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Mabith's 100 in 2012

100 Books in 2012 Challenge

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1mabith
Edited: Jul 1, 2012, 4:00pm Top

Glad I finally found this group! I've read 100 books or more for the past three years so it seemed odd to join the 75 books a year group.

I never have much of a plan for what I'll read, but this seems to be my year for non-fiction (I usually read a couple non-fiction books every month but read six in January).

Here's what I've done so far (find extended comments/reviews below).

The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
The Peril at End House by Agatha Christie
On Gold Mountain by Lisa See
One and Only: The Untold Story of On The Road by Gerald Nicosia
Caesar's Gallic Commentaries
One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters
To Hell and Back by Sidney Loch
The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Raffles, The Amateur Cracksman by E.W. Hornung

The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer
Kushiel's Justice by Jacqueline Carey
Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly
Seizing the Enigma by David Kahn
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Monk's Hood by Ellis Peters
Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie
Wild Swans by Jung Chang
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Red in Tooth and Claw by Pu Ning

St. Peter's Fair by Ellis Peters
Outwitting History by Aaron Lansky
Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen
Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman! by Richard Feynman
If This is a Man by Primo Levi
Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran
Lunatics by Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel
Chocolate Wars by Deborah Cadbury
A Gentle Madness by Nicholas Basbanes
Children of the Alley by Naguib Mahfouz
The Bounty by Caroline Alexander
Soul Music by Terry Pratchett
The Secret River by Kate Grenville
Somebody Owes Me Money by Donald E. Westlake
England's Mistress by Kate Williams
Beer is Proof God Loves Us by Charles W. Bamforth

The Proud Tower by Barbara Tuchman
Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie
My Lobotomy by Howard Dully
The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy
A Commonwealth of Thieves by Thomas Keneally
The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig
The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett
The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphreys
All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg
The Leper of St. Giles by Ellis Peters
An Utterly Impartial History of Britain by John O'Farrell
Gigi by Colette
Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
Two Rings by Millie Werber

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis
Europe Under the Old Regime by Albert Sorel
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters
Training Tabby by Rilla Savage
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Exorcising Hitler by Frederick Taylor
Appointment With Death by Agatha Christie
Peony by Pearl S. Buck
Forged by Bart D. Ehrman
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
The Civil War by Julius Caesar
Soulless by Gail Carriger
The Wolf: How One German Raider Terrorized the Allies in the Most Epic Voyage of WWI by Richard Guilliatt
Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre
Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett
The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost
Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood
Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies by June Casagrande
The Dragon Seekers by Christopher McGowan
The Sanctuary Sparrow by Ellis Peters
She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
The Forgetting River by Doreen Carvajal
Bonk by Mary Roach
Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel
Antigonick by Anne Carson

85/100

2mabith
Feb 5, 2012, 11:36am Top

Oh, that puts me at 11 books so far. Now I'm starting Kushiel's Justice by Jacqueline Carey, which is just sort of a break book before I start something I'm more interested in.

I primarily listen to audio books because my disability makes it difficult to hold regular books and I can't hold mass market editions at all.

3wookiebender
Feb 6, 2012, 1:09am Top

Hi mabith, and welcome to the group! Some nice reading happening here, I particularly like the sound of The Time Traveler's guide to Medieval England, the title is rather charming. :)

4allthesepieces
Feb 6, 2012, 4:37pm Top

'ello! Happy to meet you. :)

Watership Down is one I hope to get started on soon.

Looking forward to following your reading.

5mabith
Feb 6, 2012, 9:42pm Top

Nice to meet you both!

6clfisha
Feb 7, 2012, 4:41am Top

Hi and belatedly welcome. I have had a Raffles, The Amateur Cracksman on my tbr shelf for a while, it's nice to see someone enjoyed it. Might have to move it up :)

7mabith
Feb 7, 2012, 10:42pm Top

Definitely move up Raffles! It was quite a lot of fun to read the anti-Holmes.

8wookiebender
Feb 7, 2012, 11:09pm Top

The anti-Holmes? I'm turning into a Sherlock fan, and this intrigues me, rather.

9mabith
Feb 7, 2012, 11:56pm Top

Hornung was Arthur Conan Doyle's brother-in-law. Raffles is a (seemingly) deliberate inversion of Holmes, though with many traits shared between them. It's a fun contrast.

10wookiebender
Feb 8, 2012, 12:05am Top

Thanks! I'll keep my eyes open for them!

11allthesepieces
Feb 8, 2012, 5:23pm Top

Ooh. Me too!

12mabith
Feb 9, 2012, 1:14am Top

Kushiel's Justice by Jacqueline Carey

This is the second book of the second trilogy about the same place and mostly the same people. The first book of the first trilogy was pretty good, but they're not really my thing. I read them because I often need something to read, and a longer book encourages my needlework (I mostly listen to everything).

As with most second trilogies, it's a lot worse than the first. I probably won't read the last book, unless I'm really desperate for something new to read.

13bryanoz
Feb 9, 2012, 4:30am Top

Welcome mabith, thanks for the head up for The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England, my wife is a history teacher and will be very pleased when I find that book for her, thanks !

14clfisha
Feb 9, 2012, 8:05am Top

12 I think the 3rd book is less good than the other two, so it may be worth holding off if you feel that way.

15mabith
Edited: Feb 10, 2012, 2:51pm Top

My Lady Ludlow by Elizabeth Gaskell

I love Elizabeth Gaskell's writing. Her characters are always believable (she really know sher psychology) and her subtle humor and emphasis on the roles of women make her books enjoyable. This isn't my favorite book by her, but I finished it in one day, which certainly shows the quality (and skill of the reader).

I've just started Ten Days in a Mad-house by Nellie Bly, which has a terrible reader, but is short so I'm going to muddle through it.

16mabith
Feb 10, 2012, 2:51pm Top

14/100 Ten Days in a Mad-house by Nellie Bly

I always like to read these kinds of period books, but I don't think this one was worth it. Though a large part of that was probably the ghastly reader, Laural Merlington. I highly recommend avoiding anything she's reading. She brought to the book awkward pacing, random overly theatrical narration, HORRIBLE accents, but mostly very mechanical sounding narration (like a really advanced text-to-speech, but where you still know it's a computer). If she just hadn't done the accents it would have been ten times better.

Also, honestly, Miss Bly's writing just isn't compelling (or journalistic, in terms of what we're used to). Perhaps it's that as a female journalist they wanted her maintain an obvious "Gee, shucks, I'm just a girl" style. I'll probably pick up something more modern and thorough on asylum reform later in the year.

17wookiebender
Feb 10, 2012, 8:19pm Top

Shame Ten Days in a Mad-house didn't work for you, it does sound like it should be good. (Pottering around a bit, I see there's a bio of Bly out with the great title Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist...)

18mabith
Feb 10, 2012, 9:57pm Top

Yeah. She was certainly an interesting, wonderful person, but I think the constraints on women at that time mean the lady journalists writing isn't great in terms of style. I'm certainly putting that biography on my list though!

19mabith
Feb 12, 2012, 2:33pm Top

15/100 Seizing the Enigma by David Kahn

I greatly enjoyed this book, but I would only recommend it if you enjoy quite dry and somewhat mathematical books. The only thing that annoyed me about this one was the fact that it's not in chronological order. Jumping back two years for a paragraph or two is really jarring for me, and it would have been easy enough to make it thoroughly chronological. You'd go chronological for chapters about British events and then suddenly be flung back in time to cover a few years of German events. It made it harder to keep track of events and the back-and-forth of the code wars.

The other odd things was that Kahn thoroughly delved into a WWI cryptography victory early on in the book. There was no real need for such a long rehash of that event as it related to one tiny part of this book. Well, you could force it to relate, but there wasn't actually a NEED to relate it at all, you didn't gain any understanding by knowing about that incident.

20mabith
Feb 16, 2012, 9:36am Top

16/100 Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I enjoyed this one much more than either Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. I seem to have a harder time with authors born pre-1800. I still had the issue of loving the beginning of Northanger Abbey much more than the end. It felt like the humor lessened a bit as the book went on. I still enjoyed it, but sadly I remain a disappointment to my Austen-loving father. :)

21mabith
Edited: Feb 16, 2012, 5:17pm Top

17/100 Monk's Hood by Ellis Peters

I'm really loving the Cadfael series. It's especially timely since I only have two Nero Wolfe books left to read (I can reread the ones I read earliest as I most likely forget much of the plot and the solution, but still...). I'm odd in my mystery books in that I quite like the old ones and the only newer series that I like are the historical ones.

My parents are both mad on mysteries but I never read any until I became disabled and was stuck at home most of the time. Then again, all new books are mysteries, they're just not detective/police mysteries, and I never even attempt to work out the ending as that's not where my pleasure comes from in reading.

22wookiebender
Feb 16, 2012, 6:17pm Top

Oh, Northanger Abbey is delightful fun! I do love Catherine Morland, she's a heroine to enjoy a romp with.

23mabith
Feb 18, 2012, 11:18pm Top

18/100 Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie

I'm in the middle of quite a long and serious non-fiction book, so I needed a light book to listen to so I'd actually get some embroidery done. I'm really restless lately and keep coming up against audiobook readers who I can not stand, cutting down my list of listening options.

24mabith
Feb 20, 2012, 12:33am Top

19/100 Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

I absolutely loved this book. I've been reading a lot of books about China and Mao ever since I finished Lisa See's Dreams of Joy. I think that's the purpose of historical fiction - to make us want to read non-fiction about the same events or period.

I'm encouraging my mom to read this one, and Jung Chang is only a year younger than her. It's always interesting to read books about people who were born in the same year (or close to it) as you but in vastly different circumstances.

25wookiebender
Feb 20, 2012, 12:54am Top

I loved Wild Swans when I read it, too. The vast differences between what she and her mother and her grandmother went through were amazing and shocking. And I just want to punch Mao et al in the nose for the Cultural Revolution.

26bryanoz
Feb 20, 2012, 6:38am Top

Wild Swans - great read !

27mabith
Feb 20, 2012, 12:57pm Top

20/100 Still Alice by Lisa Genova

I was really disappointed in this book. It's not well-written and there are some really unrealistic parts of it. You're going to be alone in a normal house, with normally operated locks, with someone whose Alzheimer's is so severe that they've wandered into the street and almost been hit by a car? You're going to sit around next to the ocean with that person even though you might fall asleep and they could wander off or go for a swim and be unable to get back? That seems realistic...

The characters are flat and the plotting and ending are really unfulfilling. The book just kind of ends at a random point. Everyone's emotions seemed accurate and reasonable but that's not enough to make a good book.

I have a chronic pain condition that also affects the memory in some similar (though much more minor) ways, and which also caused people to treat me as though my personality had suddenly shifted (since obviously having chronic pain means you're no longer happy for anyone else ever). If I didn't have that personal understanding/connection I would never have finished the book. The writing alone, not to mention the unrealistic aspects, would have made me put it down.

For example, at one point the author says "“people with average IQs don't kill themselves.” What she means is that people don't kill themselves solely because their IQ is average, but even reading it with all the context I was a bit like, "Wait, what?" Sometimes I think editors have become softies who don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, or like people just aren't rigorously editing their books anymore.

I think I would only recommend this to someone who knows an Alzheimer's patient, and even then it would be with a lot of warnings and recommendations not to expect a gripping, brilliant book (which it could have been).

28allthesepieces
Feb 21, 2012, 2:59pm Top

That's precisely what was worrying me about this one.

29mabith
Edited: Feb 21, 2012, 3:28pm Top

Yeah, I'd avoid it. Someone on Amazon said that Genova had to self-publish it, which might explain some things.

What I don't understand is why she didn't team up with a dedicated fiction writer or just write a non-fiction book using interviews with Alzheimer's patients. Something like that could have had a more permanent impact on the world and become a classic.

I also just don't get how it has so many rave reviews. I don't understand how people can react solely to emotional aspects and ignore the sloppy writing, lack of an ending, flat characters, and unrealistic situations.

30allthesepieces
Feb 21, 2012, 4:16pm Top

I'm having Esme Lennox flashbacks, you have no idea. It was the same ordeal; rave reviews from everyone else and me sitting there going, "whaaaat?" Probably the only difference was I was ticked off. Esme Lennox felt kind of like it was headed straight for the MMP section. Like the author used Alzheimer's as a selling point without treating the subject with any sort of respect.

I wish someone would write a good book on the subject. The world needs one!

31mabith
Feb 21, 2012, 11:42pm Top

Exactly! They take these emotional, realistic situations which affect a lot of people and it's "Oh here's an instant best seller that a high schooler could have written." I know a lot of people don't pick up classics after high school or college, but surely we can still tell good writing from bad!

I personally would like to create a Steinbeck clone and let him tackle these subjects. So many people are affected by Alzheimer's and dementia, it surely wouldn't be that hard to take interviews from those with the disease and layer them with interviews/essays by their caregivers and doctors.

32mabith
Mar 1, 2012, 3:19pm Top

21/100 Red in Tooth and Claw: Twenty-Six Years in Communist Chinese Prisons

Very well-written and fascinating. I liked the way it was written/translated, which seems atypical. The style is more casual. It deals with someone who was with the KMT (Nationalist army) and was picked up very early on. It's kind of a nice companion to Wild Swans, in a way since of course it's the same period but dealing with the 'other side.'

My reading habits are so funny in February, because one week I'm always on vacation. This year I was glad to read beyond my minimum early on and then just listen to some favorite audio books while I was packing and while I'm here. Hooray for beach time shares in February when there are no tourists around!

33wookiebender
Mar 1, 2012, 6:12pm Top

Enjoy your holiday!

34mabith
Edited: Mar 5, 2012, 1:18pm Top

Thanks, Wookie! Good food and good used book stores made it perfect.

22/100 St. Peter's Fair by Ellis Peters

Cadfael was fabulous as always. Made a nice light break between non-fiction books. I really want to rush on to the next one to see if the new abbot continues being an okay guy, but I like to pace myself when it comes to mystery series.

35mabith
Mar 6, 2012, 11:50pm Top

23/100 Outwitting History by Aaron Lansky

This is about a movement to save Yiddish books. It's especially wonderful, to me, because the author started this project after beginning to learn Yiddish in his early twenties and finding it impossible to get Yiddish books to practice with. He started his foundation SO young and it's just nice to read books about very young people actively working for something. Plus saving books is always important, whatever the language or culture.

The audio book is really well-made, read by George Guidall, and liberally sprinkled with Yiddish (with translations, of course). I love listening to Yiddish, so it was a nice bonus. Super highly recommend this one. It's basically a light, entertaining, heart-warming book.

36mabith
Mar 9, 2012, 6:59pm Top

24/100 Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen

I read bits of this back when I was 14 but stopped in part because it was my first year of boarding school and hello, I had things to do! Happily, that boarding school was extremely academically rigorous and we never used text books for our humanities classes.

I did have horrible teachers and books through 8th grade though, and it was always torture. My real American history education (before high school) was Rocky and Bullwinkle for the full range and Pogo comics for mid-20th century political history. The quest to 'get' more jokes in Rocky and Bullwinkle actually led me to study it on my own.

This book is wonderful of course, and important. There's nothing to say on that score.

What makes me curious is what children do learn, especially pre-high school. We studied the damn colonists every. single. year, starting in 3rd grade and NEVER covered WWI. Our West Virginia history courses were so abominable, not even touching on the labor struggles (our books were helpfully paid for by one of the coal companies).

37mabith
Edited: Mar 10, 2012, 10:41pm Top

25/100 Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! by Richard Feynman

I really enjoyed this book, but it's mostly out of chronological order, which is hard on me. I know it's edited from taped conversation, but the stories are quite separate. Plus they're edited enough that it doesn't FEEL like part of a conversation or interview (at least not in the audio edition), so it's not like chronological order would ruin the flow.

This has become a repetitive complaint for me and it's just annoying. I don't have any trouble at all when it's a fiction book that drifts backwards and forwards in time but with non-fiction it simply does my head in. As it was, I kept using Wikipedia to look up how old Feynman was during various incidents.

38mabith
Edited: Mar 13, 2012, 5:50pm Top

26/100 Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi (non-US title is If This is a Man, which is a WAY better title)

This was a wonderful book, but the style of writing/translation were difficult to get into, partly due to word choices. It was just not written/translated like anything I've read in years and I was two thirds of the way through before I was used to it and could appreciate it. At that point I went back and re-read the first part.

Oh, and only about 50% of the non-English words and phrases were translated. That didn't bother my reading too much, but it always annoys me. Why translate some but not all?

I would recommend this, but only to people who read a great deal and who aren't under 25. I think when we're younger it's easier to get frustrated with styles of writing and harder to adjust ourselves to unfamiliar ones.

39mabith
Mar 14, 2012, 2:11am Top

27/100 Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran

For relatively fluffy historical fiction, Moran is my pick. Her books are fairly accurate, as far as things go (her first three were set in ancient Egypt and Rome, so there aren't that many facts to work around), the writing is good, and the readers for the audio books are always great (at least three of them are).

In any case I prefer her to Phillipa Gregory.

40mabith
Mar 15, 2012, 3:39pm Top

28/100 Lunatics by Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel

Philip Horkman is a happy man-the owner of a pet store called The Wine Shop, and on Sundays a referee for kids' soccer. Jeffrey Peckerman is the sole sane person in a world filled with goddamned jerks and morons, and he's having a really bad day. The two of them are about to collide in a swiftly escalating series of events that will send them running for their lives, pursued by the police, soldiers, terrorists, subversives, bears, and a man dressed as Chuck E. Cheese. (synopsis taken from Amazon)

This was a wonderful book! For me humorous novels are difficult, because nothing is anywhere near as funny as Donald E. Westlake's Dortmunder series or Terry Pratchett's books, so I often avoid the genre (at least modern specimens of it). This book reminded me a little of Dortmunder, though it was all go (which is fine since it's not a long book).

Both authors read the audio book (it alternates which main character is narrating the book) and did a great job. At seven hours long, it's a quick listen and I high recommend going with the audio version, since I imagine the voices and the way the reading is done adds a lot to the enjoyment (often the case with humor).

41clif_hiker
Mar 16, 2012, 10:01am Top

I've wanted to read Lies My Teacher told Me for years ... your review just inspired me to go put it on my wish list

I DID read Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman years ago and loved it. Perhaps it's time for a reread.

42mabith
Mar 16, 2012, 8:11pm Top

Definitely pick up Lies My Teacher Told Me soon! It should be required reading for every American, but the message becomes even more important as we move further away from major events in our history.

It seems unfair that British children get Horrible Histories to help interest them and American children have nothing similar. Hopefully PBS will eventually show it (and if not, thank goodness for YouTube!).

43mabith
Mar 17, 2012, 11:55am Top

29/100 Chocolate Wars by Deborah Cadbury

This book was EXCELLENT! It's mostly about Cadbury but gives you quite a lot of information about all the early chocolate makers, how developments happened, and what happened to those old firms. Also, I'm a Quaker and Cadbury (plus the two other major British chocolate companies) was founded by Quakers. So if you've ever said "Quakers? What are they about?" This book is perfect background, while also being really interesting and well-written. Also, if you're a Quaker then you get to feel all proud about Quaker businesses (and England was ridiculously full of them, since Quakers were barred from various things for a really long time).

Oh, and it's written by a Cadbury, but not one from the line of people who started the chocolate company. It would have been her great-great-great-uncle who started the chocolate, I think. So she's close to it, but was never really involved with them and her family had left the Quakers as well.

The only thing I disliked in this was that she gave prices in different currencies. It's meaningless to go from pounds to dollars, because I have no idea what the exchange rate was in 1904! It makes giving dollar amounts pointless.That's a really minor issue and didn't affect my enjoyment of the book, but that sort of thing just grates on me a bit, because it's so illogical and useless.

I recommend this book extremely highly. There was never a dull moment and the writing is excellent. It is my favorite book read this month (and I've read some great books this month), and definitely in the top five of this year so far. As you can tell, I didn't expect it to be this great.

44wookiebender
Mar 18, 2012, 7:00pm Top

#42> Oh, I love Horrible Histories! Mr Bear is quite fascinated (Miss Boo is quite grossed out and runs from the room when it's on). I'm learning more about (mostly English) history, and every now and then have to confirm to Mr Bear that yes, it really is all true.

I'll be keeping my eyes open for Chocolate Wars, it does sound fascinating.

45mabith
Mar 20, 2012, 10:00pm Top

Ha, well, maybe Miss Boo just hasn't entered her gross-out stage yet! Horrible Histories when they're young, QI once they're 14. That's my plan for encouraging my nieces and nephews to study the world.

And I seriously can't recommend Chocolate Wars highly enough.

46mabith
Edited: Mar 20, 2012, 10:11pm Top

30/100 A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books by Nicholas A. Basbanes

This was a great book, but the way it's organized was a bit hard for me. The chapters have loose themes, but the first one (or maybe the first two) were just SO random and scattered. He very briefly mentions SO many people and events, runs through time so swiftly (only to start over again later), and just overwhelms you with information.

It wasn't actually a scattered book, but it felt that way. Feeling like that at the beginning made it more difficult for me to really get into it. I didn't get completely sucked in until chapter 6 (page 225).

I do recommend this, but I think I'd have been happier if I'd taken it more slowly and treated it as a number of separate books/magazine issues. It was a library book though, so you know...

If you really collect books (whether specific older things or first editions or just any books) it's definitely a great read because it makes you think about why you collect. I love having books around me, because it makes me feel safe and loved and at home (our house was full of books and my dad's always been a librarian), but also I just like collecting and organizing things.

47wookiebender
Mar 21, 2012, 5:13am Top

Okay, Chocolate Wars has been reserved at the library. :) Funnily enough, there are two books with that title, I almost asked for the wrong one!

I did start A Gentle Madness some years ago, but never finished it. Not sure why, should tackle it again one day...

48allthesepieces
Mar 22, 2012, 1:55pm Top

Isn't the other by Robert Cormier? I think I remember the title popping up when I was on a banned books kick a while ago.

49mabith
Mar 22, 2012, 6:00pm Top

I think most people's instinct would be not to finish A Gentle Madness, honestly. After 150 pages or so it did get a fair bit easier for me to focus on, and super easy after starting chapter six. It's SUCH a broad subject/culture, so perhaps the first few chapters are written like that on purpose to give a quick overview of the ever-changing yet cyclical nature of book collecting.

>48 allthesepieces: The one by Cormier is The Chocolate War but there ARE two non-fiction books that are just Chocolate Wars (with different subtitles). The other is by Joel Brenner and is just about Hershey and Mars.

50wookiebender
Mar 22, 2012, 8:20pm Top

#49> Yep, the other The Chocolate Wars on the catalogue is the Joel Brenner Hershey vs. Mars one, aka The Emperors of Chocolate, according to LT.

The banned fiction book is ringing a bell, but it's not a book I've ever read or heard much about.

51mabith
Mar 23, 2012, 4:03pm Top

31/100 Children of the Alley by Naguib Mahfouz

Mahfouz is one of my favorite writers and I rarely read anything of his that I don't absolutely love (one of the ancient Egypt books was less appealing for whatever reason), so it's not surprising that I greatly enjoyed this book.

(Quoting from Wikipedia) It portrays the patriarch Gebelaawi and his children, average Egyptians living the lives of Cain and Abel, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed. Gebelawi has built a mansion in an oasis in the middle of a barren desert; his estate becomes the scene of a family feud which continues for generations. "Whenever someone is depressed, suffering or humiliated, he points to the mansion at the top of the alley at the end opening out to the desert, and says sadly, 'That is our ancestor's house, we are all his children, and we have a right to his property. Why are we starving? What have we done?'"

Mahfouz suffered an attempted assassination over this book, which was serialized in 1959 (the stabbing permanently affected his ability to write and type). It was promptly banned over most of the Arab world (apart from Lebanon) and not published in book form in Egypt until 2006. I have difficulty understanding this, as the book is beautiful, poignant, and above all, realistic about mono-theistic religion and the relations between them. The last part deals with a character who represents science.

Highly recommended to absolutely everyone (keep in mind that's a Quaker atheist saying that). This almost makes me want to do a lot of studying of religion, and then go back to my boarding school to teach a religion course with this book as the main text.

52mabith
Mar 25, 2012, 7:17pm Top

32/100 The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty by Caroline Alexander

This was an incredibly thorough book. It occasionally dragged a bit, but I think that was due more the narration of the audiobook than to the writing. I'm very happy I read it and would certainly recommend it.

It's nice to know what really happened and how/why the truth evolved into the myth that's presented in the movie (in the 1935 version that is, I never watched the 60s remake). It really makes you feel incredibly sorry for Captain Bligh though, which I'm almost annoyed about since Charles Laughton makes such a great villain.

53mabith
Mar 27, 2012, 10:00am Top

33/100 Soul Music by Terry Pratchett

I love the Discworld books, this one was no exception. I only have four left now that I've never read, so I'm rationing them out more gradually than I did when I first starting reading them.

With Discworld I always listen to the audio books, which are fantastically done (except two of the early witches books, which are read by Celia Imrie, who I love in other things, but feel she was a HORRIBLE choice for Discworld). Since they're so well-done and so well-written I re-listen to them ALL the time, but there's a magic in reading one for the first time.

54mabith
Mar 27, 2012, 5:57pm Top

34/100 The Secret River by Kate Grenville

Absolutely great historical fiction! I'll definitely be looking for her other books.

This is about a couple who've grown up very poor in London. The husband gets nicked for stealing and manages to have his sentence commuted to transportation so off they go to Australia. It's a great book, with a few unexpected touches. I never deliberately try to predict books, because I'm reading them and I'll find out soon enough, but you know how there's that lazy predictability-instinct we all have? This one defied it a bit, which was nice.

Really what I'm now most excited about after finishing it, is picking up the author's book about writing it and the research that went into it. Now of course I'll also have to pick up some general non-fiction about early colonial Australia. That's the sign of good historical fiction, to me, when it makes you pick up non-fiction about the same period/events.

55wookiebender
Mar 27, 2012, 6:10pm Top

Oooh, some great reading!

I've got Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz somewhere, thanks for the reminder that I must read it!

And I'm glad you loved The Secret River too, that was a standout for me of recent-ish reads. I haven't read Searching for the Secret River yet (though I must), but I did read the sort-of sequel, The Lieutenant a week or two ago (don't hold your breath waiting for a review). It was a good read, but nowhere in the same league as The Secret River. And it really is a very loose trilogy, it's got NOTHING to do with The Secret River, apart from being set in Sydney during those early days of white colonisation. I've got the third, Sarah Thornhill, out from the library and ready for bookgroup for April, but I'm not expecting so much of that one (initial mutterings from my bookgroup have not been positive).

I do recommend Grenville's Idea of Perfection though, that's another excellent read from her.

56mabith
Mar 27, 2012, 8:54pm Top

Ooh thanks for the info! It's so depressing with a trilogy (even a very loose one) peters out. Juliet Marillier is one of my favorite writers, I'd loved all her books and especially loved the first of a trilogy only to dislike the second two fairly strongly. Maybe they love writing the first one, then feel all the pressure and deadline of the second and thus is sort of fizzles.

I will definitely add Idea of Perfection to my list!

Palace Walk completely blew me away, so I hope you love it.

57wookiebender
Mar 27, 2012, 9:11pm Top

Well, from what I've heard, it's not a trilogy being pushed by the publishers, if you know what I mean, but more that she feels there was still more to be told about this period. And The Lieutenant is still a very good book, it just lacked the emotional whammy of The Secret River.

Here's a good review of Sarah Thornhill, if you're interested: http://anzlitlovers.com/2012/03/25/sarah-thornhill-by-kate-grenville/ (I've only skimmed it, as I'll be reading it soonish).

And if you run into any podcasts of her, she's a good talker, worth listening to.

58mabith
Edited: Mar 28, 2012, 9:43pm Top

Thanks for that! With thorough, thoughtful reviews like that I'm definitely bookmarking that blog.

59mabith
Mar 28, 2012, 10:06pm Top

35/100 Somebody Owes Me Money by Donald E. Westlake

I didn't start today intending to finish a book, but got a bit sucked in (and I was tired of doing needlework).

Though I adore Westlake's Dortmunder series with the fiery passion of 500 suns, I haven't read many of his other books since they're not the laugh-fests that the Dortmunder series is. This one sounded like it had a fair bit of humor in it though, so I bought a cheap used copy a few weeks back.

It's certainly a drier, more subtle humor than the Dortmunder books, but still very present. The fact that I didn't want to set it down until I'd finished it and knew the answer to the mystery. It was originally published in 1969 and the main character reminds me a bit of Archie Goodwin, though he's not a detective and tries very hard to stay far away from the case, it's just a bit of a personality thing.

60mabith
Edited: Mar 30, 2012, 8:44pm Top

36/100 England's Mistress by Kate Williams

This book is a biography of Emma Hamilton. It's more investigative than anything else I've seen and is well-written. It is extremely thorough and makes some good points. Plus it finally looks at Emma from the female perspective and with the attitudes toward and opportunities for women at this time kept firmly in mind.

I've seen criticism of it that it leaps to conclusions, but I don't agree. Williams points out "This was the usual way of things, but this is what so-and-so did, let's think about why they didn't behave in the normal fashion." She's not asserting that it's the incontestable truth, just trying to make sense of events.

However, the audio book was horribly done. The reader over-enunciated to the point of sounding robotic and had to pronounce all the non-English names and phrases extremely slowly in order to get them right. I had some sort of odd version of it, narrated by Anne Flosnick, which I can't find anywhere. There are two other narrators available who hopefully do a better job!

61mabith
Edited: Apr 1, 2012, 8:53am Top

37/100 Beer is Proof God Loves Us by Charles W. Bamforth

This is a very short book, luckily, as it's not very good. The book is peppered with so many "As we'll discuss in X chapter" and "See chatper X" lines it's ridiculous. I mean, this is a very short, light book, not a long, scholarly work. Add to that fact that the author comes across as somewhat hypocritical, rather smug, and generally unlikeable. He's English and the book mostly uses British terms, but will randomly thrown in a chips instead of crisps, which I find to be a really bad sign in a book as it generally means it didn't have a good editor.

If you're looking for a lovely overview of beer and beer-drinking, this is NOT the book for you. It focuses heavily on business management and technology right from the get go (I would have started the book with the lighter more everyday-people chapters and saved the 'which company bought up which other companies' for the end).

I don't really think I'd recommend this to anyone.

62wookiebender
Apr 1, 2012, 6:33am Top

#61> Shame, because that's a brilliant title for a book!

63mabith
Apr 1, 2012, 8:52am Top

It is! I'm sure there's a perfect book on beer out there, but I haven't found it. The only really interesting thing was about Sierra Nevada brewery and how green they are (they make the best of the not-expensive-but-not-dirt-cheap beers around me, so it's nice to know).

64mabith
Apr 4, 2012, 11:50am Top

38/100 The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War: 1890-1914 by Barbara Tuchman

I like to start off the month with a book I know I'll enjoy, so beginning with this was a no-brainer. I've read all of her books relating to WWI now, and thought "Oh, I've read them in an odd order," only to find I read them in the order that she wrote them.

This wasn't exactly what I was expecting, but in the forward Tuchman says it wasn't the book she was expecting to write either. It's a really good over-view of political realities of the period and the rising (and falling/changing) of the Anarchist and Socialist movements in the United States, England, France, Germany, Russia, and Italy.

One of my favorite aspects was her focus on a few men who were considered the greatest politicians of the day in the US and England. Looking at people who were admired even by the opposition and learning why they *were* admired and what made them different (and inevitably caused them to lose power and fade away) is a really good way of determining purported values vs. real values of any given time.

In some ways that was the whole book - purported values vs. real values, why the time wasn't the "golden age" that everyone claimed when WWI was over (those statements having been made only AFTER the war), and why the loss of innocence people experienced was just as much a political innocence as an "oh who knew we could kill so many in one day of battle" innocence.

65mabith
Apr 4, 2012, 8:38pm Top

39/100 Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie

I'm a bit shocked at how I sped through this one, but having an engaging/easy embroidery project made me unwilling to take breaks. Poirot was enjoyable, as usual.

66mabith
Edited: Apr 7, 2012, 11:52pm Top

40/100 My Lobotomy by Howard Dully

This was a very interesting, absorbing book. The subject is incredible, and Dully's life was certainly a difficult journey, though the book got fairly repetitive at the end. When he's talking about the radio broadcast of his story he starts stating "You can hear how emotional/whatever it was in my voice" about every other sentence.

The audio book was... odd. The reader's pacing was just strange, and I wondered if he was trying to mimic Dully's actual speaking style. It was also interesting since at the end he mentions his "wonderful radio voice" over and over, yet he didn't do the reading of the audio book.

I recommend this book quite highly, and those complaints didn't me wish I hadn't read it, they were just a bit grating.

67mabith
Apr 7, 2012, 11:51pm Top

41/100 The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy

I absolutely love the Border Trilogy. These books remind me of Steinbeck and that's always a good things.

McCarthy's writing is solid all the way. The plot is such that you drift along with the story, much like the main characters. The way McCarthy writes about strong emotions and decisions is truly beautiful.

Honestly it's hard to think of much to say about the book that isn't glowing praise, which gets a bit boring.

68wookiebender
Apr 9, 2012, 5:09am Top

Gosh, more good reading happening here! I've only read the first of the Border Trilogy, although I have it as a omnibus edition. Must get around to reading it one day!

69mabith
Apr 9, 2012, 11:05am Top

Wookie, it took me a long time to come back to it and read the second one, but it's well worth it. For me, his writing is a healing balm, soothing away all the mediocre novels (or even good, but not GREAT ones) I've read recently.

70mabith
Apr 10, 2012, 5:32pm Top

42/100 A Commonwealth of Thieves: The Improbable Birth of Australia by Thomas Keneally

I am oddly torn about this book. I really enjoyed it, but I think it's one I should have read in print, rather than as an audio book. When it ended I felt like I'd learned an immense amount, but at the same time felt like I hadn't learned anything. I think maybe it could have been focused just a *little* more tightly.

It was fascinating all the way through, though. It really just covers from 1788 to 1792 (the first governor's term of service), giving you background and basic information about a startling number of people, including the governor and various marines, sea men, and prisoners.

71mabith
Apr 12, 2012, 1:35pm Top

43/100 The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia by Esther Hautzig

World War II was the first non-fiction reading frenzy I engaged in. Starting in fourth grade I read almost nothing but books about World War II, mostly about the Holocaust, but also about the course of the war, life in the occupied cities, Japanese-American internment camps, the Blitz, etc... I read both children's and adult books. This continued for about three years, at which point I got tired of not being able to talk about books with my friends (whose parents sometimes called my mother asking her to tell me I shouldn't loan any more books to their children - Maus gave other fourth graders nightmares, apparently, whereas it started my WWII obsession).

The introduction is by way of saying that I'm always glad to find a book about part of the WWII experience that I know nothing about, and there's always something else that fits that description.

The Endless Steppe is written for the 10 and up age range, which makes me like it all the more, since kids are often given very few types of perspective on any given event. It flows easily, though I wish the passage of time had been more explicitly stated throughout the book. The writing is good and doesn't *feel* like a children's book, and the content doesn't either really, since it's obviously going to focus on her feelings and experiences as she was a child at the time. That, to me, is the mark of a good children's book. Some authors talk down to children, some talk to them. This feels perfectly suitable for children, rather than feeling like a children's book.

72mabith
Apr 14, 2012, 9:36am Top

44/100 The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett

Pratchett is always wonderful and this is no exception. It's definitely not my favorite City Watch book, but I always enjoy them more the second and third times since then you hear all the little background jokes more strongly (as you're paying less attention to the plot). I think Sgt. Colon's descent into madness was by far my favorite thing.

For some reason the last few Discworld books I haven't read all fall around the same point. I don't know how that happened, except that possibly the audiobooks were a little screwed up (nice to find the tapes/CDs well-listened to, even in a small West Virginia library!) so I wasn't able to and then kept forgetting to go back (sounds like me).

73captainsflat
Apr 15, 2012, 3:30am Top

Some really interesting books, Mabith. I am enjoying your reviews.

74mabith
Apr 15, 2012, 9:46am Top

Thanks!

75mabith
Apr 15, 2012, 9:58am Top

45/100 The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphreys

I was a bit wary of this book, though I liked the idea behind it and I already liked Ms. Humphreys' writing. A book of short vignettes spanning 750 years is a difficult task, after all.

I did end up really enjoying this book. It's a quick, breezy read, the writing is good, and there's a lot of interesting information scattered throughout. The only trouble is the combining of more "straight facts" for reference vignettes and the extremely personable ones, or rather, making the facts ones seem more personable (which she usually accomplishes, though there are a few weaker sections).

There are some truly beautiful little bits of writing in this book, though, and the vast majority are based on documented events.

76wookiebender
Apr 15, 2012, 8:16pm Top

LOL, Maus gave *me* nightmares, and I read it as an adult! Glad it did the right thing by you however, it's great that it gave you such a thirst for knowledge.

77mabith
Apr 15, 2012, 9:34pm Top

Ha, yeah, I get that.

I'm the youngest of five kids (everyone else being WAY older than me), so I ate up anything about strong people, as I hoped it would make me strong and that would make my siblings treat me more like a friend. I ended up wanting to be Jewish because I thought it would automatically make me strong (at that age, I didn't realize people treated monotheistic religions seriously, I thought it was all viewed the same way we view the ancient pantheistic religions today).

At least the Superman complex was very handy when I developed chronic pain!

78wookiebender
Apr 15, 2012, 10:24pm Top

I just wanted to be Jewish so I could use Yiddish terms without looking like a meshuggener.

79mabith
Apr 15, 2012, 10:43pm Top

Oh I hear you on that. Even if the book Outwitting History had been horrible I would have still listened to it for all the Yiddish (it's a great book, and the reader of the audio edition is wonderful).

80mabith
Apr 16, 2012, 4:59pm Top

46/100 All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

Great book (and lovely audio edition), which makes me appreciate how well-cast the TV show was! I'm afraid I rather took my time with it, as I had to interrupt for cleaning quite a lot.

Now things are clean and I'm starting the audio edition of The Adventure of English, which will hopefully carry me through a fair bit of embroidery.

81mabith
Edited: Apr 20, 2012, 11:42pm Top

47/100 The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg

I read, and greatly enjoyed, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English last year, and was a bit worried that The Adventure of English would be highly repetitive. They are, however, very different books, the first being much more philological and the second being cultural.

While Bragg's work is generally good and enjoyable, there were some issues. For one thing, there is the notion that the US has fewer distinct accents/dialects than Britain. We have just as many, but because we're a massive country, they're just more spread out. In my city alone there are three common accents belonging to people born in the area, and we DO have regionalisms, thanks very much. Also, Bragg makes the statement that "Americans still love spelling," which is ridiculous, and I can only assume it's based on our National Spelling Bee and the fact that parents push their kids to extremes to win this (much more related to winning than spelling). Then later he made a statement of the early convicts sent to Australia which was the opposite of something in A Commonwealth of Thieves and I trust the specialist book rather more. He also focuses on Australians using lots of diminutives, but doesn't mention Britain's tendency toward them (hoodies, prozzies, etc...).

I think that there was also some very important information that he left out. He relates the word father in numerous European languages to the word in Sanskrit but doesn't mention the consonant shifts which account for the Ps shifting to Fs and Vs. He doesn't mention consonant shifts anywhere in the book and yet expects readers to understand how close father is to the sanskrit (which is really close to pater). This is fun, relatively light non-fiction, not something that's going to bring in many readers who know much about the developments and splits of language, so I think it should have been included. Also, he could have summarized it in a few sentences, so it's not like it wouldn't have really lengthened the book to include that titbit.

It IS a generally good book, with lots of interesting information and perspectives, but I really think it needed a little more information about language (as it is almost entirely a social/cultural study). Also, Brits apparently need a better source of information on the US as it never feels like it's an American giving them this stuff (this is a common problem on the show QI, as well). Maybe there's a con man in England who pretends to be an expert but is actually just someone doing an accent.

82mabith
Apr 19, 2012, 8:44pm Top

48/100 The Leper of St. Giles by Ellis Peters

Another fabulous Cadfael book! I always mean to savor these a little more, but I've ever been a rushing reader. Granted, I can't rush that much with audio books, but still...

83wookiebender
Apr 20, 2012, 3:47am Top

"Maybe there's a con man in England who pretends to be an expert but is actually just someone doing an accent."

LOL, what a great idea. :)

84mabith
Apr 21, 2012, 8:28pm Top

49/100 An Utterly Impartial History of Britain: Or 2,000 Years of Upper Class Idiots in Charge by John O'Farrell

This was a fun, interesting little book, though I flagged a bit once we reached the 20th century, where I don't think I learned anything new. Oh no, strike that, I learned that Switzerland didn't let women vote until the 1970s and that France didn't until 1944. I've been trying to find out if that was a Vichy enactment. Surely it must have been, because who would have been thinking "first things first, female suffrage!" right after the Nazis left but while the war was still on? It will slightly amuse/annoy me if that's the case.

While I did enjoy it, I think O'Farrell missed a few tricks by not pointing out some areas where "common knowledge" is wrong. He does point these instances out sometimes, but it's pretty sporadic. I rather appreciated his full and complete Britishness, in basically being slightly offensive to everyone, while still calling attention to historical British stupidities.

Granted, someone should have kept him from the doing the narration on the audio book. He's not terrible, but he often speaks too quickly, mumbles, and whispers. I did keep find myself wishing that it was David Mitchell (the British comedian, not the author) doing the reading.

85mabith
Apr 21, 2012, 8:42pm Top

50/100 Gigi by Colette

A nice little read. My dad loves the play and is quite fond of the musical too, so it's funny that I hadn't read this before now. I'm trying (possibly in vain) to start a book discussion group with some online friends and chose this for April since we were already a bit into the month, it seemed like a likely library find, and it's so short. Then of course I found my library didn't have it! The buyers are great, but the people picking books to excise are idiots/cretins.

There's a bit about pretending to be superstitious of common things and afraid of spiders, because most men are superstitious about/afraid of something and: "They forgive us--oh for many things, but not for the absence in us of their own failings."

I know that the movie is supposed to be much watered-down, and it's been a long time since I've seen it, but I don't think it was any less overt in the "basically hoping to pimp out girl in exchange for financial security" way. It has been a long time, but I know the movie definitely creeped me out when I was a kid.

86mabith
Apr 25, 2012, 8:18pm Top

51/100 Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard

Jumping Jesus on a Pogo Stick, this was an AMAZING book! Seriously. Also, Garfield was a great guy, and who knows where we'd be now if he'd lived. I don't know why he isn't emphasized more in middle school and high school, not so much for his "Came from absolute poverty" but more for the way he behaved and the fact that he knew it was luck and hard work combined.

I think in general we do our children a disservice when we teach them that all you need is to work hard and you'll succeed. We need to teach them how to think critically, work hard, take advantage of chance opportunities, and to understand that luck does play a crucial role. There are too many people who think that everyone on welfare is just lazy and other similar nonsense.

Destiny of the Republic is extremely well-written, with loads of information about Guiteau, medicine at the time, and the general state of the US. I can't recommend this book highly enough. Garfield was SUCH a good guy that I sat there smiling like an idiot while I listened to most of the book (oh, and the audio book is very well-read), and actually felt a little choked up toward the end, which is quite unusual for me. I feel like he must have been a big inspiration for The West Wing's President Bartlet.

87mabith
Apr 25, 2012, 8:29pm Top

52/100 Two Rings: A Story of Love and War by Millie Werber

This is a wonderful memoir. It felt so honest, both to the failure of memory and to the conflicting emotions of the author.

It's a difficult book to describe, but I really enjoyed and recommend it.

88jfetting
Apr 25, 2012, 9:52pm Top

I'm really enjoying your reviews!

89mabith
Apr 25, 2012, 10:15pm Top

Thanks! I'm glad I'm doing them, as it will help me remember more details for the books. Maybe I'll slowly start doing proper reviews.

90captainsflat
Apr 28, 2012, 9:51pm Top

I'm enjoying your reviews. Book 49 has a nice subtitle! And as soon as you said you wished David Mitchell had narrated it, I could hear him narrating a book on history! Book 51 sounds like a good one for my husband, always good to gather likelies for him.

91mabith
Apr 29, 2012, 11:12am Top

Thanks!

The humor in An Utterly Impartial History of Britain is definitely extra perfect for Mitchell due to his ultra-sarcastic voice.

Can't recommend Destiny of the Republic highly enough. It was absolutely fascinating all the way through.

92mabith
Edited: May 1, 2012, 10:03pm Top

53/100 Zorba the Greek by Niko Kazantzakis

I am honestly rather torn on old Zorba. I enjoyed listening to the book (read by Guidall, a great choice), and I enjoyed the writing itself.

The stories though... I think it's a bad choice to read when you've been sucked into a ton of serious feminist blogs. Generally I'm good at just enjoying the writing and ignoring everything else, but it's been an odd week. It makes me feel oddly better that it's based on the author's real-life friendship.

93mabith
May 1, 2012, 9:58pm Top

54/100 Europe Under the Old Regime by Albert Sorel

This is a very short book, which is actually the very long preface to Sorel's book about the French Revolution. It was really quite good, both in viewing his prejudices and partialities, and just in the subject matter.

What it boils down to is that affairs were being conducted in such a horrible, underhanded way that the French Revolution just took the tools it had seen in practice and ran with them, that there was no other way for things to go. So any violence and abuses of power that seemed extreme aren't because politics and war were like that before the revolution, which is generally true, though I disagree with the assumption that there was no way to change.

It's an interesting book, especially as an example to all the people who talk about 'the good old days.' There are references to 'the good old days' in every decade of history stretching way back. Blinding yourself to the true nature of the past is always a bad idea.

Dear Adults Everywhere,

The decade of your childhood only seems like 'the good old days' because you were a CHILD, with no responsibilities other than cleaning your room and only the barest concept of the adult world.

Sincerely,
Captain Obvious

94mabith
May 6, 2012, 11:30am Top

55/100 - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This is an absolutely wonderful book, and highly recommended.

It's about the first immortal cells ever grown, which were taken from a woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951. They were grown and sent to scientists all over the place (and then sold to them) without her family's knowledge. It is a fascinating and at times heartbreaking book,

Skloot goes back and forth between focusing on the personal side (Henrietta's life, her family's life...) and the science, including all the breakthroughs that come about because of these cells. It documents her efforts to be trusted by the Lacks family and the reflections of scientists and doctors both on extreme importance of those cells and on how the family was treated (at one point someone at Johns Hopkins released Henrietta's full medical records to a journalist!).

My only criticism is that the writer says "X-Person told me years later," about two million time. We KNOW they told you years later because you weren't alive in 1951 and you only started working on this book in the late 90s! Your readers aren't idiots! Otherwise I found the writing solid and enjoyable.

The pacing and structure of the book really give it that "Oh my god, everyone has to read this" edge. Also, the audiobook is very well-done.

95mabith
May 6, 2012, 11:35am Top

56/100 The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters

Another splendid Cadfael book! They honestly just keep getting better and better. I'm glad to have found such a good series to fill my "I need a familiar, quick, fiction book..." slot.

How funny that I now read one or two mystery books per month, when nine years ago I thought I disliked mysteries (bad experiences with Encyclopedia Brown as a child). Well, it is true I dislike most modern mysteries, preferring to stick with the ultra-classic (Sayers, Christie, Stout...) and the only more recent ones I really enjoy are the historical sort.

96mabith
Edited: May 6, 2012, 7:16pm Top

57/100 Training Tabby by Rilla Savage

This is the first novel by an acquaintance and I read it and gave her (hopefully) useful criticism. Everyone just kept telling her it was good and they liked it with no detail, which isn't very helpful.

I'm not going to review this one since it's not published in any form yet, but it has good possibilities. It's a genre (romance) that I don't really read, but I'd really like to do editing/critiquing for children's fiction.

97mabith
May 8, 2012, 8:53pm Top

58/100 The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

I was still working in a bookstore when this came out, which is probably why I've waited so long to read it (things that are crazily popular tend to get on the bookstore worker's nerves for a variety of reasons). Also, when it came out it felt like people were looker even further down on West Virginia, my home state, as if the state is to blame for her childhood rather than her insane parents.

These memoirs always amaze me, because I just find it so hard to believe. The book was fascinating and disturbing and sad, of course. I find it hard to truly enjoy this sort of memoir, because it's like slowing down when you pass a car accident. Most of us do it, but not really out of desire for enjoyment.

98mabith
Edited: May 11, 2012, 10:22pm Top

59/100 Exorcising Hitler: The Occupation and Denazification of Germany by Frederick Taylor

This is a really excellent book. I've never read much about the post-war occupation or about the allies specific relationships with each other. Taylor is blunt about the numerous problems and common perceptions, and seems pretty damn unbiased to me (though not having studied the subject I'm not the best judge). He certainly doesn't focus on one nation's flaws more than the rest.

Much of the first half actually deals with situations before the war is over, but doesn't focus on the big-picture war so much as various allies' priorities, POW camps, plans for occupation, behavior in overrun towns, etc... It's necessary to give background on what followed. His really in-depth coverage only goes to about 1949-50, and after that still provides a lot of information up to the present day just not in such great details and covering fewer aspects.

The only odd thing was that he initially talked about how history should have informed the politician's and military's views/policies towards the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions but didn't, only to basically drop the subject. He'd occasionally make a one or two sentence remark later, but with that little attention focused on it he should have dropped the comparisons completely.

It really was fascinating, and he provides quotes and stories from numerous sources (both civilian and military), which makes the book much more readable than it might have been. The writing is very good, and while it's not completely chronological the book is broken into multiple topics which are then presented chronologically. I found it easy to follow and engaging. The audio book edition is extremely well-read.

99mabith
May 13, 2012, 1:00pm Top

60/100 Appointment With Death by Agatha Christie

A lovely, diverting break! I really liked this Poirot book. I'm not sure there are any I don't like, but I just especially liked this one (though the ending showing the characters back to normal and reuniting with Poirot was a bit silly).

100mabith
May 16, 2012, 12:01am Top

61/100 Peony by Pearl S. Buck

This book was absolutely wonderful. Buck is such a wonderful writer. Though she was the daughter of protestant missionaries she does seem to intimately understand the lives of the Kaifeng Jews at a time when their community and religious life is disappearing, and of course understands the Chinese people and culture intimately, having been raised there.

Peony is a bond-maid working for a prosperous Jewish family in Kaifeng. The husband had a Chinese mother and is closer her culture and values, while the mother is of unmixed heritage and is obsessed with marrying her only child to the Rabbi's daughter. It is difficult to describe further without ruining some aspect of the book, but it's well-worth reading.

Buck writes so well, and I wonder that she's not more highly regarded. She falls into an odd category of authors who have at least one "classic" to their name which is assigned in school but doesn't seem to be enjoyed. I blame this partly on the fact that The Good Earth has been chosen as summer reading for 9th and 10th graders, who are really too young to appreciate the writing or content. To them it's a boring, blathering book. After that bad experience how likely are they to return to Buck later?

101mabith
May 18, 2012, 9:22pm Top

62/100 Forged: Writing in the Name of God--Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are by Bart D. Ehrman

This was an excellent book. I'm not at all religious but I think this is the kind of book everyone should read, no matter what their religious beliefs are. I think it's especially important for the very fervently Christian folks to remember that it is a human book, assembled by humans.

The organization and pacing of the book was good and it was interesting all the way through, even for a Quaker Atheist like myself!

102mabith
May 20, 2012, 9:15pm Top

63/100 Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

This book surprised me! I haven't read anything by Mitchell before, but he's not really the kind of modern writer I enjoy, so I wasn't expecting to really get into this one. Perhaps this one is different because it's semi-autobiographical.

It is narrated by a 13 year old boy with a stammer and set in 1982. It follows his issues with stammering, popularity, normal teenager things, against the backdrop of his parents' disintegrating marriage.

It's not completely plotless, but it doesn't have traditional plotting, and I enjoyed that. It felt very real and natural. It's also neat because of course you can see and predict things that Jason (the narrator) doesn't see or understand due to his being 13. It's a bit difficult for me to explain or describe, but I did really enjoy it. I think it's rare that books truly capture the half-adult, half-childish, half-insane feeling of early teenager-hood.

103mabith
May 23, 2012, 9:15am Top

64/100 Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

This really was an excellent book. Schiff solidifies what we know about Cleopatra, shucking off the theatrical dumbings-down she's endured. Some reviewers have complained that they didn't enjoy the book since we know so little, but I don't get that at all. It's not as through the book said "here's a list of all we know... the end."

We learn a lot through context and a fair bit of the book focuses on tentative educated guesses (Schiff explicitly notes when she is looking at possibilities rather than fact). Moreover, Schiff is better able to look at her actions from the female perspective, which is very important, and something a male biographer (or historian) is always going to struggle to do. With any well-known female figure this is important, but especially so with female rulers.

Schiff's book is interesting and well-written, bringing in everything we know and building up loads of context around it. It's also very heavily footnoted, which I appreciate.

Reading some of the reviews makes me slightly think that some people just don't want to replace Shakespeare's Cleopatra in their mind. You don't have to choose though, you can enjoy both the reality and fantasy.

104mabith
May 23, 2012, 1:26pm Top

65/100 A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

Short as this essay is, I had a bit of trouble making myself sit down and finish it. I attribute this to the fact that most of it is still depressingly relevant.

Bit of a parallel in reading it at the same time I was reading Cleopatra: A Life, in that Woolf focuses on the characters (in fiction and in life) who are seen only in their relations with men and Cleopatra 'ceases to exist without a Roman in the room,' etc...

105mabith
May 24, 2012, 8:56pm Top

66/100 The Civil War by Julius Caesar

Caesar's commentaries on the civil wars. SO much fun! I wish I'd read these when I was a kid. I was obsessed with Caesar then (thank you, Asterix comics!) and used to daydream about commanding his legions during the Gallic campaigns (all 13-year-olds do that, right??).

106jfetting
May 24, 2012, 9:01pm Top

Great reading lately, mabith. I want to read the Caesar book, too, now.

107mabith
May 27, 2012, 10:24pm Top

Thanks! It really has been a GREAT reading year so far, which lots of books I'm still passionately imploring everyone I know to read. :)

108mabith
Edited: May 27, 2012, 10:38pm Top

67/100 Soulless by Gail Carriger

This was recommended to be by a friend who reads loads of fantasy and science fiction, and who knows that they are not my favorite genres.

It's a fun, silly, almost-parody book though and I quite enjoyed it. One very nice thing was that instead of stringing along the love interest as a "you know they'll get together but let's pretend it's will-they won't-they," they began pairing up quite quickly! Or it felt much faster than usual, at least.

One quibble is that the book would do just as well (or perhaps better) with a bit less smut. There's not enough to make it really smutty (or to thoroughly appeal to those readers) and just enough to annoy people who roll their eyes at those scenes. I don't have anything against sex scenes, it just seemed like too much for a book that isn't a romance.

I did enjoy the book though, and will probably read the others in the series, especially as the audio books have a good reader. Don't take that "probably" as an indictment, as I don't really rush to finish series even when I really enjoy them (I'd rather space out books I know I'll enjoy in between books of unknown quality, or use them as a balm after just reading something dreadful).

109mabith
May 27, 2012, 10:51pm Top

68/100 The Wolf: How One German Raider Terrorized the Allies in the Most Epic Voyage of WWI by Richard Guilliatt and Peter Hohnen

An excellent and thorough book! I found it well-written and easy to listen to (read by the lovely Michael Page). The way the authors structured the beginning was very smart. They first told you about the young family who were traveling on the Beluga and its seizing by the Wolf's crew, but then go back and give you a brief history of the other raiders which operated early on in the war. This hopefully draws folks in with the personal but then makes you understand the background of the Wolf's voyage and mission before getting on with the slightly tedious list of other ships it captured before the Beluga.

It is a rather amazing story, and it's interesting to see how the different people involved behaved once it was over, especially in terms of who told the truth about the Germans' behavior and who did not. I think the only part that dragged at all for me was the previously mentioned list of early captures.

110mabith
Jun 1, 2012, 12:16am Top

69/100 Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper

I absolutely loved this book! I don't read much science fiction, because there's so much of it that I really don't like (barring the really old stuff - I'd read about Professor Challenger forever). My mom recommend this though, and since she's not a big fan of the genre either I figured I'd enjoy it.

I love anything that makes me think, and since psychology is my strong suit this was a perfect book to me.

...

Wow, May ended up being a really productive month! I don't know when I've had the time, since it's also felt like a relentlessly busy month.

111mabith
Jun 3, 2012, 9:03pm Top

70/100 Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

This book should be required reading for everything, but I think especially for parents and prospective parents, who tend to take newspaper 'health' stories more seriously than they should.

The book is organized and written well, with humor and good will. It is informative without being difficult to understand and again, everyone should read it. These issues affect EVERYONE. Even if you already take these kinds of stories and health treatments with a grain of salt, you should learn WHY you shouldn't believe them outright.

The audio book, however, wasn't as good. You would think they'd instruct non-fiction book readers how a famous person from another country pronounces their name, but they do not. Though the audio book does contain one of the worst Groucho Marx impersonations I've ever heard.

112mabith
Jun 3, 2012, 9:08pm Top

In case anyone is wondering, I've read a bit over 100 books for some years now, but there's no group for "reads somewhere between 100 and 140 books per year."

Last year I cut back my reading, because I'd gotten so fed up with mediocre fiction that it had become a chore. This year I'm reading a majority of non-fiction each month and thus reading a lot more. I didn't predict that I'd be reading *quite* so much though.

It is good, since seeing what everyone else is reading has ballooned by to-read list!

113jfetting
Jun 3, 2012, 10:11pm Top

Bad Science sounds really interesting. And frustrating and crazy-making, but interesting.

114mabith
Jun 3, 2012, 10:33pm Top

It does make you feel a bit "Oh god, I'm such an idiot, why do I ever believe anything in newspapers!" but I do recommend it. At least it can make us a little more able to judge the ever-present nutrition and vaccine articles.

115clfisha
Jun 7, 2012, 9:37am Top

I like Ben Goldacre and his passionate stance for explaining science, he was part of a great live show with various popular scientists that toured the UK. I still haven't got round to reading it though, still your review reminded me!

116mabith
Jun 8, 2012, 11:21am Top

71/100 Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett

Another nice Discworld book! I didn't absolute adore this one, but that's partly due to it being one of the early ones that Stephen Briggs read and I really dislike his voices for Death. the raven, and the witches. I think I'll like it more the second time. It only leaves me with two Discworld books that I've never read before, one of which I'm rather nervous about. Planer (the first discworld audiobook reader) does a perfect, to my mind, voice for Cohen the Barbarian.

Getting attached to specific audio book readers is a bad things sometimes! I do like Briggs as a reader quite a lot, and think he improved the voices of The Watch, for the most part, and I don't think Planer could have done the Tiffany Aching books very well, but I still miss Planer for a lot of things.

117mabith
Jun 8, 2012, 11:28am Top

72/100 The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost

This was an absolutely wonderful book! Well-written, funny, interesting... This isn't the type of memoir I usually go for (when I want a 'travel' book I just pick up anything in the history section), but I'm really pleased I read it. I think it's worth listening to the audio book, as Simon Vance's accent adds an extra level of humor.

I'm planning to buy a copy for my mum for her birthday.

118mabith
Jun 11, 2012, 7:29pm Top

73/100 Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin

I love this book from the word one. It held my interest, it's very well-written (of course), and gives life to poor Lavinia. Le Guin is insightful, yet careful, with this character.

It is a re-telling of the last six books of the Aeneid, but I don't think you need prior knowledge of the poem to enjoy the book.

119mabith
Jun 14, 2012, 3:17pm Top

74 - The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

Absolutely loved this very different, Ricardian mystery by Tey. Her mysteries are always a bit different anyway, but this was really fun.

Inspector Grant examines the case about King Richard III from his hospital bed with the help of a young American man.

The audiobook is a bit difficult to take, as the American accent is slightly random.

120mabith
Jun 14, 2012, 3:20pm Top

75 - Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood

Three fiction books in a row, it's unheard of! Though this is semi-autobiographical. It was very interesting to listen to, and I was definitely in the mood for a rambling, plot-less sort of book.

This recounts Berlin in the early 1930s, before Hitler came to power. I listened to the audiobook, which was well done, if the reader did go a bit too theatrical at times. I'm not sure I would have gotten through the book if I'd been reading it in print, as it's just SO rambling and unfocused.

I'm afraid I'm getting less reading done than usual because it's the Euro cup and I just want to watch soccer all day!

121mabith
Jun 16, 2012, 1:49pm Top

76 - Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies by June Casagrande

I absolutely loved this book, and I'm astounded by how many of the reviewers on Goodreads seem to have misunderstood its purpose. They keep making comments about how it's not really a good usage guide, and I'm wondering why on earth they think it's *supposed* to be a usage guide! One user commented that the discussion of when to use may/might was confusing, when Casagrande's point was precisely that none of the books explained it well and that it IS confusing!

In essence, it's a hilarious book about common grammar issues, and especially the ones most markedly targeted by grammar snobs. Actually, I think the addition of humor will help me remember when to use lay/lie for a longer period (I look that up periodically but the knowledge fades in a few months). That's part of Casagrande's message - some things are hard to remember, most 'rules' aren't universally agreed upon, and most of us have good instincts about word/punctuation usage.

This is a book for people who roll their eyes at the influx of rigid grammar books and people who want a little extra reminding about certain rules served with a heap of humor. It's also good for those who want to make snappy retorts to grammar snobs who go about needlessly correcting people.

I leave you with a quote from the book: "Copy editors need hyphens like prison inmates need cigarettes and Karl Rove needs pentagrams and babies' blood."

122mabith
Jun 19, 2012, 9:50am Top

77 - The Dragon Seekers: How an Extraordinary Circle of Fossilists Discovered the Dinosaurs and Paved the Way for Darwin by Christopher McGowan

While I really enjoyed the information in this book, the writing could have been much better. It was awkward and often redundant, though I can never tell whether you notice that more or less with an audio book (I would think more). The information wasn't presented randomly, but at times the progression did feel a bit random, though I'm not sure why. Oh, maybe because very few things were related forward to Darwin's publishing. It felt that like that was a slightly tacked on angle because someone thought it would sell more books. It was certainly not an equal focus of the book.

What honestly annoyed me most was the last 40 minutes, which were one big chapter about the author and the species he's named and how great he is because he's named them after their collectors. While I can understand saying "We're still discovering new types of those first species discovered way back when," as a way to say "Wait, look, it's still an exciting subject," he did say that kind of thing all the through the book. It seems self-congratulatory at least to have your entire last chapter deal with yourself, and have nothing to do with the premise of your book! Seriously, I don't know what's happened to editors now-a-days, but they seem to suck. In MY day... (incoherent, curmudgeonly, and inappropriate rambling).

This book was mostly interesting, and mostly worth reading, though if you're interested in the subject of the early fossilists I might look around to see if there's another book out there.

123mabith
Jun 19, 2012, 9:30pm Top

78 - The Sanctuary Sparrow by Ellis Peters

Another lovely Cadfael book. This one isn't one of my favorites, but it was enjoyable as they've all been so far. I'm glad I have this series, as I'm running low on mystery series that I enjoy. Woman can not live by Poirot and Marple alone!

124mabith
Jun 22, 2012, 9:58am Top

79 - She-Wolves: The Women who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor

I went rather slowly with this one, as I haven't had much time this month for reading in print (vs audio books). It is a great book though, solidly written and impeccably organized.

Castor points out when something is a guess, though occasionally she'll go on to talk about said guess as though it's fact without reminding the reader that there's no solid evidence for it other than the figure's actions. I think I only noticed that in one instance though. Castor's reading of the various women certainly seems apt from a psychological point of view, especially in looking more closely at some of the 'history' published about them.

Each ruler's section includes a family true and a map of England's territories. The tree for the Wars of the Roses period went onto two pages, and one section of it could have been a little more clear (the parents were on one page and their children on the next, but there was still a line down on the first page leading to people who definitely weren't that couple's children, rather than a 'see next page' or whatever).

I definitely recommend this book. We tend to focus so heavily on Queen Elizabeth (as far as the casual history geek goes, and in terms of popular culture) and not understand what came before her. The book definitely held my interest all the way through.

125mabith
Jun 26, 2012, 9:28am Top

80 - Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

I really enjoyed this book, though it surprised me. I don't tend to look up any longer descriptions of books before I read them. I saw this one mentioned on someone else's 100 books post, it mentioned WWI and that it was a good book, so I went for it. I was a bit taken aback by the number of sex scenes in the beginning of the book, not because I have a problem with that, but just because I barely read any modern fiction anymore so I'd almost forgotten they exist.

There was momentary worry at the switch to 1978 that the book was going to stay there (or keep progressing) but it continues to go back and forth for a bit, with more written during the war, I think. The descriptions of that period were wonderful, and felt right. The writing is very good, though the ending felt a bit too... sappy/wrapped up (which is where it could easily do without the 1978 bits).

I do recommend this book, and now I'm interested to check out the TV series they did (though in some ways I think Blackadder Goes Forth is honestly the best TV tribute to the war).

126mabith
Edited: Jun 26, 2012, 10:23am Top

81 - The Forgetting River: A Modern Tale of Survival, Identity, and the Inquisition by Doreen Carvajal

I received this through the Early Reviewer program.

This is a book that I really wanted to love. The first few chapters drew me in very quickly and I was intrigued by the subject.

Doreen Carvajal, is a journalist and it shows with this book, which reads as individual columns in a series. My problem with this is that single threads of the book are separated from each other by other threads. The chapters are mostly quite short and it's disrupting to become interested in something only for it to end abruptly and the subject to pick back up in three chapters.

The chapters could have easily been consolidated into three or four main sections of the book, and I can only imagine that the author wanted it to feel more like her own journey. This makes for a very unsatisfying book though, and if I hadn't received this to review I don't think I would have finished, to be honest (and I rarely put down a book without finishing it). Every time I felt myself start to enjoy the book again the chapter would end and the moment, the focus, would be broken.

There are also a few chapters toward the end which really don't have anything to do with the book's subject. They seem to be stories she just wanted to tell and then sort of vaguely related to her subject at the end of each story. They were yet another barrier between the reader and any sort of conclusion.

Carvajal's writing is very good, her interpretations seem valid, her instincts are good, and the subject is fascinating. It is only the organization of this book which allows all of those positive aspects to falter. While this aspect doesn't seem to have bothered other reviewers it meant I couldn't fully immerse myself in the book.

127mabith
Jun 27, 2012, 9:48pm Top

82 - Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach

When I read my first Mary Roach book, Stiff, I hadn't expected to like her that much, so of course I did. This was another amusing and informative non-fiction interlude.

She definitely has a knack for organizing her books in a pleasing way and worming her way into the presence of a lot of interesting people (or maybe the scientists are just kind of bored). She writes well and I enjoy her sense of humor, if I do feel a *bit* sorry for her children.

128jfetting
Jun 28, 2012, 10:23am Top

Just catching up... great reviews!

129mabith
Jun 30, 2012, 11:24am Top

Thanks, Jennifer!

130mabith
Jun 30, 2012, 2:09pm Top

83 - Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

I grew up reading Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For, and I love her drawing style, so I've had to read her memoirs as well if just for the drawing. Am I alone in not usually being interested in the lives of authors, actors, or musicians I like?

Are You My Mother? is a very different type of memoir than Fun Home, and I think people probably appreciate it less. She's also drawing in a looser, less detailed style. The book focuses a lot of psychology, in it's classics forms and ideas, which I tend to disagree with and that made it a bit difficult for me to enjoy.

I think this book was a necessary reply to Fun Home though, both for Bechdel and for readers. Dysfunction doesn't simply strike one part of the family and the rest untouched. Certain behaviors in one parent must automatically affect the behavior of the other parent both towards the spouse and the children. It is interesting to see how Bechdel and her mother's relationship has grown and yet remained much the same, and how she learned to stop seeking things her mother couldn't give (an important lesson for all of us).

Mostly, this book made me want to give my parents hugs, because they've always been so wonderful, even in the face of numerous difficulties. If you're reading and all the psychobabble (many, many quotes from Donald Winnicott) starts to bore or overwhelm you, just skim it and focus on the sections with Bechdel's family. It's still enjoyable.

131mabith
Jun 30, 2012, 2:15pm Top

84 - Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel

We read excerpts from this in my high school humanities class but I'd never made time to read the entire thing.

It's been out for long and had so much hype around that I don't think I need to say much. It's well-written, well-organized, and the act of bringing in her letters really gives it an extra bit of life, and...realness than it would otherwise have.

132mabith
Jul 1, 2012, 3:59pm Top

85 - Antigonick by Anne Carson

This is an incredible book. It's an artsy edition, with numerous illustrations on vellum, and all the text is handwritten (given all that it's ridiculously cheap to purchase). Don't read this expecting a direct translation, it's much more an interpretation.

The text is written largely without punctuation, which somewhat has the effect of dragging you further into the book, and funneling somewhat frantically towards the conclusion. It took a few minutes to adjust my brain to it, but I think the effect is worthwhile.

It has been at least a decade since I read a traditional translation of Antigone, so I may have more to say after re-reading one and then reading Antigonick again.

It was absolutely wonderful to read though, and I highly recommend it.

Group: 100 Books in 2012 Challenge

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