneath its folds!

**This last photo is of the pieced back