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lycomayflower reads in 2013

This topic was continued by lycomayflower reads again in 2013.

75 Books Challenge for 2013

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Edited: Aug 12, 2013, 8:58am Top

Welcome to my 2013 reading thread! This is my sixth year keeping a thread on LT, and this year I have goals:

Read at least 75 books or 23,000 pages
Reduce the number of books I buy for myself (no more than 52) (less than 52 used; less than 30 new)
Increase the number of books read from my shelves (more than 12)
Abandon no more than half the number of books I complete Finish at least 2/3 of the books I start
Read more of the books I do purchase (at least half of those purchased) (more than 5 used; more than 15 new)
Complete my Reading Challenge Replaced by Book Club Reads and Library Summer Reading Program

Link to my tickers tracking these goals.

(Edited above goals in June to better reflect reasonable goals for my habits)

On to the reading!

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. Double asterisks indicate newly read books that have been on my shelves since before December 2012. Asterisks by pages numbers indicate that I didn't include the page-count in my total pages read or only included part of the book's page-count (if, for instance, I finished a book I abandoned in a different calendar year). This post also contains links to my reading challenge, my partial reads, books purchased, and most recent previous challenge thread.

See my Reading Challenge here.

See my Partial Reads for 2013 here.

See Books Purchased (and Read) in 2013 here: First Quarter, Second Quarter, Third Quarter, Fourth Quarter.

Currently Reading
Agatha Christie: An Autobiography
Kushiel's Dart
The Mists of Avalon

In Progress
North and South (20 July)
The Solitude of Prime Numbers (1 July)
The Secret Lives of Bees (13 June)
Sophie's World
The Two Towers

Completed Reads
(12,463 total pages)

44.) The Penderwicks (262)
43.) Take Us to Your Mall (127*) and Think iFruity (127*)
42.) Montana 1948** (169)
41.) Tolstoy and the Purple Chair* (236)
40.) Cocaine Blues (175)
39.) An Experiment in Criticism (143)
38.) The Fall of Arthur (233*)
37.) Daughter of Smoke and Bone* (418)
36.) Sword at Sunset* (495)
35.) Screwball Television (343)
34.) American Wife** (555)
33.) Epilogue 1 & 2 (210)
32.) The Nutmeg Tree* (313)
31.) Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell** (1006)
30.) Apple of My Eye (174)
29.) The Rebel Angels** (326)
28.) From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (168)
27.) A Long Way Gone* (229*)
26.) Why Read Moby-Dick? (144)
25.) The Tale of Hill Top Farm* (274)
24.) The Silver Chair** (217)
23.) Weirdos from Another Planet!* (127*)
22.) Oracle of Philadelphia, Book One: Earthbound Angels (210)
21.) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Official Movie Guide (167)
20.) Dicey's Song (211)
19.) Fledgling (310)
18.) Annabel (461)
17.) Mystic River** (448)
16.) How to tell if your cat is plotting to kill you (131*)
15.) tiny beautiful things (353)
14.) Consider the Oyster (76)
13.) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (870*)
12.) Fun Home* (232)
11.) On Fortune's Wheel** (402)
10.) The Spiral Staircase* (306)
9.) Pride and Prejudice (292)
8.) Ilium (725)
7.) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Visual Companion (72*)
6.) All Roads Lead to Austen* (367)
5.) The Fellowship of the Ring (398)
4.) Unpublished Manuscript (614)
3.) Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (308)
2.) Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man* (232)
1.) The Uninvited Guests (259)

Link to my 2012 Challenge

Explanation of what I include in my thread.

Edited: Aug 12, 2013, 8:52am Top

Month-by-Month Reading Challenge

My goal each month is to read one book which would satisfy the category for that month.

January--For These Gifts: Read a book that was a gift to you in the last five years
The Uninvited Guests
February--Try, Try Again: Read or finish a book abandoned in 2011 or 2012
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
March--Take It Home and Read It: Buy a book and read it right away
April--Would I Like It?: Read a book recommended by the husbeast
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
May--Actually Haven't: Read a classic you've always meant to read
June--I Hardly Recognize You: Read a new (to you) work by an author you like
July--Reel Winners: Read a book and then see a movie based on it
August--Good Intentions: Read an unread book from a past edition of Packing for a Reading Retreat
September--And Then?: Read the next in a series you have in progress
October--Lists, Lists, Lists: Read a book from column ten or row ten of your “To Read” collection on LT
November--Is This a True Story?: Read a piece of nonfiction
December--Play It Again: Reread an old favorite

ETA: I'm tentatively abandoning my challenge for the year as of June. Between the Book Club I've joined, the Summer Reading Program at the library, and the occasional two-woman "group read" with LW3, I find my "scheduled reading" to be enough to be getting on with without the Reading Challenge. Should I read any books fitting the remaining categories (pretty likely, I'd say), I'll list those books under the appropriate challenge months, regardless of whether I read the book in that month.

Edited: Aug 12, 2013, 8:49am 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. Often books I have "peered into," realized I do want to read, but not necessarily right now
* 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
* NFM = "Not for Me"; books it turns out I never did really want to read. Usually abandoned quick and might not "count" in total number partially read
* ~2x = Abandoned rereads
* Strike = I finished the book and it appears in on the Completed Reads list with a review

26.) +-Ines of My Soul Peered into. For book club. Just didn't grab me enough to leave other more appealing reads. 28 July
25.) +- Heart and Soul (164/564) In my mid-teens I read a few Maeve Binchys (Circle of Friends springs to mind) that I just loved. They were never much more than brain candy, but they were delightful, marvelous brain candy. Ever since that little pocket of time, I've been disappointed with any of hers I've tried. This one started out okay, but after a hundred pages or so it started to feel sort of empty--like it's pleasant and all, and Binchy can always find the perfect little characterizing detail, but nothing much seems to be at stake and there's little to it beyond those perfect little details. It's like busting into your glorious foot-high chocolate Easter bunny and discovering it's hollow. Boo. 17 July
24.) +- The Witch of Exmoor (12/281) Peered into. Meh. 12 July
23.) +- Keeping the House (204/528) Charming for a bit and at first kept my interest just through evocation of place and time, but grew tedious and dull. Reads as if there's a great family mystery to be uncovered when really everything seems pretty straight-forward. 7 July
22.) +- Snow in August (54/354) Expected to enjoy this thoroughly as LW3 has a high opinion of Hamill's Forever and I've liked the essays of his that I've read. But there was a not-compelling obviousness to the story and dialogue that often clanged. If someday someone tells me I quit twenty pages before it gets really good, I'll give it another go. 24 June
21.) +- Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance (134/333) Decent going, but not good enough to keep me from getting distracted by sommat else. Intended to carry on, but didn't before I ran out of renews at the library, so. 11 June
20.) +- Julie and Julia (89/362) Can't quite put my finger on what's wrong with this read--something about the narrator just grates on me. Perhaps I'm expecting her to be Amy Adams (I enjoyed the movie) and she's not or I miss too much the atmosphere of the France sections of the film. I'm being merciless, though. Some books are worth plowing through even if you haven't fallen head-over-heels with them in the first 50 pages and some aren't. This is an aren't, and I'm on to one of the other scores of books I want, want, want to read. 7 June
19.) -- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (293/644) Been avoiding tGwtDT for a long time because it's meant to be so violent. The other day I was all "I think I'm brave enough to try some of that." And then when I got to the violence, I realized that I wasn't really enjoying the book at all--that I was just trying to egg myself on to keep going. Who needs that? Done. 6 June
18.) ++ The Man without Qualities (48/725) Peered into. I may keep dipping into this a little at a time. 3 June
17.) +- Florence and Giles (125/261) Early fun word play turned irritating and the suspense wasn't so very suspenseful. Meh. May knock it out just to see what the solution to the weird goings on is. 4 June
16.) +- Sabriel (112/491) A YA I thought I'd give a go. Didn't hold my interest. NFM. 2 June
15.) +- ST:TNG Imbalance (56/280) Heavy on world-building, light on character interaction. Sometimes I like a really good world-building Trek book, but I usually need a good dose of the familiar characters to make me care about reading Trek and this one just wasn't working for me. April
14.) +- Spirits in the Wires (164/448)) Was enjoying this well enough, I guess, but put it down "for a bit" and even a looming due date at the library never inspired me to pick it up again. April
13.) ++ The Meaning of Night (112/695) Drifted away from this when I picked up Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell as more what I was wanting. 17 April
12.) ++ Whose Body Peered into. (36/192) April
11.) ++ The Magicians and Mrs Quent (34/498) Peered into. April
10.) +- A Man in Full (66/787) Impressive, but not exactly enjoyable. Will come back to Wolfe someday, if maybe not this book. April
9.) ++ The Bone People (92/445) Have started and not finished this at least twice. I love it, so why can't I get through it? April
8.) -- London: A History (66/196) Thought this would be an interesting, quick history to tide me over until I felt up to immersing myself in Ackroyd's gigantic London: A Biography, but sadly it was dull, dull, dull and I couldn't bring myself to carry on. 5 April
7.) +- Ben Hur (104/558) Feh. Just can't get motivated to keep going. Some of the descriptions are kind of fascinating, but the dialogue is wretched. 20 March
6.) ++ As Sweet as Honey (18/270) Peered into. March
5.) ++ The Stockholm Octavo (42/411) Peered into. February
4.) ++ Eva Luna (16/307) Oooh, I'm going to read this someday, and I think I'm going to love it. Just not right now. 20 February
3.) NFM: Canada (26/418) The sentence-level writing seems dry, clunky, and uninspired; the characters don't interest me a jot after four chapters; and a novel which seems to beg to be voice-driven has no discernible voice at all. Disappointing. 20 February
2.) -- Some Tame Gazelle (140/252) Seems like it should be my thing, it being Jane-Austen-ish, but I just couldn't get into it. Alas. 29 January
1.) NFM: Spencer's Mountain (10/247) I've always enjoyed The Waltons and thought I ought to give Hamner's work a go. The writing does nothing for me and it all just feels wrong. Perhaps unfair to the book, but there it is. 14 January

(Total pages read: 2217)

Edited: Aug 12, 2013, 9:09am Top

Books Purchased for Myself from October through December 2013

Goal: Purchase 52 or fewer books for myself in 2013

Strike = Books read (or partially read and abandoned for good) in 2013
Italics = Books partially read that I will return to someday
* = Books purchased used

Edited: Aug 12, 2013, 9:07am Top

Books Purchased for Myself from July through September 2013

Goal: Purchase 52 or fewer books for myself in 2013

Strike = Books read (or partially read and abandoned for good) in 2013
Italics = Books partially read that I will return to someday
* = Books purchased used

This Quarter:

4 new books; of those read: 2
6 used books

83.) *Mary Renault: A Biography, David Sweetman
82.) *Agatha Christie: An Autobiography, Agatha Christie
81.) *The Light Years, Elizabeth Jane Howard
80.) *Marking Time, Elizabeth Jane Howard
79.) *When Were Orphans, Kazuo Ishiguro
78.) *Phantastes, George MacDonald
77.) Kushiel series, Jacqueline Carey
76.) The Penderwicks series, Jeanne Birdsall
75.) Heart and Soul, Maeve Binchy
74.) Keeping the House, Ellen Baker
73.) Cyteen, C.J. Cherryh

Edited: Aug 12, 2013, 9:06am Top

Books Purchased for Myself from April through June 2013

Goal: Purchase 52 or fewer used books and 30 or fewer new books for myself in 2013

Strike = Books read (or partially read and abandoned for good) in 2013
Italics = Books partially read that I will return to someday
* = Books purchased used

This Quarter:

31 used books; of those read: 0
16 new books; of those read: 4

72.) The Solitude of Prime Numbers, Palo Giordano
71.) Sweetness in the Belly, Camilla Gibb
70.) Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
69.) *Dawnflight, Kim Headlee
68.) Isolde, Queen of the Western Isle, Rosaline Miles
67.) Guenevere, Queen of the Summer Country, Rosaline Miles
66.) Blackout, Connie Willis
65.) Flying too High, Kerry Greenwood
64.) Cocaine Blues, Kerry Greenwood
63.) The Man without Qualities, Robert Musil
62.) Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter
61.) *Away, Jane Urquhart
60.) *Heading Out to Wonderful, Robert Goolrick
59.) *Memory and Dream, Charles de Lint
58.) *Dodo: An Omnibus, E.F. Benson
57.) *Lucia in London, E.R. Benson
56.) *Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
55.) *The Women, T.C. Boyle
54.) *Ines of My Soul, Isabel Allende
53.) Leviathan, Philip Hoare
52.) Apple of My Eye, Helene Hanff
51.) In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination, Margaret Atwood
50.) A Small Death in the Great Glen, A.D. Scott
49.) Windfall, Penny Vincenzi
48.) Screwball Television, David Scott Diffrient
47.) *Darwinia, Robert Charles Wilson
46.) *Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons, Ann Rinaldi
45.) *A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
44.) *Trapeze, Simon Mawer
43.) *handful of TNG books
42.) *handful of Mapp and Lucia books
41.) *handful of Phillip Pullman non-Dark-Materials ya
40.) *A Man in Full, Tom Wolfe
39.) *Mistress of the Vatican, Eleanor Herman
38.) *I Am Charlotte Simmons, Tom Wolfe
37.) *Where Rivers Change Direction, Mark Spragg
36.) *The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
35.) *All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren
34.) *Vineland, Thomas Pynchon
33.) *Roots, Alex Haley
32.) *The Hunchback of Notre Dame
31.) *In the Company of the Courtesan, Sarah Dunant
30.) *Sacred Hearts, Sarah Dunant
29.) *The Birth of Venus, Sarah Dunant
28.) *The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd
27.) *Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson
26.) *The Tulip, Anna Pavord
25.) *A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle

Edited: Aug 12, 2013, 9:03am Top

Books Purchased for Myself from January through March 2013

Goal: Purchase 52 or fewer books for myself in 2013

Strike = Books read (or partially read and abandoned for good) in 2013
Italics = Books partially read that I will return to someday
* = Books purchased used

This Quarter:

12 used books; of those read: 0
12 new books; of those read: 8

24.) Oracle of Philadelphia, Book One: Earthbound Angels, Elizabeth Corrigan
23.) Fledgling, Octavia E. Butler
22.) Ben-Hur, Lew. Wallace
21.) The Borrowers, Mary Norton
20.) Annabel, Kathleen Winter
19.) We, the Drowned, Carsten Jensen
18.) As Sweet as Honey, Indira Ganesan
17.) *Jaran, Kate Elliott
16.) *Orientalism, Edward Said
15.) *Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances Mayes
14.) *The Club Dumas, Arturo Perez-Reverte
13.) *A Thread of Grace, Mary Doria Russell
12.) *Dreamers of the Day, Mary Doria Russell
11.) *A Time To Be Born, Dawn Powell
10.) *The Hundred Secret Senses, Amy Tan
9.) *The King Must Die, Mary Renault
8.) *Funeral Games, Mary Renault
7.) *Three Men In a Boat, Jerome K. Jerome
6.) The Black Opera, Mary Gentle
5.) Ilium, Dan Simmons
4.) The Hobbit: Visual Companion, Jude Fisher
3.) The Hobbit: The Official Movie Guide, Brian Sibley
2.) *The Independence of Miss Mary Bennett, Colleen McCollough
1.) Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, Corey Olsen

Dec 31, 2012, 7:13pm Top

Welcome back! Happy New Year!

Jan 1, 2013, 6:40pm Top

Goodness...your organization is slightly terrifying to this haphazard Old Reader. Good luck with all that. (How's it going so far?)

Jan 3, 2013, 7:29pm Top

I actually got to do this with real people today in a celebratory fashion, but I feel it must happen here as well. So, in honor of J.R.R. Tolkien's birthday, a toast.

*raises glass*

The professor!

Jan 3, 2013, 8:35pm Top

*raises glass* The Professor!

Jan 4, 2013, 3:24am Top

Belatedly raising my glass to The Professor too!

Jan 4, 2013, 6:38pm Top

*raises glass, and bottoms up'ed it*

Jan 5, 2013, 11:31am Top

Migosh, this degree of organisation is faintly terrifying! But full of admiration for your spunk and spirit.

Ah yes, "to the Professor"!

A belated but most sincere Happy New Year, with all the best wished for you and yours. xo

Jan 5, 2013, 2:02pm Top

Aw, come now. The organization isn't terrifying at all. Everybody sing!

Tradition, discipline, and rules must be the tools
Without them - disorder! Chaos!
Moral disintegration!
In short, we have a ghastly mess!


Jan 5, 2013, 2:14pm Top

1.) The Uninvited Guests, Sadie Jones ****

I did a lot of veering from opinion to opinion with The Uninvited Guests. It starts out rather pleasant and Edwardian-y, then becomes a bit odd and discomfiting, and finally ends up somewhere mostly satisfying and affirming. I can't say much for fear of giving things away which I suspect are better left discovered on one's own, but I will say I had suspicions about a third of the way through which I thought were surely nonsense but which turned out to be quite correct. Not what I was expecting, exactly, but a worthwhile read all the same, and well done. The enjoyment I had in reading the novel doesn't quite call for a reread, but I think I really ought read it over again some day to understanding more fully just what it is Jones is doing here. If I have any real complaint about the book, it is that I'm not sure the seeming largeness of some of the goings on are entirely supported by the smallness of the narrative's circumstances. But therein lies my desire to reread. It niggles the back of my mind that I may have missed something very clever.

***The Uninvited Guests fulfills the January category (For These Gifts: Read a book that was a gift to you in the last five years) of my Month-by-Month Reading Challenge.

Jan 9, 2013, 12:52pm Top

2.) Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, Steve Harvey **1/2

Mrg. A few kernels of wisdom here about the ways men and women tend to think differently about love, but mostly reductionist. And the tone put my back up.

Jan 9, 2013, 4:01pm Top

>17 lycomayflower:: I had to click through to the book description. Ugh.
According to Steve it's because they're asking other women for advice when no one but another man can tell them how to find and keep a man.

Because finding and keeping a man is what life is all about, right?

I think I just threw up a little.

Jan 9, 2013, 9:08pm Top

#16: I loved Jones' first book, so I am going to have to get around to reading The Uninvited Guests one of these days although the reviews I have seen seem to have been from one end of the spectrum to the other.

Edited: Jan 11, 2013, 11:49am Top

Is it just me, or are some book covers starting to have a much-of-a-muchness feel to them? Just read a review of a new book called Ashenden. Could swear the cover came from the some photography set as The American Heiress. (On close inspection, they aren't actually the same, just essentially the same.) Also, I am SURE I saw a book that had almost precisely the same cover as The Flight of Gemma Hardy, but now I can't find the second book to check. I know there's long been "looks" that go with genres or expected audiences, but I don't remember seeing such specific similarity before. Anybody else seeing this?

Jan 11, 2013, 11:39am Top

@ 19

I had never heard of Jones before I stumbled across The Uninvited Guests, and I like it enough to read more of her. Will have to check her out.

Jan 14, 2013, 9:03am Top

3.) Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, Corey Olsen ****

Olsen analyzes each chapter of The Hobbit and discusses six of the novel's central ideas as seen in that chapter: Bilbo's nature, Bilbo's choices, Burglar Bilbo, the desolation of the dragon, luck, and the writing of The Hobbit. Olsen writes clearly and with a passion for understanding the work that passes over to the the reader (not that it was a hard sell in my case), and he has some good insights into the novel--his discussions of the numerous songs in The Hobbit is of particular note. The structure of Exploring makes it easy to follow the development of Bilbo's character and to trace the ways Tolkien's often significant revisions of the story clarify Tolkien's vision of the world he created; however, it also lends Olsen's discussion a sense of repetition, particularly in the final chapters. Olsen provides a solid discussion of The Hobbit as a book (most other criticism on The Hobbit I've read considers only one aspect of the book (such as Biblo's internal journey) or works only to place the book within the scope of all of Tolkien's work), and I should think would be excellent read chapter-by-chapter along with The Hobbit itself.

Jan 14, 2013, 9:26am Top

First DNF of the year: Spencer's Mountain

I keep track of partial reads here.

Jan 14, 2013, 1:22pm Top

Stopping by and waving hello

Jan 14, 2013, 3:28pm Top

Well, hi. *waves back*

Jan 14, 2013, 3:33pm Top

I like your idea of trying to curb your book buying to no more than 52. I think I'm going to try to keep a list of those I acquire and compare it to those I read. Darryl (Kidzdoc) does this and I think it is a great way to try to curb the book buying addiction.

While I'm not a hobbit fan, your recent read looks fascinating.

Edited: Jan 24, 2013, 9:41pm Top

4.) Unpublished Manuscript, Holly Wendt

I don't usually include the unpublished stuff I read for people (for feedback) or for lit mags (for assessment) in my challenge, but this is so clearly a book already and my reading of it was so like any other book reading I do that I feel I must list it. Tis wonderful. And that's all I'll say til someone publishes the glorious thing.

Jan 24, 2013, 8:44pm Top

Doesn't it have a title? And put the double brackets around the author's name. She has a page, you know.

Edited: Jan 24, 2013, 9:42pm Top

It does, but I don't know if she wants it out there yet. And I did touchstone her name. Dunno why it didn't come up.

ETA: There. Still don't know why it wasn't working. Code was right.

Jan 24, 2013, 9:48pm Top

#23: I am a big Tolkien fan, so that book is a natural for me to read. Thanks for the recommendation, Laura.

Jan 27, 2013, 5:19am Top

I'm just lurking around and catching up, but wanted to say thanks for visiting my new blog, and the compliment :)

Jan 28, 2013, 8:36am Top

5.) The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien ****

Many times reread, of course, and I don't have much new to say about it this time. Always enjoyable, always refreshing, always something new to see.

Jan 29, 2013, 8:42am Top

Sigh. Another DNF: Some Tame Gazelle. I was reading it in conjunction with the Pym centennial but I just couldn't get into its groove. Books like this I think need to grab you with character or setting and make you content just to "be" in them, and for whatever reason, this one didn't. I may give one of her later novels a try later in the year.

I keep track of my partial reads here.

Jan 29, 2013, 11:34am Top

Do at least go over to the discussion thread in the Virago group and read a few of the comments, if you haven't. There are a couple bits I thought might just grab you, and I don't know whether you quit before getting to them or not.

Edited: Feb 6, 2013, 9:38am Top

6.) All Roads Lead to Austen, Amy Elizabeth Smith ****

Review pending, but for now: I liked it. A lot.

ETA: review.

In All Roads Lead to Austen, Smith recounts a year in which she traveled throughout Latin America doing small book group discussions of Jane Austen's works with the people she met on her travels. This was an impulse grab at the library, and normally this is the kind of book I would probably avoid. It's a memoir of a "created" event (in other words, the author went out and did something so she could write about it), and those often feel gimmicky to me. And Latin America has never much sparked any interest for me. But something about this book drew me to it, and when I started reading I was immediately captivated. Smith creates a likeable narrator and describes the places she goes and the people she meets with an earnestness that pulled me right in. Sometimes descriptions in books of the traveler meeting new people have a cold, observational feel to them; not so in All Roads. The characters are vivid and Smith is there making friends and discovering what her travels have to show her. Her treatment of the countries she visits (Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay, and Argentina) is perhaps slightly rose-tinted, but not so much as to be off-putting.

While I enjoyed the descriptions of the places she visited and of their histories, I was most interested in Smith's recounting of her Austen book groups. She discussed Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice on her travels (and heads up: there are spoilers for each in All Roads), and hearing the reactions and interpretations of multiple different reading groups to the same novels (and novels with which I am familiar myself) was like getting to listen in on a series of the best kinds of conversations about books I've ever had with my own friends. This isn't a study Smith's done, though--on a few occasions I found my scholar side "yeah, but"ing about some of the conclusions she comes to. If you have any methodology quibbles you'll have to put them in your pocket to enjoy the book, but if you can, you'll find a delightful read. Recommended.

Feb 1, 2013, 1:24pm Top

Aaaanybody have any notion why when you mark up for a touchstone on The Black Opera by Mary Gentle, The Lord of the Rings pops up? Possibly the most peculiar wrong touchstone I've ever seen.

Feb 2, 2013, 10:17am Top

>37 lycomayflower:: The ghost of The Master showing up with his sense of humour?

Feb 2, 2013, 10:22am Top

@ 38

Hehe. Could be.

Edited: Feb 4, 2013, 10:43am Top

Husbeast came home from an errand at the mall yesterday and reported that there was a booksale on. They were doing "fill a bag for $7," and I came away with 17 books in one bag for that price. A steal. My haul:

Only eleven there, as the rest were for other people. Even still, now I have to go on a book diet for a bit to make sure I stay within my goal of only 52 books purchased for myself this year.

ETA: titles so those interested don't have to squint!

Jaran, Kate Elliot
Orientalism, Edward Said
Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances Mayes
The Club Dumas, Arturo Perez-Reverte
A Thread of Grace, Mary Doria Russell
Dreamers of the Day, Mary Doria Russell
A Time To Be Born, Dawn Powell
The Hundred Secret Senses, Amy Tan
The King Must Die, Mary Renault
Funeral Games, Mary Renault
Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K. Jerome

Feb 4, 2013, 10:31am Top

Peering closely to try to read the fine print. But oooh oooh oooh in general principle.

Feb 4, 2013, 10:42am Top

@ 40

LOL. I was just coming back to add a list of the titles because I realized they might be hard to read!

Feb 4, 2013, 10:44am Top

Oh, some good stuff! Three Men in a Boat is a good giggle.

Feb 5, 2013, 6:50am Top

All of that for $7? Excellent!

Feb 5, 2013, 7:55am Top

I told you Three Men in a Boat was a hoot...see No. 43 above.

Feb 6, 2013, 9:40am Top

I've updated post 36 above with an actual review of All Roads Lead to Austen.

Edited: Feb 8, 2013, 10:36am Top

7.) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Visual Companion, Jude Fisher ***1/2

Stunning, stunning still photography from the film; superficial, often annoying text about the characters in the film. Absolutely worth a look for the photography, and if you love the costumes, props, make-up work, and sets in Jackson's Middle-Earth, worth getting a copy for your own. The fold-out map in the middle is quite nice as well. But if you're a Tolkien fan as well as a Jackson fan, I'd probably give the text a miss.

Feb 13, 2013, 9:21am Top

8.) Ilium, Dan Simmons ****

Simmons combines a retelling of The Iliad with a post-apocalyptic science fiction story in Ilium. The Greek gods have set up a new Mount Olympus on a terra-formed Mars and have enlisted the aid of resurrected 20th century scholars in observing how closely the Trojan War raging below corresponds to Homer's telling of it. (Obviously, some manner of time and space travel shenanigans must be going on here, the exact nature of which is part of the narrative thrust of the book). Meanwhile, a group of Wellsian Eloi-esque humans in our far future begin to question their easy but culture-less existence and a band of sentient robots in Jovian space detect technology-what-shouldn't-be coming from Mars and set out to investigate.

The writing is gripping, the world-building fascinating, the characterization good enough, and the plot races ahead, spooling out fresh revelations and clues about What The Snarking Heck Is Going On at just the right pace. Literary and cultural references also abound, with Shakespeare, Proust, and (obviously) Greek mythology playing major roles in the narrative. Nothing at all gets resolved here, and I dearly hope that I will find resolutions when I get into the sequel, Olympos. Ilium comes very, very close to a five-star read for me, but I found myself a bit bogged down in the last two hundred pages or so and a little weary at the thought of having to go through another 700 pages of this to get the answers. I admire what Simmons has done here greatly and mostly I enjoyed reading the novel very much, but there is still that nagging "we're never going to get there" feeling. Simmons's delight in reveling in the gruesome details of death and dismemberment also seemed out of place here. This isn't a horror story; why the insistence on rolling around in violent descriptions whose only purpose is eliciting a visceral reaction? Finally, the book was proofread badly and while I certainly wouldn't say it was rife with errors, the ones that do occur, even if only once or twice (such as spelling a character's name incorrectly or swapping out a Greek character name for the Roman equivalent), were sloppy enough to lower my estimation of the whole book.

All that being said, Ilium is a cracking good read and well better crafted than many books that would fit that description. Recommended to anyone who already likes this sort of thing and to anyone who has been meaning to give some science fiction a go.

Feb 13, 2013, 11:08am Top

Recommended to anyone who already likes this sort of thing and to anyone who has been meaning to give some science fiction a go. So, not for me, then.

Feb 13, 2013, 1:41pm Top

@ 49

I am tempted to make noise about how you ought try some more sci fi, but honestly this probably isnae your cuppa.

Feb 18, 2013, 8:30am Top

9.) Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen ****1/2

A reread for me, read with my mom, who had never (!) read it, or any other Austen (!!!!) before. This is one of my most favoritest books, and I always find something new in it, despite having read it many times before. The humor, of course, is marvelous, but what brings me back again and again is Austen's precise portrayals of characters and her deft manipulation of point of view in order to create suspense.

Feb 18, 2013, 10:33am Top

Me too, mine too, same here, oh yes!

Feb 18, 2013, 8:10pm Top

>51 lycomayflower:: !!!!!
Glad you got your mom to read it, I can't imagine how she got away with not doing so!

Feb 19, 2013, 7:15am Top

*shamefaced* I have a degree in English and I've only read 1 Austen, and I read that one last year! I very much want to read more, though, as I *loved* Persuasion.

Edited: Feb 19, 2013, 7:37am Top

#54 "Mom" has a degree in English too. Amber. Still, one cannot read everything in four short years, nor in a lifetime, I fear. What I find stranger about my own literary education is that every Shakespeare play I've studied, with the exception of "The Tempest", which I got in a senior year college drama course, was read in high school.

Feb 19, 2013, 9:50am Top

I did an "Advanced Shakespeare" course in my Honours year so got well and truly Shakespeared. Jane Austen was a find all on my own in my early teens; I devoured her after first reading Emma.

Feb 19, 2013, 12:40pm Top

It just goes to show that a 4-year degree major doesn't do much beyond skim the surface of the subject, really. It does equip you with the proper tools and point you in the right direction, though.

Feb 19, 2013, 7:10pm Top

Well, and you can't take every course they offer or you'd still be there, so things get missed.

Feb 20, 2013, 8:55am Top

Come to think of it, I'm not sure I read any Austen in college. Or graduate school, at least not until my comps, and that is a different thing all together. But we did read both Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility in high school. And I wouldn't have had any Shakespeare in college either if I hadn't chosen to take a Shakes. class, which was easily avoidable, even as an English major. While I agree that it's absolutely not possible to cover everything during a four-year degree, I also think the emphasis is often in the wrong place. And I stop there, lest I write thousands of words about the state of education in our time and reveal myself to be hopelessly old-fashioned, idealistic, and anti-pragmatic.

Feb 20, 2013, 9:26am Top

#59 Oh, please...do carry on! If not here, then perhaps a blog post? I am ridiculously proud of having raised an old-fashioned, idealistic person such as yourself. The anti-pragmatic part is probably genetic and I don't take credit for it.

Feb 20, 2013, 9:36am Top

10.) The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness, Karen Armstrong ****

In her memoir, Karen Armstrong talks of her motivations for joining a convent in her late teens, her physical and emotional struggles upon leaving the convent in her mid-twenties, and her journey back to a spiritually fulfilling life. The Spiral Staircase is mostly a satisfying and compelling read, with insights about monastic life, religion, and carrying on in the face of strife and failure. Inspiring without being An Inspirational Read, and it makes me more interested than ever in picking up one of Armstrong's books about theology, such as A History of God. If the memoir has any real failings, it is in its unevenness in reporting the ins-and-outs of Armstrong's life. The first half of the book pays close attention to the day-to-day: where Armstrong is living, who her friends are, how she's getting on in general. In the back half, much of this falls away, and while the second half of the book is more interested in Armstrong's spiritual life than her domestic situation, this change in focus leaves one wondering what happened to fascinating people introduced early in the book and occasionally leads to moments of confusion. Despite this flaw, recommended to anyone who enjoys memoirs or who is interested in theology or late-20th-century religious life.

Edited: Feb 20, 2013, 10:22am Top

I've read A History of God - a terrific read, I might add, so I might have to consider reading the autobio.

Enjoying your organizational stuff up top , but I confess I didn't quite understand item 4 on your goals list..... Do you mean 'start' as opposed to 'complete'?

Some great reading going on -- And speaking of abandonment I'm wndering how you are doing with the Ford? I profoundly deeply loved his Frank Bascombe trilogy, but after 120 or so pages of Canada I had to abandon it.

Feb 20, 2013, 12:10pm Top

Speaking on Laura's behalf (as her mother I still feel entitled to do that) I think what she meant about Goal 4 is that she intends to complete at least twice as many books as she abandons. I agree she didn't quite say it that way. And now I must run and hide, as she will come flailing after me any minute.

Feb 20, 2013, 8:26pm Top

Ah! That makes perfect sense! Now I get it.

Feb 21, 2013, 7:02am Top

It is extremely difficult to create a curriculum for a college major that will fit in all the seminal materials while allowing time for students to fulfill their general education requirements as well, and it gets more and more difficult as institutions keep pressing the insistence that students get in and out in 4 years or fewer. While I was at Kenyon College, my department struggled with this problem, trying to make certain that our majors got the key important bits while also introducing them to things that interested us beyond the basics. So, it's a problem that at least some faculty are attuned to, but, as usual in academia, administrative issues get in the way of education. Sigh.

Feb 21, 2013, 8:44am Top

@ 62, sibyx

Cool, I must give A History of God a go. I've been meaning to for so long.

Yeah, me mum is correct with her clarification on my organization. If I complete 70 books this year, I want to have only abandoned 35.

You did better than I did with Canada. After about 25 pages I realized that I had not really enjoyed one sentence of the thing and the characters and plot so far did nothing for me. So I quit. (One of my other goals this year is to give up on things when I know I should, rather than trying to keep soldiering on if there's no reason to.) I saw an interview with Ford in which he talked about fiction and process, and it made me really excited to read him. What of his would you recommend as a starting point?

@ 63, laytonwoman3rd

I flail at you on general principle.

@65, scaifea

administrative issues get in the way of education. Sigh.
That would be my argument in general.

Feb 21, 2013, 8:58am Top

A couple of abandoned reads to mention: Canada and Eva Luna. I say why briefly at my List of Partial Reads.

Feb 21, 2013, 2:14pm Top

I have to admit I feel confirmed in my decision to hear of yours. I knew, of course, at 25 pages that it wasn't going to fly..... but it had been a gift that I asked for since I love Ford.... so I felt obliged to go the distance. I guess everyone is entitled to a bad book, but I wish someone had told him. It's utterly devoid of the sly wit that makes Frank Bascombe (who is otherwise a bit of a sad person) into someone I care enormously about. That wit is in the short stories too.

Feb 21, 2013, 2:17pm Top

I wish he hadn't named it Canada.

Feb 21, 2013, 3:02pm Top

@66 I duck your flailing, as I have always done.

Feb 21, 2013, 7:15pm Top

Tui - I don't know why he did - I mean - sure, some of it take place in Canada, but it's one of the many oddities of the novel.

Edited: Feb 23, 2013, 7:46pm Top

11.) On Fortune's Wheel, Cynthia Voigt ***1/2

Set in the same world (The Kingdom) as Jackaroo, what I read and enjoyed back in 2009. This one tells a decent story, and it is certainly worth reading if you are a Voigt fan or if you like this kind of young adult fare. However, I found it a bit disappointing in comparison to the other books by Voigt that I've read. One of Voigt's biggest strengths is her ability to put day-to-day drudgery on the page in a way that is fascinating but unromanticized. That kind of detail just isn't here, mostly because the story takes its characters away from their regular lives and domestic details. This is also a love story, and while there's very little in the way of cringe-worthy teenaged over-dramatization here, there's also a bit too much attention paid to how lovely the hero's eyes are and too little to why our sensible, capable heroine is so deeply in love with him. I say again, a decent read, and I cannot recommend Voigt strongly enough in general. (Read Jackaroo. Read the Tillerman Cycle.) But if you're going to skip one of hers, this might be the one.

Feb 25, 2013, 8:42pm Top

12.) Fun Home, Alison Bechdel ****1/2

Fun Home has been all over LT in the past week or so (or at least, the bits of LT I frequent), which made me dig the book out of the pile of library books in my room and look at the first few pages to see if I wanted to read it next. And then it was three and a half hours later and I had read the whole thing in one sitting (minus a dash to the kitchen for lunchy things). Fun Home is a graphic memoir of Bechdel's childhood and her relationship with her father. I don't know why this format seems to work so well for memoir. Perhaps, for me anyway, it is because it mimics so well how I experience my own memories--in my mind there are pictures of what happened, there is the echo of what people have said, there is prose-y thought about the memory itself. But in any case, Fun Home is affecting and compelling and uses its format effectively in order to be those things. Recommended.

Feb 25, 2013, 10:57pm Top

It is a remarkable read, isn't it. I kept having to put it down because I was reading it too fast...... or I felt I was.

Great review.

Feb 26, 2013, 7:47am Top

Maybe that's what I should use to break into graphics. I'm rather fond of well-done memoir. Tried to find Maus at the library yesterday, and got lost in the YA section which seemed to run almost exclusively to Japanese output. The computer said it was there, but I couldn't find it, and was in a hurry. Another time I'll take my time and maybe even *gasp* ask for help.

Edited: Feb 26, 2013, 8:05am Top

Well, Maus is memoir-ish as well . . . .

And it sounds like maybe somebody at the library needs to take a bit more care with their shelving. Graphic novel =/= YA, automatically. And manga deeefinitely =/= YA. A lot of it is YA, but another lot of it would be very inappropriate for kids/teens. I hope they aren't just shoving everything in a graphic format onto the YA shelves.

Feb 26, 2013, 8:06am Top

@ 74


It was pretty great. I haven't read a whole lot of graphic novels or memoirs, but I have loved every one that I have.

Feb 26, 2013, 8:14am Top

#76 I should have been plainer...there is a YA Graphic section set apart from the rest of the YA stuff. I did not, however, find any non-YA graphic section. And Maus was cataloged as YA.

Feb 26, 2013, 8:52am Top

It's kind of that they are classifying Maus as YA that has me perplexed, actually. It should be appropriate for teens, but it is not for teens, if you see my distinction.

Feb 27, 2013, 7:45pm Top

13.) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling

I decline to star this one, as this is the umpty-dumpth time I've read it, and I'm kind of done with HP5. I said that the last time I read it, but I mean it this go around. All the frustration and bad mood and Umbridgeyness just take it beyond enjoyable for me at this point. (Though it is an important part of the story, and I liked it much better the first few times I read it.) There are bits I like throughout, and the last hundred or so pages are pretty good, but other than that, feh. It took me three goes this time to get through to the end, as I kept abandoning it for things less gloomy. Excited to move on to Half-Blood Prince sometime soon-like, though. That one is one of my favorites.

***Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix fulfills the February category (Try, Try Again: Read or finish a book abandoned in 2011 or 2012) of my Month-by-Month Reading Challenge.

Feb 28, 2013, 9:11pm Top

14.) Consider the Oyster, MFK Fisher ****

Fisher talks about oysters--how to cook them, what people think of them, her own memories of where and when she's eaten them (or only imagined doing so). And the result is somehow wonderful, charming, and insightful. Also, I could stare at the picture on the front of my copy for approximately forever. Something about the posture, the poise. Recommended.

Mar 1, 2013, 8:11am Top

I'm so glad you enjoyed her. Amazing how she can make a simple bivalve so intriguing, eh? (I'd just like to point out that it isn't an oyster posing on the cover.)

Edited: Mar 1, 2013, 9:49am Top

@ 82

it isn't an oyster posing on the cover

*snork* It had not occurred to me that one might think so, though it seems obvious now. *snicker* "Come on out here, Martha, take a gander at this here oyster. I never seen such poise. That there's an oyster what's got that something, I dunno, extry, ya know?"

Mar 4, 2013, 9:34am Top

15.) tiny beautiful things, Cheryl Strayed *****

tiny beautiful things has been calling to me since it first came into the house in January, and I promised myself I would read it soon, but not this weekend when the husbeast was to be away. Because it promised to be thoroughly wreck-making, and it's so much easier to unwreck with another soul stomping around. But then Saturday I flipped through and read a column here and a column there. And Sunday morning I said, "Well, just the introduction, and maybe one or two more." And then, an hour later, still, the refrain, "Just one more, just one more." And I carried on until I had read the whole collection. And you know what? I wasn't wrecked, and I really ought to have known better, because the very essence of Dear Sugar is to unwreck, to lift up, to remind us that we are human and that that means we will hurt, but there is always a way through, and we are always good enough to find it.

If you don't know Dear Sugar, acquaint yourself. Here is an online advice column whose questions will tempt you to despair but whose thoughtful, personal, essayistic answers are so perfectly affirming that you will feel fortified to carry on, always. There are pieces here I will read again and again and again. Recommended, unreservedly.

Mar 5, 2013, 12:53pm Top

16.) How to tell if your cat is plotting to kill you, Matthew Inman ****

Husbeast brought this home for me as a surprise from his weekend trip. A series of comics about cats. Does what it says on the tin and is hilarious. Laugh out loud funny. Recommended for a giggle.

Mar 5, 2013, 1:53pm Top

Isn't it sort of a given that your cat is plotting to kill you?

Mar 5, 2013, 5:29pm Top

Is what I said when I saw the book. I said, "Is cat. Of course it is." Still very, very funny though.

Mar 6, 2013, 8:27am Top

Plopped the cat graphic on the WL - always looking for a good cat laugh.

Mar 6, 2013, 9:33pm Top

17.) Mystic River, Dennis Lehane ***

I'm not sure, precisely, what I expected from Mystic River, but it was more than what I got. Lehane's tale of three boys separated by circumstances and then thrust back together in adulthood by tragedy pulls one along at a good clip, but with enough attention to detail and character so that the novel feels like more than just a crime thriller. This is sometimes almost a character study, and that, along with well-written sentences, make Mystic River rise above its fellows within the genre. And yet.

And yet, somehow, the book never seems to get anywhere. The characters behave precisely as you would expect them to, life in Mystic River is exactly the dreary trudge it appears to be at first glance, every tragic outcome the reader foresees at the midpoint comes to its horrible inevitable fruition, and the resolution of the crimes is disappointingly predictable. Perhaps all this is somehow the point, but I was looking for some surprise, some revelation of an unexpected truth rather than a litany of downtrodden stereotypes marching toward a fate so apparently inevitable that one wonders why bother. In the second half of the novel, there were three or four points at which I thought to myself, "This is it, this is where he's going to flip it and do something unexpected, tell me something new, get me in the gut with a blistering truth I should have seen coming but didn't because I was taken in by the stereotypes." But he never did. The masterful set-up, the attention to character, the above-average sentences--all that created a promise, and it was the promise that led to the disappointment. If one came to Mystic River expecting just a police thriller, one would probably be pleasantly surprised to find it something a little more. I came to it expecting a lot more, and came away let down.

Edited: Mar 7, 2013, 8:36am Top

So, the fault, dear Brutus, lies where?

Mar 7, 2013, 9:00am Top

It lies with Lehane, you thing you. He sets up an expectation of something new or unexpected and doesn't deliver. I suppose you think that because I expected police thrillery literary fiction and got above-average police thriller instead that I'm just sore because I set my palate for filet mignon and got ground chuck. Au contraire, Blustery Bess. Lehane puts on white tie and rents a limo and then takes you to the Olive Garden. And he stops at a funeral on the way. Hmph.

Mar 7, 2013, 9:31am Top

>91 lycomayflower:: Brilliant riposte!

I haven't read the book, I've only seen the movie. I thought it was pretty good, but then again I was on a long-haul flight and welcomed a diversion.

Mar 7, 2013, 10:50am Top

#91 Touché. Ain't messin' widchu no more. Right now.

Edited: Mar 16, 2013, 5:28pm Top

18.) Annabel, Kathleen Winter ****1/2

Review pending. For now: I loved it. Read it.

***Annabel fulfills the March category (Take It Home and Read It: Buy a book and read it right away) of my Month-by-Month Reading Challenge.

Mar 16, 2013, 7:27pm Top

>94 lycomayflower:: yeah, it's really something isn't it?

Edited: Mar 24, 2013, 3:56pm Top

19.) Fledgling, Octavia E. Butler ****

I've been meaning to read Butler for several years now, and Fledgling does not disappoint. The novel offers an interesting spin on vampires, exploring what a society of these mythical creatures might look like if, instead of being creepy supernatural killers, they were a powerful species whose nature required them to seek symbiotic relationships with willing humans. This premise takes the vampires-as-metaphor-for-sexual-desire trope and sort of de-metaphorizes it, with fascinating results. The novel also explores racial prejudice and teases out some of the ways fear, ignorance, and pride can lead to clouded thinking, ugly behaviour, and atrocities. I do wish there were more to the story, either in some fleshing out of this novel or--probably more satisfyingly--in sequels that followed these characters after the events of Fledgling were resolved. As Butler died shortly after this novel was published, I wonder if maybe that wasn't the plan. Recommended (especially to anyone who thought Twilight might have been pretty good if it hadn't been so awful).

An aside: I'd be willing to bet this book was not proofread at all. If I had a dime for every "to" for a "do," for every "that" where a "than" was meant, for every missing "of" and period, I'd easily have enough to pay for my copy of the book. If a book is worth publishing, it's worth proofreading. I used to tell my creative writing students that one (among several) of the ways we created an environment of mutual respect in our workshop was to make sure we carefully proofread the work we were asking one another to read and critique. We respected one another as readers and writers by not asking each other to mentally correct our own errors while trying to read our work. It seriously grinds my gears that more and more this kind of respect is not afforded the readers of published work. And that the last published novel by the first black woman to become internationally renowned in science fiction should be sitting around on people's shelves laden with so many typographical errors that I probably wouldn't accept it as final work in a class makes me really, really sad.

Mar 25, 2013, 7:51pm Top

20.) Dicey's Song, Cynthia Voigt ****

Book Two of the Tillerman Cycle, which follows Dicey, her siblings, and Gram as they sort out how to be a family together and deal with the difficulties life keeps throwing at them (as life is wont to do). Simply excellent. If not quite as bowl-you-over brilliant as Homecoming, still a worthy follow-up and deserving of many rereads. Recommended to everyone.

Mar 25, 2013, 8:00pm Top

I gave up on Ben Hur recently. I keep track of (a mention why I quit) partial reads here.

Mar 25, 2013, 9:15pm Top

I must confess to you that I tried to read that Dana Girls book you found and sent me, and couldn't get past page 2. "Wretched" was the word that came to my mind, too.

Mar 25, 2013, 9:35pm Top

opps, I missed your thread. I've found you and you are now starred.

I need to read Dicey's Song. It sits on the tbr pile for too long.

Edited: Mar 25, 2013, 10:51pm Top

@ 99

Ah well. I shan't hold it against you. ;-)

@ 100

I think you'll like Dicey's Song. Is most excellent.

Mar 27, 2013, 6:54am Top

Hm. I've read Dicey's Song but not Homecoming. Sounds like I need to fix that.

Mar 31, 2013, 10:05am Top

21.) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Official Movie Guide, Brian Sibley ****

Does what it says on the tin. Excellent photographs and some nice peeks into the behind-the-scenes stuff of the first Hobbit film. If you're into movies, Jackson, or Tolkien, absolutely worth a go, though if Rings was any indication, we're probably going to have much, much better behind-the-scenes material in DVD Extras form. And I take a star off for some really clumsy writing at the beginning of sections and for sometimes referring to the two Hobbit movies and sometimes the three Hobbit movies. I realize much of the work on the book was probably done when it was indeed two movies, but this easily could have been fixed before going to publication.

Edited: Apr 1, 2013, 9:35am Top

22.) Oracle of Philadelphia, Book One: Earthbound Angels, Elizabeth Corrigan

Mar 31, 2013, 5:41pm Top

#104 Chicken......

Edited: Apr 4, 2013, 5:40pm Top

23.) Weirdos from Another Planet!, Bill Watterson ****

I bet I've read every one of the Calvin and Hobbes collections straight through ten or twelve times by now. I used to lie in a heap under a tree with a stack of them in my early teens during the summertime, and in graduate school I kept some beside the bed for the nights when I couldn't sleep. It's probably been three or four years now, though, since I've read one, and, for some reason, I don't have a copy of Weirdos from Another Planet. So when I stumbled across it at the library today, it came home with me and got devoured along with lunch.

I still love Calvin, and his awesome facial expressions, and his perfect six-year-old logic, and especially (most especially) the way he can get indignant like nobody else. Hobbes was always my favorite, though, and he still is--so laid back and come-what-may but without ever the slightest hint of apathy or indifference. But he's still never above winding Calvin up or launching a sneak attack. I've always cared less for the long strips with the "altered state" realities, where Calvin is a dinosaur or Spaceman Spiff, or the like, than for the other strips, even though I think Watterson is at his most skilled in some ways in those kinds of stories. I'm not sure why I don't like them as well--perhaps because I prefer to see more direct interplay between Calvin's imagination and the real world. My most favorite of favorite strips are the ones where Calvin's parents show a little imagination themselves or play along with Calvin's world. It actually saddens me a little, now, how often his mom and dad just shut down his imaginative world or dismiss him entirely. They are Calvin's foil, sure, but how much more fun they would have had if they'd loosened up a little bit.

Apr 5, 2013, 7:26am Top

I want to know what you thought of Oracle. ;>)

Apr 5, 2013, 7:27am Top

Watterson graduated from Kenyon College, and although he was long gone before I started teaching there, I still like to brag about it. Love Calvin and Hobbes.

Apr 5, 2013, 8:58am Top

Another DNF: London: A History. See why here.

Apr 5, 2013, 9:00am Top

@ 108

I always have that little jolt of pride about people who went to one of the schools I did, even if it was yonks before my time there. I'm glad other people do that, too!

Edited: Apr 6, 2013, 11:44am Top

Spring Library Book Sale Haul (with bonus cat)

19 books for $34.50

Small stack (for the Ents):

The Thurber Carnival, James Thurber
The Poe Shadow, Matthew Pearl

2nd Stack (The "I Really Want to Read These" Stack):

Mistress of the Vatican, Eleanor Herman
I Am Charlotte Simmons, Tom Wolfe
Where Rivers Change Direction, Mark Spragg
The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren

3rd Stack (The "Expanding My Collection of Books Everyone Ought Have" Stack):

Vineland, Thomas Pynchon
Roots, Alex Haley
Selected Poetry of Tennyson
Selected Poetry and Prose of Coleridge
The Hunchback of Notre Dame

4th Stack (The "If You Don't Buy It Now You'll Just End Up Paying Full Price Someday" Stack):

In the Company of the Courtesan, Sarah Dunant
Sacred Hearts, Sarah Dunant
The Birth of Venus, Sarah Dunant
The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd
Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson
The Tulip, Anna Pavord
A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle

Ah, book sales. Such a good deal, such a menace to my book-buying goals for the year.

Apr 6, 2013, 12:59pm Top

Those Modern Library editions look to be in very nice condition. And Luthien shows proper disdain for the whole business.

Apr 6, 2013, 2:20pm Top

24.) The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis

Eh, Narnia. I just can't warm to it. Too episodic, and I always end up tripping over the allegory. After seeing a documentary that posits that each Narnia book corresponds to one of the planets in the medieval understanding of the cosmos, I picked up The Silver Chair because it was the next one in order I hadn't yet read. I might just get the book which inspired the documentary (Planet Narnia) and put the rest of the Chronicles aside. I don't know. I want to like them. I'll allow as how this one held my attention more than the dreadful, interminable Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Blee.

Edited: Apr 7, 2013, 11:14am Top

Apr 7, 2013, 3:50pm Top

Ooooh, library sales. Jealous. And Very Jealous of the Modern Library finds. Sigh.

Apr 8, 2013, 11:23am Top

@ 115

Yeah, they put on a good one here. I'm very pleased with the Modern Library ones. Such nice little editions.

Apr 8, 2013, 11:37am Top

25.) The Tale of Hill Top Farm, Susan Wittig Albert ***1/2

Pleasant little cozy mystery set in 1905 in the Lake District and featuring Beatrix Potter. I've had my eye on this series for a while as a possible go-to when I want something short, pleasant, and not too taxing. I'm still undecided on whether this will suit, or if the little flaws will add up to irritation after another volume or two. This story follows Potter and the goings on in the village of Sawrey as Potter comes to inspect the farm she has purchased with proceeds from her books (the basic outline of Potter's life as depicted here is accurate). There have been some odd occurrences in the village, including a death some of the villagers think might have been suspicious. The animals in the village take a keen interest in village goings on, talk amongst themselves, and sometimes try to manipulate events as they see fit. Though this talking animals bit is pretty appropriate for stories about Beatrix Potter, I was afraid it might come off fairly twee. Happily, Albert presents the animals pretty much as just other characters, and the matter-of-factness of it prevents any tweeishness from creeping in. But I never could figure out if Potter was meant to be able to understand the animals or not, and that was frustrating. I think the talking animals angle could use a little more thinking through (and perhaps it settles in more fully in later entries in the series). The mystery aspect was also practically non-existent, and while I was generally happy just to watch the village do its thing (Albert portrays the slightly off-kilter but still pleasant English country village very well), I was also disappointed that there really was no Mystery Solving here.

May 7, 2013, 3:37pm Top

26.) Why Read Moby-Dick?, Nathaniel Philbrick ****

A personal exploration of Philbrick's love of Moby Dick with a nice dose of insight into the novel. While it doesn't quite ring of preaching to the choir, it does strike me that the book will mean more to those who have already read the novel* (or, perhaps, to those who have given it a good-faith go but not quite gotten through?) than those who haven't. Precisely my kind of thing, that is someone writing genially about why they love a particular book.

*I say this as someone who's read Moby Dick twice, studied it formally once, and taught it once.

May 7, 2013, 8:58pm Top

I have Philbrick's book on my TBR list. I'll get around to it one of these days.

Edited: May 24, 2013, 9:50am Top

27.) A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Ishmael Beah ***1/2

A difficult read because of the violence and the horrific situations depicted. An important book as a first-hand illustration of the kinds of things going on in the world. I found the writing somewhat limp and the lack of any historical or political context (though I can see reasons for its omission) rather off-putting. Impossible and grotesque to say "I didn't care for it" about a book of this kind; such books, perhaps, are above our "caring for" them or not. There's probably a really important discussion of the validity of evaluating personal narratives of horrific events to be had, but I'm just not up to it.

***Read for book club.

May 11, 2013, 6:20pm Top

28.) From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E. L. Konigsburg ****

Not one of my most favorites from childhood I don't think, but I definitely remember the illustrations fondly now. A good story for the nineish-year-old set--imaginative and fun and understanding of what concerns kids that age.

May 11, 2013, 8:11pm Top

>121 lycomayflower:: oh I really liked that one as a kid. It is forever linked in my mind with Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. They have nothing in common, I can only guess I read them around the same time.

May 12, 2013, 10:54am Top

@ 122

Now that is weird: I always link up Frisby and Mixed-Up Files, too. And, as you say, they aren't at all similar. Huh.

Edited: May 12, 2013, 1:31pm Top

29.) The Rebel Angels, Robertson Davies ***1/2

Good Lord. Such a collection of dirty old men and their nasty goings-on. I suspect there is a point here that I have missed out, and that strikes me as too bad since Davies's writing sits well with me and I've always thought of him as someone I would enjoy thoroughly once I got around to him. Not without redeeming qualities, but I have to say I feel not a little scummy having read it and not at all enlightened.

May 12, 2013, 9:24pm Top

>123 lycomayflower:: now that is VERY weird!

May 16, 2013, 4:49pm Top

30.) Apple of My Eye, Helene Hanff ****

Helene Hanff tours around her home city of NYC with a friend in preparation for writing copy for a touristy book of photographs of New York. Great fun to follow along behind, hearing all the snippits of history she knows and the gobbets of interesting facts she picks up along the way. Hanff's personality and that of friend Patsy shine through, enriching an already interesting narrative. Dated, being from the seventies (with a few postscripts from the early eighties), but that, maybe, makes it even more fun--kind of a snapshot of the city from forty years ago. Recommended to fans of Hanff, NYC, or memoirs of place/travel.

May 19, 2013, 1:20pm Top

May 21, 2013, 8:06pm Top

Ok, I only read as far as the asterisks because I want to love Cumberbatch in this one and don't want to know if he is unloveworthy.

May 21, 2013, 9:41pm Top

@ 128

Do come back and let me know what you thought of the movie once you see it!

Edited: May 24, 2013, 9:42am Top

31.) Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke ****

Third time having a go at the thousand-plus page Strange and Norrell for me, and this time I made it through to the end. A massive book, not just in length but in scope, with the attention to detail and the impressive consideration of the history of the world Clarke has created making it a slow read. Clarke excels at the creation of atmosphere and at pulling off the perfect extended scene. Her characters are fully formed and intriguing, though perhaps always held at just a bit of a distance from the reader. I am glad I read the book and I enjoyed it quite a bit, though I can't say that I loved every second of it--which I rather expected to given what I have heard about it. But there may be just a little too much here, just a little too much to wade through. And for a book that creates a fair amount of suspense and a good deal of urgency, curiously little happens, curiously little, ultimately, seems to be at stake. At the turning of the last page, rather than feeling enormously satisfied by the story (as I am, for instance, when I finish the similarly long and detailed The Lord of the Rings), I felt satisfied that I had finished it, that I had accomplished the read. Not a sense of relief, exactly, not "thank god that's over" (though I do confess to being super excited to be able to move on to other reads). More "Ha HA, I did it" when, really, shouldn't it be "Oh, wow, look what Clarke did"? A flawed work, for sure, but one I still heartily recommend. Strange and Norrell is both like other things and unlike anything else I've ever read. The imagination on display here, that scope, and those perfectly rendered scenes all make it a must-read. This will long be a touchstone of literary fantasy fiction, despite its flaws.

***Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell fulfills the April category (Would I Like It?: Read a Book Recommended by the Husbeast) of my Month-by-Month Reading Challenge.

Edited: May 25, 2013, 10:32am Top

32.) The Nutmeg Tree, Margery Sharp ****1/2

Julia is a mischievous, fun-loving sort who likes the theater and the company of men a bit too much to have ever settled down into being "good" and "a lady." When her daughter, Susan--who Julia left with her husband's respectable parents after her husband died--writes asking her mother to come out and convince Grandmother that Susan ought to be allowed to marry now if she likes, Julia decides she must play at being a lady after all, at least for the duration of the visit. Several prospective suitors for Julia ensue, and Julia must find a way to be herself while still snaring what she wants for herself and for her daughter. Delightful, ridiculous fun. The attitudes toward gender relations are a bit dated, but somehow they are never jarring--perhaps because Julia knows so well how to manipulate them and seems so happy to do so. A good deal fluffier than Angela Thirkell, but still in that sort of a vein. Recommended.

May 25, 2013, 10:33am Top

I liked the Clarke book a lot. It was like being on those stairs at Hogwarts.

May 25, 2013, 10:38am Top

@ 132

An excellent description of Strange and Norrell!

Edited: May 27, 2013, 9:51am Top

33.) Epilogue 1 & 2, Jean Lorrah ***1/2

Epilogue was an early-ish Star Trek long-form fan fic from the late seventies published across two special issues of the zine Sol Plus. And when I stumbled across it in a used book shop a few weeks ago, I obviously couldn't leave it there. The writing and story are pretty good--I found the frame story a bit weak, but the stories the frame was used to tell were compelling and interesting continuations of the lives of Trek characters, particularly Spock and his mother, Amanda. Of particular note was the appearance of a Vulcan transferring his essence into another being just before the moment of death, since this idea also appears in Trek canon, but not until well after this fic was published, as far as I can figure. The artwork is also really neat. A very, very cool piece of Trek fandom history.

May 30, 2013, 8:26am Top

I think the link between NIHM and Mixed-Up Files is a natural one - they're book excellent childhood reads!

May 30, 2013, 2:21pm Top

I loved every page of Strange and Norrell - it might be time to reread it and figure out why and see if I love it as much a second time around.

Epilogue looks very very enticing!

Edited: Jun 3, 2013, 9:53am Top

34.) American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld ***1/2

American Wife fictionalizes Laura Bush's life, from childhood through the lame-duck years of her husband's presidency. Laura and George Bush are called Alice and Charlie Blackwell here, though they are quite recognizably the former president and first lady, both through mannerisms and circumstance, especially so in the last quarter of the book, which deals with Alice's experiences as First Lady.

The novel is by far best in the first half, as we follow Alice through a mid-west upbringing and adolescence in the fifties and sixties; her years as a single, independent young woman with a job she enjoys; and her initial romance with Charlie. Alice is extremely compelling in this half of the book--she's intelligent and confident, but with a tendency to keep herself to herself, a fear of exposing herself, of being wholly who she is in front of others. There's nothing doormattish about her, and she doesn't let these insecurities get in her way, but, still, there's that reining in, that holding back. I imagine a lot of smart, capable women who would rather sit at home and read than go to a party would see a lot of themselves in Alice, and Sittenfeld portrays these seemingly contradictory aspects of Alice's personality with a deft and subtle touch.

But then Alice marries boisterous, wealthy, laddish, ambitious-but-aimless Charlie and the life just drops out of the book. Alice becomes a house-wife, though an upper-class one who will never fade away under the drudgery of housework. She still seems pretty content, it's clear that she loves her husband, and she becomes a good mother it their only child--but gone is the strong sense of her as an intellectual, gone is the job she enjoys. We see some marital problems involving Charlie and drink, and Alice has enough backbone to quietly force Charlie to choose between his substance abuse and his family, but even then Alice seems curiously passive, curiously toothless. Charlie gets religion, the aimlessness falls away, and, in a somewhat odd jump forward in the narrative of some twenty years, he becomes president.

The "First Lady Years" section of the book is the least compelling--and the least well-written. Alice tells us much about the difficulties of being in the public eye, of how strange it is to be part of the public face of an administration with which she rarely agrees, of how exasperating it is to hear over and over of the puzzlement of those who don't understand how smart, bookish, liberal Alice Blackwell could possibly love conservative, war-mongering, rights-trampling President Charlie Blackwell. This section ought to be the thematic center of the novel--this ought to be the part where the book becomes whole, where the reason for writing a novel about a still-living real person becomes clear. By the end, we ought to understand more fully Laura Bush or the office of the first lady or even just wifehood (the book's title, lacking an article as it does, seems to be reaching for some claim to a universal statement about American wives).

And the thing is, we don't. Alice stands up for herself again in the end, separating herself briefly from her husband and from her role as First Lady to be just Alice Blackwell, but the moment is just as passive and toothless as her stand against Charlie's drinking is earlier on. Alice--smart, capable, happy Alice--is still subsumed under boisterous, laddish, ambitious Charlie. What have we learned? That people love who they love, and that intellectual or political compatibility doesn't necessarily come into it? No kidding. That smart, independent women often lose part of themselves through their genuine love of louder, more ambitious men? You don't say. Illustrating these facts beautifully and startlingly or giving Alice a convincing, true moment of reclamation of some of her younger independence of self--either of these would have made American Wife into something really satisfying. But instead the novel just wilts when Alice marries Charlie and becomes more and more lifeless and rambling as it goes on.

***Read for book club.

Jun 2, 2013, 1:00pm Top

#137 *raises eyebrows*

Jun 2, 2013, 1:07pm Top

@ 138

What's up with your eyebrows?

Jun 2, 2013, 1:25pm Top

I think I find it odd that you read that book.

Jun 2, 2013, 1:56pm Top

>137 lycomayflower:-140: *snort*

Jun 2, 2013, 2:17pm Top

@ 140

Well, it was for book club, but I did already own it. Why odd?

Jun 2, 2013, 9:31pm Top

*grabs a bowl of popcorn and waits for the next response*

Jun 3, 2013, 7:35am Top

I got nuthin' 'til I read the review.

Jun 3, 2013, 7:44am Top

S'okay - I've got plenty of popcorn...

Jun 3, 2013, 9:16am Top

Totally changing the subject here and back to the new Star Trek movie: Himself, Son #2 and meself all thoroughly enjoyed it. Thought the new Kirk's performance was a splendid tribute to William Shatner, that the new Spock was respectful of the old one (and loved the cameo) and was pleased as punch at Mr. Cumberbatch's Khan. Hoot hoot hoot at the special effects. And you know, I think I like the new Uhura even better than the original one. Anyone who can handle epiglottal choking Klingon...

Jun 3, 2013, 9:35am Top

@ 146

Awesome! I'm glad you enjoyed it. And I agree on all your points--especially Uhura. Loved the scene with her facing down the Klingons with her mad linguistic skills.

Jun 3, 2013, 9:36am Top

@ 143 - 145

*sneaks up behind Amber. steals her popcorn. upturns it over LW3's head. dashes away, cackling madly.*

Jun 3, 2013, 9:38am Top

Twirling in to say, "Post 137 now has a proper review of American Wife." *exits, pursued by a bear*

Jun 3, 2013, 11:10am Top

Who you calling a bear???

Edited: Jun 3, 2013, 11:22am Top

MY POPCORN!!! Ding dang, woman!

>149 lycomayflower:: My college Shakespeare prof has his wife (I learned later that it was his wife) come into the room in the last 10 minutes of class on the day we were discussing A Winter's Tale dressed in a bear suit and chase him out of the room. He didn't come back that day, either.

Jun 3, 2013, 12:24pm Top

I rilly expected those Klingons to swoon over Uhura in fact!

I am so ready to go see Trek #2 again!

Jun 4, 2013, 5:20pm Top

>149 lycomayflower: to 151 hahahahahaha... I'm at the reference desk, people, and now I'm trying so hard to not laugh out loud.

Jun 4, 2013, 9:18pm Top

Yeah, we're definitely not always safe for work.

Jun 4, 2013, 9:46pm Top

>154 laytonwoman3rd: It's true. I usually figure that catching up on LT threads is work-related in that I'm learning about what people are reading, but there are a handful I have to skip until I get home. And the sad thing is "exits pursued by a bear" IS book-related... :)

Edited: Aug 12, 2013, 9:00am Top

Putting some tickers here to help me keep track of my goals.






Jun 7, 2013, 12:11pm Top

Lovely...I should do this. How about "Books Borrowed" and "Borrowed Books Read"

Edited: Jun 7, 2013, 3:33pm Top

Added some incomplete reads here (including The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and made some updates to my goals topthread and to my Reading Challenge here. You know, in case anyone but me is following any of that stuff at all. ;-p Got some new shiny tickers at post #156, too, right above LW3's thinly disguised jab at my book-borrowing habits. *runs away, purloined books stuffed up shirt*

Jun 7, 2013, 1:49pm Top

That was no jab...if I were going to do this, I would include those categories, for books from the library, for instance.

(Should your goals reflect your habits, or should your habits be tailored to meet your goals? Hmmmm?)

Jun 7, 2013, 3:04pm Top

A bit of both, I'd say. Frinstance, I realized that this year I've been pretty good about not buying new books willy-nilly. It's the used books (from library sales and from stops at used book stores on trips) that are really pushing my "books bought" numbers up. I'd like to curb that used buying a bit, too (because it's space that's the problem, more than spending), but, at the same time, I don't want to deprive myself of the good fun and excellent deals that come round only four or five times a year in the form of sales or hitting those shops out of town. So it seemed reasonable to separate those goals into two sections. Goals have to be reasonable, after all. Otherwise you're just setting yourself up to fail (or be miserable).

Jun 7, 2013, 3:05pm Top

@ 159

I say there was a jab. *switches all your Lockridges with all your Faulkners. hides in the dumbwaiter*

Jun 7, 2013, 5:21pm Top

"There's a powerful odour of mendacity in this room!"

Jun 7, 2013, 6:41pm Top

@ 162

But, Big Daddy, I don't even know what that means.

Jun 7, 2013, 6:43pm Top

All right, June. Where are you hiding the good books, the ones that will grab me and not let go? Gave up on another one this afternoon: Julie and Julia. See why at my Partial Reads post.

Edited: Jun 20, 2013, 12:32pm Top

Don't know where this originated, but it's been popping up, so I'm hopping on the bus. My thoughts on the books on the Most Hated Books List.

1. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (102 votes) Enjoyed it, but in the same way I enjoy Cheetos: in the moment, with respect for the way it makes me want to snarffle up more but with no notion of its being good, exactly.
2. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (90) Oh, Holden, have a cookie and go watch some telly, do.
3. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (90) - Haven't read it and don't understand why people shell out monies for this when they could read similarly-themed, better erotica on the googley-webs for free.
4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (53) - Don't quite get it; always feel like I'm missing something, especially as some of FSF's contemporaries wrote some of my most favoritest books ever.
5. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (41) - A somewhat acquired taste and not without its flaws, but if you can hop into Melville's groove and coast along with him, it's really rather brilliant.
6. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (41) Undeniably melodramatic but equally atmospheric and compelling.
7. Lord of the Flies by William Golding (35) Read the first twenty-or-so pages once and tossed it. No thankee, Jack.
8. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (33) Haven't read it but may one day. Why so much hate for this? It's just a successful thriller, surely?
9. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (31) Ug. The horror, indeed.
10. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (30) Ayn Rand was mad as a fish. I've read her, but not this one--I keep meaning to, but it's hard to read that many pages with one's nose wrinkled up in bewildered, disbelieving disgust.
11. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (28) - Haven't read it and don't mean to. It sounds thoroughly not my cuppa.
12. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (26) Haven't read it, but it seems like the kind of thing I might enjoy very much in the right mood.
13. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (26) Love it. "Toss for it!"
14. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (25) Haven't read it. Hemingway makes me itch.
15. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (24) One of my all-time favorites.
16. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (23) Blee. Very little patience for Hawthorne and his symbolism.
17. Life of Pi by Yann Martel (21) - Haven't read it but mean to. Wasn't aware there was a lot of hatred running about for Pi. Why is?
18. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (18) Oh, Lord. Heavy handed. Will never forgive him for the turtle.
19. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (17) - Haven't read it. Have it, which suggests I mean to, but I don't have high hopes for it.
20. On the Road by Jack Kerouac (14) Underwhelmed, but honestly don't remember it much.
21. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (14) I think I read this. Don't remember it.
22. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (14) Love it. Another favorite. Fond memories of reading this curled up on the bus coming home from school.
23. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (14) Haven't read it--never struck me as something I wanted to read.
24. The Pearl by John Steinbeck (14) Haven't read it.
25. Ulysses by James Joyce (14) Jimmy J, Jimmy J. Why you do this? Dubliners is so beautiful, so heart-rending. Portrait is lovely. I've read Ulysses twice and still it just reads like dicking about that never once touches my emotions.

Jun 20, 2013, 12:29pm Top

Pssst. /b Just saying.

Jun 20, 2013, 12:30pm Top

All right, all right. Give a girl a second to go back in and fix it. Sheezers.

Jun 22, 2013, 2:05pm Top

35.) Screwball Television: Critical Perspectives on Gilmore Girls, David Scott Diffrient with David Lavery ****

I love to read well-thought-out criticism of books, movies, and television that I enjoy, and Screwball Television offers many examples of that in its seventeen critical essays about Gilmore Girls. As with any collection, some pieces are better than others. The essays on portrayals of Asian American cultures, of literary culture, and of education were my favorites, while the the essays on masculinity and (especially) relationships and social control seemed to overreach. A very enjoyable read and while the essays mostly are academically rigorous, they are still fairly accessible. Recommended to Gilmore Girls or TV fans.

Jun 23, 2013, 2:06pm Top

36.) Sword at Sunset , Rosemary Sutcliff ***1/2

I love Arthurian legends and am always up for a retelling of most any kind, so I'm excited when I come across recommendations for good Arthurian stories. This one seems to be high on everyone's list of Arthur must-reads, but I found it entirely lackluster. Part of the fun in reading Arthur stories is in seeing how each writer interprets the myths, how she takes the story kernels from the legends and weaves her own tale around them. But naturally each reader will have her own favorite elements of the legends and will thus react poorly to a retelling which gives those elements short shrift. My lukewarm reaction to Sword at Sunset is at least somewhat in that vein. There's no Merlin here, hardly any magic, barely a hint of the workings of fate or destiny, no grail quest, and no sense that Arthur's rule is special or new or uniquely hopeful. While I don't feel a grand attachment to every one of those elements (I can usually do just fine without the grail quest, for instance), when you lose them all I start to wonder what makes this an Arthur story rather than just a story about some warrior-king in the Early Middle Ages. Sure there's the "moment of hate and sin seeding the downfall of a great man" plot (Morgan, Mordred, etc) that goes with Arthurian stories, but if Arthur isn't held up as special, why do we care so much? We would, I suppose, if the characters were entirely compelling in their own right, but Sutcliff's are not. This novel is often hailed as a good character study of Arthur (it's told from his point of view in the first person), but I didn't think the portrayal was particularly deft or enlightening or the story particularly well retold. In fact, the whole book felt a bit "stuff stuff battle Arthurian plot point stuff battle battle Arthurian plot point stuff stuff" to me. It also suffered from lack-of-map-itis, especially given the (not uncommon) use of Roman place names. Not a bad book, not at all, and certainly one that people with different expectations for an Arthur retelling might enjoy thoroughly. It would particularly appeal, I think, to readers who like the recent trend toward making Arthurian novels more historical and less legendy.

Jun 26, 2013, 1:50pm Top

You might want to take a look at this review. Nothing to do with Arthur...just something I thought you could be interested in.

Jul 1, 2013, 7:50am Top

@ 170

Yep, I saw that. It does look very interesting!

Edited: Jul 1, 2013, 9:30am Top

37.) Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor ****

Teen paranormal romance with a dash of urban fantasy, this. Generally not really my thing, though I do understand the appeal. Taylor creates a really fascinating paranormal world, an interesting main character, and a decent romance. While I never cared really deeply for the characters, I was completely invested in finding out what was going to happen.

My biggest problem with the story puts me solidly into cranky old lady territory. I am so tired of paranormal romance heroes who are beautiful beyond all imagination and of "destined" romances. Daughter is much, much better about making the relationship complex and real than some other paranormal teen fare (Twilight, I am looking at you). But there's still this tendency to over-romanticize, to make the relationship the only important thing. I know, I know. It's a story, it's a fantasy. And nothing annoys me more than the suggestion that a teenager's (or anyone's) entertainment diet ought consist of nothing but spinachy substantive tales bound to the workings of the real world and better preparing one to face it. Sometimes you just need a custard-filled doughnut-story swathed in chocolate icing with sprinkles on top. But even so, there's something off-putting about this wrapping up of impossible ideals in a supernatural package: Okay, we know there's no such thing as perfect beauty, but, see, the character is an angel, so it's okay. See, we know that a girl shouldn't let her relationship become the only thing that has any meaning for her, but their love is destined, so it's okay. We know that love is more interesting and lasting if it's a choice rather than fate, but their destined romance will bring peace to the world, so it's okay. We know that we can live without the ones we love dearly, but they actually can't because of Supernatural Stuff, so it's okay.

This kind of use of the supernatural as excuse to keep telling all the old "romantic" untruths appears to be a new trope, and I think that's too bad. I don't read enough of this genre to know whether there are books out there that get inside this trope and turn it on its ear. (I hope so. Maybe Taylor's going to do that as she continues on with this series--the characters are flawed enough, the heroine smart enough, the set-up complex enough that I think she certainly could.) There could still be a happy ending. There could still be overwhelming joyful squishy ecstatic love. They could still bring peace to the world. But how much more interesting it would be if, instead of just being irresistibly drawn to one another, they really loved each other, saw each other for what they are, shit and all, and still chose to be together. How much more compelling if they were complete alone and a truly kickass team together. What if the supernatural elements, instead of making it "okay" to slot back into the old stereotypes, opened up whole new worlds and ways of understanding love?

***Read for Book Club.

Edited: Jul 10, 2013, 10:53am Top

38.) The Fall of Arthur, J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien ****

Christopher Tolkien presents the best version of his father's unfinished and previously unpublished alliterative verse poem The Fall of Arthur then discusses the poem in relation to Arthurian tradition, the poem's relevance to JRRT's other work (particularly The Silmarillion), and the poem's development from draft to draft. Fascinating stuff and should be thrilling to Tolkien fans and scholars interested in either Tolkien or representations of Arthurian legend in the twentieth century.

Jul 12, 2013, 11:57pm Top

Oh oh oh I was drooling over that one in the bookshop tonight but I just ordered 3 books this morning, so I held off. Must needs soon though.

Jul 14, 2013, 12:46pm Top

oooooo that Tolkien is so tempting..... and my birthday is coming up.....

Jul 15, 2013, 11:26am Top

@ 174, 175

I seem to be book-bulletting folks. Heeee.

Jul 15, 2013, 11:41am Top

39.) An Experiment in Criticism, C. S. Lewis ****

If you can get past Lewis's snooty attitude here (LW3 called him a "pompous poot" in the margin in the copy I just read), he has some rather interesting and important things to say about how we judge books. In a nutshell, he thinks that considering how a book is read would be a much better endeavor than trying to use taste to judge a book good or bad. If a book invites readers to read it in a "literary" way, the book is good. (Much of Lewis's book is taken up in discussing what he means by "literary"; one part of his definition is that literary readers experience or "receive" while reading rather than "using" what they read). A complex text very well worth reading and which resists easy summary. Perhaps the best summary is to say that Lewis spends the book trying to prove the statement he makes to close his argument: "But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do."

Jul 15, 2013, 1:41pm Top

So when was it that I read and annotated Clive's snooty pooty attitude-driven tome, anyway? I can't seem to find it in my lists.

Jul 15, 2013, 1:54pm Top

I was home while you were reading it. Either this past May or Christmas last year, I'd guess.

Jul 15, 2013, 1:57pm Top

"Pompous poot" - ha! Love it! I won't be reading that one; I intensely dislike it when people try to tell me how to read, especially if they're poots.

Edited: Jul 15, 2013, 2:02pm Top

@ 180

He's a bit more descriptive than prescriptive, but I suspect his pootyness would rub you very much the wrong way, Amber! I have a bit of a soft spot for CSL and his nonfiction (I'm not sure why, exactly--it's definitely not because of any great love of Narnia), and I was shaking the book as if it might knock some attitude out of him. Heh.

Jul 15, 2013, 2:11pm Top

Yeah, then, I certainly think it best for my blood pressure if I just leave that one be.

Jul 17, 2013, 8:39am Top

DNF: Heart and Soul. From my Partial Reads Post up top: In my mid-teens I read a few Maeve Binchys (Circle of Friends springs to mind) that I just loved. They were never much more than brain candy, but they were delightful, marvelous brain candy. Ever since that little pocket of time, I've been disappointed with any of hers I've tried. This one started out okay, but after a hundred pages or so it started to feel sort of empty--like it's pleasant and all, and Binchy could always find the perfect little characterizing detail, but nothing much seems to be at stake and there's little to it beyond those perfect little details. It's like busting into your glorious foot-high chocolate Easter bunny and discovering it's hollow. Boo.

Jul 17, 2013, 10:11am Top

Sorry about that one. I've had the same experience with her (and with Andrew Greeley too). But I do think that some of hers are a lot better than others. I can't imagine you'd be disappointed with a re-read of COF.

Jul 17, 2013, 10:22am Top

>177 lycomayflower:: You have no idea how funny that is: in my copy of Perelandra, read in the late 60s, I have an annotation in the margin saying "pompous old fart"! He was rather one for shoving things down your throat with his nose in the air, wasn't he.

Jul 17, 2013, 12:05pm Top

#185 Oh, that's too good to be true!! (Are you sure we weren't separated at birth?)

Edited: Jul 17, 2013, 1:37pm Top

@ 184

The thing is with this one (and I think with others I found disappointing), it's not really a novel. It's a group of characters all connected by something (in this case a heart clinic) and we follow each person's life for a little bit. But nothing seems to unify all of the lives narratively. And it's not even a novel in stories, as each chapter barely functions as a chapter, let alone a short story. This might work okay enough if each character were really interesting, but they're not. It's not that they're boring, exactly. It's that I don't know why I'm supposed to bother reading 500+ pages about them, even as (especially as) candy.

@ 185, 186

Ha! Poor ol' CSL. Being dissed by smart women for fifty years.

Jul 17, 2013, 1:33pm Top

"Poor ol' CSL. Being dissed by smart women for fifty years." My quote for the day. 'Twixt you and da Holly, I'm well supplied with quotable lines recently.

Jul 19, 2013, 12:38pm Top

Ha! And right on the heels of having read C.S. Lewis's An Experiment in Criticism, too: What kind of reader are you infographic.

Jul 19, 2013, 2:48pm Top

That's a great infographic!

Jul 19, 2013, 3:02pm Top

Surprise! Laura L. loves Laura K's graphic!!

Jul 20, 2013, 6:44am Top

Harrumph. I liked it 'cause it was bookish, not (just) because it was a graphamajig,

Edited: Jul 20, 2013, 9:53am Top

I, myself, have trouble gleaning any useful information from that graphic. I hate visual representations (have I mentioned that before?). Simple bar graphs and pie charts are ok, and sometimes I can deal with a flow chart, but this one has too much information, and I can't be arsed to try to follow it.

Jul 20, 2013, 10:48am Top

@ 193

Tsk. It's perfectly plain. ;-)

Jul 20, 2013, 5:32pm Top

Edited: Jul 20, 2013, 7:18pm Top

Double teaming me isn't nice. At all. *sniff*

Edited: Jul 20, 2013, 7:38pm Top

Plain irritating, yup. Right up there with solving Rubik's cubes. *shuffling over beside Linda*

Jul 21, 2013, 6:20am Top

>196 laytonwoman3rd:: aww, poor Linda. Let's make up and forget about it, OK?

Edited: Jul 21, 2013, 10:11am Top

#198 Well, maybe...you could bring me coffee and a pain au chocolat, and I'll think it over...

Jul 21, 2013, 3:19pm Top


Jul 22, 2013, 8:01am Top

40.) Cocaine Blues, Kerry Greenwood ****

This first in the Phryne Fisher mystery series takes a little while to get going but had me pretty well hooked by about a third of the way in. Phryne grows tired of life in 1920s London, and, when an acquaintance asks if she wouldn't mind checking up on his daughter in Australia (who he thinks is being poisoned), Phryne sets sail for the other side of the world without much notion of coming back. And then she rather lands in the thick of things.

Phryne is capable and no-nonsense but also great fun. (And sexy, which is an element often somewhat missing in other mysteries of this type, I find. The attitude toward sex reminded me a bit of Mark Gatiss's The Vesuvius Club, actually, though the comparison pretty much stops there.) The mystery was a bit transparent (I had it sorted very quickly and I don't usually figure mysteries out before the end), but that didn't really lessen my enjoyment of the story. The style could maybe be tweaked a bit (it's Wodehousesian, but sometimes with a clang) but any slight missteps there never rose to the level of irritation. I'm looking forward to reading the next one.

Jul 29, 2013, 9:33am Top

41.) Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, Nina Sankovitch ****

After a few years of living "frantically" in the wake of her sister's sudden death from cancer, Sankovitch decided to slow down and read one book a day for a year. This becomes her solace and her healing process for the loss of someone very dear to her, and the memoir that resulted is sustaining, if uneven. Sankovitch writes convincingly about the real power of books and reading to touch people and change their lives in hundreds of little (and sometimes a few big) ways. She effortlessly weaves stories about her family and her past into her memoir of reading, and the passages about how her books and her family slowly bring her to a better acceptance of her loss are marvelous. However, the move from talking about life to discussing the ins-and-outs of a particular books is sometimes jarring, and some personal information is repeated from chapter to chapter without any sense that the narrative realizes that this is not new information. Not a wholly satisfying book, as these little infelicities are enough to detract a bit from the experience, but still an entertaining, fulfilling, and uplifting read.

Aug 10, 2013, 5:53pm Top

Dragged myself along with the husbeast today to the used bookshop (it was a trial, I tell ya), and I snagged a Virago what it turns out my Virago-wart already has. Will ship it off to the first one who expresses interest.

The Lost Traveller, Antonia White--one of the black editions in decent condition but with a few unobtrusive creases on the cover

Aug 10, 2013, 6:20pm Top

42.) Montana 1948, Larry Watson ****

The story of the tragic events which begin a young man's coming of age in post-WWII Montana. Well done and with a remarkable eye for telling detail. Curiously unaffecting, though, and that may be because the ending was predictable without feeling inevitable. Recommended for the execution and the detail. This is also a perfect one-sitting read, and lends itself very well to that kind of reading.

Edited: Aug 11, 2013, 12:58pm Top

43.) Take Us to Your Mall and Think iFruity, Bill Amend ****

I might miss daily Foxtrot strips even more than Calvin and Hobbes. Watterson stopped early enough that I don't really remember reading the strip in the paper, while Foxtrot became part of the pop culture landscape for me in my teens and early twenties. I loved seeing the references to all things nerdy through Jason and took great delight in the fact that I usually knew exactly what he was talking about. I also kind of envied the Fox kids because they had each other. As much as they annoyed one other, there was a certain appeal to their sibling rivalries, especially to an only like me. I picked these two collections up at a used bookshop yesterday and tore right through them. Great fun.

Aug 11, 2013, 4:50pm Top

44.) The Penderwicks, Jeanne Birdsall ****1/2

What a delight this was! The Penderwick sisters--Rosalind, twelve; Skye, eleven; Jane, ten; and Batty, four--are off to spend a few weeks of summer in a cabin with their father and their faithful dog, Hound. They meet new friends, have adventures, and get into scrapes. Each of the sisters is wonderfully individualized--never once did I get any two of them mixed up--and they have real-kid interests without feeling Intentionally Topical. The Penderwicks is a modern-day story which is both timeless and the best kind of old-fashioned. A great under-a-tree-on-a-breezy-summer-day book for just about anybody and nothing short of perfect for any readerly girl of about nine or ten.

Aug 12, 2013, 9:18am Top

Ladies and Gents, all. New thread time.

This topic was continued by lycomayflower reads again in 2013.

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2013

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