Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What I read this year (December)

I've been keeping a book diary since mid-1998, and in all that time I have never finished a book on December 6. Not this year either.

59. American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare; The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee, by Karen Abbott (finished December 1). In which we follow the development of burlesque as a theatrical form, with special attention to the contributions of the Minsky brothers, and also the life and career of Rose Louise Hovick, better known as Gypsy Rose Lee. I knew the basic outline of the story from the musical Gypsy, based on her memoir--I first saw the TV version with Bette Midler as Mama Rose, who is such a larger than life character that she generally completely overshadows whoever's unfortunate enough to be playing Gypsy. Turns out she was toned down a lot from real life.

60. The Affinity Bridge, by George Mann (December 11). In which Sir Maurice Newbury, investigator for the Crown, and his new assistant, Miss Veronica Hobbes, are assigned by Queen Victoria to look into the crash of an airship on which, it turns out, all the passengers were tied to their seats. Revenants and automata are also involved: great fun.

61. Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans, by Gary Krist (December 15). In which the author pulls together the birth of jazz, the short but colorful existence of the semi-legal vice district of Storyville, and the still-unsolved murders committed by the Axman. Fascinating, especially the parts about jazz.

62. Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas, by Stephanie Barron (December 21). In which Jane Austen, visiting friends at Christmas, gets involved in solving the murder of a naval courier and the theft of the treaty he was carrying. I love these mysteries, and I still think they capture the spirit of Jane Austen's own novels a good deal better than 98% of the unofficial sequels that keep coming out. 

63. The King's Deryni, by Katherine Kurtz (December 29). In which Alaric Morgan manages to avoid all the pitfalls inherent in being publicly known as a member of a feared and oppressed race of sorcerers, and grows up enough to be useful to his king. I've been waiting a long, long time for this one, and there's no way it could ever have been good enough to support the weight of expectation, but I enjoyed it well enough.

64. Astro City: Through Open Doors, by Kurt Busiek (December 30). In which we continue to explore what the existence of superheros might mean for the rest of us. I'm a big fan of Astro City, and glad to see it returning.

And that's it for this year! Shelfari says I read five more books than this, but I think those are probably graphic novels that I skipped over in my book journal, so I'll stop here.

Friday, December 26, 2014

What I read this year (November)

54. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed (finished November 4). I talked my coffeeshop book club into reading this over the objections of our founder, who doesn't read nonfiction for fun. I really enjoyed it, but I have a feeling the scene where the author and her brother have to put down their late mother's elderly horse is going to be the one where we lost some readers.

55. Closer to Home, by Mercedes Lackey (November 8). I felt distinctly meh about this when I read that Lackey was continuing the story of these particular characters, but my low expectations gave me room to be pleasantly surprised. I really liked the novel's take on the Romeo and Juliet story, and I now find I'm actually looking forward to the next one.

56. Engines of War, by George Mann (November 21). In which the Time Lord formerly known as the Doctor, after countless solitary years fighting the Time War against the Daleks, picks up a stray human again against his better judgment, and finds himself being reminded of some things he thought he had forgotten. I've been wanting to see more of the War Doctor since his appearance in the 50th anniversary special, and enjoyed this book so much I promptly looked up some of the author's other work.

57. Childe Morgan, by Katherine Kurtz (November 23). In which Alaric Morgan starts to grow up, but not fast enough to suit the purposes of King Donal, to whose service he was pledged before his birth. I thought a little better of it than the first time I read it; it seemed less like a crowd of characters rushing back and forth in search of a plot. Still seemed more like setup than actual story, but succeeded in making me cry at the end.

58. The Christmas Cat, by Melody Carlson (November 30). In which Garrison Brown must fulfill the conditions of his grandmother's will by personally and individually rehoming each of her six cats, to which he is violently allergic. My coffeeshop book club wanted to read something light and fluffy for December, so I suggested this one. I didn't realize at the time how short it was! I enjoyed it all the same.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What I read this year (October)

48. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien (finished October 9). In which the history of the Eldar in Middle Earth is told, from before the formation of the world to the end of the Third Age. Granted, it's like reading the sagas of the Icelanders for fun. Tolkien, of course, translated the sagas from Icelandic for fun...which figures, somehow. I find this book easier to get through with each reread; it was a real slog the first couple of times I tried it, but this time it flowed away quite easily at the gym.

49. The King's Curse, by Philippa Gregory (October 10). In which Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, lives carefully in the shadow of her family name, as merely to be a Plantagenet is unsafe in the age of the Tudors. I wasn't previously much familiar with the life of Lady Pole, who became the oldest person executed by Henry VIII. I always like it when I can learn something from a historical novel.

50. Watership Down, by Richard Adams (October 12). In which a small number of rabbits, prompted by a vision of coming disaster, search for a safe place to establish a new warren. Another old favorite that I just felt like rereading. I remember being intimidated by the size of it when I first read it at age 12, but this time it went really quickly.

51. Tortall and Other Lands, by Tamora Pierce (October 16). In which we visit some old friends, and fill in some background. I'm not usually a fan of short stories, but on the other hand I'm inclined to be a completist when it comes to authors I really like, and I've been a fan of Pierce for a long, long time.

52. Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace, by Kate Summerscale (October 17). In which Isabella Robinson's private diary becomes a court document. Another e-book that I read mostly in half-hour increments at the gym. This one goes to show that tawdry divorce cases playing out in the popular press are nothing new.

53. Meet--the Tiger! by Leslie Charteris (October 27). In which Simon Templar meets Patricia Holm, and the rest is swashbuckling history. And yes, both the em dash and the exclamation point are essential components of the title. This was a triumph of interlibrary loan: they found it for me at a university in Connecticut, when I'd long since come to the conclusion I was never going to get my hands on a copy of the very first book to feature the Saint.

Friday, December 19, 2014

What I read this year (September)

42. I Work at a Public Library, by Gina Sheridan (finished September 10). In which the author demonstrates the universality of cuckoo library patrons and the inevitability of human excrement on the floor. Like a number of other library blogs and memoirs I could name, this just goes to show that librarians everywhere have stories of this kind. (The one I always tell from my library is the Naked Man on the Staircase story.)

43. The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress, by Ariel Lawhon (September 13). In which the disappearance of Judge Crater is elucidated by the three women in his life. I read this for my coffeeshop book club, and though it was a tawdry story I found it absorbing; I also didn't guess the twist at the end. In fact it made me want to reread the thing, just to see if the author had played fair and dropped clues that I might have caught if I'd been paying more attention. I learned my lesson, too, and waited to read this one until much closer to the meeting!

44. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien (September 13). In which small hands venture great deeds because they must, and the world is saved, but not for everyone. I started a reread when I was on vacation in Colorado this summer, and stuck with it when I got home. I have honestly forgotten how many times I've read this brilliant book; it's been a favorite since I was nine or ten years old, and every time I go back to it I get something new out of it, because I bring something different with me.

45. A Dark-Adapted Eye, by Barbara Vine (September 24). In which Faith Severn, spurred by a true crime writer's interest in her family history, goes over the complex reasons that caused one her aunts to murder the other many years before. I read this for my pizza parlor book club. I think I was one of only two who finished it, but I enjoyed it. It seemed old-fashioned, but in a way that I like; I was surprised to check the publication date and realize it was published in the 80s.

46. Enter the Saint, by Leslie Charteris (September 25). In which Simon Templar saunters onto the scene, equally ready for a scrap or a song, and while the Snake and Whiskers come to well-deserved bad ends, a Lawless Lady joins the elect. I can see a whole-series reread coming up; they've all been reissued in paperback, so I can finally get hold of the ones I've never been able to track down at used book stores. Watch for the sign of the Saint, he will be back.

47. Lock In, by John Scalzi (September 27). In which Chris Shane, stricken with Haden's disease in childhood, joins the FBI's Haden-related crimes unit just in time to look into a murder involving an Integrator--a Haden's survivor who can let others borrow his body. Excellent near future police procedural, with some very interesting things to say about identity and gender.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What I read this year (August)

37. Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast (finished August 4). In which cartoonist Chast writes and draws a memoir of dealing with her parents in their declining years. I have really enjoyed a number of memoirs in graphic-novel format, and this was a great one. The story hit close to home too, as I'm sure it would for anybody who has been involved with caring for elderly parents.

38. Vanished Kingdoms, by Norman Davies (August 6). In which the noted historian discusses a number of political entities, mostly in Europe, which once existed and now no longer do, including both those as little known as the kingdom of Alt Clud in Britain and those once as powerful as the Soviet Union. It took me forever to read this, but when I joined a gym this year and figured out I could bring an e-reader and read while I used the elliptical machine I finally felt like I had the perfect opportunity to stick with this book.

39. The Late Scholar, by Jill Paton Walsh (August 8). In which Peter Wimsey, now the Duke of Denver, discovers he has also inherited the position of Visitor to an Oxford college, and is called upon to settle a dispute amongst the fellows. I didn't enjoy this quite as much as the previous installment, but it was still pretty fun.

40. In the King's Service, by Katherine Kurtz (August 20). In which King Donal Haldane plots to raise a Deryni protector for his crown prince even if he has to sire one himself. When I found out that the long-delayed last volume of this trilogy is finally coming out in December, I figured I'd better reread the first two, as I have very little recollection of where we left off!

41. Grave Sight, by Charlaine Harris (August 29). In which Harper Connelly, who can feel the last moments of the dead, has to start getting some answers from the living when more people start dying. My quirkier book club suggested an author rather than a title for this month, so I got to pick one of Harris's non-vampire novels. I liked it a lot, but didn't go on to the other books in the series; and then I missed the book club meeting about it.

Friday, December 12, 2014

What I read this year (July)

34. The Beekeeper's Apprentice, by Laurie R. King (finished July 1). In which Mary Russell stumbles across an eccentric gentleman on the Sussex Downs, and ends up working as the partner of Sherlock Holmes. This is the third time I've read it, I think; I got through most of it on an airplane on the way back from Las Vegas, having picked up an autographed copy at the ALA conference. The author had a stack of Miss Russell's visiting cards, so I asked for one of those as well; I used to be one of her friends on MySpace back when MySpace was a thing, though I was a very peripheral "friend" and I doubt Miss Russell would remember me.

35. Defending Jacob, by William Landay (July 5). In which First Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber, investigating the murder of a student, is completely taken aback when his own son Jacob is arrested for the crime. I read this for my new book club, and we had a good discussion about it.

36. The Husband's Secret, by Liane Moriarty (July 12). In which three women's personal tragedies intersect as Tess deals with her husband's infidelity by having an affair with a coworker of Rachel's, while Cecilia deals with a revelation from her husband's past having to do with Rachel's daughter. I read this for my new book club too, and then had trouble remembering it long enough to have anything to say about it at our August meeting!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What I read this year (June)

29. Fables, vol. 19: Snow White, and 30. Fairest in All the Land, both by Bill Willingham (both finished June 5). In the former of which, Snow White demonstrate who is really the best swordsman in Fabletown, and in the latter Cinderella is a lousy detective but a damn fine spy. I said I wasn't sure I wanted to continue with either of these series, didn't I? And yet, as you see, I'm still following along.

31. Saga, vol. 3, by Brian K. Vaughan (June 7). In which Gwendolyn and The Will finally track down Alana and Marko, to no one's satisfaction. Brilliant work, in spite of (or maybe because of) the fact that I was thoroughly ticked off by some plot points at the end. Lying Cat had better recover, that's all I have to say about that.

32. Skin Game, by Jim Butcher (June 14). In which Queen Mab loans out Harry Dresden's services as Winter Knight to one of his absolute least favorite villains, Nicodemus Archleone. This just demonstrates that sometimes it pays to stick with a series that seems to be going in ways you're not sure you like; I finished two or three of the recent ones with deep misgivings, but this one was very satisfying in a couple of ways ("Mister, where I come from, there is no try!"). That apocalyptic trilogy is getting closer all the time!

33. Blood Red, by Mercedes Lackey (June 20). In which we find out what would have happened had Little Red Riding Hood grown up to be a werewolf hunter. And this one reinforces the lesson. The last few in this series seemed to be getting kind of repetitive, but this went in a different direction and it was a lot of fun.

Friday, December 5, 2014

What I read this year (May)

26. Avatar: The Last Airbender--The Promise, by Gene Luen Yang (finished May 10). In which Aang and Zuko's Harmony Restoration Movement doesn't go as planned, and Zuko extracts a promise from Aang that makes the Avatar very unhappy. I got to meet Gene Luen Yang at ALA this summer, and tell him how much I love his work--after the Avatar stuff I looked up everything else he ever wrote, and Level Up is probably my favorite. He signed an Avatar poster for me and drew a quick sketch of Appa sticking his tongue out; it's a treasured possession, proudly displayed in my office.

27. Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline (May 17). In which an Irish orphan is put on a train to look for someone to take her in, and many years later a foster child does community service by helping an elderly lady clean up her attic. I was invited to join the book club a friend of mine was starting, and this was the first selection. I get the impression that this club is likely to read more of what you might consider "book club" books than my other, quirkier book club. I wasn't expecting to like this one, but I enjoyed it, particularly once I caught the parallel being drawn between the early 20th century orphan and the early 21st century foster child.

28. The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton (May 25). In which Lily Bart consistently chooses money over happiness and ends up with neither. And this was the selection for my other book club this month. Unlike some of the classics we've attempted (looking at you, Henry James), this one was compulsively readable, if depressing at the end.

And that was it for May!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What I read this year (April)

21. The Martian, by Andy Weir (finished April 5). In which astronaut Mark Watney is left for dead on Mars when his team is forced to scrub their mission, and then has to figure out how to survive alone long enough to be rescued. I loved this book, and kept reading bits of it out loud to my husband, many of them having to do with disco music and Aquaman. I'm even interested to see the movie they're making of it, though I am not the world's biggest Matt Damon fan.

22. Doctor Who: A History, by Alan Kistler (April 7). More geeky fun, and I even learned some stuff I hadn't known: like the fact that Sean Pertwee was considered for the role and turned it down on the ground that his dad's performance had been so iconic.

23. Avatar: The Last Airbender--The Search, by Gene Luen Yang (April 19). In which Zuko recruits his mad sister Azula to help him search for their long-missing mother. I was late to the party for Avatar, catching up with the whole series on DVD years after it first came out, but I was hooked from the very first episode. I'm really enjoying these official sequel comics, and I've learned to wait for the hardcover deluxe edition with creators' commentary.

24. Time and Again, by Jack Finney (April 20). In which illustrator Si Morley learns to walk back and forth between the 1970s and the 1880s. There's really no need to go into detail about how time travel works in order to have a fascinating time travel story...though I had some issues with the ending, as I said at the time.

25. To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing, by Simon Garfield (April 26). I also enjoyed the author's book about typefaces, which just goes to illustrate what a huge geek I am. I always had fun writing letters, and I'm told I wrote extremely amusing ones back when I was in college and grad school, before email really took off and I got out of the habit of handwritten correspondence. This year I participated in the Month of Letters challenge, and I fully plan to do so again.