Category: Summer Reading Challenge

The Starving Soubrette’s Summer Reading Challenge: They Were Counted by Miklós Bánnfy

They Were CountedI’ve finally finished a book! Protip: When starting a summer reading challenge, don’t pick a long, dense book as your first choice.

I found They Were Counted in a classic novel’s display at the library.  My great-grandfather was born in a little village in Transylvania, so I’ve always been interested in the area, and lately I’ve been exploring more of the art and music that came out of the region. This book popped into my life at the perfect time.

I think the best way to describe They Were Counted is if Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey had an Eastern European baby. This novel is ripe to be the next masterpiece theatre miniseries. Written in 1930 by a Transylvanian-Hungarian Politician, They Were Counted, the first volume of a trilogy, takes place in Hungary at the turn of the century (at this time, Transylvania was part of Hungary).  The world that Bánffy presents is a troubled one.  Hungary, still part of the Hapsburg Empire is in dire political straights, facing a constitutional crisis while trying to maintain autonomy from the Austrian empire.  It was a period of history so foreign to me, that I had to read the entire introduction to learn about the political history of Hungary at the beginning of the 20th Century.

The novel focuses on Hungarian High Society as it spirals toward its inevitable demise. It is a fascinating look at the lives of both the Gentry and the poor.  Everyone has a dark secret, everyone has a political motive, and no one is safe, especially not the two young men at the centre of the story. One is an idealistic politician who just wants to serve his country and constituents, and one is an orphaned Transylvanian landowner who struggles to find acceptance in a society that he has every right to be part of, but has always felt like an outsider.  Intrigue ensues

Aside from the Political and Societal drama, the novel also deals with a host of social issues including spousal abuse, gambling addiction, extreme wealth disparity, conflicts with racial “minorities,” Western influence, and even the changing attitudes toward music. Despite the large cast of characters, each one is given ample time to develop, and you begin to understand the motivations of even the most horrible characters.  The book is long and dense, but it never feels boring.

If you are a fan of Dostoyevsky, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, or Anthony Trollope, I 100% recommend that you read this.  They Were Counted is as decadent as the world it portrays, and incredibly satisfying and engrossing. I will definitely be reading the sequels, They Were Found Wanting, and They Were Divided

Challenge Update:
Pages: 630
Books: 1
Currently Reading: The Garden Going Without Us by Lorna Crozier

For something Completely Different, I think that I am going to cleanse my palate with a little bit of poetry before I pick up something substantial again.

Now I want to hear from you! Comment or Tweet me using #SoubretteReads2015 and tell me what you’re reading and how many pages you’ve read.  (I bet it’s way more than me)

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Summer Reading Challenge Reviews: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

So I was going to count this book as the first book in my reading challenge, but I had such a great response and so many people wanted to join in, I had to start over on Saturday. But I thought I would share my thoughts about it anyway, because it really is an interesting book.

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I was trying to familiarize myself with the new Halifax library layout, and stumbled across the self-help section. This section gets a bad rep; people (myself included) often think that self-help books are full of self-righteous, obvious advice that is easier said than done. I don’t know what convinced me to give the section a second chance that day, but I decided to turn down the aisle and take a look at what it had to offer. The bright blue spine immediately caught my eye. I remember that this book had been pretty popular a few years ago and decided to give it a read.

I wouldn’t describe The Happiness Project as a typical “self-help” book. It is more of a memoir. The author, Gretchen Rubin, spends a year researching happiness and trying to find simple ways of becoming happier without a complete overhaul of her lifestyle. She methodically spends each month working on a new aspect of happiness (marriage, parenting, money, friendship, energy, etc) and tries to complete a set of resolutions each day that she keeps track of with a chart. (for January: Exercise better, go to sleep earlier, toss, restore, organize, Tackle a nagging task, and act more energetic) throughout the process follows twelve “commandments” the first of which is “Be Gretchen,” reminding her not to do what she thinks should make her happy, but to do what does make her happy, even it if doesn’t “sound right.”

I think I was drawn to the book because I’ve unconsciously started my own this summer. So many of the resolutions that she set out for herself were resolutions that I am also trying to keep, from “Exercise Better” to “Start a Blog.” I don’t think that Rubin’s meticulous method with spreadsheets and laundry lists of resolutions is for me, but reading the book did give me new goals and new things to think about.
I think that the most important lesson I learned from The Happiness Project is that you can find happiness “in your own kitchen” as she says. You don’t need to change your life completely, you just have to be yourself and be mindful of the people around you and the things that make you happy. She emphasizes that each person’s happiness project is their own, and completely different from anyone else’s. There is no one path to happiness, there are many and they are all right.

The book and accompanying blog (one of her March goals) became a worldwide sensation and she’s since written two other books on the subject, and has an accompanying podcast. She offers a ton of resources for people looking to start their own happiness projects. You can find all of it at

Challenge Update:
Pages: 0
Total Books Read: 0
Currently Reading: They Were Counted by Miklós Bánffy

Because this book doesn’t count, I’m back to square one. The book that I’m currently reading is super long. I might have to take a break and read some poetry in between. Remember to comment or tweet me @jl_nicegirl with #SoubretteReads2015 and let me know your page count and what you’ve been reading!

Want to know more about my Summer Reading Challenge? Find more information here

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The Starving Soubrette’s Summer Reading Challenge


Remember those Summer Reading Challenges for children at the Library? You’d read a bunch of books every week and get a sticker or something? I was never really great at them as a kid, but I was also a voracious reader and didn’t really need any extra motivation.

It wasn’t until my undergrad that I rediscovered reading challenges. My program was pretty book intensive and I never really had time for pleasure reading, so my friends and I would try to get as much reading done in the summer as we could. A group of us started our own summer reading challenge, we’d tweet our progress to each other, and try to read more than anyone else. The first year we counted books, but my friend Ben decided to read War and Peace that summer, so he technically lost even though he had probably read the most out of all of us. The following years we counted pages.

It’s been a few years since we’ve done a reading challenge, but I started thinking about it again after I was packing up my residence at the end of the school year and realized that I couldn’t fit all my books in the box that I brought them in. I hadn’t finished reading any new books, but I had accumulated at least 10 more! I decided that I wasn’t going to buy any new books until I had finished reading the ones on my shelves, and so the summer reading challenge was born again.

1. I can’t purchase or pick up any new books for myself.
2. Library Books are O.K. (I know it doesn’t help me read the books on my shelf, but Halifax just got a new beautiful library and it’s too tempting not to go)
3. Progress is counted in number of pages, not number of books.
4. I will donate books that I don’t love
5. The only exception is if George R. R. Martin finishes Winds of Winter sometime in duration of the challenge (I mean, it won’t happen, but still)

I’m going to try and keep you updated about the books that I’ve been reading by posting a review of the last book I finished every other Monday. This Monday, I’m going to talk about The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.

If you want to join me in my reading challenge, let me know in the comments or tweet me @jl_nicegirl with #SoubretteReads2015. I’d love to know how far along you are, and what you’re currently reading!

Photo by Lauren Bryant-Monk.  Edited with A Beautiful Mess phone app

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