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September booklist

1. Dance in the Desert, Madeline L'Engle
This children's book is a little vague (or I'm just slow), but I think it takes place when Mary and Joseph and the toddler Jesus travel through the desert to Egypt. Anyway, the storyline is about how the desert is full of all these dangers - lions that will eat you, snakes that will bite you, and so on - and to survive the dangerous trip people band together in caravans. On one magical night, the toddler wanders away from the the safety of the campfire and one by one all the dangerous predators come to him, but instead of hurting or killing him, they all do this happy lion-lays-down-with-the-lamb dance in a big circle and all is happy and peaceful and awesome.
That makes it sound really cheesy, but it's actually quite moving. It's hard to explain.
2.  The FitzOsborns in Exile, Michelle Cooper
In the sequel to A Brief History of Montmoray, the FitzOsborn's are trying to get used to living in England, figure out how navigate the London Season, and get their island back. Also WWII is about to happen, but nobody knows it yet. It veered slightly more towards being like the Luxe series (gossip girl meets historical fiction) than the first book, what with the boy trouble and fashion talk, but it's still a lot more clever and intelligent than Luxe. There's a lot of history and politics and women's rights woven in, too.
3.  By Rocking Chair Across Russia, Alex Atkinson
Some humor withstands the test of time. This ... doesn't really. Imagine a comic romp through Russia in the 1940s written by Richard Armour, only not as funny. That's this book. The illustrations were clever, though.
4.  The Lantern, Deborah Lawrenson
I wish reviewers would stop comparing new books to classic ones, because it does nothing but set up unreasonable expectations. This one was billed everywhere as being the new Rebecca - and the main character in the book even references Rebecca several times. The similaries are almost obviously contrived, and it just can't live up it. Mysterious, brooding man, check. Insecure new wife, check. Beautiful, haunting former wife, check. Remote old house, check. DEAD BODY(es), check.
That being said, I really did like the book, and I think I would have liked it even more if I hadn't been comparing it to a masterpiece. Lawrenson's writing won't be to everyone's taste - I found it lush and evocative, but I'm sure others will find her detailed descriptions of the smells and tastes of rural France to be tedious. But she does do an excellent job of creating a gradually unsettling atmosphere, without the reader ever been able to pinpoint what, actually, is unsettling about it, at least until towards the end. (And the end surprised me, by the way, so score one for Lawrenson on that point.) And she did a wonderful job at weaving two (mostly) separate narratives together into something quite cohesive.
5.  Thunderstruck, Erik Larson (audio)
I'm really into Erik Larson now - In the Garden of Beasts (last month) was fantastic, and I have Devil In the White City waiting to be read. He's a master of weaving multiple storylines together in a captivating way. This is the combined stories of Marconi, the inventor of the long-distance telegraph, and mild-mannered Dr. Cripin, who unexpectedly murdered his wife, disposed of her in a particularly gruesom way, and ran off with his girlfriend. It was the telegraph that led to his capture. 
6.  The King's Damosel, Vera Chapman
I didn't expect much from this, but I read it anyway as part of my Quest to Read Every Fictional Retelling of any King Arthur Stories. And I was very pleasantly surprised. It takes a very little-known part of the Arthurian legend and expands upon it (though this is still a very short book that could have been fleshed out more). And it has some good themes - girl power, forgiveness, twu wuv.
7.  The Map of Time, Felix J. Palma
Not good enough to be glad I read it, but not bad enough to keep from finishing. It's set in Victorian London around the time of the time travel craze set off by H.G. Well's The Time Machine, and the plot is basically: time travel is real and I'm going to use it to save my prostitute-girlfriend who was killed by Jack the Ripper! Oh wait, that was a very clever hoax, time travel isn't real, oh woe is me, I'm so bummed. But wait! There really IS real time travel. .... nope, that was a hoax too, I think I'll go kill myself. BUT WAIT ... and so on. Eventually it just feels like manipulation. And there are too many characters in too many storylines with too many different goals.
8.  Japan Ai, Aimee Steinberger (graphic novel)
Travelogue graphic novel style. Aimee loves Japan, Aimee goes to Japan, Aimee writes a book about going to Japan. It's cute. :)
9.  Dave Barry's History of the Millennium (so far), Dave Barry (audio)
This really just feels like a collection of snippets pulled from Dave Barry's columns from the past ten years. I'm pretty sure it is, actually. Nothing very cohesive, just a series of one-liners.
10. The Secrets of the FBI, Ronald Kessler
I'm glad I don't give out star ratings, because this was full of fascinating content but it was just abominably written. There was little coherience - just a string of anecdotes. On the other hand, the anecdotes are really cool - how agents create distractions to keep people away from their homes or offices while other agents are planting bugs, for instance.
11. The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman
Book two in the trilogy. Of course there's some middle-book syndrome, but overall it was strong. I liked the new characters, the many-worlds theory, and all the new worlds visited. And Will, of course.
12. I Feel Bad About My Neck, Nora Ephron (audio)

 Humorous essays about the trials of being a woman - especially an aging woman.

13. Happy Birthday, Bad Kitty, Nick Bruel
Bad Kitty now has chapter books! Bad Kitty remains as ill-tempered as ever, but the illustrations are so cute.

14. Blood Work, Kim Harrison (graphic novel)
I was previewing this to see whether to catalog it as adult or young adult ... it's the first graphic novel set in the Hollows world. Since I haven't read any of Kim Harrison's other books, I was kind of lost as far as the characters and their relationships to each other. It was okay, though. I'm just not really into the urban supernatural scene, though.

15. The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman

Now that I've finished the trilogy, I don't really know what to say about them. First, they're well written. But I had heard about them for so long that I expected to be more blown away by them than I was. Second, they controversy surrounding them made actually reading them anticlimatic. They're just not that anti-Christian, at least not to my mind. Possibly it's because I see real life as real life and fiction as fiction - so it doesn't bother me to read a book where the Church/God is bad, because in my own world that's not the case, and good grief, a fictional children's book isn't going to cause my to doubt my faith. 

I did get a little tired of how some things never seemed to be fully explained.  And I actually found it really disturbing that Will and Lyra had sex. I'm sorry, that's just ... no. I really, really wish Pullman had just made Lyra and Will a little older so that I could have believed in their Great Love Story and all. The way the whole thing was written just seemed way too adult for their characters and it didn't ring true. (And I realize they were very mature for their years and had just been to hell and back, pretty literally, but still. They are THIRTEEN.)

16. How Starbucks Saved My Life, Michael Gates Gill (audio)
Oy. So this is the plot: Rich boy grows up, is handed a great job right out of college, spends decades living the good life, then loses it all - wealth, house, family - through his own stupidity. And then he works at Starbucks. This guy is SO full of himself - every little thought that crosses his thought is worth sharing, so he'll be in the middle of the actual story (learning how to clean bathroom tile or run a cash register, for instance) with pages upon pages of ruminations about how powerful he was in his former job, or how he met Hemingway in Spain that time, or what Christmases were like in his childhood. BORING. And annoying, because he name-drops all the time.
The other thing that annoyed me about this book is that 1) he's obviously in love with his Starbucks boss (he constantly talks about what she's wearing, how she fixes her hair, how gorgeous she is, SERIOUSLY, WE DON'T CARE) and 2) it comes off like a huge advertisement for Starbucks, to the point where I started to wonder if they paid him to write it. Not that Starbucks isn't a great company - I'm sure they are. But it was positively fawning. Everyone is all sweetness and light, except that one lady and really, she's not so bad underneath. Everyone is always respectful, all one big happy family. I'm sorry, I don't believe any workplace is quite that heavenly.
17. Geisha, a Life, Mineko Iwasaki

I never could make it through Memoirs of a Geisha,  but this book ... wow. Mineko entered training when she was only three or four, and only rarely saw her family after that. I didn't realize how intense a life this was - almost nonstop practice and performing. I also loved the detail about the kimonos and the dances, neither of which I knew much about.



( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 4th, 2011 02:00 am (UTC)
Thanks for giving brief descriptions! :) So did you enjoy number 12?
Oct. 4th, 2011 07:46 am (UTC)
I did ... I think? I enjoyed it at the time but it didn't leave much impression. It's harder for me to decide what I think about audio books for some strange reason.
Oct. 4th, 2011 10:27 am (UTC)
Do you write your reviews at the end of the month or as you finish books?
Oct. 4th, 2011 10:36 am (UTC)
I always have grand visions of doing the reviewing as I go, but I almost never do. =P Sometimes I jot down notes of things I want to mention in my reviews, and that helps. But I know I could be a lot more organized about it.
Oct. 5th, 2011 08:43 pm (UTC)
Oh I've found it's too hard to do them all at the end! I forget and don't care. So I just keep a draft in my email and add to it when I finish. But I finish fewer books, so it's easier to do it like that, whereas you're probably constantly finishing them and it would be hard to keep up!
Oct. 6th, 2011 05:43 pm (UTC)
That's a really good idea! I'd been using Google Notebook (yes, I still use it even though it's techically dead), but since it means having to go to a separate site, I tend to forget. =P Maybe having it in my email would help me keep it up better.
Oct. 8th, 2011 03:12 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it's funny what things we could do more simply (but less officially) that don't always come to mind. I use my email drafts folder for a lot of stuff. :) LJ posts, books I want to read, recipes I come across at work and plan to try soon, etc.
Oct. 4th, 2011 08:46 am (UTC)
How did I not know about The Lantern? It sounds like exactly the sort of book I'm always looking for! (This is what happens when you work with only YA and children's books; you have no idea what's going on with adult fiction.)
Oct. 4th, 2011 10:41 am (UTC)
I think you'll like it! If you read it, let me know ... I've love to have someone to talk to about it. :)
Oct. 4th, 2011 12:38 pm (UTC)
I felt much the same about the Pullman books.

My concentration was in broadcasting, in college, so I learned a lot about Marconi. He was an interesting guy.
Oct. 5th, 2011 01:46 pm (UTC)
I didn't realize you studied broadcasting! Neat. It's too bad Marconi has been somewhat overshadowed by other inventors - I had no idea what a huge feat he performed.
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Oct. 5th, 2011 01:42 pm (UTC)
It didn't seem worth nearly the amount of angst I've seen it garner from the Christian community.

Did you know Pullman is writing two more books about Dust? One will be a prequel to the trilogy, one comes after.
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 6th, 2011 05:44 pm (UTC)
Yes! Instead of passages like that making me angry or defensive (as I assume it does the Christian Pullman-haters), it made me that much more thankful that my God is NOT like that.
Oct. 5th, 2011 12:27 am (UTC)
I love Dance in the Desert. :)
Oct. 5th, 2011 01:41 pm (UTC)
I just like pretty much anything L'Engle. :)
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )