Tag Archives: Books

Reading Materials, November 2017

51. The Orphan’s Tale, Pam Jenoff. (Library) Confusingly, the pull quote on the front of this book is by the author of Orphan Train, and one of the biggest shows on TV right now is The Handmaiden’s Tale. So I really had no idea what I was getting into when I opened this book, which was picked by my book club. I really liked it – the characters were fully formed and behaved in reasonable ways, the story was entertaining, and the ending still managed to be a surprise. It’s set in WWII Europe, an area I visited many times over last year, book-ily speaking.

I was a little worried that my less-than-impressive reading streak would continue into this month, but I’m pleased to report that it’s not. I read more in the first week of this month than I read all of last month. Whew! I don’t know what I’d do without books.

52. A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles. (Borrowed) This book was delightful, from start to finish. It covers decades, so it feels somewhat epic, but it’s set in one location – so it feels intimate. The main character is one for the literary ages – I loved him and really felt like I would recognize him on the street were I to see him. Immediately after I finished it, I made Jason read it. He enjoyed it as much as I did.

53. In Cold Blood, Truman Capote. (Bought at used bookstore) This book is considered the first “true crime” novel, and I was surprised by how well it’s held up. I mostly know Truman Capote from his off-the-pages persona – appearing on game shows and in movies like Murder by Death (which is EXCELLENT, by the way). I guess I never gave much thought to his talents as a writer, which are immense. The story was riveting – I’ve seen Capote, and I knew the basics of the murder story anyway, but I still found myself flipping pages to find out what happens next. This is one that’s been on my to-read list for a long time, and I’m glad I’ve crossed it off.

54. Today Will be Different, Maria Semple. (Borrowed) I read Where’d You Go, Bernadette? when it came out a few years ago, and was drawn to the deeply flawed, yet very funny main character. This main character is similar, but the book is different enough not to feel repetitive. I enjoyed this read and plowed through it quickly over Thanksgiving break. A good vacation read.

55. Life in a Medieval Castle, Frances and Joseph Gies. (Bought at used bookstore) This is the book George R. R. Martin relied upon when building the world of Westeros for his A Song of Ice and Fire series (that’s Game of Thrones to you TV watchers). I did not expect to enjoy the book so much. Refreshingly uncluttered with opinion or analysis, this is a fairly straightforward account of the development of castles themselves, as well as the men and women who lived and worked in them. And there are pictures – a rare treat in a grownup book. During the same used book store trip, I also picked up Life in a Medieval City, and I look forward to reading that next year.

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Reading Materials: October 2017

50. Demelza, Winston Graham (Library). This is the second book in Graham’s Poldark series, the basis for the current(ly AWESOME) Masterpiece on PBS series of the same name. I loved this book even more than the first one, partly because the characters are better-developed, and partly because this book got me through the first part of a rather awful month.

XX. Dragonfly in Amber, Diana Gabaldon (Library). I read Outlander a few years ago and hated it. Then I started watching the TV show and loved it. Torn by my feelings, I decided to give the second book in the series a try. This was foolish. The second season of the TV show is quite different from the book, and far better. When I got the “nearly due notice” from the library, I shrugged my shoulders and let this one go. ABANDONED at 40%. It pains me to abandon a book, but I’m also too old to stick it out for the sake of bragging rights. Or something.

On a more personal note, my brain has been mush for most of this month. My mother died at the end of September, and October has been taken up with her memorial service and selling her house. I will do better next month.

2017 Totals
Fiction: 43
Non-Fiction: 7

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Reading Materials: September 2017

Sorry this is late! I barely know what day it is.

44. Ross Poldark, Winston Graham. (Library) A friend recommended the PBS series Poldark to me, and I’ve become mildly obsessed. When I learned that it was based on a very popular series of books from the 1940s, I decided to give the first one a try. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It has aged well, and the writing still feels fresh and sharp. The story is set immediately after the American Revolutionary War, but it takes place in England, in Cornwall. This is a time/place combination which I had not spent much time thinking about, so I was glad for some historical perspective as well as a great story. I’ve already put the second book in this 12-book series on hold at the library.

45. Every Dead Thing, John Connolly. (Library) John Connolly frequently pops up on “authors you may like” lists for me, so I decided to give one a try. It’s set in New York and New Orleans, which appealed to me as well. I liked the book, although I guessed the twist pretty early on, and I got a little tired of Connolly’s insistence on detailing the weight/fitness level/attire of every character. I am not rushing out to the library to get the next book in the series, but I may pick it up later.

46. The Secret Diary of Hendrick Groen, Aged 83 1/4. (Library, book club selection) This was a hard book to read. My mother spent almost two years in an assisted living facility, and it was informational to read about nursing home care in other countries. But I just couldn’t get into this character. The book spends a lot of time discussing the merits of assisted suicide, which cut a little too close for me right now.

47. Phantom Evil, Heather Graham. (Library) I must have some Puritan blood in me, because I have very little tolerance for novels in which attractive-yet-broken people solve all interpersonal drama through mind-blowing sex. Or, worse, when two attractive-yet-broken people are put in mortal peril, and the first thing they do afterwards is…. you guessed it. Other than that, this story was good. It’s another New Orleans story, which you know I’m always down for. It seems to be based in part on the lore surrounding the Lalaurie mansion in the French Quarter, in that it features a big, beautiful mansion that’s haunted/cursed.

48. The Round House, Louise Erdlich. (Library) This has been on my to-read list for a while, so when I espied it on the library shelf I picked it up. It follows the aftermath of a horrific crime perpetrated on a Native American family. The writing was tremendous, the characters well-developed, and the plot was interesting. I enjoyed reading it.

49. Panacea, F. Paul Wilson. (Library) I have been a fan of Wilson’s since a friend lent me the Repairman Jack series, which is outstanding. This book is similarly engaging. It’s got Dan-Brown-style pacing. I read it during a very difficult week, and it managed to distract me for several minutes at a time.

2017 Totals
Fiction: 42
Non-Fiction: 7

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Reading Materials: August 2017

39. The Zookeeper’s Wife, Diane Ackerman. (Digital Library) I did not love this book. I appreciated that it was a true story, but there were just too many rabbit-holes. The author would introduce a very minor character, and then spend several pages giving that person’s biography. It made the story clunky.

40. Duma Key, Stephen King. (Library, Book Club Selection) I enjoy Stephen King books; I am not a fanatic about them. I read (and loved) The Stand, The Gunslinger series, and Bag of Bones. I have read many others, and liked them plenty, but King is not in my personal pantheon. That said, this is one of the better ones I’ve read. It’s a doorstop of a novel – nearly 800 pages – but it moves quickly and efficiently from one plot point to the next. I may have felt especial empathy for the main character because he searches for words in the same way my mother does. Most of the novel is creepy, but not outright scary – until you get to the last 25% or so. I stayed up late to finish it and then had nightmares. I’m sure Mr. King would consider that a compliment.

41. Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance. (Kindle Purchase) In college, I dated a guy from rural southeastern Ohio. I spent a lot of time there, including a whole summer. Additionally, I lived for three years in rural northwest Alabama. Many of Vance’s observations rang true for me – hollowed-out towns with boarded-up main streets, hollowed-out people whose futures left when the plant closed. I loved Vance’s straightforward storytelling, which eschews flowery language in favor of the unvarnished truth. Sentences like “I watched my mom get loaded into a police cruiser” really don’t need embellishment to be disturbing. This book has been on my to-read list for a long time, since I heard an interview with Vance on a podcast earlier this year. I’m so, so glad I read it.

42. All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders. (Purchased) This was a summer reading selection at our (delightful) independent bookstore, the Midtown Reader. The description – Science vs. Magic! Romance on the brink of global catastrophe! – ticked all my boxes, but the book was not what I expected. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed it and have selected it for my own book club to read later this fall. It was funnier than I expected, though I feel its young adult category may be a stretch. It had some very, um, adult portions. I would not be comfortable with my 14-year-old reading it.

43. All Together Dead, Charlaine Harris. (Gift) Palate cleanser. Perfectly entertaining fluff. Great way to end the month.

2017 Totals
Fiction: 36
Non-Fiction: 7

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Reading Materials: July 2017

33. Bird Box, Josh Malerman. (Library) This was billed as a horror novel, but it was better than that label. It was chilling and creepy. It reminded me of The Walking Dead in that the main characters are facing a threat that is not actively malicious, but still very dangerous. I can’t even really explain the “monsters,” because the book never fully explains them. This is not a flaw – I think sketching them with a minimum of detail keeps the situation creepier. I enjoyed this read.

34. Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet, H.P. Wood. (Library) A pretty decent read about carnival workers on Coney Island at the turn of the century, and a young English girl who gets separated from her family and has to use her wits (and her newfound carnie friends) to stay safe. Meanwhile, there’s an outbreak of plague. This book was aggressively fine, but also reduced many characters to two-dimensional cutouts.

35. News of the World, Paulette Jiles. (Library) Despite the author’s incredibly annoying lack of quotation marks around all dialogue in this book, I really enjoyed it. Don’t dismiss it because it’s “a Western.”  For the record, I resisted reading Lonesome Dove for many years, because it was “a Western.” Shame on me. The writing is beautiful – expansive like the swaths of country it describes. This is a lovely little book.

36. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, Rachel Held Evans. (Borrowed for Book Club) This book describes one woman’s personal journey from an evangelical upbringing, through a time in the spiritual wilderness, and finally landing in the arms of the Episcopal church. It is divided into seven sections, each named for one of the sacraments of that church. I enjoyed the writing, and the honesty with which Evans wrestled with her faith. My only complaint is this: When one talks about sin, and confession, it is traditionally understood to mean examining oneself for deficiencies and naming them before God. Victimhood, on the other hand, is devoted to examining and naming the sins of others. Too often in this book, Evans substitutes victims for sinners, and the only sin she names in herself is a tendency to dislike Republicans. For example, in a gathering she calls one of the most spiritually profound experiences of her life, a group of gay Christians tells their personal stories of persecution. These are powerful stories, and deserve to be told – but they are not confession. They are testimony, or witness. Anyway, this is a minor quibble with the book, which I overall enjoyed.

37. Trigger Warning, Neil Gaiman. (Library, Book Club) I have always wanted to love Neil Gaiman. He has a strong cult following of people whose opinions I value. I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and it was…fine. I started Stardust, but some asshat had removed the last page of each chapter, so I abandoned it after a few chapters and never sought out another copy. I watched Coraline. This collection, however, was very good. It shows an excellent range of storytelling ability. I could probably do without the poetry, but only because it looked like artfully-arranged prose. I think my problem with Gaiman is that so many authors have derived from him that the original material seems a little cliched. I felt the same way when I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy as an adult.

38. Sweet Bitter, Stephanie Danler. (Library) Critics of this book characterize it as “exactly what you’d expect from a new MFA graduate,” and they’re probably right. Nevertheless, I couldn’t put it down. It follows Tess through her heady first year in New York City, as a backwaiter at an upscale restaurant. Her life becomes a trainwreck – but one you can’t stop watching.

2017 Totals
Fiction: 32
Non-Fiction: 6

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Reading Materials: June 2017

28. Rabbit Cake, Annie Hartnett. (Library, Book Club Selection) I actually read this in May and forgot to include it in last month’s list. Ooooops. This book reminded me of Tell the Wolves I’m Home, in that it dealt with grief from the perspective of a younger girl with an older sister. This was a thoughtful book – it’s hard to write like a child, to capture the feeling of being young.

29. Welcome to Night Vale, Joseph Fink. (Borrowed from Tyler) This is a weird book – I mean, WEIRD – yet also delightful and filled with unexpectedly beautiful moments. In what was a we-live-in-the-future first for me, Welcome to Night Vale started as a podcast and was later made into a book. It follows a fictional town in the desert where nothing is normal. It’s as though one of The X-Files‘ signature creepy small towns collided with an extraterrestrial location from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I found this book a challenging, but rewarding, read. I find myself thinking about it frequently.

30. Dark Places, Gillian Flynn. (Borrowed) I enjoyed Gone Girl, and needed a bit of a palate cleanser after being immersed in Night Vale, so this fit the bill nicely. I enjoyed this twisty mystery, even if I found it difficult to like a single character.

31. The Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly. (Borrowed) A sweeping WWII novel told from the perspective of three women – two of whom were real people. My only criticism is that one of the three narrators drops out of sight for most of the second half of the book, and I kept waiting for her name to appear on a chapter title. Overall, I thought this was well-written and engaging, and gets bonus points for some awesome French food descriptions.

32. Creating Your Dream Kitchen, Susan Breen. (Library) We’ve known since the day we bought our house that we wanted to completely remodel the kitchen. It was designed by a sadist who didn’t cook – there is zero counter space on either side of the slanty cook top, for example, and the cabinets are cavernous and un-shelved. Anyway, I want to design the new kitchen myself, so obviously the first thing I did was check out a book on the subject. (And pin a bunch of things in Pinterest, duh.) This was a very basic primer, but it did have some good inspiration photos. Alas, on a personally-aggravating note, it also had a bunch of typos. Grrrrrrrr.

2017 Totals
Fiction: 27
Non-Fiction: 5

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Reading Materials: April 2017

18. The Summer Before the War, Helen Simonson. (Library) This book is, as they say, right up my Edwardian England alley. I find the society fascinating – why so-and-so can be invited to tea or not, why one man is a suitable prospect but another is Totally Unacceptable, and the plethora of unappetizing food names. It was beautifully written, well-paced, and swung effortlessly between the silliness of manners and the seriousness of war.

19. The Couple Next Door, Shari Lapena. (Library, Book Club Selection) It would be helpful for me if all books involving babies in peril came with a big warning label on the front. This was a book club selection, so I hadn’t had the chance to read about the book before I read the book. In the first chapter, a couple discovers their six-month-old baby missing, and the rest of the book deals with the how and why. I had a hard time focusing on whodunnit because I was anxious about the status of the baby. I doubt everyone has the same problem. Otherwise, this was a well-written and twisty mystery, and I enjoyed it.

20. Definitely Dead, Charlaine Harris. (hand-me-down) After Baby In Peril, I needed a palate cleanser. As always, this was a perfect fluffy sherbet of a book.

21. The Atomic Weight of Love, Elizabeth J. Church (Library, Book Club selection) I disliked this book almost to the point of loathing it. A few years ago, I finally read The Making of the Atomic Bomb, a weighty tome by Richard Rhodes – so a novel about one of the wives of a Los Alamos scientist seemed like it would be my thing. But this book had almost nothing to do with Los Alamos, and everything to do with the giant chip the main character carries on her shoulder. In short, at the age of 19, she marries a professor more than 20 years her senior, and ends up not going to graduate school – a fact she whines about for the remainder of the novel. She allows this festering resentment to consume her. AND ANOTHER THING. In the novel, at the age of 46, she is suddenly turned from a relatively serious person into a lust-crazed, boy-crazy twit – and the boy in question is 20 years her junior. I don’t buy it. Even in the 1960s.

22. The Rook, Daniel O’Malley. (Library) This book was tremendously entertaining, and it grabbed me from the first page. The main character wakes up on page one surrounded by corpses wearing latex gloves, with no memory of who she is or what happened. She finds a letter in her pocket from herself, and then we’re off on a grand supernatural adventure. I will definitely be checking out the second book in the series.

2017 Totals
Fiction: 18
Non-Fiction: 4

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