What I’m Reading
Previously, I erased each book as I finished reading it, but I thought maybe I should keep the list running, just in case anyone besides me was keeping track. I will attempt to periodically update the little blurbs with how I enjoyed (or didn’t) the books.
It’s been a while since I updated this page and I’ve read a lot of books in between. Some stuck with me, others have flown out of my mind like a grocery list I never got around to writing. I’ve discovered a couple of authors I really enjoy and re-discovered one or two that I’d lost touch with. One book, however, really got to me:
I don’t know what it is about those wacky Swedes, but boy, can they spin a tale. First, the too-soon departed Steig Larsson captivated me with the Dragon Tattoo book, now these guys. This book is just flat-out gut wrenching. It’s a little slow to start, although I think it might be more to do with the translation than the story. Of course, it’s set in Stockholm and all street names, etc. are in Swedish. I usually just skim over them or subliminally say “Main Street” when I encounter a location. Forget all that. This story will have you on the edge of your sofa, chair or bed until the last words. I’m not telling you ANYTHING to give the plot away. You’ll just have to find out for yourself!
An American writer that I recently discovered and have flown through nearly all the books our library has is Robert Crais. This was the first book I read, but far from his debut:
This is detective fiction at its best. Set in L.A., I enjoy his vivid descriptions (one book talked about a blue, life-size shark-headed figure in a store in Venice Beach. I have a photo of G standing next to it!) and his two main characters, Elvis Cole and Joe Pike, are two of the most vivid PI’s I’ve read. I’ve got Joe Pike cast in my head, but for the life of me, I can’t quite pin down Elvis. Crais’ plotting is superb and his characterization of the two men and their friendship as I read more of the books is truly touching. Pick up one of his books and I bet you won’t stop until, like me, you’ve read all you can get your hands on.
In tune with my ongoing search for meaningful work, I’m reading this:
This is a most interesting book. It’s inspiring. Most of the subjects (all so far) are about half my age, but there’s a lot of information about using technology, social networking and all the tools at our fingers today to create the kind of life/job that not only fulfills one person’s career goals, but also literally changes the world. Think the founders of TOMS Shoes and Kiva micro loans. I particularly am enjoying it because it definitely points out you don’t have to follow a traditional path to get where you really want to be. It also gives great examples about how capitalism can really work to the benefit of both company and employee. Much needed!
In the last few weeks, I’ve read two more books by one of my now-favorite authors, Mary Doria Russell. Both were excellent reads, but affected me quite differently. “A Thread of Grace”
is the story of Jews from various places in Europe escaping into the Northern Italian Alps and the brave Italian citizens (mostly Catholic) who helped hide and protect them. As with all of her books, the story is impeccably researched and amazingly written. I found; however, that this book did not touch my heart they way her others did. The characters were well drawn, the story certainly powerful and moving, but I never felt quite as lost in the story as I had with her previous books. It’s still most definitely worth a read, and of course another reader may have a completely different reaction.
The second book (which I read first) is “Doc”.
This book is a fictionalized/novelized biography of John Henry “Doc” Holliday, but this story focuses on his early days, first in his birthplace in Georgia (which I didn’t know), his travels to Texas in hopes of helping his TB, and then his move to Dodge City, Kansas where he met and befriended the Erp brothers. This is an amazing book. I think Ms. Russell felt a real affinity for the doomed dentist, because the character she creates is so real there were times I thought I would look up from my reading to see him walking into the room. I could hear his soft, Southern voice in her dialogue. This book brought me to tears in several places. The weaving of the historically documented real characters and her created characters and the plot that makes up the majority of the book is seamless. You will be drawn into the world of the “wild West” and feel such aching sympathy for the young man who fought amazing physical and medical odds his entire short life. I cannot recommend this book too highly.
I recently discovered the British author, Sophie Hanna, and I’m happily racing through a second book. The first one I read had an intriguing title: The Truth-Teller’s Lie:
Murder mystery, detective fiction, psychological character study of every person who walks across a page, this story is complex, multi-layered and completely engaging. After a chapter, you’re caught up and biting your nails to find out what happens. As the story unfolds, you see patterns in patterns, layers on layers. My admiration at her plotting skills is unbound. I finished this and was literally breathless. Rushed back to the library the next day to pick up another one:
Once again, the plot is multi-layered and complex. We’re learning more about the recurring detective characters, always a treat. Hannah’s descriptions of the relentlessness of parenthood are dead on and devastating. A harried wife and mother’s simple “fling” a year previously now seems to have had dire consequences. I’m more than half way through and I’m finishing this entry now so I can go upstairs and continue reading. I can’t wait to read her other books. You should, too!
I now finally have a book to add to this page, after a long spell of just plowing through a lot of “Eh, okay,” fiction, this one stands out:
I am not a huge fan of historical fiction, mainly because I often find them often overblown and under researched. This book is neither. The obvious impeccable research from the time of England’s Restoration, along with the formation of the Royal Society, with Isaac Newton at its helm is the backdrop for this novelization of the real life of Eleanor Glanville, one of the first female entomologists. I personally have had a life long adoration of butterflies and some of my earliest gifts from my father encouraged this–microscope, butterfly net, etc. The tale of this wild Puritan girl brought up in a strict religious home but with a heart and soul nourished in the wild marshes of Somerset is beautifully written and heartbreakingly true. Author Fiona Mountain has done an amazing job of capturing the spirit of the time, and the strong will of Eleanor herself, who manages to persevere and flourish, despite everyone’s desire to hold her down and keep her from being the scientist she is at heart. Do yourself a favor and read this one quick!
I haven’t posted any new entries here in a while for a fairly simple reason. A couple of months ago, G and I got entangled in Steig Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy” or as I prefer to call them, the “girl books”.
Yeah, that one and the 2 others–The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. G started them first and got totally sucked into the first one. After she finished it, I picked it up and at first I was not really all that taken with them. Then, suddenly, the pages began turning faster and I couldn’t rip myself away from the girl who seemed to have wormed her way into my dreams. We were in Taos, NM with G’s sister back in September and G had–HAD–to find a bookstore immediately to buy the 3rd book in hardcover because she had left the other one at home and she was about to finish the 2nd book and could not bear to stop reading. I was the same way. I swore her to silence until I was done, and she was good, only asking me where I was every so often.
And truthfully, since I finished those 3 books I’ve been reading things here and there trying to find a plot and a character that will engage me as much as Lisbeth Salander did for a few all too short weeks this fall. The world lost a lot when Steig Larsson died way too early.
This entry covers 3 books, 1 I’ve finished, 1 I’m in the middle of and 1 I just started.
I picked up The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell on a whim at the library and it took me a while to get to it, but when I did, I fell in with an intensity and desire to inhale this story that I haven’t felt in a while.
I hadn’t read this book when I made my list of life-changing books a while back, but this one now definitely goes on that list. It’s a great science fiction yarn, covering interplanetary space travel, the effects of near light-speed on aging, the political climate of the near future (2060), and delves into the mysteries of the Catholic Church (Jesuits specifically) as well as celibacy, friendship, devotion, faith, doubt and the very nature of God its/him/herself. The MOST amazing thing about this book is that it’s a FIRST novel. The characters are some of the best drawn and engaging that I have ever read. I love all of them, even the ones I don’t like very much. The interaction is real and enthralling and achingly portrayed. I can’t say enough about this book. READ IT!
Given that, I’m now about a third of the way through the sequel, Children of God.
Not wanting to mention spoilers, some of the characters are familiar, others new. A trip is being planned back to the new world that was discovered in the previous book. I’m equally as engaged with this book, though not quite as “blown away” since I have the foundation to build on. Russell does just that. The story moves long, this time in 3 different story lines on 2 planets in various times. The whole thing is just amazing, and it’s one of those books I can’t wait to get to the end of, yet don’t want it to end at all.
The 3rd book is a complete deviation. It’s nonfiction for one, and I came upon it deliberately. A while back, I bought the latest CD by The Chieftains, one of my favorite musical groups ever. It was entitled, San Patricio, which didn’t mean anything to me at the time. However, after I opened the CD, listened to the music (amazing as always, with Ry Cooder), I discovered that there was an episode of history during the Mexican-American War that, while still carried in the hearts of Mexican people, has not surprisingly, been all but lost here. I had to know more, hence, sought out a book on the subject.
The “San Patricios” were immigrant Irish and Germans who enlisted in the U.S. Army hoping for a better life. Unfortunately, they did so at the height of a period of “Nativism” in America which, quite similar to today’s immigrant debates, had only contempt and ill treatment for them. A large number of these soldiers deserted, crossed over into Mexico and fought for the Mexican army against the U.S. invasion, supporting their fellow Catholics. I’ve only just begun this book, but it is completely enthralling. Having a bit o’Irish blood myself makes it even more interesting. The political issues of the mid-1800s before the Civil War were strikingly similar to what’s going on with immigration and religion today. Substitute “Mexican” and “Islam” for the Irish and Catholic in the book and you could be reading today’s headlines. I want to thank one of my readers for a Facebook challenge to read books about little known periods of history. This is a real education!
I started reading Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta series back when “Postmortem” or “The Body Farm” was the newest book. Long time ago. I plowed through all of them quickly, then slowed down for a while. When I picked her back up, something had changed. Scarpetta has always been a rather divided character, seemingly overtaken by her serious job as a medical examiner and forensic expert with little time for an outside life. But these books–they are just so bleak and grim, this one included. Scarpetta is now married to her long-time love, Benton Wesley, but neither of them seem happy, both haunted by past ghosts. Lesbian niece Lucy is a brilliant, rich, paranoid, closed off savant who can’t trust anyone, least of all the person she’s in a relationship with. Sidekick Pete Marino offers a little bit of relief, but since his long-hidden love for Scarpetta was roughly exposed in a previous book, everything about their encounters in the book is awkward (not badly written, but still awkward to read). There is just no relief in this book. I’m nearly finished, and I do want to get to the end, but now I fear that this book will only set the stage for yet another grim, bleak, hopeless feeling novel about these grim, bleak and hopeless people. Honestly, reading about the bad guys would be more fun!
I just finished reading Sarah Waters’ “The Little Stranger”. This is quite a departure from her other books. She’s probably best known for “Tipping the Velvet”, a Victorian lesbian tale that was made into a better-than-average movie. Most of her other books have also dealt on some level with lesbian themes. This one does not. Set in the post WWII English countryside of recovering economy and failing gentry, the story involves a “landed” family with a crumbling estate, elderly mother, war-wounded son, and intelligent but plain daughter. Enter the country doctor whose mother was once a servant in said mansion. The story moves along with a rundown “Gosford Park” feel until the creepiness begins to overtake you as you keep turning the pages. Waters captures the faded grandeur of the house and the family that belongs to it, more than the house belongs to them, perfectly. For a “gothic” story that will leave you thinking at the end, pick this one up!
I saw this book in the book store a while back and nearly bought it, but decided to wait till I could get it from the library. I got it this week and have been quickly moving through it. It’s an interesting premise. The author makes a case that recent “scientific” faux pas (the Vioxx-Merck scandal, etc.) have shaken people’s faith in science (isn’t that an oxymoron?!). He tackles genetically modified foods (they’re perfectly fine), the autism-vaccination connection (there’s not one), and global warming (it’s all our fault). As usual, I’m of 2 minds. I definitely believe in the strength and power of science, but feel that it’s often manipulated if not corrupted by putting profit above all. It’s a matter of degree. Certainly if you can turn a famine-ridden desert into farmland to feed starving people, that should be considered a good thing, but why are private farmers threatened with lawsuits that could bankrupt them because they choose not to use GMO seeds? Stuff like that. He decries “magical thinking” etc., and I suppose he could be right, but in the 1700′s it was science that was considered “magical thinking” until theories were proved. I wonder what will be considered “science” in 300 more years? Definitely a good read to get you thinking.
If I said this book was “like Harry Potter”, I’d be doing both a big disservice. The only real similarity between “The Magicians” and the Potter series is that “The Magicians” is also a story about a magical “university”. But there any similarity ends. I was quite taken with this tale all the way through, though I found the ending somewhat of a let down immediately after I finished the book. Having had a few days to think about it, though, I’m feeling that it was perhaps just the perfect one, after all. I hadn’t heard of this author before–I just picked this one up in the New section of the library–but I’ll be checking out his other works shortly. Enjoy this.
G expressed a desire to see this movie which surprised me as she normally doesn’t do “creepy”. I decided to read the book to see if there might be anything that would really bother her and because I’ve read a couple of his other books and he is a kick-ass writer. This one does not disappoint. The eerie mood descends from the opening paragraph and doesn’t let up. There are twists and turns, convolutions and involutions. Are the good guys good or are they only pretending to be? Set in the Joe McCarthy 1950s when paranoia was the word of the day. I knew there was some kind of big twist ending and all through the book I was speculating but never guessed the actual “ah-ha” moment. I definitely recommend it for a good read, and we will probably check out the movie.
If you’ve never read anything by Charles deLint, run, I say, RUN, do not walk to the nearest library or book store and snap up whatever is on the shelf. There’s not a word he writes that you’d go wrong with. Some of my favorites are “Trader”, “Someplace To Be Flying”, “The Onion Girl”, “Widdershins”, the list goes on. Just started the above, and while it’s out of his brilliantly-vivid world of Newford, it’s just as intriguing and imaginative. If you don’t get a tattoo or put hydraulics on your car after reading this book, you have no soul!
Still plowing through “Dickens”. I may finish it this decade. In the meantime:
I picked up the latest by Anne Rice. I have read her vampire and other stories on and off, but couldn’t say I was a huge fan. This is very different. This story deals with a hit man living in California who once wanted to be a priest and after a particular “hit” is approached by an angel for a particular mission. I’m about a third of the way through it, and I will say that Anne Rice can set a mood and evoke atmosphere like nobody’s business. It’s a most interesting premise, a tale being told alternatively from the point of view of the hit man and the angel who knows the man’s whole history far better than he does. Intriguing.
I finished “Drood” last week and, as usual, Dan Simmons does not disappoint. He is a writer of amazing depth and breadth. So much did I like this book that I am now reading Peter Ackroyd’s voluminous biography of Charles Dickens himself:
This book is truly a “tome”, and it’s going to take me a while to get through it. To balance out its serious nature, yesterday at the library I picked up “The Shroud of the Thwacker” by Chris Elliot:
Yes, THE Chris Elliot of Cabin Boy and other stupid movie fame. I have to say, I have never cared for him as a performer, but I laughed right out loud several times in the first 3 pages of this book. If you like a good spoof (along with anachronisitic fiction), then give this one a look. But check it out of the library. I have a feeling it’s a one-time read.*
*I confess that I did not finish this book. I laughed out loud frequently at what I did read, but after a while, it was almost too silly to sustain. I may check it out again, but probably not. Maybe I need to be in a sillier mood.
So, the other day, I picked up Dan Simmons’ latest, “Drood”, from the library.
The last book of his I read, “The Terror” has stayed with me since then. While he’s known for being a S/F/horror writer, these last 2 books have been fictionalized tales of actual, historical events, even though “The Terror” did definitely have its supernatural elements. “Drood” deals with Charles Dickens and Dickensian London, and how Dickens came to write his unfinished, final novel. I’m about 100 pages in and totally hooked. Dan Simmons is one hell of a tale teller, and I still say his “Children of the Night” is one of the best vampire books ever, if you are into that kind of thing. I’m also proud to say that Mr. Simmons lives in Colorado!
My friend Val in Denver gave me this book when G and I were visiting her this summer when I was swimming:
It’s not a book I would have picked up on my own, probably, but I started it last night and I already want to read it more slowly just to savor the richness of the story. This woman paints gorgeous pictures with words, evokes a strong mood, and the story sucks you right in. You would think that a story about a reclusive young woman who lives with her parents and really does nothing but read old books wouldn’t be every interesting, but you would be seriously wrong. If you are truly a lover of books and reading; if you have ever completely lost yourself in a story, this one is definitely for you.
Recently, at the suggestion of another couple we are friends with, I started reading this book:
Now, this book is really geared towards Christian, heterosexual couples, but the “love languages” are pretty much universal. It’s interesting to read about this because lots of times couples get derailed because one person will be doing his/her best to show the other one how much they love the other person, but the other person doesn’t “speak” the language the first person is using, and so feels UNloved. Then the first person feels like their efforts are all for nothing, that their love offerings are being ignored or rebuffed and round and round the circle goes. I would recommend it for couples in general, regardless of gender or religion. The Christian references are not overwhelming and there is more good than not to be learned from this book. At the least, it could make for some lively discussion between you and your partner/husband/wife. And what’s wrong with that?
I started reading “Nobody Passes” a couple of nights ago (see below). I like books like this because they come from voices that are completely different from my own experience, but I also don’t really like books like this because so far, the authors just seem to “wallow” in things. I never, ever mean to make light of someone else’s experience, but the fact is, no matter how empathetic or sympathetic I am to someone of color, or of a different gender flavor, I can never fully understand their experience because I’m NOT that. I have experienced being both a gender and racial minority in jobs that I have had, but that was just while I was on the job. Plus, I think you get what you look for. If you are always LOOKING for racism or sexism, you will find it, sure enough. If you just try to pretty much “get on with it” then you will. That’s MY experience. Still, I’m only about 3 essays into the book, and it’s good enough that I know I’ll finish it. I just can’t do it in one sitting.
Right now I am reading “The Reader” which was made into a movie with Kate Winslett:
I’m about halfway through with it; it reads quite quickly, but I’m not sure what to think about it. The first part, the “coming of age” with a 15-year-old boy and a woman of 36 just seems almost too “pat”. The family never finds out, the boy is on his own a lot because of an illness, etc. Obviously, some of the nuances could be lost in translation as this is a German story. I’m at the second part, and I won’t give it away, but have to say I’m not really expecting too much of a “punch” at the end. Could be wrong, though…
09/27/2009 – I finished the book and have mixed feelings about it. I guessed both the secret the character Hanna was hiding and ultimately what happens to her, so perhaps the book is predictable. What I didn’t expect, though, was how this book brought up some of my own memories of a past relationship with a man who was considerably older than I. Obviously the circumstances were completely different, but the reaction of the main character to this relationship with an older, seemingly wiser person of the opposite gender, a “teacher” if you will, was somewhat similar. That, I didn’t expect.
Then, at the bedside, amongst others, is “Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gener and Conformity”.
I got this as part of a Facebook reading group and am really looking forward to it, even though the group has already read it. Gender issues fascinate me; even though I am firmly rooted in my own gender identity, I absolutely love how fluid it can be for many people.
My friend, J, who is another avid reader and avid SF/speculative fan, recommended this book to me, and I am totally enjoying it at the moment:
Brian D’Amato manages to combine the future, time travel (only not really), the Mayan past and present, and speculation about just what IS going to happen on December 21, 2012 and reads like “Apocalypto” meets Neal Stephenson meets Robert A. Heinlein. I’m about half way through and hooked. Apparently, this is the first of a trilogy, the 2nd book of which will be out in 2010. One per year, till 2012? Who knows, but I’ll be reading them, for sure. If you like a booked PACKED with mind-stretching ideas and points of view, then you will love this one!