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lycomayflower reads in 2012--part 2

This is a continuation of the topic lycomayflower reads in 2012.

75 Books Challenge for 2012

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Edited: Dec 31, 2012, 5:46pm Top

This first post contains an on-going list of the books I've read this year, with the most recent reads at the top. Click on the book title to go to the book's post within the thread, where you will find a review. Numbers in parentheses are page counts for each book. Asterisks indicate books borrowed from the library. This post also contains links to my reading challenge, my partial reads, books purchased, and most recent previous challenge threads.

See my Seasonal Reading Challenge here.

See my Partial Reads for 2012 here.

See Books Purchased (and Read) in 2012 here: First Quarter, Second Quarter, Third Quarter, Fourth Quarter.

Currently Reading

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
He Knew He Was Right
The Fellowship of the Ring

Completed Reads

70.) Henrietta's War (158)
69.) High Rising (276)
68.) A Christmas Carol (131)
67.) Darkness Visible (84)
66.) Elizabeth the Queen (537)
65.) Lessons from the Mountain (250)*
64.) The Left Hand of Darkness (304)
63.) The Red Tent (321)
62.) Sixpence House (242)
61.) On the Banks of Plum Creek (339)
60.) J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century (328)
59.) One for the Books (244)
58.) Cloud Atlas (509)
57.) The Extra Man (366)
56.) Little House on the Prairie (335)
55.) Little House in the Big Woods (238)
54.) The Mother Tongue (245)
53.) Aunt Dimity's Death (244)*
52.) Among Others (302)
51.) The Secret History (524)*
50.) The Chemistry of Tears (229)*
49.) Friday (357)
48.) Death Comes to Pemberley (291)
47.) Harry Potter's Bookshelf (286)
46.) The Cement Garden (153)*
45.) The Night Circus (387)
44.) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (734)
43.) All the President's Men (336)
42.) A Passion for Books (342)
41.) The Song of Achilles (369)*
40.) Arthur and George (386)
39.) Salem Falls (434)*
38.) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (435)
37.) The Elegance of the Hedgehog (325)
36.) Limitations and Love: J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (156)
35.) A Walk in the Woods (394)
34.) The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling (267)*
33.) An Irish Country Doctor (343)
32.) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (341)
31.) Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises (249)
30.) When I Was a Child I Read Books (202)
29.) The Mysterious Affair at Styles (198)
28.) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (309)
27.) Rose Cottage (234)
26.) She's Come Undone (465)
25.) A Moveable Feast (209)
24.) 1Q84 (925)
23.) Ragtime (369)
22.) The Mirage (414)
21.) The Flight of Gemma Hardy (343)
20.) Changeless (374)
19.) The Magician's Assistant (357)
18.) Beauty (247)
17.) Gate of Ivrel (194)
16.) The Art of Fielding (512)
15.) The World of Downton Abbey (303)
14.) The Charioteer (380)
13.) Hark! A Vagrant (166)
12.) Unpacking My Library (201)
11.) Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind (273)
10.) Night Watch (408)
9.) Albert Nobbs (98)
8.) Regency Buck (392)
7.) Maisie Dobbs (294)
6.) The Sign of Four (69)
5.) Eight White Nights (360)
4.) The Lost Art of Reading (151)
3.) Black Butterfly (204)
2.) The Devil in Amber (245)
1.) The Vesuvius Club (230)

Link to my 2012 Challenge Part 1

Link to my 2011 Challenge

Explanation of what I include in my thread.

Edited: Dec 29, 2012, 10:38am Top

Month-by-Month Challenge: Reading Seasonally

My goal each month is to read one book I have not read before, of any type, which would satisfy the category for that month.

January: Winter
Eight White Nights
February: Love
Regency Buck
March: Sport
The Art of Fielding
April: Religion
The Mirage
May: The Sea
Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises
June: Summer
A Walk in the Woods
July: The United States of America
All the President's Men
August: London
The Chemistry of Tears
September: School
Among Others
October: Ghosts, Goblins, and Ghoulies Murders, Miscreants, and Mysteries
Cloud Atlas
November: Harvest/The Land
On the Banks of Plum Creek
December: The Victorians
A Christmas Carol

Edited: Dec 31, 2012, 5:59pm Top

Partial Reads

Partially read books get on this list after they've sat around for a week or so without being read further. Sometimes I have comments about an abandoned read, and sometimes not.

* Bold = Books I really want to get back to this year
* Double pluses (++) = Now is not the right time for a book, but I will probably read it in full someday
* JWTT = "Just Wasn't The Thing" and means what it says: this just wasn't the right book for that moment
* Plus minus (+-) = Ambivalence; I'm not enthusiastic about finishing the read any time soon
* Double minus signs (--) = Abandoned forever
* ~2x = Abandoned rereads
* Strike = I finished the book and it appears in on the Completed Reads list with a review

+-A Peculiar Grace (66/395) JWTT 23 November 2012
+-The Historian (124/909) This is my second go at The Historian. I think if I could read the whole thing in one sitting (unlikely, given the page count), I would enjoy it thoroughly. But once I put it down and my mind starts twisting about with the creepiness and gruesomeness, I become reluctant to pick it up again. I should probably just accept the fact that when it comes to ghost stories (and the like) what I want is mystery with a touch of the spooky or the peculiar, not something that actually makes me look behind me and turn on every single light in the apartment. 17 October 2012
+-Dragonwyck (114/336) Usually I'm all about creepy mansions with mysterious masters in novels, but I just couldn't get into this one. Everything seemed a bit dull and the rent politics between the tenants and the landlord just dragged. 16 October 2012
++The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia (130/339) Another move casualty. October 2012
++Drood (154/771) I think this was a move casualty. I just couldn't sustain the kind of reading it required while trying to put everything in boxes and then take everything out of boxes again. October 2012
--The House on Fortune Street (60/311) Despite my lukewarm reaction to The Flight of Gemma Hardy, I felt I should give Margot Livesey another go. I'm pretty lukewarm about the characters and the situation in House, too, but really it's the writing style that has me putting the book down. Livesey does this sort of off-hand detail insertion in her sentences that seem like they ought to be enriching (and the resulting conciseness refreshing), but it sets my teeth on edge. "Valentine said something--the connection was bad--about a new museum." "'She was sixty-three, apparently in excellent health--working as an accountant, sailing at weekends--when she developed a cough that wouldn't go away.'" Can't quite figure why this should be so irritating (perhaps because it happens so often? maybe because it feels somehow dishonest?), but I don't see enough redeeming qualities to prompt me to push through the irritation. 5 Sept 2012
25.) +-Arthas JWTT August 2012
++Swann's Way Sort of fell in love with this but it needs a nice, calm, dedicated reading block, and the few weeks before a move are not that. This has been a book I thought I should read for a long time, and now I'm excited to read it. August 2012
++The Witching Hour Coming back to this. Can't remember now why I drifted away. August 2012
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (179/870) Having trouble gearing up for Umbridge this time. Determined to get through it before I move on to HP6. August 2012
+-The Observations Started to feel meh-ish about this one at around the one-third mark. May go back to it eventually. August 2012
--The Reserve (57/287) The characters irritated me, and I didn't like the style much. Nothing else about it grabbed me. August 2012
++London Not holding my interest as a main read, but will almost surely keep dipping in over time. August 2012
--The Stand (48/1200) Shallow characters. Plot felt very "done before," which is certainly unfair. August 2012
++The English Novel (58/439) July 2012
++The Book Thief (64/550) I've confirmed for myself that this should be a great book and I definitely want to read it someday. JWTT. July 2012
A Passion for Books (98/342) July 2012
++Anna Karenina (236/940) Typical of me and doorstop-sized books these days--I just get pulled away by some other book that grabs my attention and then never manage to come back. July 2012
+-Labyrinth (246/694) Okay story couldn't propel me past the narrative's occasional rolling around in medieval violence. June 2012
+-Lord Valentine's Castle (169/466) June 2012
Elizabeth the Queen (114/537) June 2012
+-Wolf Hall (246/532) How I hate to give up on Wolf Hall. I can't even begin to say how much I love Mantel's writing, her sentences. But the book unsettles me so; the kinds of cruelties and tortures that went on during the 16th century bother me more consistently than almost any other kind of violence, and while there really isn't a ton of it in this novel (not to the point I've gotten anyway), what there is (and the fact I know what bad things lie in store for so many of these characters) makes me approach my reading of it with discomfort and reluctance. If I feel myself pulled back strongly, I will heed the feeling, but for now, setting it aside. 29 May 2012
++A Prayer for Owen Meany A vacation read that didn't get finished on vacation and then got tossed aside, cruelly and unfairly. (90/617) May 2012
++Foucault's Pendulum (68/533) Definitely want to read this one, but maybe too complex for right now. JWTT. April 2012
--Eifelheim (130/492) Interesting concept, but draggy. April 2012
++The Voyage Out (24/398) I had a notion I was going to read all of Virginia Woolf in publication order, and then got sidetracked. I still have the notion. It's just on hold for a bit. JWTT. 4 April 2012
+- Cryptonomicon (40/910) Oh, how I want to like this book well enough to read over nine hundred pages of it (and to put up with the pain of holding it long enough to read over nine hundred pages of it). It has multiple story lines, and some of them intrigue me while others leave me cold. The ones what intrigue me almost certainly warrant giving this more attention, but just now it simply isn't holding my interest. 23 March 2012
+-Mistaken (126/389) March 2012
++Dragonfly in Amber (328/743) March 2012
++ Behind the Scenes at the Museum (50/333) I think Atkinson is doing something very well worth reading here, but gosh is it coming off bleak. It seems to be a bleakness pretty well fused with light, but still, I think I will set this one aside for a time that is not, well, February. JWTT. 11 Feb 2012
-- Dragon Bound (143/312) Since I enjoyed Outlander so much last year and I like a Georgette Heyer now and then, I thought maybe I shouldn't be so quick to dismiss everything that comes along with the label "romance" attached. And this was reviewed really favorably in the Barnes & Noble Review, so I gave it a whirl. Ug. Blee. Ack. And other disparaging noises as well. Some of the urban fantasy/adventure aspects were actually pulling me through the story fairly well, but the romance bits were wearing thin. There was just nothing to it. And the sex actually made me feel . . . weird. (And, really, no prude I, so I don't know what was up there. Simply badly done, I guess. I don't care to think about it long enough to sort it out.) Just, no. 8 Feb 2012
+- Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (86/381) I am quite taken with le Carre's writing, but I am just not following the plot at all. Possibly this is just the wrong moment for me to give a spy novel a go; possibly the right moment will never arrive (it's really very much outside my usual range). I do hope to give it another try sometime (perhaps after I see the recent film? I suspect I will, given the cast), especially as I like so many of the sentences so well. 28 Jan 2012

Edited: Dec 31, 2012, 6:06pm Top

Edited: Dec 31, 2012, 6:07pm Top

Books Purchased for Myself from April through June 2012

Strike = Books read or partially read and abandoned for good in 2012
Italics = Books partially read that I will return to someday
* = Books purchased used

*Mistletoe and Murder, Carola Dunn
*Murder on the Flying Scotsman, Carola Dunn
*The Winter Garden Mystery, Carola Dunn
*Busman's Honeymoon, Dorothy L. Sayers
*The Arabian Nights Murder, John Dickson Carr
*The Dead Man's Knock, John Dickson Carr
100.)*Maia, Richard Adams
Mr. Timothy, Louis Bayard
City of Light, Lauren Belfer
*Matters of Honor, Louis Begley
*The Unconsoled, Kazuo Ishiguro
*The Thirty-Nine Steps, John Buchan
*How the Mind Works, Steven Pinker
*The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker
*The Stuff of Thought, Steven Pinker
Dragons of Darkness, Antonia Michaelis
*Labyrinth, Kate Mosse
*Owls Do Cry/The Pocket Mirror/An Angel at My Table, Janet Frame
*The Gargoyle, Andrew Davidson
*The Keep, Jennifer Egan
*Hello to the Cannibals, Richard Bausch
*Cordelia Underwood, Van Reid
Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell
Elizabeth The Queen, Sally Bedell Smith
Widdershins, Charles de Lint
The Observations, Jane Harris
Londoners, Craig Taylor
*A Passion for Books, Harold Rabinowitz
Peril at End House, Agatha Christie
My Home Is Far Away, Dawn Powell
*The Last Juror, John Grisham
75.) Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises, Mark Carwardine
A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson
The Bostonians, Henry James
Duplicate Death, Georgette Heyer
Prophecy, S.J. Parris
Gentlemen and Players, Joanne Harris
Under the Harrow, Mark Dunn
*The Swan Thieves, Elizabeth Kostova
A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
She's Come Undone, Wally Lamb
When I Was a Child I Read Books, Marilynne Robinson
In the Garden of Beasts, Erik Larson
The Falls, Joyce Carol Oates
Rabbit, Run, John Updike
Montana 1948, Larry Watson
Dragonwyck, Anya Seton
The Unfinished Clue, Georgette Heyer
Mr. Churchill's Secretary, Susan Elia MacNeal
Gillespie and I, Jane Harris
The Metamorphoses, Ovid
*Jane and the Man of the Cloth, Stephanie Barron
*Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor, Stephanie Barron
*A Christmas Wedding, Andrew Greeley
*American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld
*White Teeth, Zadie Smith
50.)*Snow in August, Pete Hamill
*Image of Josephine, Booth Tarkington
*Hungry Hill, Daphne du Maurier
*A Song of Sixpence, A.J. Cronin
*Fire from Heaven, Mary Renault
*The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell
*The Barsetshire Novels, Anthony Trollope
*The Palliser Novels, Anthony Trollope

Edited: Dec 31, 2012, 6:08pm Top

Books Purchased for Myself from January through March 2012

Strike = Books read or partially read and abandoned for good in 2012
Italics = Books partially read that I will return to someday
* = Books purchased used

The Descendants, Kaui Hart Hemmings
The Coward's Tale, Vanessa Gebbie
The House at Tyneford, Natasha Solomons
Mistaken, Neil Jordan
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See
*Beauty, Robin McKinley
The Mirage, Matt Ruff
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Eifelheim, Michael Flynn
The Morgaine Saga, C.J. Cherryh
The Story of Beautiful Girl, Rachel Simon
Rose Cottage, Mary Stewart
The Tragedy of Arthur, Arthur Phillips
Foreign Bodies, Cynthia Ozick
The World of Downton Abbey, Jessica Fellowes
Hark! A Vagrant, Kate Beaton
The Flight of Gemma Hardy, Margot Livesey
25.)*The Charioteer, Mary Renault
*Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind, Ann B. Ross
*At Home in Mitford, Jan Karon
*Foucault's Pendulum, Umberto Eco
*The Time Travelers, Linda Buckley-Archer
*The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Bill Bryson
*Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson
*Avalon, Anya Seton
A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
Lycoming College 1812-2012: On the Frontiers of American Education, John Piper
Albert Nobbs, George Moore
Mozart's Last Aria, Matt Rees
The Magician's Assistant, Ann Patchett
Venetia, Georgette Heyer
A Reader on Reading, Alberto Manguel
Sherlock Holmes On Screen, Alan Barnes
*Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, William Baring-Gould
An Entirely New Country, Alistair Duncan
*James Whale, Mark Gatiss
On Conan Doyle, Michael Dirda
Quotidiana, Patrick Madden
The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, Louise Erdrich
The Magicians and Mrs Quent, Galen Beckett
The Private World of Georgette Heyer, Jane Aiken Hodge
Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens

Aug 9, 2012, 9:31am Top

Will look for that Granger book on your last thread.

Aug 9, 2012, 1:06pm Top

48.) Death Comes to Pemberley, P.D. James ***

Disappointing. There's hardly any mystery here, and no detecting of any kind--what questions there are about the crime are answered entirely through the actions and confessions of those involved. James handles the tone and style of a novel inspired by Jane Austen reasonably well, but the characterization of familiar faces is sometimes competent and other times way off the mark (this, of course, is surely a matter purely of individual taste). The plot seems to plod, with little compelling one to discover what will happen. Information is clumsily repeated, and the book's epilogue takes a good deal of the vim out of Pride and Prejudice by explaining away some of the character peculiarities with which one is still left at the close of that novel. (This was very likely an attempt at answering questions and "filling in" missing bits from the source material, which is an appropriate and often very compelling function of retellings, but it fell flat here.) Aside from the general competency at capturing the Regency feel, the early chapters about day-to-day life for Mr. and Mrs. Darcy (and to a lesser extent Mr. and Mrs. Bingley) are the aspects of the novel that would best recommend it.

Aug 9, 2012, 1:32pm Top

Edited: Aug 16, 2012, 4:25pm Top

Spent a fun couple of hours today putting together some Spine Poems for LT's contest. There might have been a good deal of chortling.

Aug 22, 2012, 9:28pm Top

49.) Friday, Robert Heinlein ****1/2

Typical Heinlein fare, with his particular mix of liberal (social issues) and conservative (governance) attitudes and his style in full force. A fun, feisty heroine with a strong voice (if one not wildly distinctive from other Heinlein protagonists), a rotating cast of friendly supporting characters, convincing world-building, some social commentary (prejudice is illogical, unpleasant, rude, and dumb), and enough goings on to distract one from the fact that somehow while there is a lot of movement, there isn't much of a plot. Fun and absorbing. If you like Heinlein, you'll like this.

Edited: Aug 27, 2012, 5:14pm Top

50.) The Chemistry of Tears, Peter Carey **1/2

Here's something I don't often say about a novel: I don't get it.

There are two stories here, one of recently-bereaved Catherine, who is a horologist at the Swinburne and has been asked to work on an automaton, and one of Henry, the 19th century gentleman who commissioned the automaton for his sick child. In her grief, Catherine becomes obsessed with Henry and his story, and goes to great lengths to read his notebooks. Why should Catherine latch on to Henry so strongly? What, exactly, was so interesting about Henry's story? Why should we care about either of these characters? I would love to know.

I found Henry's sections almost unreadably muddled and dull. Catherine's sections were mostly clear, but even there characters would have revelations or make connections that remained utterly murky to me. And I never could warm to Catherine, even enough to be interested what happened to her, what with her nastiness, her instincts to drown her grief in alcohol and drugs, and her devotion to a love and a man who are never realized on the page. It's entirely possible I'm missing something here, but truly, this effort from a two-time Booker-winner left me confused, irritated, and utterly flummoxed.

***The Chemistry of Tears fulfills my London category for August in my Reading Seasonally Challenge.

Aug 31, 2012, 11:12pm Top

51.) The Secret History, Donna Tartt ***1/2

A well-written and reasonably compelling exploration of the situation leading to a murder of a young man by his friends and the repercussions emotionally and psychologically for the murderers (the murder is revealed on the first page; the fact of it is a given from the beginning). I say "reasonably compelling" because while I remained interested in the novel and its outcome throughout, I found the whole premise somewhat tiring and claustrophobic by the two-thirds mark and because I'm not sure what to do with the thing now I'm finished. The group of friends The Secret History follows is made up of somewhat strange characters, all set apart from their fellow college students in some way (smarter or richer or poorer or more stuck up), and the six main characters form an elite but unenvied group of Classics scholars by dint of being selected by the campus Greek scholar to study with him. But it is never clear whether their ability to murder (and to follow one of their group in particular, who is the calculating force behind all the trouble they find themselves in) is a function of their oddities, or of their immersion in Classics, or of the influence of their instructor (who we are told is sort of the epitome of liberal artsy genius professorship but who reads as particular but not particularly special on the page), or their actual similarities to most other people. It is perhaps unfair to feel that the novel must do something in this way, must reveal something about the nature of murder--especially since the novel excels as character study--but its very nature seems to insist upon being about the ability to murder, even if it seems not to offer any sharp understanding of the subject. A decent read, and extremely well crafted, but somewhat disappointing in the end.

Edited: Sep 3, 2012, 9:49am Top

52.) Among Others, Jo Walton ****1/2

I've been saving this one up in anticipation of its being superfantastisch, and while I enjoyed it very much, it didn't quite hit that mark. I had forgotten, between first hearing about this book and reading it, that there was meant to be magical plot elements (I remembered only "misfit girl at school who loves to read science fiction"), and I was most interested in it for its "about books and reading" aspects. So I was a little apprehensive about the magic bits; much to my surprise, my only real complaint about the novel is that the magic bits don't quite come to the fruition they appear to promise. It seems there was a magical battle between Mori and her mother, which Mori just managed to survive. Throughout the whole book, Mori is awaiting another attack, and, when it comes, it is somehow both anticlimactic and really awesome and amazingly right.

The other parts of the book--the growing up, reading books, finally finding people with whom you truly get on parts--were superb. Walton tells a story which should be familiar to anyone who grew up loving books in an environment where that was somehow odd, and which is still uniquely Mori's story. She manages to weave Mori's reading into the story in a way which enhances the reader's understanding of Mori if one is familiar with the works in question but which will not detract from the novel if one is not. (I've read probably about a quarter of what is referenced in Among Others and am familiar with or have at least heard of nearly all the rest. I'm excited to read some of the referenced novels I have not yet come across. And, for me, creating that excitement gives this novel a great big thumbs up all by itself.) I was completely invested in Mori as a character and a narrator.

It tickles the back of my mind that the magical elements (Mori's ability to see fairies, her battle with her mother), might be some kind of mental defense on Mori's part, some kind of manufactured way to deal with the bad things that have happened to her. But I don't think they are meant to be. (And I'm sure the story would be diminished if they are.) I just wish they had felt a bit more fully realized so that there would be no question that they were what they appear to be. (After all, I don't for a second suspect that Harry Potter is inventing the wizarding world to deal with his abusive childhood, or that Narnia is a figment of the Pevensie children's war-scarred imaginations.) Were those elements more fully integrated into the novel's whole, this would almost certainly be a five-star read for me. Even without it, it earns what is surely some of the highest praise I can give a book: I will undoubtedly reread it with delight.

***Among Others fulfills my School category for September in my Reading Seasonally Challange.

Sep 3, 2012, 3:11pm Top

Interesting - I had a lot of the same problems as you with Among Others and the magical elements to it. I felt they were the weakest areas of the book, which was a shame, as I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of it.

However, it detracted from the book so much that I could only give it 3.5 stars. I'm glad that you were able to enjoy it more than me, given our similar issues with it!

Sep 3, 2012, 3:37pm Top

I may be misunderstanding your point, and I did read this a while ago, so I may be misremembering, but.... I think I saw the magical elements being kind of shadowy, not very clear, or steady, and I saw this as begging the question: were they really magical or were they figments of her imagination. Was she a little on the edge of normal?

I thought it was charming. I saw it as an exploration of what adolescence can be for some people. Not entirely with feet on the floor, flights of fancy, and wild imaginations.

Sep 3, 2012, 10:46pm Top

@ 16

I read the book through in pretty much two sittings and was thus completely caught up on Mori's world. I suspect I would have been bothered more by the weak development of the magical elements if I had not swallowed the thing in such big gulps.

@ 17

I accepted the magical elements as truth as I was reading; I didn't see anything to make me suspect they were not real. It was not until I was finished with the novel and started questioning the magic bits (because I didn't think they quite worked in the story), that I started to wonder if maybe Mori was either lying or was making things up as a defensive mechanism but believing them to be true herself. (But I am a very trusting reader. I know all about unreliable narrators and even care a lot about a few such narrators in particular, but I am still slower, I think, than most readers to suspect a narrator is unreliable, and always disappointed when they are so.) I said I thought if the magic was not real it would diminish the story because I think the story is so much about the joy of discovering fantasy and science fiction worlds that to present magic as real and then pull it away saying, no, no, that was just a teenager's coping mechanism would be a cruel and ugly trick.

Sep 4, 2012, 10:11am Top

Laura, I can relate so thoroughly to your last paragraph in >18 lycomayflower:.
Another trusting reader

Sep 4, 2012, 11:39am Top

That is so interesting. If the magic were a coping mechanism of the teenager I would just find that fascinating, and not disappointing, at all. I love the idea of a person's imagination working to help them cope with a world which is at time overwhelming.

Sep 5, 2012, 3:33am Top


Hear hear. I found myself enjoying the book from about 1/3 of the way through by telling myself it was a coping mechanism. I wasn't enjoying it so much before.

Am amazed it won a Hugo, but then so many people seem to have loved it, I know I am in the minority.

Sep 5, 2012, 8:44am Top

@ 20, 21

I think magic as a coping mechanism for a teenager probably would have fascinated me completely in a different context. It was because I thought the magic was real from the beginning, and couldn't really make it work as a coping mechanism (what would really be happening in the final confrontation with the mother if the magic isn't real? what would be going on with Wim?), that I found the idea of it disappointing in this book. The novel seems to be about, in many ways, holding on to the ability to see the magic in the world, even as one passes through puberty into adulthood (that Mori is no longer a child (and that she's not afraid of growing up) is made really clear (she talks of her period matter-of-factly, accepts her developing breasts without any fear or discomfort, embraces her sexuality, cultivates her independence, and takes on responsibility for herself when adults fail to (making sure she has money if she gets stranded at the train station, et cetera)), and she even criticizes C.S. Lewis for his infamous implication that adulthood necessarily separates people from the kind of vision children have. What happens to that theme if the magic isn't real?

Sep 5, 2012, 9:57am Top

A lengthier than usual discussion of why I gave up on a book (The House on Fortune Street) just up at my Partial Reads post.

Edited: Sep 10, 2012, 11:29am Top

53.) Aunt Dimity's Death, Nancy Atherton ***3/4

I've been watching and enjoying Rosemary and Thyme, a British cozy mystery television series, and I thought I might enjoy some cozies in book form. Since Rosemary and Thyme wasn't based on a book series (dash), I hunted up some other series and hauled a bunch home from the library. Aunt Dimity's Death is the one I picked to start with.

I sort of fell in love with the characters and the pleasantness (without descension into Tweeland) in the first third, then climbed slowly out of love as the book went on. I never disliked the book, but as the characters went about solving the mystery (it wasn't much of one), I started to lose interest and things started to feel just a little too pat in places. (I realize that patness is a likely danger in cozies, so maybe it would be more accurate to say this one felt too too pat.) Still, it was an enjoyable read, and I would probably be willing to give the next in the series a go to see if it picks up a bit.

Sep 10, 2012, 12:38pm Top

I think the theme of holding onto childhood, and therefore magic, as you grow up can still work, even if the magic wasn't real. Plenty of people lose that 'magic' feeling as they grow older, but plenty of people don't. We still celebrate and embrace Father Christmas in our family, and talk of him as if he were real, despite the fact we go out and buy oddities to fill other people's stockings with. It's important to us to maintain that something special in an adult world.

We also still talk of 'fairy rings' (the dark circles in the grass where it grows a different colour) and other imaginings that we had as we grew up.

I, personally, have found that the coping mechanisms instilled in me during an extremely traumatic time as a child haven't changed as I have become an adult. I still curl up with hot chocolate, read my favourite children's books and scout out the TV programmes I would have watched. I still daydream and 'disappear' into my imagination in difficult situations that don't require my brain, but simply my presence. Wouldn't magic work in the same way for a teenage girl?

However, I will say that my enjoyment of the book did fall as the encounters with Wim came about as they did, as I couldn't explain it away in the scenario I had chosen.

Sep 10, 2012, 2:40pm Top

Popping in to comment on your comments about giving up on The House on Fortune Street.

The two sentences you gave as examples of a style issue:

"Valentine said something--the connection was bad--about a new museum." and 'She was sixty-three, apparently in excellent health--working as an accountant, sailing at weekends--when she developed a cough that wouldn't go away." struck me as slightly different. The first one wouldn't have bothered me at all. The second, however, triggers an instinctive aversion of mine against too much information crammed into a sentence just to get it to the reader. It doesn't work for me because I'm too aware of the author and her intent. And if she's doing it repeatedly, I'd have tossed it too. Some things are hard to overlook.

Sep 10, 2012, 4:08pm Top

@ 26

Yeah, that first probably wouldn't bother me at all on it's own. But if I remember right (haven't got the book here anymore), the rest of that conversation on the telephone is heard without any difficulty, so I think that insertion of "the connection was bad" falls into an "overwriting" category. I would buy the sentence "Valentine said something about a museum" without being given any information about why the pov character doesn't know exactly what that something was. There's no need to crowbar in extra info to explain it, especially when (if) the rest of the scene doesn't hold up that explanation.

I still can't figure out why it bothers me so very much. It's voice thing, largely, and I guess that if we can fall in love with books because of the voice, we shouldn't be surprised that we can be put so soundly off of books by voice, too.

Sep 10, 2012, 7:04pm Top

It's funny but I never use--this--when I'm writing but do use it frequently online. hmmm...

Sep 10, 2012, 7:08pm Top

#15: I bought that one recently but have not had a chance to read it yet. I am glad to see you enjoyed it so much, Laura!

Edited: Oct 6, 2012, 11:10am Top

I actually finished this one yonks back (for "yonks" here, read "about a week"), but am only just now back with internet access that includes a keyboard big enough to type anything longer than a sentence.

54.) The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way, Bill Bryson ****

Bryson does a quick history of the English language, hitting most of the salient points and digressing (as he is wont to do--and as he excels) into interesting side topics (such as variant vocab between the US and the UK, slang, place names, and so on). A good read, and should be pleasant and generally informative to anyone not well-versed in the HotEL (alternately, and affectionately, acronymed as "HEL" by many of us who were taking a two-semester course in it as a course overload to fulfill a second foreign language requirement during PhD school). As someone reasonably well-informed on the subject, I was sometimes irritated by the brevity of his discussion (because it left important distinctions unsatisfactorily explored) and by his near-universal opinion that prescriptivism is bad, bad, bad. (I usually consider myself a descriptivist, if I consider myself anything at all in this fight, but some of the "rules" make a good deal more sense than he was willing to allow them, if you think carefully about the logic involved and care about precision.) The discussion occasionally felt dated (the book was published in 1990) when discussing regionalisms and the likelihood of Americans understanding Brits and vice versa (an awful lot of flattening of regional language difference and exchange of vocab can happen in twenty-two years). A much better read than I think I am making it sound--I enjoyed the book, just wished I had the man on the other side of the dinner table so I could "yeah, but" at him instead of just shaking my fist at the book.

Oct 6, 2012, 11:18am Top

YAY! She's back in the virtual world. (That real life nonsense can take over if you're not careful!)

Edited: Oct 9, 2012, 5:26pm Top

55.) Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder ****

I recently read a review of the whole series of Little House books on the occasion of their being released in a two-volume set by the Library of America. These books were great favorites of mine as a child, but unlike many other childhood favorites, they have remained hidden away in the attic, unrevisited in my adult years. Reviewer Katherine A. Powers's discussion of the books' descriptions of frontier life and of the darkness inherent in it made me long to read these old favorites again. So I trotted off and snagged a few of them in paperback, my attic dwarf being unwilling to stand on her head and paw through boxes to find my childhood copies (which I once mutilated somewhat cruelly (by folding and crinkling the pages) in an effort to make the books look "old"; attic dwarf, in a slightly different role, was none too pleased with my efforts).

I remember that Little House in the Big Woods was not my favorite of the books (I think that was On the Banks of Plum Creek, but I won't be fully sure until I get to it), but gosh do I remember it well. I anticipated every incident, every illustration, even some turns of phrase. I started leafing ahead to see "How far til the stump that looked like a bear?" or "When do we get to the naughty boy and the bees?" Again, unlike other childhood favorites I have read again when grown up, I have little or no recollection of reading these, which makes me think I read them (or they were read to me) when I was so young that they just sort of became part of my own personal idiomythology (that's not a word, surely; surely it should be?). In any case, they were a delight to read now, and not just for the nostalgia. The prose is very simple, but there's often something poetic about it, and despite the episodic nature of the story (there's no plot beyond detailing how people stayed alive and happy in the big woods of Wisconsin in the 1870s), the book was practically a page-turner for me. Incidents that were mostly just adventures for me when I was a child now are tinged with a darkness that did not occur to me then. When Pa is away and Ma and Laura find a hungry bear inside the barn fence, what if the bear had killed Ma? What happens to a seven-year-old, a five-year-old, and a two-year old in the woods, alone, in winter with no way of contacting anyone? The reality of the thing is more real to me now, I suppose is a good way of putting it, and it engenders a respect for the courage of the people who lived these sorts of lives that just knowing that such a life was hard never could. This was fascinating reading, and I'm already well into the next one--or, the third one, really (I'm skipping Farmer Boy for now)--where I expect I may run headlong into some attitudes about native peoples which is going to challenge my fuzzy delight in rediscovering these books, but we shall see.

Oct 9, 2012, 3:18pm Top

Attic Dwarf wishes to point out that I'll bet you never mutilated another book...

Oct 9, 2012, 3:26pm Top

Well, no. Beyond marginal notes.

Edited: Oct 11, 2012, 9:20pm Top

56.) Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder ****

I didn't remember this one nearly as well as Little House in the Big Woods, but many of the incidents (and many of the illustrations) were familiar and welcome. I was struck in Big Woods by the ingenuity and courage of the settlers living on the frontiers in the 1870s; in Prairie I am no less impressed by those qualities, but the circumstances of the Ingalls family in this installment gives me the willies in a way that the realities of living in the Big Woods did not. Surely it is because I have always lived nestled among hills and under trees that the descriptions (and illustrations--maybe even especially the illustrations) of the wide open prairie and the notion of a house just plopped in the middle of all that space quite literally gives me the shivers. Do you know a person who must sit with his back to the wall in a restaurant because that open space behind him is discomfiting? That's how I feel about houses. They ought be backed up against the foot of a mountain or at the least tucked in a clearing with tall trees all around. I'm glad, I guess, that there are people who like that kind of open environment (both Pa and Laura in this book seem to take to the flat openness of the prairie particularly well) as not all of us can live at the foot of mountains--there just aren't enough of them. But I leave them to it.

The constant fear regarding encounters with restive Indians lent a sense of suspense to Prairie which was completely lacking in Big Woods. The fears I had about attitudes toward native peoples in this book were perhaps somewhat overblown. There is certainly othering going on here, and a fair amount of prejudice, but Laura (mostly) seems innocently fascinated by the Indians and Pa (though he definitely carries a nice load of white-settler-entitlement around with him) adopts a live-and-let-live attitude, talking his neighbors down from their fears on more than one occasion. Some passages made me squirm a bit, but keeping in mind the context in which the book was written and the time it recalls, and considering the perhaps more-enlightened-than-typical attitude of Pa, those passages weren't enough to ruin a series of childhood favorites. I would be fascinated, however, to read some articles delving into the portrayal of the native peoples in this book and providing some discussion of the political and historical situation. I'd particularly like to read some opinions on the scene where Laura becomes enchanted by an Indian baby with "hair . . . as black as a crow and its eyes . . . black as a night when no stars shine" and demands that Pa "get (her) that little Indian baby!" as well as on the fact that Pa's sense of morality when it comes to usurping the Indian land seems to stem directly from what the government says is okay. If Washington says the Indian Territory is open to the settlers then he's going to have his land and the Indians can go lump it. If they say not, then he'll move on. That the Indians are obviously living on the land and that they were clearly there first seems not to enter into it for him.

Pa, in fact (and to a somewhat lesser extent, Ma), has become one of the most interesting aspects of these books for me on these rereads. How does he know how to make a life on the prairie anyway? That he should be a competent frontiersman generally can be taken as a given since when we first meet him in Big Woods he's already been making a successful go at that kind of life for several years (at least). But how does he know what the specific dangers of the prairie are? And how to deal with them? As a child, I accepted Pa as the all-knowing performer of crafty miracles and protector of home and family (I knew men like that myself, after all), but as an adult I begin to want to see him as a real person and to question him and to suspect that sometimes his pioneer spirit endangers his family (a number of minor catastrophes in Prairie, which are presented as things from which Pa saves the day, are actually his fault). The question of what children know and what adults know and keep from the children, I think, is a central theme in this book, and one which probably sails right over the head of children readers (except for the few times when it is made explicit as part of the action). I count six instances in Prairie when the whole family is a hair's breadth away from a horrible death, and much of what is interesting to me here (beyond the details of the day-to-day business of staying alive, which is always fascinating) is how these two adults try to--and mostly succeed at--giving their children a happy life which is free from fear and dread.

Edited: Oct 12, 2012, 3:14am Top

Delurking to say that I've really enjoyed your reviews of Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie. I didn't come across these books as a child and only encountered them when I read them to my son, so my adult views aren't coloured by what I thought as a child. I think I very much agree with you on the character of Pa - to me he felt very much like a force of nature just dragging everyone else along in his wake. I always wondered what Ma felt about leaving her home in the big woods to go in search of Pa's dream of a house on the prairie.

Incidentally, I completely agree with you when you say the notion of a house just plopped in the middle of all that space quite literally gives me the shivers. I was brought up by the sea with hills in the background, and while a lonely place by the sea wouldn't worry me in the slightest, the idea of being surrounded by such an open landscape stretching away in all directions just seems wrong!

Oct 12, 2012, 7:50am Top

As a child, I accepted Pa as the all-knowing performer of crafty miracles and protector of home and family (I knew men like that myself, after all) Ain't we lucky?

Oct 12, 2012, 12:12pm Top

>37 laytonwoman3rd:: I thought you might say, "Reader, I married him." :)

Oct 12, 2012, 2:44pm Top

#38. Without taking anything away from the man I married, I think we were both referring to my Dad, actually.

Oct 12, 2012, 4:20pm Top

>39 laytonwoman3rd:: Oh! Well that's cool too.

Oct 13, 2012, 4:02pm Top

Love those reviews of Big Wood and Prairie - I loved the series as a child too, and a few months back found myself reading a few chapters of Little House on the Prairie to one of my goddaughters as her bedtime story, so found myself reflecting a bit on the character of Pa as I was doing so.

Oct 14, 2012, 8:12am Top

Very interesting seeing these books from an adult perspective. I've heard people who were raised in "big sky country" Montana speak of having the willies when surrounded by trees and mountains here in the pacific northwest. They felt claustrophobic. Funny. I also think people tend to crave the weather of their childhoods, too.

Edited: Oct 14, 2012, 9:06am Top

#42 My sister's family contemplated a move to the States once when my brother-in-law was offered a promotion to his employer's head office in Conneticut. He went for six months and she visited periodically, but it all came to nothing in the end. She said that there were just too many trees!

Oct 14, 2012, 10:51am Top

Thanks, all, for the positive comments on my Little House reviews! It is interesting, isn't it, how much our childhood environments influence us--to the point of finding the "opposite" environment uncomfortable or disturbing.

@ 38, 39

Yeah, I was referring to Grandpa, though Dad is of a similar strain, if a touch more "modern." Grandpa could pretty much fix or build anything carpentry-wise and knew the names of all the trees and birds and animals and the history of the lands around where he lived. Dad built computers and stereo equipment and can name classical music pieces from short passages and showed me how to do basic car maintenance.

Oct 14, 2012, 10:53am Top

#44 I seem to remember a certain wee person who often used the expression "Daddy fick {fix} it"...

Oct 14, 2012, 10:58am Top

@ 45

Aw, see, I don't actually remember saying that, though I can picture it. If that makes sense.

Oct 14, 2012, 12:14pm Top

Oct 15, 2012, 10:16am Top

Delightful trip down memory lane, Laura. I came to these a bit later in childhood, around 11 years old. A kind librarian at the local library here thought a shy young girl might like these and she did: she devoured the whole series many times. I haven't revisited them since but you have me thinking that I should do so. Unlike you, I did suspect that Pa might be a force of nature, having been dragged around two provinces umpteen times by my own father's work.

And I really laughed at the Attic Dwarf appellation.

Oct 15, 2012, 11:01am Top

57.) The Extra Man, Jonathan Ames ***1/2

This is one of those books what has me drumming my fingers on the desk trying to sort what I'd like to say about it. It is the story of Louis Ives, a young Jewish man who is confused about his sexuality and rents a room from seventy-something Henry Harrison in early nineties Manhattan. Louis is self-conscious about his Jewishness and perplexed by his desires. He likes to put on women's clothing, especially underclothes; is attracted to young, petite women for their femininity itself rather than for their personality or their sexual appeal; and frequents transsexual prostitutes. His roommate is an eccentric of indeterminate sexuality who spends many of his evenings accompanying rich, widowed, elderly society women to their functions in exchange for free meals, event tickets, and the opportunity to be seen by other rich, widowed, elderly society women who might ask him out in turn. Louis looks up to Henry and may be falling in love with him, and sometimes it appears that Henry may feel the same way. The novel is billed as comedic, though I can't say I found it particularly funny (though it also did not have that flat feeling of writing that is meant to be funny and misses the mark). The exploration of Louis's sexuality is by far the most interesting part of the novel, and Henry's eccentric goings-on (and Louis's attempts to keep on his good side) grew rather tiresome well before the book was over. Not an unenjoyable read, but one with which I felt I never quite found a way to get on. Hence the finger drumming.

Edited: Oct 18, 2012, 5:29pm Top

New post at my blog some might find interesting: Tales from the Library Book Sale

Edited: Nov 13, 2012, 3:34pm Top

58.) Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell ****

A fascinating novel, mostly made so by its intriguing structure and deft handling of many writing styles. Cloud Atlas consists of six different narratives, each taking place at a different time in history (and some in the future), dealing with different characters, and employing different styles and methods of narration. The novel begins with the narrative furthest back in time (call it Narrative A), continues with the next narrative in chronological succession (Narrative B), and keeps going through its several narratives until it arrives at Narrative F, then works back in time through each narrative once again. So the structure looks something like this: ABCDEFEDCBA. Eventually it becomes apparent that there are connections among these seemingly separate narratives, and Mitchell's skill in handling this structure becomes increasingly clear as he works his way back down his narrative ladder (on the EDCBA side, if you will). Working the hints of connections into the first half of the novel strikes me as something not overly difficult; backing out through the second half of the narrative and picking up all those disparate threads to make the whole create sense and answer questions seems like it must have been mind-bogglingly difficult. For manipulation of this structure, for making it work, I give Mitchell all the credit in the world. His skill at working so well within so many different styles is also remarkable. He succeeds, as well, in making the reader care about each of his narratives, about all of his characters, despite wrenching her away from each narrative just as it is getting really good and asking her to invest in yet another scenario.

I came away from Cloud Atlas impressed by Mitchell's writing and his ability to reel one into a story and wowed by his handle on structure. But in the end I was never sure what all of that structural whizzbang was for (beyond being an incredible feat in and of itself). I'm not entirely sure what the novel means to say about the interconnectedness of people and events or about our ability (or inability?) to recognize those connections. Without that understanding I was left a bit befuddled. Which is not to say that I think this isn't a book worth reading. I think it is. There's enough here that is satisfying to outweigh that discontent in the end. And the novel avoids feeling like an experiment which succeeds technically but fails to tap into the emotional life of the reader. The novel is an amazing achievement, if not a wholly satisfying one. But absolutely worth the read, even if only to marvel at how Mitchell works that ABCDEFEDCBA structure. Seriously.

***Cloud Atlas fulfills my Murders, Miscreants, and Mysteries category for October in my Reading Seasonally Challenge. I had a terrible time satisfying this category (I even changed the category from Ghosts, Goblins, and Ghoulies after I started and abandoned several books that would have fit that description). Tried a couple of mysteries too and just couldn't settle into them. Then I realized as I was reading it that while I would never have chosen Cloud Atlas to fit the category, and it's not particularly Octoberish, it does deal rather fully with murders, miscreants, and mysteries. So.

Oct 31, 2012, 8:24pm Top

Stopping by to wave hello and say how much I enjoy your reviews of the Little House on the Prarie books. I own the series and read the first three. I hope to read the others soon.

I love your phrase "review still percolating."

Oct 31, 2012, 10:06pm Top

And your final assessment as to whether Mom ought to read it is......?

Nov 1, 2012, 10:35am Top

@ 53

Yes, read it. I want to know what you make of it. And I do think you'll enjoy it. Probably.

Nov 1, 2012, 10:36am Top

@ 52

*waves back* Glad you enjoyed the reviews!

Yeah, that Cloud Atlas review may have to "bubble" away for awhile before I know what I want to say.

Nov 1, 2012, 10:39am Top

#54 So that's a definite "maybe" then.

Edited: Nov 13, 2012, 3:43pm Top

59.) One for the Books, Joe Queenan ***1/2

I enjoyed this one well enough. I always like to read about people's reading lives, of the places books take them, the bookish people they meet, and their bookish opinions and recommendations. Queenan seems like a wretched old cuss, though, and while that can sometimes be fun, it detracted from this read a lot for me. I suppose that was at least partly because I disagreed with him about as often as I didn't (wretched old cussedness is always more fun when it coincides with your own cussedness), but often I just felt like saying, "Oh, come on, Queenan. Eat a cookie." I can't remember now many of the bits that irritated me (I take that as a sign that they just weren't interesting or important enough to store away in the ol' brain pan), but I do recall him noting over and over that he never met anyone else who had read X or suggesting that it was highly unlikely he'd ever meet anyone who could discuss Y with him. Hangs out with the wrong people, I say. (Sometimes his Xes and Ys were people I've read, and sometimes not. One wonders how hard he's looked for someone to talk to.) Some people just don't really want to talk about what they've read. Maybe Joe Queenan is one of those people. And that's fine. But I often felt like Queenan had a too high opinion of himself as a reader, as a serious reader, and too low an estimation of the possibility of others being able to match his serious readerlyness. Which struck me as odd in a book such as this (who does he think is reading it?), but, on the other hand, maybe that's just his way.

Decent. Worth a go, especially if you like books about books and reading. But not something I found a great deal of wisdom in or that I'm likely to read again.

Nov 7, 2012, 10:58am Top

I've been wondering about Cloud Atlas too. Are friends of Mom "definite maybes" as well?

Nov 7, 2012, 6:11pm Top

I liked Cloud Atlas. It's "different" but I found it intriguingly so.

Edited: Nov 13, 2012, 3:05pm Top

I've updated posts 51 (Cloud Atlas) and 57 (One for the Books) with actual reviews now.

Nov 13, 2012, 3:20pm Top

60.) J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, Tom Shippey *****

I can't remember now if I'd read this one in its entirety before or not. (I have read Shippey's Road to Middle -Earth, and I think a few points may show up in both of them, so my occasional recognition of bits of Author of the Century may have stemmed from remembering Road to Middle-Earth.) In any case, this is a wonderful piece of accessible but still generally rigorous Tolkien scholarship. Shippey points out and defends Tolkien's place within the literary framework of the 20th century (or what JRRT's place ought to be recognized to be and still (disgracefully) isn't) and discusses each of Tolkien's major works and several of the minor works. Shippey is best in his extensive consideration of The Lord of the Rings, where he spends a lot of time on LotR's linguistic origins, its intricate plot structure and its presentation of good and evil (a point about which many past critics have completely missed the boat). Fascinating reading which does important work in illustrating the value and quality of Tolkien's work while successfully and appropriately defending it against detractors. A must read for LotR devotees interested in litcrit as well as for anyone fascinated by Beowulf (the Beowulf discussions are always in service of the explication of LotR, but should be interesting in their own right to anyone taken with that poem as well).

Nov 13, 2012, 10:42pm Top

Oh my, this looks like a must. Onto the wishlist with you, me bucko.

Nov 14, 2012, 7:26am Top

#57. I think Sixpence House, which I'm reading now, will suit you better. When I'm through, you may borrow.

Edited: Nov 29, 2012, 10:41am Top

61.) On the Banks of Plum Creek, Laura Ingalls Wilder ****

More of the same from the Little House series, which is to say, simple writing rising at times to the poetic along with compelling stories of life on the frontier. We meet the horrid Nellie Oleson in this one, and here, too, is the terrifying grasshopper scene, where a swarm of grasshoppers denudes the prairie of every single green thing, including all of Pa's crops. It's truly heartbreaking and terrifying, even when you know it's coming. Some of the incidents in Plum Creek were depicted fairly faithfully on the television show, most notably Nellie's sophisticated party and Laura and Mary's subsequent party in the country. I read those chapters with a bit of surprise and delight, because most of the TV series is really inspired by, rather than based on, the books, and it was pleasant to see that here was a bit that actually came to the screen in much the way it was written.

***On the Banks of Plum Creek fulfills my Harvest/The Land category for November in my Reading Seasonally Challenge.

Nov 29, 2012, 7:05pm Top

Oh now you're making me want to read this again because I can't remember if their country party was a success or not.

Dec 3, 2012, 11:34am Top

@ 65

Hehe. I'm not telling. ;-)

Edited: Dec 3, 2012, 11:46am Top

62.) Sixpence House, Paul Collins ****

Collins recounts his stay with his wife and infant son in Hay-on-Wye, a town in the Welsh countryside with well over thirty used bookstores. He and his wife consider settling there, and the book tells of their search for a house and Collins's encounters with the local residents and book-lovers as well as relates anecdotes from Collins's wide-ranging reading (particularly from forgotten texts of the 19th century) and his experiences as a writer. Pleasant, sometimes informative, and a nice twist on the usual material one usually sees in a book-about-books.

Dec 3, 2012, 12:01pm Top

63.) The Red Tent, Anita Diamant ****

A first-person retelling of the Biblical story of Dinah. Well-done, and told with an authority that makes it easy to sink into this tale in this time. I am not terribly familiar with the Biblical stories being retold here, so I cannot speak to how well or how convincingly Diamant has reworked them, but the historical and cultural details rang true. The writing is solid and mostly stays out of its own way, though the first half of the book was much more compelling and detailed than the second. When Dinah tells the story of her mother and her aunts' youth and marriages and of her own childhood, the culture and stories that Diamant tries to rescue from the male-dominated accounts of the Bible read as fascinating glimpses into what life might have been like in the time of Jacob. But once Dinah reaches the Shechem part of the story, some of the life falls away from the story. The tale becomes less-nuanced and less detailed in its telling. In the end, a good read, and one which avoids the potential pitfalls of novels which set out to reclaim women's stories, which sometimes come off painfully precious despite their good (and important) intentions.

Dec 3, 2012, 4:47pm Top

>68 lycomayflower:: I read that years ago when I was in a "reclaiming women's stories" phase of life & reading, and it really worked for me. Although I vaguely recall it losing steam in the second half, as you said.

Dec 5, 2012, 10:09am Top

64.) The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin ***1/2

Had a good deal of trouble with this one. The writing was good, and sometimes rose to beautiful sentences, and I found the social and cultural commentary interesting and the world-building fascinating. But I just couldn't get into the story properly and sometimes had difficulty understanding just what was going on. Husbeast enjoyed it much more than I did, and on that strength (and my happiness with the writing itself), I will be giving Le Guin another go at some point.

Dec 5, 2012, 4:44pm Top

New blog post up: On Heirs and History

Edited: Dec 10, 2012, 11:11am Top

65.) Lessons from the Mountain: What I Learned from Erin Walton, Mary McDonough ****

I picked this up from the library because I loved The Waltons as a kid (and still am delighted to catch reruns on TV, especially of the early episodes), and I thought this would probably be a pleasant, quick read. It's really a lot more than just a reminiscence about McDonough's time on the show, though the first half or so of the book does contain a fair number of anecdotes about cast members and memories from a childhood on a TV set. The book is more of a portrait of McDonough, her struggles with self-worth and self-image, and her growth into an activist for several medical issues. The narration is warm and welcoming, and the telling always feels like it is done to give voice to something rather than to roll around in personal drama. (And, refreshingly, there's no gossip or tale-telling here). Worth a read, both as a book about The Waltons and as an inspiring tale of a troubled person who found a path to acceptance and peace.

Dec 17, 2012, 8:53am Top

I agree re the Tom Shippey books on Tolkien - there is some overlap between them, but both are well worth reading. I think I read The Road to Middle Earth first, years ago, then Author of the Century, then re-read the earlier book after that. Shippey is very good especially on the importance of words and philology.

I'm currently reading Tolkien and the Great War - a different approach but which also shows how those philological studies and language-creation are interwoven with his early experiences of deep friendship, love, war and loss - all significant in shaping his creative work.

Dec 17, 2012, 5:46pm Top

66.) Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch, Sally Bedell Smith ****1/2

Can't fathom now why (or how) I abandoned this biography of Elizabeth II in the spring. I picked it up again a few days ago and just zipped right through it. A quite well-done portrait of Britain's reigning monarch which takes as its theme Queen Elizabeth's never wavering sense of duty to the Commonwealth and her peoples. Rarely dry (the occasional passage about the ins and outs of British politics was a bit ho-hum) and usually fascinating and engaging with what always seemed like just the right amount of attention paid to each event and era of the Queen's life. Wonderful pictures, both in several sets of colored plates and in black and white at the start of each chapter, though if I have any real complaint about the book it is that Smith frequently makes reference to photographs and portraits in the text and makes no mention of where in the book one might find the referenced piece (and, sometimes, the piece hasn't been reproduced in the book at all). Recommended to Anglophiles, Royal Family Watchers, lovers of British history, and fans of biographies. Good stuff.

Edited: Dec 21, 2012, 4:54pm Top

67.) Darkness Visible, William Styron ***1/2

Styron tries to explain what severe depression feels like in a long essay. Some revealing passages here, and, on the whole, I think he probably succeeds in trying to put across to readers who have never experienced depression some sense of what this disease does to someone. My lowish rating is a reflection (as always) of my experience of reading it (not of my opinion of its independent worth) and is a result of my disappointment in not finding much new here. That, in turn, almost surely stems from a better understanding in the lay population of depression itself now than when Styron was writing in the late 80s. I would, however, recommend it to anyone looking to understand depression from an anecdotal, rather than a medical/professional, point of view.

Dec 21, 2012, 4:59pm Top

Hmmm....I have that about somewhere. Perhaps I'll just not bother.

Edited: Dec 29, 2012, 10:38am Top

68.) A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens *****

An annual staple of Christmastime, and one of which I never grow tired. Always sparks the joyfulness, always something new to discover, and my edition has the most wonderful illustrations.

***A Christmas Carol fulfills my The Victorians category for December in my Reading Seasonally Challenge.

Dec 29, 2012, 10:34am Top

69.) High Rising, Angela Thirkell ****

Delightful and amusing. When one has a day to devote to snugging up with a cup of tea and fuzzy pet of choice to read while weather weathers out the window, this is precisely the sort of book one ought have at the ready. Nothing too dire, but a healthy dose of real life and practicalities in a charming setting with the sorts of characters one has known or anyway would like to meet. Makes me glad I have a stack more Thirkells waiting on my shelves, but slightly cross that the next one in order is not among them. Recommended for when you want pleasant without the slightest hint of saccharine.

Edited: Dec 30, 2012, 11:23am Top

70.) Henrietta's War, Joyce Dennys ****

A slice of war-time life with great dashes of humor and excellent comical drawings. Takes the form of Henrietta's letters to a childhood friend now on the front, which first appeared in Sketch during WWII. A nice look at a time gone by and glimpse of day-to-day life on the home front. Pales a bit in comparison to High Rising, which is not really a fair comparison, they being very different ducks, but would likely fit the same sort of reading mood.

Edited: Jan 1, 2013, 2:58pm Top

2012 round-up post!

Because it's FUN.

A much better reading year than 2011, both by the numbers and just in terms of how I felt about my reading. Numbers below. And link to my 2013 thread here.

Total Books Completed: 70 (2011: 57; 2010: 78)
Total Books Started and Left Incomplete: 30 (2011: 46)
Total Number of Pages Read (from both complete and incomplete reads): 23,942 (2011: 22,202)
Total Number of Pages Read from Complete Reads Only: 21,647 (2011: 16,895; 2010: 23,024)

Top Five First-Time Reads of 2012:
The Vesuvius Club
The Art of Fielding
The Song of Achilles
Elizabeth the Queen
High Rising

Best Rereads of 2012:
Little House in the Big Woods
J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century

Worst Reads of 2012 (chosen from completed reads only) :
Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind
When I Was a Child I Read Books
Salem Falls
The Chemistry of Tears

Longest Read of 2012:
1Q84, 925 pages

Shortest Read of 2012: (eliminating A Christmas Carol from consideration, because it likely would be in this spot permanently)
Darkness Visible, 84 pages

Average Number of Pages in Books Completed: 309

Reads Broken Down By Category:

Purchased: 139
of those, read: 26 (19%)
Fiction: 52 (74%) (2011: 43; 2010: 66)
Nonfiction: 18 (26%) (2011: 14; 2010: 9)
Story Collections: 0 (2011: 1)
Essay Collections: 2 (2011: 3)
Rereads: 8 (2011: 11; 2010:25)
Contemporary Literature: 25 (2011: 19; 2010: 18)
Classics: 4 (2011: 3; 2010: 9)
History/(Auto)Biography: 7 (2011: 5; 2010: 4)
Literary Criticism: 3 (2011: 2; 2010: 2)
Young Adult: 9 (2011: 7; 2010: 14)
Mystery/Thriller/Ghost: 11 (2011: 8; 2010: 5)
Star Trek: 0 (2011: 3; 2010: 9)
Science Fiction: 4 (2011: 9; 2010: 4)
Fantasy: 8 (2011: 4; 2010: 13)
Historical Fiction: 8 (2011: 2)
Romance: 1
Science: 1 (2011: 0; 2010: 1)
Psychology/Sociology: 0 (2011: 1)
Film: 1 (2011: 1)
Religion: 1 (2011: 1)
Nature: 2 (2011: 1)
Writing Craft/Publishing: 0 (2011: 1)
Male Writers: 32 (46%) (2001: 22; 2010: 46)
Female Writers: 38 (54%) (2011: 39; 2010: 28)
British Writers: 28 (40%) (2011: 18; 2010: 33)
American Writers: 39 (56%) (2011: 39; 2010: 38)
Japanese Writers: 1 (2011: 1)
French Writers: 1 (2011: 1)
Canadian Writers: 1 (2011: 1)

This coming year will be my sixth year keeping a thread on LT, and I have goals. I always hope to read more than the year before, and I strive to hit 75. (I'm usually close, but rarely manage it.) This year I'm expanding that goal to "75 books and/or 23,000 pages," as page-count seems like a slightly more consistent measure of reading done. I'm also determined to reduce the number of books I buy for myself (my goal is no more than 52 in 2013, which would be a reduction of about 67% of 2012's intake), to increase the number of books read from my shelves, to abandon no more than half the number of books I complete, and to read more of the books I do purchase in 2013 (my goal is to read in 2013 at least half of the books I purchase in 2013--in 2012 I read about a fifth of the books I purchased.) I also have a new monthly challenge, which you can see on my new thread.

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2012

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