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Travel the World in Books in March: North Africa #TTWIB

25 Feb

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This month in Travel the World in Books, along with my co-hosts Tanya of Mom’s Small Victories (who made our lovely banner and hosts the perpetual #TTWIB challenge) and Aloi of Guiltless Reading (who also hosts a Read the Nobels challenge), we are featuring books by North African authors, set in North Africa and elsewhere. This is a free-choice read, so here are some suggestions to help get you started.

I am particularly featuring: Leila Aboulela, a Sudanese writer who sets her books mainly in Sudan and in Scotland, where she lives now; and Naguib Mahfouz, the renowned Egyptian writer and foremost representative of contemporary Arabic fiction, who won his Nobel Prize in Literature in 1988.

319px-leila_aboulela_2010Leila Aboulela (b. 1964) was born in Cairo, Egypt but spent her first 23 years living with her parents in Khartoum, Sudan where she received her education, first at the Khartoum American Academy, then at a private Catholic high school, and at the University of Khartoum, with a degree in economics. She also took an MPhil degree in statistics at the London School of Economics. Notwithstanding these impressive mathematical credentials, her literary gifts are even more impressive. She has won or been short-listed for numerous national and international writing prizes. She won the first Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story, “Museum,” which appears in her collection Coloured Lights (2005). She writes in English. Although she was educated at a Catholic High School, she is a devout Muslim and often writes about the Muslim immigrant experience. In 1990 she moved to Aberdeen, Scotland, and this was the setting for her first novel, The Translator (1999), the story of a Sudanese widow who translates for an Islamic scholar at a Scottish University.

Her novel Lyrics Alley (2010) is a major work of historical fiction set in the Sudan of the 1950s at the watershed time just before independence was achieved in 1956. It has been compared to Chinua Achebe’s modern classic Things Fall Apart, for its attention to the wrenching stresses of modernization on families in a traditional society.  This family saga follows Mahmoud Abuzeid, who is head of a large trading firm, his two wives, and their children, especially his son Nur, who suffers a debilitating accident that changes all their destinies; meanwhile, their country grapples with its place in the modern world. I plan to read this book for my own March TTWIB challenge.

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Her other books are Minaret (2005) and The Kindness of Enemies (2015). You can find out more about all her books at her website.

naguib-mahfouz-1911-2006Naguib Mahfouz is probably the best known North African writer worldwide. This is especially true since 1988 when he was recognized by the Nobel Prize for Literature. Here is how M. A. Orthofer describes him in his wonderful book, The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction:

Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006) remains the towering figure of Arabic fiction, especially when considered from an outside vantage point. Extensively translated, the breadth of his work is remarkable and ranges from historical fiction of the Pharaonic age to realistic novels of twentieth-century Cairo life such as The Cairo Trilogy (1956-1957, English 1989-1992) to more experimental fiction. His work is truly representative of an astonishing variety of Arabic fiction.” (p. 251)

Mahfouz wrote 34 novels, 350 short stories, and many film scripts and plays. But the best place to start in English is his Cairo Trilogy consisting of Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, and Sugar Street. These are definitely on my lifetime TTWIB list, and I plan to begin with Palace Walk if Aloi (Guiltless Reading) does a #ReadNobels challenge for us again this year.

The Cairo Trilogy is also available complete in one volume in an Everyman’s Library edition.  It is a quintessential family saga, covering three generations of the family of Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, during the first half of the twentieth century.  It probes the dynamics of family and city life during the colonial decades from 1917 through Nasser’s Egypt of the 1950s. Readers will enlarge their perspective on such seminal events as the rise of Communism in Russia, two World Wars, and the social and economic changes of modern times.

Children of the Alley and Midaq Alley are also very popular among Mahfouz’s works.  In a different vein, I highly recommend his retelling of some of the Arabian Nights tales in Arabian Nights and Days. Here is my review of it.

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Of course, there are many other books set in North Africa that would be excellent choices to explore this month. Abraham Verghese’s bestseller Cutting for Stone has been recommended to me for its poignant story of conjoined twin brothers, separated at birth and left without parents to raise them. The story shifts between Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (where Verghese grew up) and New York.

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If you have other authors or books to suggest, please leave your thoughts in the comments!

I plan the following Twitter chats with hashtag #TTWIB:

  • Thursday, March 30 at 9 pm EST
  • Saturday, April 1 (no fooling!) at 3 pm EST

Find me @Fictional100 on Twitter anytime!

Hope you will join us in reading our way to North Africa, and stop by to Tweet chat or comment at our Goodreads group.  Tell us what you are reading!

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Just a quick reminder that we are soon having Twitter chats for our February themed read of Classics and Historical Fiction:

  • Tuesday, February 28 at 3pm EST
  • Wednesday, March 1 at 9pm EST

Follow @momsvictories and use the #TTWIB hashtag so you don’t miss out on the conversation. 

 

 

13 Ways of Looking at the Lifetime Reading Plan: My List for 2017

9 Jan

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The pleasure of choosing books for this 2017 challenge comes from perusing two different long lists of excellent books, Jane Smiley’s list and Clifton Fadiman’s list. These lists include classics and moderns, from many genres, fiction and nonfiction, all with a wide geographic and cultural range. Together these lists constitute a rich universe of choices for Michelle Stockard Miller’s inventive perpetual challenge, 13 Ways of Looking at the Lifetime Reading Plan (#13WLRP).

For this year, I’m making these picks:

  1. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  2. Egilssaga – Snorri Sturluson
  3. The Saga of the People of Laxardal – Author unknown

Vanity Fair is a reread for me, however, I read it a long time ago, and this novel in particular is notorious for improving with age (my age, that is). Pick a random sample of reader reviews online and you will likely find many people saying something like, ‘I didn’t like this book at all the first time I read it, but the second time around, it is SO brilliant.’ I did happen to like it the first time, but I’m hoping to appreciate it in new ways this time, to see more of what my youthful self might have overlooked. I’ll be reading the Norton Critical Edition, which has all of Thackeray’s original drawings, which are brilliant in themselves.  Vanity Fair is on both Smiley’s and Fadiman’s reading lists.

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Thackeray’s famous closing illustration, showing two little girls putting dolls (the characters) back in the toy box

From Smiley’s list, I am also picking two Icelandic sagas. As the author of The Greenlanders, Smiley clearly immersed herself in the saga world, reproducing its tone and drama so effectively. Egilssaga and The Saga of the People of Laxardal are two of the most important sagas, and I look forward to giving them a good close read and reviewing them over at my Northern Lights Reading Project, devoted to Scandinavian and Icelandic literature and culture.

Sign-ups for the 2017 #13WLRP Challenge are at Gather Together and Read. Join us!

Read Your (Book) Shelf Challenge: The Oz Series by L. Frank Baum

8 Jan

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For dedicated readers, and the book bloggers among us, it is quite literally a challenge to put away the library card, refrain from browsing online or in one’s favorite bookshop, and simply read what we have already collected over the years.  But often the question is, where to begin? Michelle of the True Book Addict and Gather Together and Read offers us a neat and easy method for choosing what to read next.

In her Read Your (Book) Shelf Challenge, she asks that we

  • pick one of our shelves (presumably bulging with books yet to be read)
  • pick one book from that shelf (or pile)
  • start from that book and continue along the shelf until you have picked out a total of 12 books, one to read each month in the coming year.
  • the order of reading is up to you–read in order, or pick at random
  • check her challenge post for more details and sign-ups

Here is what I came up with. I picked a pile with these appealing books.

 

But, you say, there are only three books, not twelve! Not to worry, these are omnibus editions (published by Fall River Press) collecting all 15 of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books. I have wanted to read them in order and this challenge presents a lovely framework for doing so. Although I have read some of these beyond The Wizard of Oz, most will be new to me, and reading them in order certainly will be.

I watched the premiere of Emerald City on NBC last Friday, and I will probably keep watching its Game of Thrones-style take on Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Glinda, and the other “cardinal” witches. So far it mixes story elements from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) and from its sequel, The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904), which features the gender-switching Tip and the old witch Mombi who had kept him/her a prisoner. I will read this book in January, and then continue my adventures through the whole series, meeting Baum’s imaginative cast of characters inhabiting the Land of Oz.

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Map of Oz, from Baum’s  Tik-Tok of Oz (1914), illus. John R. Neill.

Travel the World in Books 2017: My Wintry Read #TTWIB

8 Jan

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We just had our first substantial snowfall of the season, no mere dusting or coating, but one that called for snow plows and shovels, and it was much the same, or more so, for a broad swathe of the US. Therefore, the task of picking a very wintry read from Tanya’s Ultimate Winter Reading List seems appropriate indeed. This is our first event of the year for Travel the World in Books 2017. Tanya of Mom’s Small Victories, Aloi of Guiltless Reading, and I are looking forward to bringing you books on a variety of themes all year that will invite you to visit many places around the world as you read.

For my wintry read, I am choosing Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah, which will take me not only across the globe but back in time to WWII Leningrad, in the memory of Anya, who alluded to her painful past only in the veiled form of a Russian fairy tale told to her daughters when they were little girls. Now, as adult women, the sisters will learn their mother’s full story. I want to know more about this family, and I am bracing for scenes of the cold and desperate hunger suffered by those in besieged Leningrad. This sounds like an important story and it will be the first book by Kristin Hannah I am reading.

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Choose your own wintry read from the Ultimate Winter Reading List, and then join us for a Twitter chat on Thursday, February 2, at 9 pm EST, using the hashtag #TTWIB. Hope to see you then!

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Christmas Spirit Reading, or, “We Need a Little Christmas…”

26 Nov

As I start to write this, the Jerry Herman song “We Need a Little Christmas” from the musical Mame popped into my head.  For this year’s Christmas Spirit Readathon and 2016 Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge, both kindly hosted by Michelle (our favorite True Book Addict), I have song lyrics on my mind, probably because the title of my first Christmas-themed novel is a clever reworking of “Deck the Halls” and its famous chorus. Fa-La-Llama-La by Stephanie Dagg is a clever romantic comedy about a young woman named Noelle, who takes a last-minute pet-sitting job in France, a few days before Christmas, and the pets are twelve llamas!

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The romantic mix-up part comes in when she arrives at her job in a major snowstorm and must share an empty, unheated house with the new (rugged, good-looking) owner of same house, who arrives unexpectedly. His name is Nick and he’s Australian, and she wonders what he is doing buying a house in rural France. She has consternation over the lack of electricity and furniture; he has consternation over being swindled during the house transaction by the previous owner (who made off with all the furniture and left the llamas). He is also fuming that both the llamas and their pet-sitter are apparently staying for the duration of the holiday.  Their shared frustration slowly turns to amusement and shared problem solving, and then….well, you know  what comes next–this is a rom-com!  At least I think so, because I haven’t finished it yet. I will post my full review (with more about the llamas!) in December for Stephanie Dagg’s virtual tour with France Book Tours.

I am also reading A Curious Collection of Dates: Through the Year with Sherlock Holmes by Leah Guinn and Jaime N. Mahoney, who also write beautifully researched, wittily delivered pieces at their blogs, The Well-Read Sherlockian (Guinn) and Better Holmes and Gardens (Mahoney).

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They have found something notable to write about for each day of the year, whether it be the publication of a story from the Conan Doyle canon, the premiere of a memorable adaptation for stage or screen, the birthday of a beloved actor who has portrayed Sherlock Holmes, or some event in the real world or the fictional world that bears on the life and times of the world’s most famous consulting detective. December 27 is devoted to “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” in which a valuable gem turns up unexpectedly in a Christmas goose on the table of one of Mr. Holmes’ many London friends. Finding out how it got there is a holiday mystery indeed. I watched the Granada adaptation of this story every year at Christmas on my VHS player until I no longer watched VHS tapes anymore! I will have more to say about this fantastic book later on, but let me suggest that it is a perfect gift for anyone who relishes the ‘infinite variety’ of Sherlock Holmes.

For young readers and adults too, The Nativity, with gorgeous illustrations by artist Ruth Sanderson is a treat for reading, or re-reading, the Christmas story, drawing from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  I’m planning to leave this book open during the Christmas season and savor Sanderson’s paintings slowly day by day.

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Although the Readathon is nearly over, ending on Sunday night, the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge runs through January 6, so I will probably add some more holiday-themed books and watch even more Hallmark Channel holiday movies by then. What I love about these events hosted by Michelle–who loves Christmas and fosters the spirit so well–is the chance to (a) learn more about varied holiday customs around the world (check out her blog on her beautiful Christmas Spirit website!) and (b) discover more Christmas fiction from other readers. If you have favorite Christmas novels or authors to recommend, please suggest them in the comments!

Finally, let’s hear Angela Lansbury in the 1966 original Broadway cast of Mame, singing that song I mentioned:

For Love of Lists!–Joining #13WLRP, 13 Ways of Looking at The Lifetime Reading Plan

26 Sep

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I’m happy to share news of 13 Ways of Looking at The Lifetime Reading Plan, an ingenious new perpetual reading challenge combining the fabulous and intriguing lists proposed by Jane Smiley in her book 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel (List #1) and Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major in The New Lifetime Reading Plan (List #2).  This is the brainchild of Michelle–a perpetual reader herself–who can be found at her sites, True Book Addict, Castle Macabre, Seasons of Reading, to name a few, and now at Gather Together and Read, which is hosting the 13 Ways challenge along with other challenges and readalongs (be sure to check out all the offerings there and sign up!). Michelle promises to have annual challenges to help us focus on some manageable chunks of juicy lifetime reading. I love this–the opportunity to peruse two outstanding, but rather different book lists, and then make some lists of my own.

This challenge will combine very well with existing perpetual reading challenges such as Travel the World in Books and Read the Nobels (hosted by @guiltlessreader).

For example, I would like to read Egilssaga and The Saga of the People of Laxardal, two Icelandic sagas on Jane Smiley’s list, for my own Travel the World in Books goal of readings Scandinavian literature (see my Northern Lights Reading Project). I would also like to reread Kristin Lavransdatter, which is not only on Smiley’s list, but fulfills both #TTWIB and #ReadNobels because its author, Sigrid Undset, won a Nobel in Literature in 1928. Of course, Smiley’s list isn’t just about Scandinavian lit (that’s just my quirk); she lists diverse books in many literary traditions, older works and some by very recent authors (e.g., Toni Morrison, Ian McEwan, Annie Proulx, Jennifer Egan). Fadiman’s list (List #2) has a diverse selection of classics from around the world, including the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, The Plum in the Golden Vase, The Pillow Book of Sei Shônagon, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and more.

You can see what’s on the lists, sign up for the perpetual challenge, and then watch for the 13 Ways annual reading challenge in January 2017. The best thing is reading along with a community of people who are (not only) in love with book lists, but more important, mad about the books themselves.

My High Summer Read-a-thon Reading Menu #HSReadathon

19 Jul

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Summer truly feels like the time to choose some “reading for pleasure”–those books that we’ve been setting aside for prime reading time. Well, the time is now, thanks to Michelle’s High Summer Read-a-thon this week, hosted at her delightful Seasons of Reading blog, with lively participation on its corresponding Facebook group.  Here are the books on my summer menu for this week.

Defying my prior belief that I didn’t care for Ursula LeGuin, I have become enthralled with her Earthsea books. They are such seminal works for the fantasy genre, quietly but confidently telling the story of winning through trials by virtue and character, as much as by magic. We are reading the first three in our TuesBookTalk Read-Alongs. So far, I have read A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan. I’m now reading The Farthest Shore and I plan to read the fourth book Tehanu as well.

 

For Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge (#TTWIB) in July, I am getting immersed in two different family sagas, The Makioka Sisters and My Brilliant Friend. I hope I can finish them both this summer, but I’d better focus on one of them for this Read-a-thon! Have you ever seen the film The Competition, starring Amy Irving and Richard Dreyfuss? Both are entered in a world-class piano competition, and despite the romantic complications, it was the music and its role in their lives that stayed with me. In the climactic scene, Amy Irving’s character, Heidi, is rattled by a broken piano string and switches her piano concerto at the last moment: from Chopin to a more daring and modern selection, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major. For me, The Makioka Sisters is like the Chopin, an exquisitely controlled virtuoso novel; My Brilliant Friend is a daring and yet equally virtuoso performance by Elena Ferrante.  In this “high summer” week, I am probably craving more the bare-knuckle glissandos of Prokofiev, and therefore the free-wheeling brilliance of Ferrante.

 

I have one more item on my menu, a new book that arrived in the mail just today. It is M. K. Tod‘s new historical novel Time and Regret.

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Her WWI novel Lies Told in Silence was so excellent that I am really delighted to be reading Time and Regret for an upcoming France Book Tour.  Although I am planning a review, this book definitely qualifies as “reading for pleasure” since I can count on Tod for historical fiction that is splendidly researched and deeply felt.

That’s my reading menu and, as usual, my plate is full. I wish everyone a week of great summer reading!

Family Sagas in July: The Makioka Sisters, The Lowland, or My Brilliant Friend #TTWIB

27 Jun

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During the month of July, we invite you to pick one of three family sagas, which will take you to Japan, India, or Italy, for an absorbing, multi-generational story. In our poll taken at the Travel the World in Books Goodreads group, these three novels were about equally popular:

The Makioka Sisters by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki (translated by Edward G. Seidensticker) tells the story of four aristocratic sisters in pre-World War II Osaka, Japan. Two are married, one is still single because her family has rejected several proposals, and one is carrying on a relationship in secret. The book has a good key to its characters at the beginning. I am already excited to follow these sisters and their families in this watershed period for Japanese culture; it’s not only a divide between traditional and modern ways of doing things, but also a time on the brink of the devastating Second World War. This book is described as perhaps the greatest Japanese novel of the 20th century, and it’s the masterpiece of one of Japan’s most important modern writers–a literary journey well worth making.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri is a story about two brothers who grow up in Calcutta, India. They are very close but differ widely in temperament and goals. Udayan will plunge into a dangerous political movement, while Subhash chooses academia and a life of scientific research in America. But Subhash will return to India when his family is rocked by crisis and a terrible loss. Lahiri can be depended upon to create a moving and psychologically penetrating account of this family, and the larger forces of society (both Indian and American) at work in their lives.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein), and her subsequent ‘Neapolitan novels’ in this series, are already such a sensation that I hardly need describe them. Two girls growing up in Naples in the 1950s and 1960s forge an unforgettable friendship (which will truly suffer some ups and downs as the series develops).  I have read some of Book 2, The Story of a New Name, but I need to go back and see how it all began!

Any of these three novels would be excellent company this summer, and I hope you will join us as we read along and share our impressions of these family sagas set in three different countries. I will have two twitter chats, on Wednesday, July 13, 9:00 pm EDT and on Sunday, July 31, 3:00 pm EDT — both using hashtag #TTWIB. You can tweet about what you are reading any time! I will also post Discussion questions at our Goodreads group.  It should be interesting to talk about some of the characteristics of family sagas in general and compare notes on the particular novels we are reading.

Do you like family sagas (about one family, or two contrasting families) as a genre? If so, what have been some of your favorites? Which of the three books above would you most like to read?

#TTWIB Travels in May: Reading Russia

15 May

Reading Russia

This month Becca of I’m Lost in Books is hosting a free-choice reading event of books set in Russia. I have a couple of books in mind for this:

Everyday Saints cover (Russia)

Everyday Saints and Other Stories by Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov is rather like a “Chicken Soup for the Russian Orthodox Soul,” to make a homely comparison. The author describes his awakening of faith and entry into the Pskov Caves Monastery in Pechory, near the Estonian border.

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I learned of this book from a review by Emma of Words and Peace.  It was reportedly a bestseller in Russia, with over a million copies sold worldwide.  The personal warmth and frankness of its author have surely been a big part of its success. He tells us that, although he and his friends were reasonably happy young men with promising careers, something strange and wonderful drew them to monastic life: “for each of us, a new world had suddenly opened up, incomparable in its beauty.” He attempts to share this beauty as it manifests in daily life, through his gift for storytelling. Understanding the beauty of this Orthodox way of life is one essential to understanding the foundations of Russian culture, especially relevant since the fall of the Soviet system.

I hope to read Everyday Saints during the remainder of May, but I wanted to mention another Russian book, Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate.

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In scope and importance, this World War II novel has been compared to War and Peace. At nearly 900 pages, this will take me a while, but I’d like to make a start on it in May during our Read Russia event.

In a much lighter vein, I’d like to recommend Rosalind Laker’s charming historical novel, To Dream of Snow, in which a Parisian seamstress travels to the court of the Empress Elisabeth to embroider the elaborate gowns of the monarch and her daughter-in-law Catherine–the future Catherine the Great (for more details, see my review).

To Dream of Snow

Finally, if you haven’t read Anna Karenina yet, there are so many good translations available now. I first read the older one by Constance Garnett; it has its critics these days, but it certainly won me over (and it is free on Kindle). I like the Louise and Aylmer Maude translation in the Dover Thrift Edition, and their version was used for the movie tie-in edition to Joe Wright’s brilliant (but underrated) film.

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Another Russian classic is One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhensitsyn (trans. H. T. Willetts). Here’s a recent paperback edition.

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I hope some of these ideas are helpful; likewise, I hope to get some new ideas of mysteries, historicals, and contemporary fiction set in Russia, from other readers!

#BookBuddyAthon this week! What I’m Reading (#TBR Stack)

7 May

I’m so happy to be joining fellow blogger and friend, Sharon, of Faith Hope & Cherrytea (@_eHope) for a #BookBuddyAthon this week (May 7-13).  We are long-distance buddies in miles (or kilometers–she’s Canadian) but close in kindred spirits and many shared interests.  I can always count on FHC for lovely new recommendations of nourishing fiction, faith & inspiration, as well as soul stirring music–all presented with her specially chosen and delightful images. Visit her page for all the particulars on the #BookBuddyAthon, which is being hosted by @robertson_elena and @ColdTeaCrumbs (their Twitter handles) at a special YouTube channel, since they are both BookTubers too! Elena has posted a Giveaway, open internationally, of a gift certificate for the Book Depository. (You can also find the Giveaway at ColdTeaAndCrumbs’ video). Now on to my #TBRs!

As our Buddy Read, FHC and I are reading Anne’s House of Dreams by Lucy Maud Montgomery. (I have to write out the L. M., being another Lucy myself!) The story of Anne and her true love Gilbert Blythe starting off married life in their first home together still beckons readers after nearly 100 years (published in 1919). It still uplifts the heart, even when their move away from Avonlea presents new challenges for Anne and Gilbert.

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The #BookBuddyAthon also asks us to choose a book whose cover displays our buddy’s favorite color (for FHCthat would be purple or periwinkle), and one whose title includes one of her initials. I settled on a book she suggested (a bonus buddy read!), Rules for a Successful Book Club by Victoria Connelly, that fulfills both of these.  From the title, I expected a nonfiction guide to starting your own book club! My literal thinking…  In any case, it looks like a very engaging story about people who happen to be in a book club together. Isn’t this a stylish cover?

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During the week, I hope to polish off a free-choice read called I Promise You This by Patricia Sands. It is the third and final book of her Love in Provence series, and I will be reviewing it later this month for France Book Tours.  I discovered that FHC has also read this one, so clearly  we have caught the true #BookBuddyAthon spirit!  See the rest of her choices, including Stardust by Carla Stewart, whose cover features my favorite color, yellow!

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To see what others are reading, visit the YouTube channel or follow along with hashtag #BookBuddyAthon on Twitter or Instagram. I’m going to start off my reading with Anne’s House of Dreams!

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