TBR Thursday 235… and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

At the New Year, as I do every year, I set myself some targets for my various reading challenges and for the reduction of my ever-expanding TBR. I usually start off pretty well and then it all goes horribly wrong later in the year. However, due to a severe dose of plagueomania, for most of March I’ve been struggling to read anything except thrillers and mysteries, so I fear the horribly wrong bit has started early this year !

Here goes – the first check-in of the year…

Actually I thought the reading targets figures might be much worse than they are. The classics are taking the worst hit as generally speaking they require the most concentration. The Reading the Spanish Civil War Challenge won’t get underway properly until I finish the Around the World Challenge, which should happen in April but may drift to May.

However, the TBR figures are going in completely the wrong direction! After exercising iron willpower over new releases all last year I seem to have gone mad this year and have acquired about a million! Well, slight exaggeration but it won’t be if I keep going on like this. Must do better!

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The Around the World in 80 Books Challenge

Last check-in was in December, and this quarter I’ve done most of my travelling in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. One is still patiently waiting for me to review it – better do it soon before the holiday tan wears off! It’ll appear in the next round-up.

On the Main Journey (made by the characters in Around the World in 80 Days) I visited the Suez Canal only to find that I’d turned up in the middle of the Suez Crisis to witness the dying throes of the British Empire, in PH Newby’s Something to Answer For, the first ever Booker Prize winner.

I also had a few detours this quarter. First, I went to the Swedish island of Öland, where I got involved with the disappearance of a little boy many years earlier, in Johan Theorin’s excellent Echoes From the Dead. Off to Sicily next where I got caught up in Garibaldi’s attempt to unify Italy, spending some time with the decaying aristocracy in Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa’s The Leopard. Then I found myself in Ruritania, (which may have been a fictional country but is still probably better known than many a real one so I’ve decided it counts!) and had great fun with Englishman Rudolf Rassendyll as he impersonated the Ruritanian King in Anthony Hope’s swashbuckling adventure The Prisoner of Zenda. I also returned to China, a destination I’d already visited. I enjoyed the magically realistic look at life for the modern urban Chinese woman in An Yu’s Braised Pork so much I’ve decided to swap it in to replace the one I’d previously listed for China.

To see the full challenge including the Main Journey and all detours, click here.

76 down, 4 to go!

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The Classics Club

Although I’ve only read three from my Classics Club list this quarter, I had a backlog of four from the previous quarter still to review. So six reviews this quarter, and one still to review which will appear next time…

57. The New Road by Neil Munro – Set midway between the two major Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745, this great adventure story tells of two men travelling north into Highland country at the time when General Wade was building his New Road as part of the effort to pacify the clans. Entertaining and very well written, although the heavy sprinkling of Scots language and rhythms combined with its assumption of familiarity with the historical context might make it a demanding read for non-Scots. But for me, 5 stars.

58. The Go-Between by LP Hartley – A re-read of a book I loved in my youth and happily I loved it just as much all over again. The narrator Leo looks back to the summer of 1900 from a distance of fifty years. The story he tells us is one of subtle gradations of class and social convention, of sexual awakening and the loss of innocence, and over it all is an air of unease created by the older Leo’s knowledge of the horrors of the wars which would soon engulf the 20th century, changing this enchanted world of privilege for ever. 5 stars

59. The House with the Green Shutters by George Douglas Brown – A miserable and misanthropic portrayal of small-town Scottish life in the mid-19th century. I admired the skill of it, and the use of language, but it’s not an enjoyable read. And, while it is undoubtedly insightful about some aspects of Scottish culture, it certainly doesn’t give a full or rounded picture. 3 generous stars.

60. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway – No such reservations for this wonderful classic set during the Spanish Civil War. A love story, a story of the horror of war, of loyalty and comradeship, and surprisingly with a very strong female character at its heart, there is so much beauty in this book, side by side with so much brutality and so much tragedy. A real masterpiece – the descriptive writing is wonderful and the depth of insight into humanity and how people behave in times of war is breathtaking. 5 supernova-bright stars.

61. Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens – Set during the Gordon Riots of 1780, this is Dickens’ first attempt at the historical novel. The structure he uses is not wholly successful, but it’s filled as always with some delightfully original characters and also has some very fine mob scenes that hint at what would come in his later, and much better, A Tale of Two Cities. 4 stars because I’m comparing it to other Dickens’ novels, but would be 5 stars if compared to almost any other author’s work.

62. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – In this excoriating study of the horrors of colonialism in Africa, Conrad shows the devastating impact the white man has on both the society and the land of Africa, but he also shows that this devastation turns back on the coloniser, corrupting him physically and psychologically, and by extension, corrupting the societies from which he comes. Not an easy read, but more than worth the effort. 5 stars.

A fantastic quarter! I hope my next batch of classics are just as good!

Update to the list: I abandoned the third book in Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s A Scots Quair trilogy, Grey Granite, at too early a stage to review. (If you’re interested in why, here’s a link to my comments on Goodreads.) So I’m replacing it with The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson. Details will appear on a future TBR post.

62 down, 28 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

Although I’ve continued to read a ton of vintage crime, I’ve only actually read two for this challenge this quarter. To see the full challenge, click here.

35.  The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie – When a rich old lady is killed in her country house, the various members of the household come under suspicion. This is the first book ever published by Agatha Christie and therefore our first introduction to the two characters who would become her most famous, Poirot and Hastings. Great fun to see how the Queen of Crime began! 4½ stars.

36.  Trent’s Last Case by EC Bentley – Another murder in a country house, this time of an American business tycoon. Trent is a journalist and amateur detective who soon thinks he knows what happened, but has his own reasons for not revealing his suspicions. From 1913, it’s an intriguing look at one stage on the road to development of the genre. 4 stars.

36 down, 66 to go!

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Reading the Spanish Civil War Challenge

Although this challenge hasn’t really started yet, it would be crazy not to link Hemingway’s classic to it…

1.  For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. This story of love set amidst war is one of the best known books in English about the Spanish Civil War. The wonderful writing and profound insight into Spanish culture and the realities of war mean it richly deserves its status as a major classic. A glowing 5 stars and a great way to start the challenge!

1 down, and who knows how many to go!

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Another great quarter’s reading, even if the last month has thrown me off track a little! Thank you for joining me on my reading adventures and…

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

47 thoughts on “TBR Thursday 235… and Quarterly Round-Up

  1. You know, FictionFan, if it weren’t for that pesky pandemic, I’m sure you’d have a lot less on the TBR pile. I mean, how’s one supposed to be disciplined in times like these??! I am glad you’ve had a lot more good reading than disappointing reading this quarter, and you’ve been to some great places in your reading, too. Here’s to a good second quarter!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was bad enough when the book demons were simply bribing my postman to sabotage my TBR, but I do feel sending a full blown pandemic is taking things a bit too far! It really was an excellent quarter, though – and I have some appealing stuff comin gup if I can only get my reading head back on…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed Barnaby Rudge. I think it’s a great book, but I recommended it to someone a couple of years ago who was very scathing about it and I’ve been doubting my own judgment on the matter ever since.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Even though I had problems with the structure, I thought each half was good separately – they just didn’t quite gel as successfully as his stories usually do. And I thought the mob scenes were excellent. Dickens seems to be such a matter of taste, though – I’m always amazed at how many people really don’t like him. I’m glad you and I have great taste! 😉

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  3. Yay, the spreadsheet is back!! I kinda missed it! 🙂 Sad to see the AW80 challenge coming to an end, but of course there is the Spanish Civil War Challenge to look forward to. I think it’s completely fair that you are a bit behind target and I know that you don’t take it too seriously either. I just had a bit of a chuckle remembering you status post last year with red stamps saying “Failed” plastered around. If you don’t catch up at least we may have another entertaining post to look forward to 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha, if there’s one sure thing you can hang onto in ths uncertain world, it’s that I’ll fail dramatically every year! 😉 I’ll be sorry to finish the AW80 challenge – I’ve loved doing it and it has made me read much more widely than I usually do. I’m going to have to come up with another travelling challenge, but I’ll wait till after the Spanish Civil War one…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A very engaging post, FF. Made me want to read the Hartley, Hemingway and Conrad (all books I’m ashamed to say I haven’t read). I’ve been reading some wonderful new releases by Australian women lately, including The Animals in that Country by Laura Jean McKay. It’s about a virus (stay with me) that enables humans to understand animal language to devastating effect. Compelling story and exquisite prose—my favourite combination.

    Stay safe and well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s why I do these challenges – it forces me to read some of the books I’ve been saying I’ll read “someday” for decades! Still plenty left to go though! 😉 Hahaha – I’m not sure what’s more frightening – the idea of a virus or the idea of finding out what my cats are really thinking when they gaze at me with that look of affectionate contempt…

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  5. I’m so glad you’re a person who believes in data analysis. Although I must say, I’m rather intimidated by your stats. I’ll just go slink back into my corner of the kidlit world. FYI, I did just finish Jacqueline Woodson’s Red at the Bone. And although I love her writing, I’ve enjoyed some of her other books more. This time, I didn’t quite feel the pull to keep reading, other than enjoying how she arranges words on the page. Or maybe it’s because life now feels like it’s so filled with tension (grocery shopping can kill you!!), anything that’s not a full-throttle knuckle-biter doesn’t register in my psyche. Onward! Your 2Q awaits!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha! My stats are merely a device to allow me to pretend I’m doing something productive when I’m actaully wasting time… 😉 I’m struggling to really enjoy anything right now and that’s kinda putting me off reviewing since I feel I’ll be unfairly harsh on the books. I’m thinking of giving every book an additional compensatory “pandemic” star – a bit like how all the kids are going to get certificates for the exams they’re not sitting… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha – I’m not sure catching is good thing at the moment! I’m delighted to hear some of these have made your list – it was a particularly good quarter for classics and fiction generally – at least Jan and Feb were. But I’ve actually been reading today! Maybe my brain is finally accepting that obsessing doesn’t really help… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You’ve got the right idea sticking to virtual travel around the world through literature: much more safe. Thanks for the heads up about Gray Granite, I’ve been humming and hawing a bit about this one, as I’m a completist, but I think I’ll probably pass. Good luck with the next quarter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Virtual travel always works better for me even in normal times, but especially now! I really couldn’t stick Grey Granite at all. I’m coming rapidly to the conclusion that I don’t much like 20th century Scottish fiction – they seem to love to portray Scotland as a horrible place full of horrible people, and I don’t think it’s any more horrible than anywhere else – grrr!

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  7. I think you’ve done exceptionally well, FF — especially considering that plague-thingy. I’m finding it hard to concentrate. My poor weary brain keeps trying to interfere with What Ifs and such. Then I find something rather mindless to do (cleaning, anyone?) so I won’t fret and worry. Sigh. At least I’m not overeating, ha!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! The silver lining! Yes, I get the occasional day when I’m reading and think I’ve finally stopped obsessing and then next day I’m back to spending hours watching all the horror on the news. It really doesn’t help…

      Liked by 1 person

        • I know! I try to limit myself to the official briefings just so I know what’s happening but I still find myself watching far too much coverage and then my anxiety levels shoot up. It’s odd, because I’m not usually an anxious person so I clearly haven’t worked out coping strategies yet!

          Liked by 1 person

  8. You’re getting there FF! I was recommended Braised Pork by my very favourite bookseller, whose recommendations are always spot on, so I may give that one a go. Stay well, don’t mourn Wimbledon too much 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I loved Braised Pork which is a real recommendation since magical realism doesn’t usually work for me at all – hope you enjoy it if you get to it sometime! I can’t believe there will be no tennis this summer… no Rafa! My life is a wasteland… 😉

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  9. I say if we make it through this weird time without going insane and showering regularly then everything else is gravy! Have yourself some medicinal chocolate and read whatever kind of book makes you feel better! The challenges will be there when times are better. Good job, by the way – you’re still making progress!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha – I’m not even sure about the showering regularly bit any more – too difficult when you have your head hidden beneath the bedcovers! 😉 Thank you – I got off to a good start and who knows, maybe the second half of the year will be better and we can all get back to some kind of normal… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Not bad FF! Two jokes to make here:

    at least you aren’t reading any books about the Spanish flu-no one needs that reminder right now 🙂

    Ruridge-try to say that 10 times over 🙂

    Just trying to keep things light! hahah (sobs silently in the corner)

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I don’t think that’s too shabby at all, considering the general lack of concentration currently in the air… and the sad, sad news about Wimbledon being cancelled this year. With such brilliant spreadsheets, I’m sure things will be back on track soon.

    Liked by 1 person

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