Category Archives: 03. 2022 Mt. TBR challenge

Mt. TBR Challenge: Quarterly Update

My goal for the TBR cart* was to read 36 books this year – basically 3 per month. I’m on track so far:

Sunday, 3.27.2022 & first quarter update:

  1. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain; 2/11/2022
  2. My Mortal Enemy by Willa Cather; 1/23/2022
  3. Waiting for Willa by Dorothy Eden; 3/6/2022
  4. Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin: 2/17/2022
  5. Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper; 1/5/2022
  6. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper; 1/21/2022
  7. Greenwitch by Susan Cooper; 3/6/2022
  8. The Grey King by Susan Cooper; 3/12/2022
  9. The Maine Massacre by Janwillem van de Wetering; 3/9/2022
  10. A Very Great Profession by Nicola Beauman; 3/27/2022

I have two reads from the TBR cart that I’ve been working on:

  1. Tempest Tost by Robertson Davies, which is the first book in the Salterton Trilogy and
  2. A Very Great Profession by Nicola Beauman, which has been my bedside book for a couple of weeks. I’m reading a chapter every few days. I would really like to finish this by the end of March, so I think I will buckle down. I only have about 3 chapters left.

As part of the quarterly update process, I have also decided that I will take the opportunity to review what’s on the TBR cart, and add books to fill the cart, but also to replace books that aren’t sparking my interest at all. So, my current cart, with new titles in red:

Tier One:

  • The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman
  • Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
  • Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner
  • The Quiet American by Graham Greene
  • Death in Rough Water by Francine Mathews
  • Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple
  • Miss Buncle Married by D.E. Stevenson
  • Mariana by Monica Dickens
  • The Spoilt Kill by Mary Kelly
  • Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper
  • Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
  • Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones
  • The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehart
  • The Bowstring Murders by Carr Dickson
  • The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay
  • Professor Imanishi Investigates by Seicho Matsumoto

Tier Two:

  • The Semi-Attached Couple and the Semi-Detached House by Emily Eden
  • An Unsuitable Attachment by Barbara Pym
  • The Road to Paradise by Victoria Holt
  • The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies
  • The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
  • The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander
  • The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander
  • Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander
  • The High King by Lloyd Alexander
  • The Third Angel by Alice Hoffman
  • The Probable Future by Alice Hoffman
  • The Two Faces of January by Patricia Highsmith
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • My American by Stella Gibbon
  • The Matchmaker by Stella Gibbon

Tier Three:

  • Howards End by E.M. Forster
  • Shadows Waiting by Anne Eliot
  • Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
  • Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • A Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
  • The Shadow of the Lynx by Victoria Holt
  • The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott
  • The Day of the Scorpion by Paul Scott
  • The Towers of Silence by Paul Scott
  • A Division of the Spoils by Paul Scott
  • Alanna by Tamora Pierce
  • In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce
  • The Woman Who Rides Like a Man by Tamora Pierce
  • Lioness Rampant by Tamora Pierce

I enjoyed re-reading/reading The Dark Is Rising Sequence (although I still have book 5 to finish) so I decided to pull a very few books, but to add two additional YA series that I have never finished: Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series and the Alanna series by Tamora Pierce. In addition, I bought the whole Paul Scott Raj Quartet at a UBS many years ago (in fact, the receipt is still in the books – it was 2013 when I bought them) and it has been hanging around, waiting to be read. This seemed like a good time to add them to the cart!

*For those of you who are wondering about the handsome ginger pictured, Sora is our youngest cat, named by my son after a character in his favorite childhood video game franchise of all time, Kingdom Hearts. Yes, his tail is incredibly long!

2022: Book 17 – Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

Testament of YouthTestament of Youth
by Vera Brittain
Rating: ★★★★★
Publication Date: August 28, 1933
Genre: classic, memoir, non-fiction
Pages: 688
ReRead?: No
Project: a century of women, back to the classics, Mt. TBR 2022

Much of what we know and feel about the First World War we owe to Vera Brittain's elegiac yet unsparing book, which set a standard for memoirists from Martha Gellhorn to Lillian Hellman. Abandoning her studies at Oxford in 1915 to enlist as a nurse in the armed services, Brittain served in London, in Malta, and on the Western Front. By war's end she had lost virtually everyone she loved. Testament of Youth is both a record of what she lived through and an elegy for a vanished generation. Hailed by the Times Literary Supplement as a book that helped “both form and define the mood of its time,” it speaks to any generation that has been irrevocably changed by war.


This book was a journey. Divided roughly into three parts, Brittain’s memoir covers the pre-WWI period, including her first year at Oxford University, the war itself and her work as a VAD, and then the post-WWI period, including finishing her degree and then her ultimate career and marriage.

There is so much to say about it. Brittain starts her memoir at the beginning, as a young woman who has decided that she wants to attend Oxford and needs to persuade her parents, who are very traditional middle class people, that she should be permitted to try for a spot in spite of her obvious deficiency: she’s a girl. Her father, in particular, isn’t wild about his daughter going to college. She ultimately gains admission to Somerville College, which is known for many of it’s women graduates, including Dorothy Sayers. She arrives at Somerville in 1914, and the war begins within weeks, completely derailing her plans.

For the time being I simmered wrathfully in anger and hopeless resentment. By means of what then appeared to have been a very long struggle, I had made for myself a way of escape from my hated provincial prison – and now the hardly-won road to freedom was to be closed for me by a Serbian bomb hurled from the other end of Europe at an Austrian archduke. It is not, perhaps, so very surprising that the War at first seemed to me an infuriating personal interruption rather than a world-wide catastrophe.

Youth just can’t help but be self-centered.

Vera has four men who are close to her: Edward, her brother, Roland, her brother’s friend and eventually her fiance, with whom she falls madly in love in the immediate pre-war weeks, and two close friends, Victor, or Tay, and Geoffrey. When all of the men she loves enlist to fight, she leaves Oxford and becomes a nurse with the Voluntary Aid Detachment. In this capacity she works in hospitals in England, eventually ending up in France and the Dardanelles.

This section of her memoir is deeply affecting. Her description of nursing war injuries is terrible, but most affecting is the fact that, one-by-one, the young men die. First Roland, then Edward, then Victor and then finally, and last, Geoffrey. I’m not a crier, but every single death felt like a body blow, and by the end of the war, I, too had wept more than once. It does seem that Providence could have left one of them, but I suppose it would have been a very different book under those circumstances.

But the War kills other things besides physical life, and I sometimes feel that little by little the Individuality of You is being as surely buried as the bodies are of those who lie beneath the trenches of Flanders and France. But I won’t write more on this subject. In any case it is no use, and I shall probably cry if I do, which must never be done, for there is so much both personal and impersonal to cry for here that one might weep for ever and yet not shed enough tears to wash away the pitiableness of it all.’

The memoir could have ended there, but it didn’t. How does a person come back from this kind of devastation?

The fact that, within ten years, I lost one world, and after a time rose again, as it were, from spiritual death to find another, seems to me one of the strongest arguments against suicide that life can provide. There may not be – I believe that there is not – resurrection after death, but nothing could prove more conclusively than my own brief but eventful history the fact that resurrection is possible within our limited span of earthly time.

Brittain was by no means alone in her experience, and like most women, she got on with it. She returned to Oxford, where life had proceeded without her, and where the young people who had been less affected by the war didn’t want to hear about it.

The rest of the book covers most of the rest of her life – her graduation from Oxford, receiving one of the first degrees granted to women, her work around women’s suffrage and feminism, her long, close friendship with Winifred Holtby (which was the subject of a second memoir, called Testament of Friendship), her conviction, like Virginia Woolf that

Marriage, for any woman who considered all its implications both for herself and her contemporaries, could never, I now knew, mean a ‘living happily ever after’; on the contrary it would involve another protracted struggle, a new fight against the tradition which identified wifehood with the imprisoning limitations of a kitchen and four walls, against the prejudices and regulations which still made success in any field more difficult for the married woman than for the spinster, and penalised motherhood by demanding from it the surrender of disinterested intelligence, the sacrifice of that vitalising experience only to be found in the pursuit of an independent profession.

Brittain had a career as an author and journalist, but Testament of Youth is nearly the only thing that survives.

I doubt that I will be able to revisit this book in the future. The experience of reading it was intense, especially the middle section, that memorializes her experiences in the war. If I were to go back to it, it would likely be for the post-war section focusing on women’s rights and her relationship with Winifred Holtby. I read South Riding, by Holtby, a few years ago and loved it. I will likely seek out Testament of Friendship at some point, but it’s more difficult to source than this one.

It took me three tries to get past the first 30 pages, but I’m so glad that I persevered this time. This was a worthy way to close out the 1930’s in my Century of Women project.

January, 2022 Wrap-Up

I had an outstanding reading month, finishing a total of 16 books.

With respect to my various reading projects, I read 3 books from my TBR cart: Over Sea, Under Stone and The Dark Is Rising, both by Susan Cooper, and My Mortal Enemy by Willa Cather. I read 7 books which fit the Century of Women project, which had an average rating of 3.93 stars, and 4 books from my Classics Club 2.0 list, with an average rating of 4 stars.

I DNF’d one book – I finally pulled the plug on The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan around the middle of the month. I haven’t concluded that I’m never going to give the series a try again, but I lost interest and found myself avoiding reading it. This is always a clue to me that it’s time to DNF.

Using the book database, I am able to pull a lot of interesting analytics. I won’t go through all of them every month, but a few of the more interesting pieces of information from January are as follows:

My longest book, The Priory, was 536 pages, and my shortest book, My Mortal Enemy, was a mere 112 pages.

I spanned 100 years with my reading this month, breaking down as follows (I would note that this only adds up to 15 books – I obviously forgot to complete this term for one of my entries):

In addition, 12 out of 16 books were new to me, and 4 were re-reads. This is the first time in many months, I would suspect, when I actually read more print books than kindle books – 7 books were read on kindle, 9 in print. 10 books were from the public library and 6 came off of my shelves.

Finally, with respect to ratings, I ran the gamut, but spent the most time between 3.5 stars (29%) and 4 stars (29%); I had 2 5 star reads: The Dark is Rising and This House of Brede, and 2 4.5 star reads: The Priory and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent. The book I liked the least this month was My Mortal Enemy by Willa Cather.

I think that I have gotten my book database terms organized the way that I want it to be able to track the information I want to track. I’ve decided to enter my reading from 2021 into the database because I’m curious about what a comparison of this year against last year will look like. I really wish that I had all of this information going back the full 10 years that I have been tracking my reading on the internet, but the idea of creating the database is pretty intimidating.

2022: Books 7, 10 & 11 – Unexpected Night, The Dark Is Rising & The Wee Free Men

This is just going to be a quick multi-book catch-up post! I didn’t have enough to say about these books to warrant a full review, but I don’t want to forget about them, either.

Unexpected NightUnexpected Night
by Elizabeth Daly
Rating: ★★★★
Series: Henry Gamadge #1
Publication Date: January 1, 1940
Genre: mystery
Pages: 216
ReRead?: No
Project: American mystery classics

The discovery of young Amberly Cowden's body at the base of a cliff, as well as the strange events apparently related to the impoverished acting troupe at the Cove, disrupt Gamage's restful golf retreat.


This is the first book in the Henry Gamadge series by Elizabeth Daly. I stumbled on the series last year and enjoyed the one I checked out. I put the first book on held. This is a pretty clever little mystery from the golden age, by an American author.

The Dark Is RisingThe Dark Is Rising
by Susan Cooper
Rating: ★★★★★
Series: The Dark is Rising #2
Publication Date: January 1, 1973
Genre: fantasy, YA
Pages: 244
ReRead?: Yes
Project: Mt. TBR 2022

On Midwinter Day and his eleventh birthday, Will Stanton discovers he is the last of immortal Old Ones dedicated to keeping the world from domination by the forces of evil, the Dark. He must find six magical Signs for the final battle.


I pulled this off the TBR cart to follow Over Sea, Under Stone, which I read earlier this month. I plan to complete the series this year – I have previously read the first three, and this is my favorite of them. I really like this book, and had forgotten that it was set over Christmas/Epiphany, so it was really perfect for this time of year.

The Wee Free MenThe Wee Free Men
by Terry Pratchett
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Discworld #30
Publication Date: October 6, 2009
Genre: fantasy, YA
Pages: 404
ReRead?: No

Nine-year-old Tiffany Aching needs magic--fast! Her sticky little brother Wentworth has been spirited away by the evil Queen of Faerie, and it's up to her to get him back safely. Having already decided to grow up to be a witch, now all Tiffany has to do is find her power. But she quickly learns that it's not all black cats and broomsticks. According to her witchy mentor Miss Tick, "Witches don't use magic unless they really have to...We do other things. A witch pays attention to everything that's going on...A witch uses her head...A witch always has a piece of string!" Luckily, besides her trusty string, Tiffany's also got the Nac Mac Feegles, or the Wee Free Men on her side. Small, blue, and heavily tattooed, the Feegles love nothing more than a good fight except maybe a drop of strong drink! Tiffany, heavily armed with an iron skillet, the feisty Feegles, and a talking toad on loan from Miss Tick, is a formidable adversary. But the Queen has a few tricks of her own, most of them deadly. Tiffany and the Feegles might get more than they bargained for on the flip side of Faerie! Prolific fantasy author Terry Pratchett has served up another delicious helping of his famed Discworld fare.


I initially gave this four stars, but on reflection, it’s probably 3 1/2. I know that there are a lot of Terry Pratchett super-fans out there, but I am apparently not one of them. I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. While I very much enjoyed Tiffany Aching and thought that the pictsies were a hoot, the last section of the book, set in Fairyland, just didn’t click with me at all. I didn’t get it. I own the whole Tiffany Aching subseries, and I’ll probably read it, but I have come to the conclusion that a lot of the signature Pratchett elements just don’t work for me.

Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper

Over Sea, Under StoneOver Sea, Under Stone
by Susan Cooper
Rating: ★★★★
Series: The Dark is Rising #1
Publication Date: November 1, 1965
Genre: fantasy, YA
Pages: 286
ReRead?: Yes
Project: a century of women, Mt. TBR 2022

On holiday in Cornwall, the three Drew children discover an ancient map in the attic of the house that they are staying in. They know immediately that it is special. It is even more than that -- the key to finding a grail, a source of power to fight the forces of evil known as the Dark. And in searching for it themselves, the Drews put their very lives in peril.

This is the first volume of Susan Cooper's brilliant and absorbing fantasy sequence known as The Dark Is Rising.


 

I pulled this off of the TBR cart as my first book of 2022. I have paperback copies of the whole series, and plan to read the whole cycle this year.

This is somewhere between Middle Grade & Young Adult – more MG than YA, I would say. Cooper wrote the series between 1965 and 1977, so this book is just slightly older than I am (I was born in 1966). I didn’t read it as a young reader, though, somehow, although I think it would have been right up my alley.

I am a fan of books that have Arthurian themes, and Susan Cooper is definitely in that wheelhouse, with this book as a quest for the holy grail. It’s a pretty classic British adventure story, with a trio of siblings blessed with busy, benignly neglectful parents and an acquaintanceship with a mentor who is more than he seems to be.

The second book, The Dark is Rising, was a Newbery nominee, and the fourth book, The Grey King, won the Newbery in 1976. I read the first three back in 2016, but never completed the series, and decided to start at the beginning this year.

Mt. TBR – 2022

I really haven’t been at all enthusiastic about reading planning for 2022, which is a bit of a departure for me. In light of that reality, I’ve decided to forgo all new challenges, with the exception of the Mt. TBR Challenge.

Challenge Levels:

Pike’s Peak: Read 12 books from your TBR pile
Mount Blanc: Read 24 books from your TBR pile
Mt. Vancouver: Read 36 books from your TBR pile/s
Mt. Ararat: Read 48 books from your TBR pile
Mt. Kilimanjaro: Read 60 books from your TBR pile
Cerro El Toro*: Read 75 books from your TBR pile
Mt. Everest: Read 100 books from your TBR pile
Mount Olympus (Mars): Read 150+ books from your TBR pile

I have decided to shoot for the Mt. Vancouver level, with 36 books, which is three books per month. I’m going to fill this challenge only with print books that are in my personal library today. I’m going to go back through my TBR cart and swap some things out so I can post a list of my planned choices, although I am going to allow myself to swap out books one-for-one so long as the book I’m swapping in was on my shelves prior to 1/1/2022.

I have selected a number of books for my TBR project – more than 36 so that I have a few alternates thrown in for good measure. A few are re-reads from long ago, and some do double duty on my Classics Club list or as part of a Goodreads group reading project.

Here is the cart:

Now for the details:

Top Tier

From left to right:

  1. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (I am determined to finish this book this year – I’ve started it at least 3 times)
  2. The Matchmaker by Stella Gibbons
  3. Mariana by Monica Dickens
  4. Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple
  5. Miss Buncle Married by D.E. Stevenson
  6. A Very Great Profession by Nicola Beauman (buddy read!)
  7. My American by Stella Gibbons
  8. The Last Hours by Minette Walters
  9. The Spoilt Kill by Mary Kelly
  10. The Quiet American by Graham Greene
  11. My Mortal Enemy by Willa Cather (this is my last unread Willa Cather, except for her short stories)
  12. Waiting for Willa by Dorothy Eden
  13. Death in Rough Water by Francine Matthews
  14. The Bowstring Murders by Carr Dickson
  15. The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Middle Tier:

  1. The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman
  2. The Probable Future by Alice Hoffman
  3. The Third Angel by Alice Hoffman
  4. The Two Faces of January by Patricia Highsmith
  5. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  6. The Semi-Attached Couple and The Semi-Detached House by Emily Eden
  7. An Unsuitable Attachment by Barbara Pym
  8. Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin (First quarter DWS Author-in-Residence). My Library of America edition also includes Giovanni’s Room, Another Country, and a collection of short stories called “Going to Meet the Man”)
  9. Inspector Imanishi Investigates by Seicho Matsumoto
  10. Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper
  11. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
  12. Greenwitch by Susan Cooper
  13. The Grey King by Susan Cooper
  14. Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper
  15. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
  16. Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones
  17. Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner

Bottom Tier:

  1. The Salterton Trilogy by Robertson Davies (this is a 3 book omnibus; Davies was selected as one of the second quarter DWS authors-in-residence)
  2. The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies (also a 3 book omnibus; I have read this one, but not in the last 20 years at least)
  3. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisa Pessl
  4. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
  5. Howard’s End by E.M. Forster
  6. The Maine Massacre by Janwillem van de Wetering (I can’t resist these Soho Crime PBs at my favorite used book store – each tier has one)
  7. Shadows Waiting by Anne Eliot
  8. The Fruit of the Tree by Edith Wharton
  9. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
  10. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (also a DWS author-in-residence for the third quarter)
  11. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
  12. Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay (just selected by BT as a third quarter DWS author-in-residence)
  13. The Shadow of the Lynx by Victoria Holt
  14. The Road to Paradise Island by Victoria Holt

So, that’s a total of 46 books pulled. Most of them have been on my shelves for several years, and the vast majority of them are new-to-me reads. Even the ones that are rereads weren’t read in this century.

In addition, I also still have my Classics Club 2.0 list to work on next year*, and I’m sure I will read a lot of vintage mystery. I’ve been collecting the Furrowed Middlebrow releases from Dean Street Press for my kindle, & I’d like to read more of them, and I want to read more fantasy/science fiction. I feel like I need to read less crime and more other genres, since I’ve been in a bit of rut for the last couple of years.

I am not going to try for any grand gestures, like a “no book buying year,” because that’s just unrealistic. Buying books is one of my (very few) commercial indulgences (the other one is crafting supplies/fabric). But, I’m going to continue to heavily use my libraries, especially for contemporary fiction and non-fiction.

*I’m 2 years into the 5 year cycle and I’ve only read 9 books, so I have some catching up to do!