December 2nd, 2009

  • sh1mm3r

Books 98-114 of 2009 (November reads)

98. Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans by Louis Armstrong (240 pgs)
Louis Armstrong's personal tale of growing up in New Orleans. A quick read, and full of interesting tidbits!

99. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (406 pgs)
A rather gothic tale of two sets of twins. Elspeth has died in London, leaving her flat to the twin daughters of her twin sister in Chicago. Hauntings, mysteries, and a man with ocd make up most of the story. There were some touching moments, particularly between Elspeth and Robert, but like most readers, I didn't find this to be nearly as endearing as the Time Traveler's Wife.

100. Stealing Buddha's Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen (256 pgs)
A Vietnamese refugee and her childhood story, told largely through the cravings of American processed food.

101. Ooga-Booga by Frederick Seidel (101 pgs)
Reflective, a bit repetitive in theme. The occasional rhyming is a bit hard to know what to do with. My favorite poem was "Violin," but maybe I was looking for optimism.

102. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (270 pgs)
Olive is difficult, moody, and opinionated; also observant, direct, and caring in her own way. Strout presents her through a variety of lenses in a grouping of short stories, all directly or indirectly tied to the character of Olive Kitteridge. I can't decide if I liked it or not. It isn't heartwarming, but feels rather genuine, which might be refreshing.

103. The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker (243 pgs)
I'm carrying this book around in my head these days, seeing poetry everywhere I look and thinking in rhyme. A great love letter to poetry, especially the rhyming kind, and an interesting character of the poet Paul Chowder who just needs to finish the introduction to an anthology of rhyming poems.

104. Rivers to the Sea by Sara Teasdale (148 pgs)
I feel like such a sap when I read Teasdale. While her poetry is simple in structure and often very short (some are only one stanza), and they tend to rhyme, they are full of longing and sentimentality. This set comes with the poem that is rumored to be the one she wrote after her past love killed himself ("I Shall Not Care"). My favorites were Spring, From the Woolworth Tower, I Am Not Yours, and A Cry; I didn't care much for the second of the five sections. Her poems seem familiar, but I don't think I've read her before. I think that is more a reflection of the simplicity and feeling of loss or sadness.

105. Dark of the Moon by Sara Teasdale (94 pgs)
Teasdale is definitely older and more introspective in this volume (compared to Rivers to the Sea). These poems are more about nature, her inner life, and what she was contributing and experiencing. She's lost some of the wistfulness for love, and seems to have replaced it with a general longing for life in general.

106. Stars Tonight by Sara Teasdale (49 pgs)
A compilation of more child-appropriate poems.

107. Strange Victory by Sara Teasdale (37 pgs)
A small collection of poems, as far as I can tell, from around the time of when Teasdale's former love committed suicide. Death is a common theme, as well as loss.

"No one worth possessing
Can be quite possessed."

108. The Magicians by Lev Grossman (402 pgs)
I admit to getting this book because I thought the cover was beautiful.

To me this seems like two books, or three, that the author just couldn't decide between writing - one was a grown-up Harry Potter type story, if magic school were at the college level. But he raced through telling that part to get to the magical land part, which to me was even less satisfying than the story about Brakebills College.

I never thought I would say this, because allegedly I hate reading fantasy series, but this would have been better spread out so more time could have been taken with each stage

109. Collected Poems of Sara Teasdale (311 pgs)
I was glad to have found the smaller bound volumes of Teasdale's poems, because several were excluded from this collection, and one was one of my favorites ("Spring" from Rivers to the Sea). There aren't any explanations for the exclusions other than that they were based on conversations she had with friends.

I tend to like her shorter, rhyming, sentimental poems than her longer, affected sonnets and tributes to mythological figures.

110. The Answering Voice ed. by Sara Teasdale (131 pgs)
This captures what women poets were writing about love around the time that Teasdale compiled these poems. Some standards, some poets who were new to me. Read from a brittle copy in the library that was missing some pages and parts of others.

111. Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper by Nicholson Baker (370 pgs)
"The library has gone astray partly because we trusted the librarians so completely." Collapse )

112. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (209 pgs)
I've had this on my to-read pile for a while, and I'm not all together certain I haven't read it before. The setting is interesting (cold weather islands are a favorite of mine) but it is more about what goes on INSIDE the house as the family talks about going to the lighthouse.

113. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami (180 pgs)
A quick read about running and writing, nice to read at the end of another successful National Novel Writing Month. :)

114. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (296 pgs)
I really had to mull over this one before writing anything about it. To so many people it appears to be a love story, but I really take issue with that - this is a dark, twisted story really, with a lot of mental anguish for everyone except the main character. I am starting to take issue with the typical Murakami protagonist - they seem so bewildered about the world around them, particularly about women but people in general, and the only relationships they have are those that fall into their lives. I hate people who float around and let things happen TO them.

In this novel it seems somehow worse. Surely there is something Toru can do, but maybe Nagasawa is right when he says Toru only knows to think about himself. The ending, and several moments throughout the story, really made me sick to my stomach. I need to take a break from him for a while, I think.
Leaf on Book

Books #102-108

102) The Little Lady Agency by Hester Browne (Chick-Lit, 413 pages)
Charming and fun (and funny at points!). I loved the main character, in both her incarnations, and fell in love with the story from page one. I will definitely read the rest of the series. 4/5

103) Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann (Mystery, 352 pages)
The herd's shepherd is murdered and the flock take it upon themselves to solve the crime. Charming, funny, and really interesting to see a sheep's-eye-view of the world. 3.5/5

104) Little Lady, Big Apple by Hester Browne (Chick-Lit, 368 pages)
The second book in Browne's Little Lady Agency series is not quite as enjoyable as the first book, though given how much I liked the first one, that meant I still liked this one a fair bit.
Due to Nelson's going off to sea for a few months and deciding to take the time to redo the house, Melissa finds herself homeless and goes to New York with Jonathan.
Formulaic but ultimately fun. However, Melissa's inability to deal with Gabi and Allegra made me grit my teeth, as did her doormat personality peeking through every so often.
I'm looking forward to the third book. 3.5/5

105) The Blonde Theory by Kristin Harmel (Chick-Lit, 304 pages)
I have mixed feelings about this book. Overall, I liked it, particularly the ending, which was a refreshing change-of-pace. However, there were certain things that made me grit my teeth throughout. The ditzy scenes were teeth-grittingly painful at times, and for someone who was so smart and successful, Harper was amazingly naive. 3.5/5

106) The Little Lady Agency and the Prince by Hester Browne (Chick-Lit, 400 pages)
This is my favorite book of the three. In this one, you can really see Melissa figure out who she is and what she wants from her life. More annoying characters (Gabi and Allegra) are rarely seen and/or toned down, and Granny takes a larger role. But this was the book that made me really like Melissa, who had always seemed too resigned about her life, but cheerfully in denial about it. Browne gave her more depth in this book, and I loved that Prince Nicky helped Melissa figure out her life. Loved it. 4/5

107) Going Bovine by Libba Bray (Young Adult, 480 pages)
This was 100% cracked out, hilarious awesomeness. 4/5

108) The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Fowler (Fiction, 288 pages)
I enjoyed the movie so picked up the book. The book proved to be sluggish and just this side of uninteresting enough that I finished it, though it took me a while. I didn't connect with any of the characters, who were more or less interchangeable, despite Fowler's attempt to make them quirky. There was too much focus of the characters' background instead of the here and now of the book, with each section focusing on a different character -- which only made me annoyed as the first characters were boring, and the later interesting backgrounds came up too late to make me appreciate the characters. 2.5/5

Books 122 & 123: Echoes from the Dead and The Devil's Star

Book 122: Echoes from the Dead
Author: Johan Theorin, 2007. Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy, 2008
Genre: Crime Thriller. Mystery.
Other Details: Trade Paperback 396 pages

On a foggy autumn day in the early 1970s, 5-year old Jens disappears on the island of Öland. He is never found. Twenty years later his mother, Julia, is still struggling to come to terms with her son's disappearance. Then she receives an unexpected phone call from her estranged father, Gerlof, a retired sea captain who still lives on the island. He tells her that the postman has delivered a package containing a child's sandal, which he is sure had belonged to Jens.

Julia returns to the island and learns that Gerlof and his elderly friend Ernst Adolfsson, have been investigating Nils Kant, a man with a long history of murder and brutality, whom they suspect was involved in Jens' disappearance. But Nils Kant died in the 1960s years before Jens disappeared, even though he remains a scapegoat for the local people who attribute every nasty incident on the island to him. Julia reluctantly is drawn into the investigation and slowly begins to reclaim her life. This present day story is interwoven with the story of Nils Kant from childhood onward.

This is a complex mystery that is skilfully executed with strong characterisations and an atmospheric setting. The novel has the typically Scandinavian slow pace and detailed narrative. which drew me into a relationship with its characters and setting. Just fantastic.

It was awarded the 2007 Best First Mystery Novel 2007 by the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers and the 2009 CWA New Blood Dagger.

Book 123: The Devil's Star (Detective Harry Hole Book 05)
Author: Jo Nesbø, 2003. Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett, 2005.
Genre: Police Procedural. Crime.
Other Details: Paperback. 503 pages.

Oslo based Detective Harry Hole is completely off-the-rails following on from events in the previous two books Redbreast and Nemesis. He is on notice to quit the force for his unacceptable behaviour and drinking. Then a young woman is found murdered in her flat. One finger has been cut off, and beneath her eyelid a tiny red diamond in the shape of a five pointed star is found. Harry is assigned to the case working alongside Tom Waaler, his long-time adversary. Five days after the first murder, a man reports his wife missing. When her severed finger is found wearing a ring mounted with another star-shaped red diamond, it seems Oslo has a serial killer on its hands.

Nesbø delivers another complex and totally engaging crime thriller with a satisfying conclusion to this three-book plot arc.

Although this title was the first of the Harry Hole series published in English, currently it is only available in the USA as an import. However, the earlier books are available and this one will be published there in hardback in March 2010.
  • cat63

Book 58 for 2009

The Hippopotamus by Stephen Fry

I usually like Stephen Fry's writing quite a lot an there were good bits in this one as well, but it wasn't, I feel, as good as the other novels of his that I've read.

The plot involves a crotchety old poet and theatre critic, Ted Wallace, who is engaged by his goddaughter to investigate odd goings-on at an English country house. And that's about it really. Perhaps it was me, but I felt the book lacked something. I rather liked Ted's cynical outpourings, but the bits not told from his perspective felt rather flat, and even the bits that were seemed sometimes to be protesting too much. And the plot seemed thin to the point of transparency.

Book 124 - A Spectacle of Corruption by David Liss

Book 124: A Spectacle of Corruption (Benjamin Weaver Book 2)
Author: David Liss, 2004
Genre: Historical Murder Mystery. 18th century England
Other Details: Paperback, 392 pages.

Since the publication of the first volume of my memoirs, I have found myself the subject of more notoriety than I had ever known or might have anticipated.... - Benjamin Weaver.

After enjoying A Conspiracy of Paper (my 2009 Book 91) so much I was pleased to to find that David Liss had written further novels featuring former pugilist turned thief-taker, Benjamin Weaver.

The novel opens with Weaver being convicted for a murder he did not commit at a trial presided over by a judge who appears determined to find him guilty. Then he is accosted by a stranger who manages to slip a lock pick and file into his hands. In that instant he is aware of two things: someone had gone to a great deal of trouble to see him condemned to hang and another equally mysterious agent was determined to see him free. After a daring escape from London's most notorious prison Weaver has to find a way to clear his name and soon stumbles into a conspiracy with wide ramifications for the future of Britain.

Weaver is such a wonderfully complex character; intelligent, charming and witty addressing his readers with the hindsight of several decades on these events. The central mystery is labyrinthine and well played out. Liss populates the book with colourful characters who could easily have stepped out of William Hogarth's prints. Again, Liss does a superb job with the setting evoking the glamour and squalor of the Georgian period. He also tackles the complexities of 18th century politics and the electoral processes by using Weaver whose introduction into these matters also serves as the reader's induction.

This is historical fiction at its best. I loved it from start to finish and can hardly wait for the third in the series to appear in paperback!

A Spectacle of Corruption - David Liss' page with Readers Guide and Excerpt.