1. Mariana, Susanna Kearsley (audio)
so, this is basically the exact same plot as the last Kearsley book I read. Which is not exactly a criticism - it's an engaging premise - but makes me a little less eager to jump right into another.
on the other hand, there are so many things to love: the historical detail, the slowly unfolding relationships, the *cough* Scottish Ian (note to self: continue to pick audiobooks featuring Scottish characters.)
2. The Upside of Irrationality, Dan Arily
Basically, I adore Dan Arily.
3. A Hat Full of Sky, Terry Pratchett (audio)
A reread, because reasons, and also to get me in the right headspace for The Shepherd's Crown.
4. Shadowy Horses, Susanna Kearsley (audio)
This made for a great audiobook, what with the Scottish voices and all. I liked this premise quite a bit, although I'm still confused about why Kearsley's couples never actually TALK about their relationships.
5. A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken
This is not the great love story the author clearly thinks it is - it's an unhealthy love story, obsessive and self-centered. The book is also, possibly, maybe-just-a-little bit show-offy in a "look what good friends I was with CS Lewis" way.
That's not to say it's not worth reading (it is), or isn't interesting (it is.) For a picture of conversion and a raw look at grief, it's worth the short time you'll spend reading.
6. All Clear, Connie Willis
7th or 8th time, still noticing new things
7. Kilmeny of the Orchard, Lucy Maud Montgomery
Goodreads reports that I read this six years ago, but I have no memory of it. Which is a shame, because it's a lovely little gem - quaint, a bit overblown and melodramatic in places, but possessed of such sweetness and light as to quite counteract any descent into florid descriptions and implausible plot points.
This, friends, is what happens when there are suddenly a whole lot of new things taking up your time and attention. I was already behind on my reading goal, and now I'm a lot more behind - and it's okay. Life is full of seasons, after all.
So here's a short booklist:
1. The Job, Steve Osborne
Some of these chapters started as spoken stories on The Moth, and while the technical aspects of the writing could stand some polishing and refining, Steve is a storyteller, and it shows. Full disclosure: this book made it onto my "books that made me cry" list. (I dare you to have any connection to NYC and 9/11 and read Big Day without at getting misty eyes.)
2. Uprooted, Naomi Novic
The writing is sparkling, luminous, and yet completely grounded. It's the sort of writing I'd read for the sheer pleasure of it, even if the plot had holes the size of Australia or the characters were lackluster.
It's funny, it's sweet, it's dark, it's insightful. I'd place this right up there with Jo Walton as far as fantasy goes.
3. Sarum, Edward Rutherfurd (audiobook)
40+ hours of audio, and it felt like it. Not as cohesive as some of this other epic narratives, and that's saying something. If you must read a Rutherfurd, go read New York instead.
I live alone in a 1,400 sq foot 3-bedroom house, and it's just the right amount of space. I will never be a tiny-house person or a throw-anything-you-haven't-used-in-six-m
The author's attitude towards papers of all sorts is "just throw it away," although she grudgingly admits the necessity of keeping contracts and deeds. She thinks filing is unnecessary: just throw like items in a box. (Since you're barely keeping any paperwork, who cares?) She thinks words/text clutter a house.
I surround myself with words. I've considered papering my walls in newsprint. I like layers, textures, overlapping objects. See? Not a minimalist.
... and that's okay. Because there's a lot in this book that DOES work and DOES apply to anyone:
- seriously, the clothes-folding method is genius.
- I've long held that you shouldn't keep anything that "you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful," which is similar to her directions to only keep that which makes you feel joy when you see/touch it. Sorry, you still need to keep that bottle of advil even if it doesn't "spark joy" when you hold it; but the ugly-sweater gift someone gave you that you've been hesitating about throwing out? She's right. It's fulfilled its purpose. Thank it and let it go.
- Everything needs a place. Clutter happens when you're 1) too lazy to put stuff away and/or 2) stuff has no home. If you give everything a home, half the battle's won.
2. Surprised by Meaning, Alister McGrath
3. So, Anyway ..., John Cleese
I found out about this book in London - reading a newspaper on the Tube, in fact, where I found a little blurb about this book that painted Cleese as a rather whiny, ill-tempered prat. I've seen other reviewers who felt this book showed a mean-spirited side to Cleese; I didn't see that at all. Now yes, I wish it went further (I'd love to read about how Fawlty Towers was created, for instance), but it was engaging from start to finish, and made Cleese seem like a guy I'd like to hang out with.
(Thanks to Netgalley for the advance copy!)
Reacher remains a likable and fairly realistic action hero; well-trained but not invincible. And while fans are likely to be no doubt as to the ultimate outcome, there are plenty of stumbles along the way to leave the reader in suspense.
6. The Winter Sea, Susanna Kearsley
I probably shouldn't have started with this one - it seems widely agreed that it's not one of Kearsley's best - and yeah, there are certainly some problems. What's with the stilted dialog in the historical portions? The wonky DNA memory thing? The fact that our main characters fall in love for no apparent reason ... and randomly keep it a secret from everyone, also for no apparent reason?
7. Luna Park, Kevin Baker
8. Blackout, Connie Willis
The art of translation - comprehensive if slightly repetitious; accessible to the non-linguist; though-provoking.
This is a book I admire but cannot bring myself to love, unlike earlier volumes. And it's not the book, it's me; for I am hypocritical and will argue all day long that tragedy was the only right and just way to end the Godfather trilogy, but A Silent Hell needed a happier ending. (And for the record, Rhett and Scarlet totally get together after GWtW ends. My headcanon says so.)
Honestly - and as a Christian I'm kind of ashamed to admit this - this is the first depiction of heaven that's really been attractive to me. The book describes how we often think of heaven as being filled with "lethargic bliss:" Everyone sitting around, singing hymns and being happy. It seems so ... boring.
But this picture of an active heaven ... this is a place I want to go! Honestly, my first thought was, "You mean I could still be a librarian in heaven - but do it 100% for the joy of it, in a perfect library??" And to have an infinity of time to learn new things and perfect skills, just for the pleasure of it!
So yeah, you could say that I think this is a brilliant concept.
The writing: I love the narrative voice! It's personal and approachable, but still has hints of fable-like language; I'm not sure how to describe it better than that. I felt like Nick was sitting across the table from me, telling me the story.
You can download the ebook for free here.
2. Script & Scribble, Kitty Burns Florey
Just a lovely little look at penmanship styles, methods, and trends over the ages.
3. Station 16, Yves Huppen
A short and creepy retro-styled graphic novel; probably predictable for those more familiar with the genre, but I loved it.
4. In the Wake of the Plague, Norman Cantor
|As others have pointed out, the quality of writing and general interest level fades in the later chapters of the book, but for anyone with a penchant for historical diseases, this is a solid overview of the the effects of the plague years.|
Don't really have much to say about this one except that dang, this artwork!
6. Though the Woods, Emily Carroll
Oh goodness - just lovely and creepy, like illustrated Poe.
7. Spinster: making a life of one's own, Kate Bolick
Every time I'd get frustrated with the author's seemingly endless relationship-hopping (in a book about singlehood) and personal angsting, there'd be a sentence so perfectly formed, or a quote so timely and thought-provoking that I'd think "okay, just one more chapter."
I disagree with the author on quite a number of points and this book was not at all what I expected; I'm still glad I struggled through to the end.
Part of my frustration came from the disconnect between the author's definition of singleness and my own. Behold:
"In all my daydreaming about being alone I'd somehow overlooked that in this century being single means "dating," which means having sex with people you don't know very well..."
Um, that is not at all my definition.
"My aim is more modest: to offer [the word 'spinster'] up as shorthand for holding on to that in you which is independent and self-sufficient, whether you're single or coupled."
No, I'm sorry, you don't get to redefine "spinster" as something that can apply to someone who is married/in a long-term relationship. You just don't get to do that. They may (and do) change over time, but words mean things, and right now nothing about the word "spinster" has any business being applied to a married person.
Of course, straight-ahead speed may not be the single appropriate criterion for gauging the tempo of New Yorkers. One encounters a certain skill and assertiveness on the streets of New York that doesn't necessarily show up on a stopwatch. Whereas pedestrians in Tokyo are generally disciplined, meticulous, punctilious, and even docile, New Yorkers are a study in anarchy. Sociologist Williams Whyte, who spent much of his career observing pedestrian behavior in large cities, pointing out the intensity with which New Yorkers challenge each other, disrespect red lights, are "incorrigible jaywalkers," zigzag between cars and bully vehicles, as if to say, "Make way for me or kill me." [...] So what if they fall a few tenths of a second behind Tokyoites? Loyalists might argue that the real speed of New Yorker's resides in the nuances.
A bit boring, really. Rich folks behaving like children, yawn.
2. What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim, Jane Christmas
Engaging, witty, easy-to-read: I still want to take Jane aside and teach her how to properly plan an overseas adventure. (Hint: figure out how you're going to get from the airport to your destination BEFORE you arrive.)
3. The Just City, Jo Walton
A wonderful novel of ideas, expertly blending myth, history, and the future.
Basically it's one giant thought experiment what if Plato's City could really exist), and it's awesome.
4. The Sorcerer's Apprentices, Lisa Abend
I'm not a fan of molecular gastronomy - it's just not my style, in a number of ways - but it makes for some fascinating reading.
The thing that surprised me most? The throw-away line about how "of course, most three star restaurants lose money." ???
Also, Lisa Abend tweeted me a couple times about the book and she seems SUPER NICE.
5. Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace, Kate Summerscale
No real answers to this mysterious scandal: did she make it all up? Or not?, but I suppose that's real life.
6. Designing & Planting the Woodland Garden, Keith Wiley
Lovely and inspirational photos; lots of ideas for plants I wouldn't have thought of for my largely shaded areas.
7. Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller
I think you're either going to love or be annoyed by Donald Miller's style; but what I love about his books is his tendency to stand things you think you understand on their head until you see them in a completely new way.
8. If This Be A Woman: Inside Ravensbruk, Sarah Helm
(advance copy provided to me by Netgalley. Also, there seems to be some confusion about the exact title - the galley had one, Goodreads another.)
This one gets 4-stars only because I rate based on how much I enjoy the reading of the book, not on literary merit alone. And make no mistake: this is a hard book to read. It's long, yes, but more than that - it's soul-rending. What was done to these women, from the Polish rabbits to the slave laborers, is practically inconceivable, and it does not make for pleasant reading.
But you should read it.
And also because this book IS a 5-star for literary merit; because the writing is tight, the research impeccable, the organization flawless.
9. This Time Together, Carol Burnett
I liked that this was a series of short anecdotes - it made reading it in small portions very pleasant.
Conclusion: Tim Conway is the funniest guy in the history of funny guys.
10. Sandman: preludes and nocturnes, Neil Gaiman
I thought I had begun to read an abandoned this several years earlier, but Goodreads says I did finish it back in October of 2013? Either way, reading it (again) just reinforced that graphic novels are simply a hard format for me. I love them! They are pretty! But interpreting pictures is hard. Keeping characters straight is hard. Reading emotions on drawn faces is hard.
It wasn't until until near the end that I felt like I got Dream as a character. Until then, I was dead sure I wasn't going to continue the series. Now, I'm not quite so sure. (Besides, I really want to see more of this Death I've heard so much about.)
I received an arc from Netgalley in exchange for my thoughts.
Reader, I did not like it.
There's weak and inconsistent world-building. Are we in a medieval
setting with magic, or a futuristic society? It took me way too many
chapters to figure it out.
And there's the same old love triangle. Need I say more? Besides that,
I don't think there's a single fully-drawn character. I didn't connect
with any of them.
Most egregiously, very little is ever explained about the seekers, and
what is explained comes way too late. There's a time to keep the
reader in suspense about basic elements of your book - this was not
2. New York, Edward Rutherfurd (audio)
I think that any book that attempts to cover this time much (from the
Dutch settlers to 9/11) and stay somewhat cohesive will naturally seem
contrived. This felt contrived, and the ending a bit too neat and
Hands down, the best part was when it got to a late enough period
(1750s and onwards) where I could recognize many of the buildings and
places mentioned. Having a personal knowledge of the city adds a lot
to the enjoyment of a book like this.
3. Have His Carcase, Dorothy Sayers
Utterly baffled by the mystery; delightful to see Harriet & Peter
interacting the way they do.
4. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
Reread this because the of new webseries Misselwaithe Archives (which is currently ... on hiatus? I'm getting worried) and also because it's a good book to read when you think it'll never be spring.
5. Stiff: the curious lives of human cadavers, Mary Roach
Particularly fascinating because two of my grandparents donated their bodies to science. I love this stuff! Yes, it's a little gross, so only read it if you're into that sort of thing.
6. Serenity: Those Left Behind
7. Serenity: Better Days
8. Serenity: The Shepherd's Tale
9. Serenity: Leaves on the Wind
I feel a bit short-changed that we don't get much Mal/Inara, but still - very satisfying, funny, and thrilling in all the right places.
10. Trigger Warning, Neil Gaiman
Beautiful, thoughtful, not as disturbing as I was afraid of but still deliciously creepy. And a story about Shadow! And a Doctor Who story!
11. A Royal Experiment: the private life of King George III, Janice Hadlow
My goodreads note just said "poor doomed family." It really ... it was just very sad. They tried so hard to make a model family and then things just fell apart. It did take forever to read, but it's just dense, not boring. Very well written.
12. The Nesting Place: it doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful, Myguillyn Smith
Really excellent and thank you to everyone who recommended it! Of course, the irony is that even the "not perfect" photos are ... perfectly staged to look quirky and interesting. That would be a real challenge with this kind of book, becuase who's going to buy a book with unattractive pictures? But at the same time, it didn't feel like they actually matched what she was saying.
I loved the reminders to take risks, be quirky, and think outside the box.
I sympathize with Jane, I really do, but her attitude towards her mother lacks charity and grace and left me wondering why she EVER thought a 6-week trip through Italy together would be a good idea.Also not a good idea: undertaking this trip with only the barest of planning, especially with a elderly, disabled person. So many of the disappointments and problems they encountered would have vanished with proper planning.
I generally love Jane's books (And Then There Were Nuns was one of my favorites from last year!). Just not this one.
2. How To Be A Victorian, Ruth Goodman
An excellent and comprehensive guide to Victorian living, focusing more on middle and lower-class lifestyles. She starts with how you'd wake up in the morning - your morning ablutions, how you'd get dressed and in what, what you'd eat for breakfast - and goes on through the day until bedtime.
It left me feeling very glad I'm not living in Victorian times, even as I find much of it fascinating.
3. Victorian Secrets, Sarah Chrisman
4 stars for content, 2 stars for author snark - so I've given this three stars in compromise.
The information on corsets, corset-wearing, and Victorian clothing in general was excellent. The often smug, judgmental, and belittling attitude of the author towards people who didn't understand or approve of her clothing, were fat, or wore non-authentic costumes to Victorian events (she nicknamed one lady Polly Esther) was disappointing. One also suspects that some of the stories were embellished, even stretched, to make her points more clearly - she is enlightened, and everyone else is stupid (and probably fat and has health problems.)
4. Cupid is a Procrastinator, Kate Hurley
Ms. Hurley has written a disarmingly honest, candid look at how she experiences extended singleness. We've experienced singlehood fairly differently, but while I didn't personally relate to much of the book, I daresay many Christian singles will. She provides encouragement without false hope and empty platitudes, and never fails to point back to our ultimate hope - Jesus.
That review sounds awkwardly formal because it was for netgalley, who provided an advanced copy. The subtitle is "making sense of the unexpected single life"; I'm unexpectedly single in that I didn't grow up planning or thinking I'd be thirty and single, but at this point it's pretty much a life choice, and one I'm 99% happy with, so I wasn't really the target audience. But having read some really awful
"how to be single" books, I'm pleased to find one that I can actually recommend.
5. The Poltics of Washing, Polly Coles
Daily life in Venice beyond what the tourists see - a bit depressing (one suspects the author has a slightly more pessimistic view on Venice's fate than is warranted), but also, I never realized just how difficult a city it is to get around it, especially if one is old, disabled, or hampered by small children. Like, much worse than just your average large city with public transportation. Because, duh, BOATS. Also, many stairs. And foot bridges.
6. Kill Shot, Vince Flynn
Second in the Mitch Rapp series. I read all of the Jack Reacher books in a space of months, but I don't feel the same drive to start a new Flynn immediately after finishing one, so this series is going to take longer. I like these in much the same way I do the Reachers, but whereas a Reacher book generally has no extra padding, I feel like there's extraneous dialog and dithering present to slow down the action here. Also, I skim over most of the sections with the terrorists ploting and dialoging - I read these for the heros and action, not to get inside the bag guy's heads.
Um, all that to say, this is still a great series if you like action/adventure.
7. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
I recognize the skill and craft behind this book - it's just totally not my style. I'm glad I read it once, but it's not something I would ever want to revisit. Books like this always seem to be s</span>aying "look at me, look how Important and Intelligent and Daring and Groundbreaking I am."
Also, having sex once a month (with no indication that it's timed to the woman's fertile period of her cycle, iirc) seems like a really inefficient way to make babies. Just saying. Also, I read the whole book saying her name as Off-Red, only to realize at the end that it's Of-Fred. Fred? FRED??
8. Strong Poison, Dorothy Sayers
It's probably been ... fifteen years since I've read any Lord Peter books? And so many of you here were talking about them that I really had no other option but to dip back into them. I think we all agree how great Peter and Harriet are, so I'll leave it at that.
Goodreads challenge status: 2 books behind (but I'm within pages of finishing 2 books, so I'm pretty sure I'll catch up today and be back on track.)
I DNF'd* one this month: Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?: the epic saga of the bird that powers civlization, by Andrew Lawler. Nothing wrong with it, it just wasn't attention-grabbing enough to hold my interest with so many other books sitting on my nightstand waiting for me to get to them.
*did not finish
Amanda has made a career built on asking for help and yet found herself unable to accept freely offered help from her husband. Yes, she's the complete opposite of the kind of person I'd normally choose to hang out with, but after this book I felt so much respect and yes, love, for her. This book is raw, real, and inspiring.
2. Black Dove, White Raven, Elizabeth Wein
(Arc from Netgalley.) I reviewed this here.
3. By Permission of Heaven, Adrian Tinniswood
I'm torn between being glad I read this after London so that I could picture it more clearly in my mind and being sad that I didn't read it before London so that what I saw there would have been even more historically informed. It's hard to imagine a disaster on this scale, much less how London emerged quite literally like a phoenix from the ashes.
4. As You Wish, Cary Elwes
Charming, just charming. I had no idea The Princess Bride wasn't a resounding success when first released, but thank goodness it's gotten the recognition it deserves now. This is a lovely mix of personal recollections, behind the scenes trivia, and love letter to the source material.
5. A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey
Pretty pictures, of course, but I loved the tidbits about the costuming and set dressing.
6. Texts from Jane Eyre, Mallory Ortberg
Really probably better in small doses (none of the new material was quite as funny when read start-to-finish in book form as when the orginals were published individually on The Toast), but really, it doesn't get better than the P&P, Jane Eyre, and Gone With the Wind sections.
7. As Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust, Alan Bradley
(Arc from Netgalley.) Yes, a new Flavia de Luce book! I wasn't sure what to expect from this, seeing as it has Flavia torn from her beloved Buckshaw and exile to Canada. But the framework remains the same: a body, a mystery, and a host of interesting people with varied hidden motives. The questions raised at the end of the last book (being intentially vague here for those who aren't caught up) are left almost more unanswered than ever, and this ending was not at all what I expected, but it seems highly likely that we shall see another Flavia book to follow. Haroo!
8. American Assassin, Vince Flynn
I'm looking for something to fill my action-adventure novel gap while waiting for a new Jack Reacher book - this series will do nicely, even if Mitch Rapp is a bit of a Gary Stu.
9. The Tummy Trilogy, Calvin Trillian
This is supposed to be funny essays about food. It's not funny.
10. The Language of Houses, Alison Lurie
Musing on architecture, of course.
2014’s total: 96. Perilously close to my all-time low (90 in 2005, the year I started working full time) but since that low came in another year of great personal change, I’m not too surprised … nor do I feel guilty about it, even though I hate seeing that uncompleted Goodreads challenge. Looking at page numbers, the gap narrows a bit - I did read a fair number of lengthy books this year (thank you, Great Gabaldon Reread of 2014!)
For the first time since 2010 nonfiction outpaced fiction, making up 51% of my total.
Only 15 were ebooks, and without exception they were either consumed while traveling or were arcs only available to me in eform. It’s just not my preferred method of reading. Audios suffered even more - only one! But I have hopes that this year will see my audio consumption increase again, as I’m finding them a great companion while cooking or cleaning, at least once I've caught up on my podcasts.
My reading of kids and young adult books continue to fall (63% in 2011, 33% in 2012, 20% in 2013), being only 12% this year. Not sure what’s up with that, except that I’m finding more and more of them to be inferior rehashes of the same old storylines. I’m not knocking the genre - I know there’s great stuff out there, but it’s not crossing my path and I’m not deliberately seeking it out.
Rereads continues to climb - this year was 12%. Probably has something to do with how often I feel compelled to read Blackout/All Clear. :)
Authors I met this year: Ben Crystal, Bill Bryson, James Patterson, Henry Winkler, David Levithan, Maggie Stiefvater, Eoin Colfer.
I got REALLY CLOSE to meeting Shannon Hale. Sigh.
I'm going to forgo singling out any books for specific awards this year because, frankly, I just don't feel like it. But there you have it: my year in reading.