Monday, January 25, 2016

Walk to Beautiful: The Power of Love and a Homeless Kid who Found the Way by Jimmy Wayne with Ken Abraham

Walk to Beautiful: The Power of Love and a Homeless Kid Who Found the WaySuccessful country song writer and solo artist Jimmy Wayne hit his stride in Nashville in the early 2000's but after returning home following a 2009 tour where he opened for Brad Paisley, Wayne decided he needed to follow through with a self-made promise that his life would honor the elderly couple who gave him stability and unconditional love when no one else would.  On New Year's Day 2010 Jimmy Wayne visited Monroe Harding foster care home in Nashville and then left there to walk half way across America to Phoenix to raise awareness of the plight of teenagers in the foster system.

Jimmy Wayne considers his walk, which lasted until August 2010, a success even those it cost him his songwriting and recording contract and ended with a broken foot due to stress fractures, a success.
As he shared his own story of life in the foster system, he shared that teenagers who "age out of the system" often transition directly into homelessness, crime, and failure.  Too often they fail to finish school, secure stable jobs, and almost never pursue post-secondary education.  Shortly after his walk, California passed legislation that allows foster care until age 21, and other states have followed suit.
Since Wayne's walk, the musician has turned writer and motivational speaker.  His book WALK TO BEAUTIFUL tells a frank and often dark story of a young boy (and his sister) who are neglected and abused by an irresponsible and troubled mother.  Alcohol, violence, hunger, and fear abound.  As his mother moves from one man to another, the family moves from one dive to another.  Frequently in jail and even in prison, the mother shoves the children off on her father, also unemployed and abusive, or with friends.  By the time James Wayne is 13, his sister who is only one year older has been married off to an older man, and James, his mother, and her current husband are on the run following a domestic dispute at their house.  After weeks on the run, many spent in homeless shelters, the boy's mother abandons him at a bus stop, telling him to return to North Carolina and his sister.

By the time Jimmy is 15, he is not attending school regularly, and has been in so many different living arrangements that I could not keep them straight.  Basically homeless for the summer, he happens upon a house with a workshop on the property.  An older couple are busy there making decorative butter churns.  When Jimmy asks if he can mow their lawn, Bea, the wife, says yes, and that simple yes changes the boy's life.  He works for them for the entire summer and near the end of August, Bea asks him where he is living.  She then offers him a room in their house, and Jimmy finally finds a family that does not desert him.  In fact, he stays there through the rest of high school, technical college, and into his first days of employment.  Bea becomes his biggest cheerleader, attending his concerts after he begins playing and singing music. 

Jimmy Wayne's own life shows that what he proposes is a great idea.  The teenage boy that he was at age 15 and 16 was still so messed up and angry that had he been placed in a foster home and then "aged" out at 18, he would have ended up on the streets again.  Because he missed so much school, he had been held back in 6th grade; without adult encouragement and structure, he probably would not have stayed in high school.  Certainly he never would have pursued the steps to advanced education. The Costners (and some great guidance counselors) provided the stability and encouragement.  Little by little, the boy's anger diminished and he was able to be successful at school, make friends, and build a future.  Bea and Russell also saw that Jimmy went to church.  And here is a strange twist to the story.  As messed up as Jimmy's mother was, when she was sober, she went to church and expected the kids to go.  She could not keep her own life straight, but her church going planted a seed in Jimmy.  Throughout his childhood he was often angry at God, but when
Russell said he needed to go to church, Jimmy did not refuse.  And after Russell died, Bea kept providing a home for Jimmy and his life today shows the power of love. I received a copy of this title from BookLook for my honest review.  

Check this website to learn more about Jimmy Wayne, his music, and his current plans.  Also scout around Youtube to hear his music.  Jimmy Wayne wrote the Christmas novel PAPER ANGELS which has been made into a movie.  Even though Christmas is over, I plan on watching that movie as soon as I can get the dvd from a nearby library.  I was given a copy of this book for review purposes; all opinions are mine.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Murder, Simply Stitched: An Amish Quilit Shop Mystery by Isabella Alan

Wisconsin has been in winter's deep freeze for the past few days, making it time to work on a quilt project.  And to keep me company while I cut, pin, and sew, a cozy mystery.  My choice was the third book in Isabella Alan's AMISH QUILT SHOP MYSTERY SERIES last summer and enjoyed main character Angela Braddock, her quick wit, and especially her pet Frenchie Bulldog and kitten, that I decided to finish the series.  MURDER, SIMPLY STITCHED actually precedes MURDER, SIMPLY SERVED, the book I listened to last summer.  As with many series, there are those continuing details (such as Angela's budding romance with the sheriff) that make more sense if you read (listen) in order, but I still enjoyed the audio of this book.  Angela has inherited her aunt's quilt shop in Holmes County, Ohio, an aunt who had married an Amish and become Amish years before. Now, having a non-Amish own a "genuine Amish" quilt shop is a problem for some in the tiny community where buggies outnumber the cars except when tourists arrive.  Fearing that business in the upcoming winter may be slim, Angela has decided to sell some of her aunt's quilts at the Rolling Brook Auction. What promises to be a successful business decision is quickly overshadowed when Angela finds one of Rolling Brook's town council members dead near the jelly house at the auction grounds. When Angela's Amish friend and her husband appear to the only suspects, Angela can't focus on the quilt shop until she finds the real killer.  Of course, her snooping puts her at odds with the cute sheriff.

Like all cozy mystery series, you need to put all sense of reality aside to enjoy Alan's work.  But when you do, she has all the details necessary for a successful series.  First is Angela's quick wit, shown mostly in comments to herself.  Then there is her Frenchie bulldog who accompanies her almost everywhere.  He provides humor, makes friends with the unfriendly, and you can always count on him for a good chase scene. Plus he is the guardian extraordinaire for Angela's little mischievous kitten.  If you like cozy mysteries, give Isabella Alan a chance.  There are five books in the series.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Two British novels with contemporary and WWII settings


My two most recent reads were both novels set in Great Britain; both had split settings, with the main
stories being  contemporary ones, but which relied on unraveling earlier WWII stories.  I first read ELIZABETH IS MISSING by Emma Healey, a book I obtained from the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium (WPLC).   If you look closely at the cover you can see this teaser,"How do you solve a mystery when you can't remember the clues?"  That is what drew me to the book, but I was NOT prepared for how unsettling the read would actually be.  Maud clearly suffers from some form of dementia.  She has nursing help that comes daily and her daughter stops each day.  Large notes are pasted all over the house instructing her not to cook or leave the house.  Tinier scraps of paper stuffed in her pockets try to order her actions.  But each day she discovers one scrap that takes over her thoughts -- Elizabeth is missing, and Maud takes off trying to find out what this cryptic note means.
When she mentions it to her daughter or anyone else, she is always given a brush off.  Readers eventually learn that Elizabeth is a former friend and her house is in the same neighborhood as Maud's, but when Maud does make it there, no one is home.  When Maud sees a moving van there, she suspects that Elizabeth's son has done something to his mother so he can have her possessions  Quickly you get the feeling that Elizabeth has probably died or is in a facility somewhere and that Maud can't process that.  Yet we are never told for sure, and it is quite late in the novel before we learn the truth.  Maud's searches for Elizabeth always send her mind back to the time right after WWII, and it appears those memories are more lucid and complete than her present day thinking.  Maud's older sister Sukey, recently married at the time, suddenly disappears and is never found.  Each flashback adds a bit more to the story about Maud and Sukey, but soon we are back in the present with a very disoriented Maud. These switches are jarring and create an uneasiness that realistically portrays the world of someone with dementia.  No matter how much Maud wants to hold on to the real world, her mind distorts it. We find her lost on the streets and watch her interact with people she doesn't recognize but should (daughter and granddaughter) and it is heartbreaking.  Yet Healey inserts bits of humor, shows us a very patient and loving daughter, and gives us an ending that reminds us that no one should be forgotten or ignored.

Iona Grey's LETTERS TO THE LOST (which I borrowed from the Millpond Library) was published one month before Emma Healey's book, and it too depends on a lengthy series of flashbacks to tell an unfinished tale.  It too involves an empty house.  On a cold grey night, a young woman (Jess) flees her abusive boyfriend and finds herself in the back gardens of an abandoned house.  Knowing she will not survive in the cold, especially since she ditched her shoes so she could run faster, Jess breaks into the house.  Almost penniless and afraid her boyfriend will find her, she stays hidden there for days, eating out of date foods she finds in the pantry "tins."  When she does finally make a quick trip out, she is almost caught by Will, a young man whose job it is to investigate whether or not unclaimed estates actually have heirs.  He represents a firm that is on the same level as "ambulance chasers" and he has been sent to try to find out if Nancy, the woman who had lived in the house, has any heirs.  When Will is told by his boss to forget this house and Nancy's estate because it is worthless, he can't.

Soon after Jess's break-in, a letter arrives through the mail slot.  The United States postmark piques her curiosity and Jess opens it to find it is a love letter sent by a WWII vet, now in his nineties, trying to find the woman whom he lost many years before.  That letter sends Jess on a search of the house and answers.  When she finds a box of old letters from the same man to "Mrs. S. Thorne," she begins reading and is captivated by what they reveal.  Each letter singles a change in time/setting for the readers, and we are given a more complete narration than Jess gets from the soldier's writing.  But even she can piece together that these young lovers face obstacles that go beyond war time rationing and the pilot's dangerous missions.  Jess becomes determined to find the S. Thorne if she is still alive, and to also straighten out her own life.  Those endeavors will bring her back into Will's life, and his own troubles add yet another layer to this complex story.

Two very different books with just the hint of similarity in structure.  Both well written, but in greatly different styles, showing that good writing is complex and not easily described.  Both novels are debut works and I certainly will be followed by many more by each other.  Have you discovered a debut author recently or an author that is new to you?  Let me know.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Doodletopia Cartoons by Christopher Hart

Are you a doodler?  The last art class I ever took was way, way back in junior high and I certainly never excelled there.  But I still love the feel of a pencil or ink pen in my hand and have always filled empty times (such as sitting through a college lecture or a school inservice meeting) with my own version of doodling.  I used to entertain the littlest grandkiddos with some simple cartooning, mostly cats, dogs, and silly faces, so when I was given the opportunity to examine Christopher Hart's new book on drawing, designing and coloring your "own super-fun cartoon creations", I was all in.

At the full 8.5 by 11 page format and 160 pages, this how-to book offers lots of opportunities to try out Hart's instructions step by step.  He advises how to use a center line hatching (like a simple cross of intersecting lines) to position and size a simple cartoon creature.  He also shows how the same shape can be made into different characters, say either a porcupine or a bear cub. There is a whole section where Hart has started a half drawing and budding cartoonists are then given the chance to finish the drawing.  In another section, Hart has created some simple human cartoons and then you are supposed to creatively dress the figures according to Hart's suggestions -- cave woman, Cleopatra, or cowboy.  I especially like the section on lettering.  As a former teacher, I can see so many opportunities for students to use creative lettering.  Too often all kids do now (and grown ups too) is rely on some computerized font.  Let's get some creative juices flowing again.

Yes, I've seen other cartooning books with somewhat similar instructions, but Hart seems to have distilled his instructions down to simple basics without making the book or drawings appear childish.
Yet, he has kept an element of fun throughout the whole book and if you take the time to read the full commentary, it is quite instructive.

If you have someone with a little doodling flair in your life, consider getting this book for them.  I would really like to grab my pencils and doodle away on these pages myself, but I have one granddaughter that this book would be perfect for.  I'd recommend this book for ages 8 up to 99+
As the latest coloring craze has shown, you're never too old for some artistic fun.  I was given a copy of this title by Blogging for Books for review purposes.  I was not compensated in any way and all opinions are mine.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Come Rain, Come Shine: A Mitfored Novel by Jan Karon

Readers of the Mitford series of books by Jan Karon have followed Father Tim through his late-in-life marriage, adoption of a teenage son, and his many adventures which seem to always include a reason to bake a Southern ham.  I did not start this series until several books had been published, and when I did start, I liked that I could quickly go from one book to another without that pesky interlude waiting for the next book to be published.  Eventually I hit that wall where I had read everything Karon had written and then I had to wait patiently like her other fans for a new book.  Then when Father Tim retired in the series, I fell away as a reader.  Eventually I did catch up and placed a hold for the newest book COME RAIN, COME SHINE with the library system before the book even published!  I was delighted to receive a copy right at the start of 2016.  Great reading for the new year.

COME RAIN, COME SHINE is a fast four year advance from the end of her last book SOMEWHERE SAFE WITH SOMEBODY GOOD.  Adopted son Dooley has just finished veterinary school and will be taking over the country practice where he has spent so many hours since a teenager.  He and longtime girlfriend Lace Harper (adopted daughter of the town's doctor) are finally ready to tie the knot.  Lace and Dooley have decided that it will be a simple wedding at the farm/clinic, a pot luck actually, with only 50 guests.  Father Tim and wife Cynthia have moved temporarily to the country to prepare for the wedding, and  in the midst of sowing new grass seed, weeding, and cleaning, everyone begins to wonder how a "simple" wedding suddenly got so complicated.  And Lace, set on spending no more than $100 on a dress, can't find anything to wear.  Like all the other Mitford novels, miracles come in small, unexpected ways, often the faces and actions of everyday family and neighbors.

Karon's writing style is unique; she skips from character to character without any transitions, much as if a video camera was catching short vignettes across the neighborhood.  The pronouns "he" and "she" are used without any further clarification and the reader must decipher who is doing what, where, and when.  Often new information is inserted without a clear explanation and I would be wondering if I had missed something by reading too fast or inattentively.  Then a page or two later, the whole incident would be explained more fully.  Readers had just been exposed to the happening first, like an unexpected surprise.  Facts and rationale would come later.  Like all the Mitford novels, there are lessons in forgiveness, kindness, humility, and other virtures.  And of course, there are surprises. I wish I could share the best ones in this novel, but that would not be right. No spoilers allowed.  If you've read any of the other Karon books, get this latest one.  I don't know if the series will end now with Dooley's marriage or not. If it does, it is a great ending.  But I hope it doesn't end yet; this wedding has left some great leads for further books.  And fellow readers, if you have never started this series, you are so lucky.  You can begin with book one AT HOME IN MITFORD and move through all eleven books with no waiting!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

See Me by Nicholas Sparks

See MeI've enjoyed every Nicholas Sparks book that I have read, but I've never attempted to keep up with his writing, so over the years, his books have dropped off my radar..  He was popular enough that I did purchase several of his novels for the high school fiction collection, especially those with movie tie-ins.  When I saw reviews of SEE ME, his latest title, I decided to request a copy through interlibrary loan and give his writing a chance again.  Wow!  I was hooked from the prologue.  Clearly this was not going to be a simple romance.  Somebody with revenge on his mind appeared to be watching a young college student and he also seemed to know too much about another woman named Maria. I could already feel the urge to find the identity of this eavesdropper who clearly had evil intentions.  As the book begins, we are quickly thrown into the story of another man-Colin Hancock, an older college student, who admits he's been given a second chance, or rather, a last chance.  Colin has a dark past, filled with bar brawls and explosive temper outbursts, In a last ditch attempt to stay out of prison, Colin sought anger management treatment and has begun the steps to living a more normal life, if you don't count his pastime as a mixed martial art fighter.  But one tiny misstep and he will see metal bars instead of Carolina shoreline for a very, very long time.

When Colin, face battered and bloody from his most recent MMA fight, passes a woman trying to fix a flat tire by the side of a dark road, he makes the decision to turn around and help, knowing fully that his own appearance will frighten her more than her disabled car.  And this is exactly the reaction, Maria Sanchez has, but she controls her fear and allows Colin to fix her tire.  When the two meet again, Maria is taken by Colin's deadpan honesty about his life including the violence.  With the most tentative and apprehensive steps, the two begin au unlikely relationship.  Why would a former prosecutor, someone who often dealt with domestic abuse cases, ever consider dating someone with a history of violence?  Even Maria, herself, can't say why.  Then shortly after they begin dating, Maria begins getting threatening notes and quickly it appears that someone is stalking her.  Who can it be? Maria's only answer is that it is someone linked to a case she worked in another state when she was an assistant DA, but authorities think that is unlikely.  As the threats escalate, it appears that the stalker will not be the only one Maria needs to worry about, as anger and determination to keep Maria safe begin to build in Colin.

SEE ME is contemporary romance, something that Spark does so well, but it is also a suspenseful thriller which I think is new territory for him.  Like I said, I  have not read any of his books for several years, so if other titles tread into this new territory, let me know.  I really liked the tension and suspense in this book and the anti-hero element to Colin's character (although it was maybe a bit unbelievable) and would pick up any other titles with similar plots.  This book is  over 475 pages long, making it much longer than many of his books.  Although I liked its originality, I do see an easy transition from this book to a suspense movie, which makes me wonder if Sparks is writing novels or writing another book-movie-tie-in.  Either way, I can recommend SEE ME, and I look forward to reading more by Sparks in the future.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas

The Last MidwifeWhen I see a Sandra Dallas novel, I expect somehow the story will touch on women's passion for quilting.  When I checked out her newest novel THE MIDWIFE from our library, I was not sure if my premise would hold true.  Set in a small mining town in 1880 Colorado, of course, the women quilt, and Gracy Brookens love for bits of fabric carefully sewn together by hand does make up part of her essence, but it is her life as midwife that defines her.  From her first solo delivery at age 10 through many decades that followed, Gracy has delivered dozens of babies and nursed their mothers. She had delivered so many that she no longer knew the count, but in her heart she's never forgotten the sickly ones who did not survive, and the mothers too weak from their hard lives in the west or from too many babies too close together.  And at the center of her heartache are her own babies who never drew a breath, except one little girl survived for a few years.  So when Gracy is accused of strangling an infant by the child's grandfather, the same man who had fired Gracy's husband from the mine months earlier, the small Colorado town divides over its allegiances.  Most are afraid to speak out against mine owner Jonas Halleck, even those who know in their hearts that Gracy could not harm an infant.  The sheriff, long a friend of Gracy and husband Daniel, must gather evidence and proceed with her arrest or lose his job.

The trial of someone wrongfully accused certainly makes for an exciting book, but it is Gracy's life story that gives this novel its depth.   She has been the confidant of generations of women, keeping their secrets when they could tell no one else.  She has tried to heal their bodies and often their minds, too. She has been deeply loved by her husband, but has also faced the deepest pain. disappointment, and abandonment.  I've read many novels set in the 1800s, a time of great opportunity for America's settlers and immigrants, but Dallas has done a superb job in portraying what a hardship it was for the women.  As I read, I kept thinking to myself how much we take for granted good health, safe pregnancies, and medical care.  I was so caught up in the drama of the babies born, even after Gracy's arrest, that Dallas was able to finish the story with a plot twist that I never anticipated.  I sort of wished our book club had chosen this title as a 2016 read because I would love to discuss this book with others.  Luckily for me, I have not read all Sandra Dallas's writings and I will be able to
pursue other titles soon.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

O Little Town by Don Reid of the Statler Brothers and other Christmas titles

I enjoyed  Don Reid's fictional account of three friends in THE MULLIGANS of Mt. Jefferson and how their lives mingle as adults, so I was delighted that he had written a Christmas tale set in the same small town.  O LITTLE TOWN, published in 2008, takes us back to the so-called simpler times of 1958.  Reid describes the town as being big enough that you did NOT know everybody, but small enough that you couldn't take a walk or run an errand without seeing someone you know.  Now, I live in a very, very small village but I have to say that these days that describes our place quite well. On any excursion, I no longer know everyone, but I still always see someone I know and can visit a bit.

As the Christmas beckons in just a few days, three families will have their small town acquaintances intersect in ways no one could expect and suddenly each person will face situations that will define what kind of people they truly are.  Three momentous events thrust the ordinary people together --- an elderly father/grandfather receives a frightening diagnosis, the minster's daughter is caught shoplifting, and another teen tells her parents the news that no parent wants to hear.  This is a book that could be portrayed so many ways.  The old man could curse at the world for wrongs done in the past and his current illness.  The parents of the three teens involved in the story could march around in vocal tirades and  blame each other.  The shoplifting teen could point fingers to permanently cause a rift between her parents.  But that is not how Reid chooses to tell the story.  As one other reviewer says these characters are imperfect people (like all of us) trying to do their best each and every day.  Mistakes have been made, but change and forgiveness are not withheld, and new chances result.  The title comes to mind -- O little town.  We all associate that phrase with Bethlehem and it is because of Bethlehem that we have forgiveness and second chances.  What better lesson to stick right smack in a story of small town life, the same kind of small town that many of us frequent every day of our lives.
That Reid was able to add life to a decades old legend about a neglected grave that always is adorned with roses right before Christmas adds another touch that sets this book apart.

I pointed out that this book was published in 2008 specifically to remind readers to go beyond the latest publications for your reading.  If you missed a holiday gem, get it on your list to read next holiday season.  And honestly, I still love a great Christmas story in January.  Back in December, I did take time to read a bit almost every night, but did not always have time to blog.  Two books I read but did not blog about were A PLAIN AND SIMPLE CHRISTMAS by Amy Clipston and

The 13th Gift: A True Story of a Christmas Miracle by Joanne Huist Smith.  

Clipston's book is about a former Amish woman who has married outside the faith and wants to reconcile with her family on Christmas and to be able to share the news of her upcoming birth.  THE 13TH GIFT is nonfiction and relays how a series of 12 Days of Christmas gifts left anonymously on the family's doorsteps helps Smith and her children deal with the recent death of her husband.  This is a touching and, even at times, humorous look at the dark days of grief and how loved ones and even strangers can make a difference in the rocky road to a new normal.  I squeezed this book in right after Christmas (and right after attending the funeral visitation of a colleague and friend who had fought a courageous 10 year battle with cancer) and I am so glad that I read Smith's book.

Product Details

Sunday, January 3, 2016

It's Good to Be Queen by Liz Curtis Higgs

It’s Good to Be Queen: Becoming as Bold, Gracious, and Wise as the Queen of ShebaIT'S GOOD TO BE QUEEN by Liz Curtis Higgs is subtitled Becoming as Bold, Gracious, and Wise as the Queen of Sheba. Focusing on the Biblical account of Sheba, not on the legends or movie speculations, Higgs tells how the powerful Queen of Sheba came to visit Solomon and to experience his wisdom herself.   She came ready to test him, and as scripture relates, she shared everything on her mind, and Solomon answered all her questions.  It appears that solving riddles were signs of wisdom then, and certainly she came equipped with her best mental puzzles, but nothing stumped Solomon.  Rather than be perturbed by her inability to confuse the great Solomon, Sheba (that's really the country and not her name, but everyone uses it as a name) looked beyond the man and praised the God who delighted in making Solomon both wise and a powerful king.  As Higgs relates this statement of praise implies that Sheba accepts God as THE GOD.

I've always liked Liz Curtis Higgs writing; her fiction is wonderfully complex, and her nonfiction presents powerful lessons gleaned from the lives of women we thought we had nothing in common with.  This book puts forth ten lessons based on scripture that is not even a page long in words, but certainly too important to be overlooked.  From Sheba's actions, Higgs tells us to be bold, be open to God's plans, seek wise counsel, be humbled, be honest, encourage others, praise God, give generously, receive graciously, and end well.  I especially enjoyed Higgs's explanation of the last three points.  Questions follow the book for both a simple book discussion and a more complex study.
I received a copy of this title from Blogging for Books for my opinion.

Friday, January 1, 2016

What ever happened to my sewing and reading challenges for 2015?

Way back last January I committed to three separate challenges -- two book challenges and one
sewing challenge.  Although I was busy sewing and reading all year long, I basically stuffed the printed copies of those challenge lists into my personal notebook and forgot about ever checking back on my progress.  I selected sewing projects the way I normally do, by happenstance inspiration, presence of materials, and other people's needs.  Today when I pulled out the 2015 Sewing Bucket List from Clare's Craftroom and Whipstitch and thought about what I had sewing in the last twelve months, I found that I had completed about 14 of the 17 items on the list .  I did not sew a dress or skirt for myself; and despite making many quilt blocks, I did not make any to exchange in a swap.  I don't design fabric, so making something out of fabric I designed was also left unchecked.  But I am wondering, I create fabric by piecing tiny pieces together, and then I use those larger pieces as if they were fabric.  Does that count?  It was fun, looking back at the challenge, but I feel bad that I did not let the list direct me into making some different choices.

On to the reading lists.  The Bethany House 2015 Reading Challenge was a grid of 16 different choices.  Looking back, out of the 110+ books I read this year, I could find titles that fit 14 of the criteria.  I did not reread a book that I loved as a child, and I did not read a classic that I had never read.  The Bringing Up Burns Challenge of 26 books was a little harder.  As I said before, I never really consulted the list after last January and I made my reading choices the same way I always do.
I read the new publications I was lucky enough to get the chance to review, my book club titles, and then picked books that interested me.  Checking back on the Burns Challenge, I could slot 19 titles into their categories, but left a few blank.  I did not finish a book that I had never finished; I seldom stop reading a book, so that would be difficult to fulfill.  I did not read a whole book of poetry, unless you count rhyming children's books.  I did read some poems this year, though.  I did not read a book that I was supposed to read in school, but never did.  Again, even back in school, I normally read what I was assigned.  And one of items on the Burns Challenge was to read a book with a blue cover.  Well, to be truthful, I can't remember the color of many of the book covers, and it seems that most books I've read have art on the covers.

Does anybody have any ideas for 2016 challenges?  I like the idea of a challenge, but then again I know that spontaneity, circumstance,  and serendipity are going to drive what I do anyhow!   Plus,
reading choices will be affected by reviewing opportunities, best sellers, and what my friends suggest.  And that fabric stash I have definitely has to take priority when picking new quilting projects.  May your endeavors this new year be exciting and fulfilling.