January Round-up

I finished 7 books in January: 2 non-fiction, and 5 fiction. They were:

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart
This is a children’s book, part of a series that I’m really enjoying. DC Public Library has the first two, but somehow hasn’t managed to get this latest one yet, so I bought this with a Christmas gift card. I rarely buy books, but it is so much fun to do so – so hooray for gift cards. This was a good addition to the series – not quite matching my love for the first book (The Mysterious Benedict Society), but better in my opinion than Book 2. Honestly, they are all worth a read though if you like smart, fun children’s books.

The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich
Jami and I started this as a book on tape on the drive back from Virginia Beach after Christmas, and then both finished it up in paper form. Erdrich is one of those writers that I discovered in college (Thanks, Dr. Bell) and that I have enjoyed reading in the years since. This book is set in New Hampshire of all places (not a typical locale for a book by Erdrich – usually her books are set in the Dakotas), which seemed like a good hook to introduce Jami to this author that I liked. I think I am even more pleased that she liked that book than I am glad that I liked (which I definitely did). Jeanette Winterson (see below) wrote a piece for the London Times once about how intimate and meaningful it is to share a book that you love with someone. If you have a few minutes, I highly recommend the column: The books we choose to keep.

The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson
I cannot even explain how or why I love Jeanette Winterson’s writing so much. Every book she writes feels like a present to me. I first read her in college (not for any class, just because I wanted to) – Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit for which she won the Whitbread Award for First Novel – and I hated it. Then a few years later, grown up somewhat and living in DC, I read Gut Symmetries, mainly because the book was on mega-sale and I liked the cover. And it was amazing. I couldn’t believe the difference in my reactions. I loved Gut Symmetries, it’s still my favorite of Winterson’s work and I have enjoyed everything else that I have read by her (and I’ve read almost everything she’s written). I haven’t ever tried Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit again – part of me really wants to. I feel like I would probably like it now – but the rest of me is scared to. What if I still hate it? It’s definitely going to have to happen though. I have no excuse – there is a copy on our shelves downstairs.

The Meaning of Wife: A Provocative Look at Women and Marriage in the Twenty-First Century by Anne Kingston

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder
This book is about Paul Farmer, a doctor who co-founded Partners in Health, a non-profit that provides medical care in poor communities around the world. The organization first started in Haiti, and Partners in Health is where I donated my meager post-earthquake funds. The book is inspiring and made me feel like my money was well spent. Definitely worth a read.

The Wrong Mother by Sophie Hannah

From Doon with Death by Ruth Rendell
I ended the month with mysteries – this one the first in a new-to-me series (Inspector Wexford). My neighbor loaned me the book and it was a quick and entertaining read – and I’m excited to have discovered a “new” mystery series (written starting in the 1960s so I’m a little late to the party. I can’t believe I had never read (or even heard of) Rendell before, seeing as she is one of the preeminent mystery writers of the last century. Better late than never, I suppose.

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January Round-up

1% Well Read!

I’ve finally done it – read 10 new books on the 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die list. These were my final three:

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God reminded me of The Awakening in the way that they both focused on women who acted against society’s expectations in pursuits of their own happiness. Or maybe not happiness, maybe more satisfaction and freedom. They were both great. Highly recommended.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

This was another one of those mystery “cheats”, set at a small liberal arts college in New England and focused on a close-knit group of friends. It reminded me of The Likeness a lot, to the extent that I wondered if Tana French, who wrote The Likeness had read The Secret History. Both are good. Tartt has another book – the Little Friend that I haven’t read, but would definitely pick up someday.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre is one of those classics that I read on DailyLit and thoroughly enjoyed. I wonder if I would have liked these Classics as much if I had read them for school. I think I wouldn’t have, that it would have felt too forced, but I’m glad that I’m reading them now. It bothered me that Eyre called Mr. Rochester her “master”, but otherwise I was hooked – and surprisingly unspoiled when it came to plot. It surprised me to discover that I didn’t really know what was going to happen, which seems so unlikely with such a well known book.

So it only it only took me a year and a half, but I managed to finish the challenge (albeit only having read 2 of the books on my original list). Now I’ll need to find another one. I’d liked that this pushed me to read things I wouldn’t normally have tried and I’d like something else that does that in the year ahead.

1% Well Read!

What I’ve Been Reading

Blogging is apparently not my strong suit, but I have definitely still been reading since I last posted. I’ve read over 100 books since the beginning of the year (Note to self: revise reading goal).

It’s not quite as impressive as it looks, more than half of those have been Children’s or YA books, but still I’m keeping busy.

My newest obsession are the Enola Holmes mysteries, which bridge the Children’s and YA categories – I would say they’re probably right for about middle school age, but I’m sure there are some late elementary school kids who would like them too. I’ve read all four books that the DC Public Library has – The Case of the Missing Marquess, The Case of the Left-Handed Lady, The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets, and The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan. There is one more out – The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline, but it hasn’t arrived at DCPL yet, so I suppose I will have to be patient.

The books are all by Nancy Springer, who has apparently written lots of books, none of which I’ve read. The protagonist is younger sister of Sherlock Holmes, who at the age of 14 runs away from home (after her mother has disappeared) rather than being sent off to finishing school by her brothers. She makes her way to London (the place she is sure her brothers won’t immediately look for her, since that’s where they live), and sets herself up as (the assistant to a fictional) Scientific Perditorian (finder of lost things and people). Enola is smart and spunky, and all around enjoyable to spend a few hours with. (They are short books – I read the last one in one evening). I highly recommend them.

What I’ve Been Reading

Election Day Distraction

Today is Election Day. I will be voting after work, but in the meantime, I am just a bundle of nerves. I am hopeful, very hopeful, for the future – and also scared that what seems so close may yet be ripped from our grasp.

DC is solidly Democratic and our 3 electoral votes will go for Obama, but I am still eager to add my vote to the many. This will be my first time voting in Ward 5, and I am happy to get the chance to reelect my neighbor as our ANC representative as well.

Beyond the election, I am most nervous about Proposition 8 in California, but there is not much I can do there right now. I gave (a little) money to the No on Prop 8 campaign, and now I am just hopeful that the citizens of my birth state will do the right thing. (Oh, and California – could you send me a replacement birth certificate already? It’s been 5 months at least. kthx.)

Anyway, that has all been a lot of election and very little distraction, so for something totally different, here are my top 5 choices for mystery series with a strong female protagonist. (Mysteries are after all my favorite, distracting brain candy):

Tess Monaghan:  Tess is a former newspaper reporter turned private detective, working in Baltimore. The author, Laura Lippman, is a good writer (she used to be a reporter herself) and the flavor of Baltimore really comes through. It’s always fun to read about places you are somewhat familiar with.

Mrs. Pollifax: Mrs. Pollifax is awesome. She’s a widowed grandmother who heads down to the CIA and volunteers her services. These books offer the added bonus of some vicarious world travel. The last book in this series came out in 2001 and Dorothy Gilman is in her 80s, but I live in hope that another may yet be published.

Agatha Raisin: Set in the English Cotswolds, these books are the definition of a Cozy mystery. I picked up the series originally because I could resist the title of the first book (Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death!). Agatha Raisin is prickly and acerbic and imperfect and you can’t help routing for her.

Rei Shimura: Set in Japan and the United States and featuring a Japanese American protagonist, these books are a good mix of suspense and local color. The most recent one is the weakest of the bunch, I think, but they are definitely worth reading.

Stephanie Plum: To be fair these are probably making it in to the Top 5 because I’ve read a bunch of them lately while searching for a light easy read. Stephanie is a fairly inept bounty hunter, working in Trenton, New Jersey and the hijinks and characters are reassuringly familiar from book to book. No heavy thinking, just turn your brain off and enjoy.

Election Day Distraction

Mysteries!

As previously discussed, I love a good mystery. They are my escapist reading – and who can’t use more of that? Also, they are clearly the answer to my “I’m behind in my reading” woes. I can read a mystery in a day or two. More serious stuff, not so much.

Most recently, I read Death of a Gentle Lady by M.C. Beaton. This was the 24th (!) book in the Hamish Macbeth series, one of three series that I read by Beaton (one is written under another name). The MacBeth books are all set in the Scottish highlands and revolve around the village policeman (the aforementioned Hamish Macbeth). They are formulaic: an outsider – with some character flaw – moves to Lochdubh (the village) or it’s surrounding. They get themselves murdered. MacBeth solves the crime, much to the consternation of one of his higher ups who hates him and is always trying to close down his police station. In this case, formulaic is not a criticism. It’s a comfort. Sometimes it’s nice to read something that is familiar. And because the writing and characters are enjoyable, I never find the books boring. Just a pleasant way to spend an evening.

I also recently finished T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton, the 20th book in her alphabet series. I have been reading this series since I was in high school. Possibly even junior high, which is sort of amazing if you think about it. Even more amazing is the fact that I still like them. Sometimes series lose their steam, but the authors keep writing anyway. I feel that way about Patricia Cornwell’s books now – I loved the Kay Scarpetta mysteries to begin with, but now they are just BAD. So kudos to Grafton for still writing a well crafted, enjoyable series mystery so many years down the line. I’m happy to keep reading.

Now if a few more of my favorite authors could just add another mystery to their series this year, I’d achieve my 2008 goal of averaging a book a week in no time.

Mysteries!

A Paragon of Virtue

I’m just going to say it. I hated this book. It worked my last nerve. And if I hadn’t gotten as part of the Early Reviewers program and felt obligated to review it, I would never have finished it. I would have gotten a quarter of the way through and then decided there were better uses of my time.

The book had a lot of potential and I was actually excited when I heard I was going to be getting it. A Paragon of Virtue is the first book by Christian von Ditfurth to be translated into English. It’s a mystery (and I am a fan of mysteries) set in Hamburg and the events of the Nazi era swirl around the crimes being committed now. Now I am willing to give von Ditfurth the benefit of the doubt, and suggest that perhaps the book read better in German and something was lost in translation, but the writing was HORRIBLE. The characters seemed more like caricatures – which especially bothered me having lived in Germany and known many Germans who didn’t fit into the stereotypes that von Ditfurth was advancing.

This is supposed to be the first book in a series featuring the main character, but I will definitely not be reading any more.

A Paragon of Virtue

Two Much Delayed Reviews

I finished two books at the beginning of August, but am just now getting around to writing them up: In The Woods by Tana French and The Maytrees by Annie Dillard.

Starting with the first book first, In The Woods is a thriller set in Ireland that deals with two crimes involving children that happen approximately 20 years apart. I can honestly say that it was the most enthralling book that I have read in a long time. Not necessarily the best book, although it was really good, but a book that I didn’t want to put down.  I actually had the thought when I was reading it, that I wished I could call in sick, just so I could finish the book. If you like thrillers (or even if you don’t – Jami is not a big mystery reader and she is having a similar addiction to In The Woods at the moment), I really recommend this one. French has a new book out (The Likeness) with some of the same characters, and I am really looking forward to reading that one as well.

The second book that I read is The Maytrees by Annie Dillard. It was beautifully written, really and truly. It fit in with my recent reading of New England authors. And I just didn’t like it that much. I’m happy I read it, and it made me want to read more of Dillard’s writing, but I just felt somehow distant from the whole story. Still Dillard is a great writer and so I’ll give her another try.

That’s all I’ve read in August so far, which is shocking to me, seeing as the month is almost over! We’ll see if I get through at least one more before the month ends.

Two Much Delayed Reviews