February 5th, 2013

January Books

Given my work, home and social schedule, I don't have as much time to read as I'd like so I thought that signing on for 50 books this year was a bit of a lofty goal, but what the heck!

Thanks to my one hour commute each day, I've been able to accomplish quite a bit more than I thought I would via audio books. I'm going to cheat a little by including the Amazon description for each book followed by my take on it. I'm not a great reviewer and, since I appreciate it when reading other's posts, want to provide a good overview for anyone who might be interested.

Book #1
'Comfort Food' by Kate Jacobs (Audio) Narrated by Barbara Rosenblat
Book description from Amazon:
"In this smart, delicious novel by the bestselling author of The Friday Night Knitting Club, a celebrity chef shows her friends and family the joy of fulfillment— and manages to spice up her own life at the same time.

Shortly before turning the big 5-0, boisterous party planner and Cooking with Gusto! personality Augusta “Gus” Simpson finds herself planning a birthday party she’d rather not—her own. She’s getting tired of being the hostess, the mother hen, the woman who has to plan her own birthday party. What she needs is time on her own with enough distance to give her loved ones the ingredients to put together successful lives without her.

Assisted by a handsome up-and-coming chef, Oliver, Gus invites a select group to take an on-air cooking class. But instead of just preaching to the foodie masses, she will teach regular people how to make rich, sensuous meals—real people making real food. Gus decides to bring a vibrant cast of friends and family on the program: Sabrina, her fickle daughter; Troy, Sabrina’s ex-husband; Anna, Gus’s timid neighbor; and Carmen, Gus’s pompous and beautiful competitor at the Cooking Channel. And when she begins to have more than collegial feelings for her sous-chef, Gus realizes that she might be able to rejuvenate not just her professional life, but her personal life as well. . . ."


I had read 'The Friday Night Knitting Club' by the same author a few years back and thought I'd give this one a try. I guess if I was into cooking as much as I am knitting it might have appealed to me more. A nice little story, but the characters are terribly lacking in depth. Would make a nice light summer read I suppose.

Book #2
'The Thirteenth Tale' by Diane Setterfield (Audio) Narrated by Bianca Amato and Jill Tanner
Book description from Amazon:
"Sometimes, when you open the door to the past, what you confront is your destiny.
Reclusive author Vida Winter, famous for her collection of twelve enchanting stories, has spent the past six decades penning a series of alternate lives for herself. Now old and ailing, she is ready to reveal the truth about her extraordinary existence and the violent and tragic past she has kept secret for so long. Calling on Margaret Lea, a young biographer troubled by her own painful history, Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good. Margaret is mesmerized by the author's tale of gothic strangeness -- featuring the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess,a topiary garden and a devastating fire. Together, Margaret and Vida confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves."

I LOVED this book! The narrators are exceptional and the story itself is one in which you lose yourself and are drawn in their world. Full of secrets and mystery you can't help thinking about the characters while you are away from them... and even after it's all said and done.

Book #3
'The Happiness Project' by Gretchen Rubin (paperback)
Book Description from Amazon:
"Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. "The days are long, but the years are short," she realized. "Time is passing, and I'm not focusing enough on the things that really matter." In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project.
In this lively and compelling account, Rubin chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. Among other things, she found that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that money can help buy happiness, when spent wisely; that outer order contributes to inner calm; and that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference."

I actually started this one last year but finished it this month so I'm counting it. Since I'm typically a very happy person and appreciate the happiness in everyone, I thought this would be a good read for me. It was on my Paperback Book Swap wish list forever before it finally came in, but was worth the wait. Lots of good tips on how to focus on the small improvements you can make in your everyday life that will help to tip that happiness scale a little more each day. I've started my own happiness project for this year. After all, even happy people can use a boost now and then!

Book #4
'The Last Lecture' by Paul Pausch (audio) Narrated by Jeffrey Zaslow
Book Description from Amazon:
"We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand."
--Randy Pausch
"A lot of professors give talks titled "The Last Lecture." Professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. And while they speak, audiences can't help but mull the same question: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?

When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give such a lecture, he didn't have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the lecture he gave--"Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams"--wasn't about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment (because "time is all you have...and you may find one day that you have less than you think"). It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It was about living."

Wow! Great insight and inspiration. It was hard to believe that it was written by a man who had just months to live. Although his family will forever grieve his loss, what a wonderful legacy he's left! My only regret is that they didn't include audio from the actual last lecture. But I suppose I could probably YouTube it.
Flowers

Book #7: Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett



Number of pages: 253

Reaper Man is the second Discworld novel to give a starring role to Death, a character who appears in every single book, usually making a brief cameo close to the start. The book opens with Death being forced into retirement; he subsequently leaves home and finds work as an actual reaper on a farm, making good use of his scythe. Of course, as we are told, "another Death" will come, and there is a big turning point in the book after Death saves a girl's life, despite the fact that he knows fate cannot be tampered with (as demonstrated in Mort).

In the book's sub-plot, a wizard called Windle Poons, who briefly appeared in the previous book, Moving Pictures, dies; however, due to the fact that Death is not around, he cannot pass over to the other side and instead comes back as a zombie. When the efforts of the other wizards to help him fail, he joins an undead support group. To help the reader, the sections involving Windle Poons and the wizard are printed in a bolder typeface throughout the book.

Reading the book again, I found Death's storyline a lot more compelling. I loved the fact that he was constantly nonchalant about even the most shocking of events, and his attempts to fit in with normal life were at time hilarious. The story gets gradually darker as the plot builds up to an inevitable confrontation at the end. The storyline also introduces the Death of Rats, who appears in many subsequent books. The Windle Poons storyline eventually centres around bizarre events at Unseen University, involving the appearance of mysterious "eggs", and trolleys. I wasn't precisely sure how it all fitted into the book's central conceit of Death taking retirement, and it felt like it was added in to make the book longer.

However, there were some hilarious moments inolving the undead support group. The book pokes fun at the way vampires are perceived to always dress in evening wear (which seems to have originated with Bela Lugosi), and I loved the idea of a banshee with a speech impediment who had to push notes under the doors instead of screaming.

I loved all of the subtle literary references that Terry Pratchett inserted; this time, there were a couple of implicit references to Edgar Allen Poe (The Pit and the Pendulum and The Raven). Personally, I think any book that centres around Death is worth reading, and the only drawback with this one was that it took a while to get going, particularly with Death's storyline.

Next book: Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now, As Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It and Long for It by Craig Taylor