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review 2016-01-23 23:25
Winter in Vorderasien
Winter in Vorderasien. - Annemarie Schwarzenbach

Winter in Vorderasien is Schwarzenbach's account of her first trip to Turkey, Syria, the Lebanon, and Palestine. She made the trip in 1933 and the impressions she gained would not only serve as inspiration for a collection of short stories (Bei diesem Regen) but would also determine her fate as a travel writer - as she would continue to travel and share her experiences through both her photographic work and her writing.


While this not the best of her work with respect to writing style, the fascinating aspect of this book is that it is a frank account of her impressions. The short stories she would later extract from these initial sketches are much more polished stylistically, but they also loose some of the edge with which Schwarzenbach takes account of the events of her travels at the time - inconveniences, frustrations, and not all but some of the unpleasant experiences are accounted for in Winter in Vorderasien which will not feature in the later revisions. Again, it must be said that the revisions are offered as a work of fiction and must be read as such whereas this book is not and as such portrays much more of the Western European attitudes of travellers in a world which is still governed by colonialists. Although Schwarzenbach does not share all of these attitudes, she is subjected to them as she could not have undertaken the trip without depending on the established ex-pat society she meets on the way, and this does come across in her impressions - even though her own thoughts and attitudes would be developed in more detail in the subsequent short stories.

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review 2016-01-03 23:53
Jahre der Politik
Jahre der Politik: Die Erinnerungen - Roman Herzog

Not much to say about this other than that this was sooooo boring.


I would have expected more from the memoirs of a former president. There are some allusions to events and characters that would have been interesting to learn more about or read the thoughts of someone who not only witnessed them first-hand but actually had an involvement with them or with the consequences that followed - for example the use of police forces during public demonstrations after the shooting of Benno Ohnesorg.


But no. Not so much.



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review 2015-12-28 12:08
Auf Kuehner Reise
Auf kühner Reise: Von Moskau in den Kaukasus - Ella Maillart

This is another book by Ella Maillart about her travels to the far flung places of the earth whose names sound like she made them up for a children's bedtime story.


I read Auf Kuehner Reise (tr. "Daring Travels" - it may also have been published as "Ausser Kurs", i.e. "Off Course"), which was originally published in French as Parmi la jeunesse russe (tr. "Amongst Russian Youth"), in the German translation. Unfortunately, this is another book that has never been translated widely (but, IMO, really should have been). There are probably several reasons for the lack of interest: 


First off, this book is basically Maillart's first book. She always travelled and was fond of adventure but it was not until her return from Russia in 1930 that she was persuaded to write about her experiences. 


Second, the trip and the book were really quite audacious: As a Swiss national, Maillart had difficulties obtaining a visa for the trip. Switzerland had not recognised the Soviet Union politically and relations between western states and the Stalinist country were rather tense.  

When she finally does get permission to travel in the SU, she is under no illusion that what ever she writes may endanger her trip and also the people supporting her whilst travelling. There is a scene in the book where she alludes to being followed by a member of state security. She quickly dismisses the scene but I could not help wondering how closely she had been watched or had had similar encounters that have not made it into her book.

She also thinly disguises the identity of the people she meets. For example, Moscow in 1930 was severely lacking accommodation - Maillart could not afford to stay in hotels (and at any rate would have preferred to stay with locals) and finds lodgings with Countess Tolstoy (daughter-in-law of Leo), who is a friend of a friend. She never mentions her outright, tho. And only refers to her as Madam T. or Frau K. (depending on which edition you read). So, she is quite aware from the outset that if she chose to write anything political, it might have consequences for herself and the people around her.


As a result she wrote down her observations with little criticism of what she saw and little judgement. She does compare some of the ways and attitude she observes to her experiences in Germany or Switzerland but, generally leaves out any in depth valuation of which one is better etc. 


The non-political tone of the book led to a rejection by western readers when the book was published in 1932. I assume that readers expected to have their the rumors and stories about the grim realities of Stalinist Russia confirmed and were disappointed by a book that spent a lot of time talking about the attitudes of the state towards building a future by providing education and opportunities for its youth. What Maillart also describes - but does not spell out - is how the Stalinist regime colonizes the country and bit by bit eradicates differences between its people and destroys true individuality. Again, she does not analyse this within this book but it is present in her observations. (She is more vocal about it in her later book The Cruel Way.)


What was also fascinating about the way Maillart wrote this book was the way she used her observations to tell about the ideas she favoured, like the emergence of women into the work place and by extension a more equal society or the promotion of education for people of all walks of life.   

Maillart was not naive enough to believe or promote the communist idea in her book. Far from it. Communists do not get many favourable mentions in the book at all. She mostly focuses on the discussions she has with the young people that she travels with and the people she meets on the road. However, this being her first book, I guess people would not have grasped that Maillart herself was the most staunch supporters of freedom and individuality. 


As for the trip itself, the book is divided in to two parts: Maillart starts off with a short stay in Moscow - which made for fascinating reading because there are so few first-hand accounts that I have read of westerners travelling there during Stalin's reign. 


The second part of the book, describes her trip from Moscow to the Caucasus - more specifically Svanetia, which I had not heard of and which really does sound like a fairy tale place.


Svanetia, in northern Georgia, at the time of her trip (1930) was a very remote place. Not only is it surrounded by the highest mountains in Europe, but at the time, there were hardly any transportation links or any means of communication, or facilities which would have been commonplace in other parts of eastern Europe - such as plumbing, reliable water supply, not to mention electricity or heating systems - apparently some houses were still constructed without chimneys providing no ventilation for fires inside the house (and making heating them difficult).


It really must have been a fascinating experience. 

By comparison, only 9 years later, Maillart would describe a trip across Persia and Afghanistan, which was made possible by the relative ease with which she and her companion were able to find food and lodgings and source parts and petrol for their car.

The trip in what is now Georgia was much less sophisticated.


She describes how people would watch a film at an improvised cinema, and believing it to be real, would check behind the screen to find the actors; how the radio was such a novelty still that people could not believe it was possible for it to transmit in real time; how people were only slowly adjusting to the change in times and customs.


For me the second part of the book was even more enjoyable than the first. For one it showed a part of the world at a time when no one else wrote about, at a time that must have been both wondrous and frightening at the same time. 

At the same time, the book shows Maillart at a point, a seminal point, in her life where she makes a choice to abandon Europe to become a traveller. She shares some of her motivations in the book and we also get to see some of the guts it would take for her to make the decision as it is quite clear that she'd not choose (or have the means to choose) travelling in comfort. 


But then, if she could hike across the Causcasus with a severe leg injury (a dog bit a chunk out of her) and no medical help, what else was there to stop her?


So, this was only the first of her many extraordinary adventures

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text 2015-12-20 08:50
2015 Reading Challenges Wrap-Up

Original 2015 Reading Challenge Post



As the post title states, this is really just a general wrap-up for all the reading challenges I participated in this year.  There's a sense of accomplishment in completing so many challenges, but at the same time, I know that I had chosen several of these challenges because they WOULD be easy to complete (Romantic Suspense Challenge, Men in Uniform Challenge, and so on).


My biggest accomplishment, honestly, would be the 2015 Reading Assignment Challenge hosted by Michelle at Because Reading and Berls at Fantasy is More Fun.  To create a large list of assigned reading, stick to it, and officially complete every book I set out to complete for the year... it feels good.



What I'm Currently Reading

These are the books that I am still reading and hope to have finished by the end of the year.  I've also listed which reading challenge they will qualify for if I DO manage to finish reading them before 2016.  Otherwise, another year is another year.


 Head Over Heels by Jill Shalvis

  • General Reading Challenge @ GR and BL
  • Outdo Yourself Challenge
  • 2015 Reading Assignment -- extra credit book #2
  • Men in Uniform Challenge -- Police


 The Chimes by Charles Dickens (narrated by Richard Armitage)

  • General Reading Challenge @ GR and BL
  • Outdo Yourself Challenge


 Risky Christmas (two story anthology)

-- Hidden Secrets by Jill Sorenson

-- Kidnapped at Christmas by Jennifer Morley

  • General Reading Challenge @ GR and BL



What I Hope to Read Before the Year is Over

There are still eleven days left of the year and so I'm in hopes that I will be able to 1) finish reading the above listed books, and 2) add a couple more books to my 'Read' pile for 2015.  So the following are books I DO plan to start reading before the year is over and hope to have completed, as well as the challenges they will be part of.


 Shadow Dance by Julie Garwood

  • General Reading Challenge @ GR and BL
  • Outdo Yourself Challenge
  • Mount TBR Challenge
  • Romantic Suspense Challenge
  • Men in Uniform Challenge -- FBI agent
  • Neverending Series Challenge -- final book to complete!!!


 Spinning Starlight by R.C. Lewis

  • General Reading Challenge @ GR and BL
  • Outdo Yourself Challenge
  • 2015 Release -- not an actual challenge, but I'm keeping track


 The Immortal Heights by Sherry Thomas

  • General Reading Challenge @ GR and BL
  • Outdo Yourself Challenge
  • 2015 Release -- not an actual challenge, but I'm keeping track


 A Family For Christmas by Mona Ingram

  • General Reading Challenge @ GR and BL
  • Outdo Yourself Challenge



The Stats

  • General Reading Challenges -- COMPLETED 11/13/2015

Goodreads Reading Challenge -- GR list/shelf

BookLikes Reading Challenge -- BL list/shelf

My Goal:  150 books

Progress:  170/150 books read


This is a typical reading challenge I participate in every year and aside from cheating my first year participating in 2012 (by dropping my goal at mid-year when I realized I probably wouldn't make it), I've actually been pretty good at keeping up.  I think I increased my goal by a small amount last year and ended up surpassing that number, which gave me the confidence to set a more stable number of books to read as my yearly goal.


Of course, this particular reading challenge includes everything from short stories, anthologies, novellas, and even manga volumes.  Last year I had read several manga volumes, each listed as one individual book on my list.  This year, my count actually has more full-length novels included.  Last year I managed my time a little differently.  This year I struggled through a lot of pre-chosen books for reading challenges that made my time management a little more difficult.


I will be participating in this same general numbers goal challenge next year and my goal will remain the same.



  • Outdo Yourself Challenge

-- CHALLENGE COMPLETED -- 12/17/2015

2015 Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge

Hosted by Book Vixen

My Goal:  Getting My Heart Rate Up: read 1 - 5 more books

(I read 154 books for this challenge in 2014 / My goal will be 155 - 159 books in 2015.)

My Progress:  155/155

See Also: 2015 Outdo Yourself Challenge shelf for list of books


This is probably one of the harder challenges I picked up two years in a row, although last year, it was no difficult feat to surpass the number of books I had read in 2013.  But since I pretty much stretched my limits in 2014, this year ended up being a real challenge to try and outdo my final reading count from last year.


The reading count for this challenge is a little more restrictive as we can only include books that are at least 100 pages or more in length.  So, no manga volumes, no short stories, no picture books.  So this particular reading challenge number is a bit more accurate describing the number of books I've read (or audio books I've listened to).


I barely made it to complete my goal this year.


I will not be participating in this reading challenge next year, if only because I'm pretty sure I've found my yearly book average and will probably remain fairly steady for a while to come.  Maybe in a year or two I will try my hand at this challenge again.  Knowing myself, however, I'll probably still keep track of books for this challenge and maybe join the challenge at a later date.


The Book Vixen will no longer be hosting this Reading Challenge, but Corinne Rodrigues will be taking over:  2016 Outdo Yourself Challenge.



  • Romantic Suspense Challenge

  -- CHALLENGE COMPLETED -- 4/9/2015

2015 Romantic Suspense Reading Challenge

Hosted by Book Vixen

My Goal:  SWAT: read 21+ romantic suspense novels

My Progress: 77/21

See Also: 2015 Romantic Suspense Challenge shelf for list of books



  • Men in Uniform Challenge

  -- CHALLENGE COMPLETED -- 3/17/2015

2015 Men in Uniform Reading Challenge

Hosted by Book Vixen

My Goal:  Chief: read 16+ men in uniform novels

My Progress: 71/16

  -- 16 books read -- COMPLETED -- 3/17/2015

See: 2015 Men in Uniform Challenge shelf for book list

See: 2015 Men in Uniform Challenge post for detailed list


The above two challenges were the easiest two challenges I've ever chosen.  Knowing full well that I can binge-read several Romantic Suspense novels (a good percentage of which involve Men in Uniform), I was certain I couldn't fail these two challenges even if I tried.  On top of that, the goal levels were also pie.  And as anyone can see, both challenges were completed in full at the highest goal level before June even rolled around.


I will not be participating in either of these challenges next year, if only because they really just present an extra set of statistics I need to record... despite the fact that I will probably continue to record these statistics for future use.  Maybe.


The 2016 Romantic Suspense Challenge will be hosted by Shooting Stars Reviews.



  • 2015 TBR Pile Challenge


Hosted by Roof Beam Reader

My 2015 TBR Pile Challenge Summary Post

My Progress: 10/12

See Also: BookLikes shelf / Goodreads shelf


This is the third year I participated in the TBR Pile Challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader.  This is the third year I have failed, even if not miserably.  You would think that if I could finish a 48 book Reading Assignment Challenge (see below), then I'd have no trouble at all finishing a 12 book reading challenge wherein I can read any of these books at any time during the year.


The problem is, I keep choosing books to place on this list that I can't find the motivation to read.  This is my "I would love to read these books one of these days" challenge, with books that I include that are books that I keep telling myself to read and books that are sort of outside my comfort genres.


It probably helped that I did some challenge crossover books between this challenge and the Reading Assignment Challenge, but by the time the last stretch of the year rolled around, I was so obsessed with the Reading Assignment Challenge that I sort of blew off this challenge.


I will probably not be participating in this challenge next year for obvious reasons.



  • 2015 Reading Assignment Challenge

Hosted by Because Reading & Fantasy Is More Fun

My 2015 Reading Assignment Challenge Summary Post

My Goal:  Reading Level 5:  48 books (4 books/month), 4 Extra Credits, 1 Pass

My Progress: 48/48 (4 Extra Credits used / No Passes used)

-- Goal Reached on 12/13/2015

Extended Goal:  Added on 2 Extra Credit books

Extended Goal Progress:  1/2 Extra Credit books read

See Also: BookLikes shelf / Goodreads shelf


This was my favorite reading challenge this year.  I can't really say why, but I had a lot of fun with making my list, formatting my update posts, and in general, reading books I would have otherwise avoided reading (**coughcough**Allegiant**coughcough**).  But I don't deny the huge sense of accomplishment bestowed upon myself for setting out a large list of books to read, with a restricted number of books to read monthly, and completing this grand mission.


I've picked up new-to-me authors because I chose to list books I probably wouldn't have picked up dependent on my reading mood.  New-to-me authors include: Molly Harper, Tess Gerritsen, Christine Feehan, Roxanne St. Claire, Meg Cabot, Robin Benway, Meagan Spooner, and a few others.  Unfortunately, I can't really say that I've actually liked all of them, and really only a small percentage of the new-to-me authors picked up due to this challenge actually made my "interested in reading more from this author" list.


Fortunately, I also picked up a second or third book of an author I had previously only read one book from and had never been sure whether or not to continue reading said author's works.  These authors include: Jill Shalvis, Julie Garwood, and Marie Lu.  Jill Shalvis' Lucky Harbor pilot novel turned out fun and I'm not opposed to continuing that series.  Julie Garwood's Heartbreaker was an average start to a long series, but I'm now kind of hooked to said series.  And Marie Lu's Legend trilogy was excellent and I look forward to continuing on with other books she has written.


I will definitely be participating in this challenge next year and have already formulated my list and other thoughts.  I have even given thought to including series that I need to finish, that I actually DO want to finish as well as some new authors or new series I've been circling around for ages without making time for.  Some of these authors will include Jeannie Lin, Amanda Quick, Nora Roberts, Lisa Gardner, and others who've always sat on my radar only, or who have drawn my attention recently.



  • Mount TBR Reading Challenge


Hosted by My Reader's Block

My Goal:  Mt. Ararat:  Read 48 books from your TBR pile/s

My Progress:  31/48

See: 2015 Mount TBR Challenge shelf for book list


I have a huge bookshelf.  I keep adding to that bookshelf.  Both digital and physical.  Unfortunately, I also have a huge reading list that also keeps growing, a bad spending habit, and this uncanny ability to always check out four weeks worth of reading from the library at least once a month.


When I first set out to participate in this challenge--to read books I acquired on my shelves before the reading challenge year--I had even made a list and had done some rough guesstimation calculations and came up with a realistic number of 48 out of all 200+ books on my shelves.  I figured that of all the books I owned, 48 was a reasonable number to whittle my shelves down by.


And I have failed spectacularly.


HOWEVER, I will not be deterred.  I'm going to try again.  2016 is another year and I will always have more books on my shelf to add onto my challenges... or something like that.



  • The Series That Never Ends Challenge

Hosted by Delighted Reader

My 2015 The Series That Never Ends Challenge Summary Post

My Goal(s):

First Goal:  Surviving the Book Tsunami - 5-9 books / COMPLETED

- 5 books completed -- 3/8/2015

- 9 books completed -- 6/1/2015

Next Goal: Removing the Thorn From My Side - 10-15 books / COMPLETED

- 10 books completed -- 6/9/2015

- 15 books completed -- 7/31/2015

Next Goal: Goddess of Reading the Never Ending Series - 15+ books / COMPLETED

- 16 books completed -- 8/16/2015

My Progress: 18/15 books

Listed Series Goals Completed:  2/3

See: 2015 Series Never Ends Challenge shelf for book list



I chose to participate in the Neverending Series Challenge because I had recently started into a few long-running Romantic Suspense series that were still getting new installments as the years go by:  Tracers by Laura Griffin was a new one I started in 2015.  Buchanan-Renard by Julie Garwood was a series in which I had started the year before with the first book--curiosity and continually loving the next book more and more got me interested in continuing the series.  Bishop/SCU by Kay Hooper was another series I'd been following for some time, but just never made time to continue even though I wanted to read the entire series.


In the ensuing months of 2015, I went on to reading other long (5+ books) or ongoing series such as KGI by Maya Banks, Steele Street by Tara Janzen, Bullet Catchers by Roxanne St. Claire, and so on.  I wasn't sure how dedicated I was to reading these other series so I didn't include them in this challenge, but they would have totally qualified.  And also, I'm already up to book #9 of KGI and I recently finished book #6 of Steele Street.


I'm a little conflicted as to whether or not to participate in this challenge in 2016.  For one, this is not an easy challenge unless it's crossing over with other challenges.  I've still got one book left to go in the Buchanan-Renard series to complete my challenge.  On the other hand, I had only planned on reading 5 of the Tracers books as part of my challenge goal, but ended up finishing all 8 of the already published installments, then continuing to read the newest, recently published installment #9, thus catching me up with the entire series at present..


In 2016, some of the books for my Reading Assignment Challenge are part of some really long series, both ongoing and completed, with at least 5 books in the total series book count.


So this might actually be a good challenge to continue to participate in.  I just haven't quite made up my decisions yet.



In Summary

I will be publishing an official Reading Challenge post for my 2016 Reading Challenges, but here is the gist of everything:


I have decided to cut back on the number of challenges I will be participating in next year.  Keeping track of all of my books read and for what challenges and any other statistic has become something of a tedious, obsessive activity for me this year and I realize that I might have gone a bit overboard.  If I showed everyone my bookish spreadsheets, it could get a little scary.


So aside from the general number goal challenge via GR and BL, I will only be participating in 3 other challenges (decided as of this moment):


2016 Reading Assignment Challenge

2016 Mount TBR Challenge

2016 Bookish Resolutions

(I will update links as I create each starter post.)


I will probably still end up keeping track of the number of series I've read and completed and started as well as all other statistics I normally keep track of on my personal spreadsheets, but that's probably about it for me.


I DO, however, want to participate in more Read-a-thons, so those are still in the 2016 bookish plans.  I'm particularly interested in the Bout of Books week-long read-a-thons, though I haven't decided which one to participate in yet.


Otherwise, this year, I feel like I've managed pretty well.



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text 2015-12-13 17:12
December Home Stretch - A Mt. TBR Update

Ok, so this is the last Mt. TBR update for 2015 - and I am running a little late.


Overall, the project has been a success as I managed to read a number of books that have been lingering on my shelves for a while. In the process, I cleared some space.

Also, it's been quite an eye-opener to have a picture showing new purchases on a monthly basis and seeing how the stack(s) grew or shrunk over time.  


It's all good. So far, this has been the most effective way of tackling my unread physical books which makes me want to take up the same method for next year - with a new selection of books - which will be added to the remnants of 2015's stacks:




And the stats....


December Mt. TBR - 16

November Mt. TBR - 24

October Mt. TBR - 41

September Mt. TBR  - 51

August Mt. TBR - 53

July Mt. TBR - 59  

June Mt. TBR - 53 

May Mt. TBR - 52

April Mt. TBR - 45

March Mt. TBR - 49

February Mt. TBR - 46

January Mt. TBR - 42


Actual running total of Mt. TBR books read in 2015: 63


Books added since last update: 0 (Still going easy on purchases.)


NB: Rules for the 2015 Mt. TBR Project are that I picked a stack of physical books of my shelves at home which I would read over the course of the year. Any new purchases are added to the pile. If I pick another physical book of my shelves, I get to take one off the pile and put it on the shelf - as a swap.

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