Christina reads the 12 in 12, part 3
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Callie Grey has spent years pining for her gorgeous boss Mark, and after an intense hook-up on a business trip, she’s convinced that Mark has finally realized she’s the one. So when he reveals that he’s in a serious relationship with one of her co-workers, Callie is devastated. She knows she should try to get over him, but part of her keeps whispering that the two of them are meant to be. Still, she makes a few attempts to move on, including scoping out the new veterinarian in town, Ian McFarland. Ian is handsome enough, but he’s also cold and stand-offish — and he doesn’t seem to like Callie one bit. Nevertheless, Callie’s cheerful, stubborn disposition won’t allow her to give up on Ian, and she soon finds herself developing feelings for him. But when Mark begins showing signs of interest in Callie again, will she choose the man she’s always wanted or the man who truly wants her?
I’ll admit it: I set aside my very long book about the Hundred Years’ War so that I could jump right into some romance. :) As with the other Kristan Higgins books I’ve read, I enjoyed this one. Callie is a lovable heroine, who may have occasional “emotional diarrhea” (in the words of our hero) but is also sweet-natured and patient with everyone around her. As for Ian, well, what’s not to like about a guy who is described as looking like a Russian assassin but who is petrified of a group of 5-year-old girls? I think Too Good to Be True is a bit more polished than this book — maybe this is an earlier effort; I’m not sure. But it’s still a fun read and a great way to spend an evening!
Book #78: Juliet Marillier, Son of the Shadows
Liadan, the youngest daughter of Sorcha and Red, loves her home at Sevenwaters and wants nothing more than to remain there with her beloved family. However, it seems the Fair Folk have another destiny in store for her. While paying a visit to a sick farmer, Liadan is kidnapped by a group of mercenary soldiers and forced to use her healing skills on their behalf. Terrified to be held captive by these intimidating warriors, Liadan nevertheless does her best to heal the wounded man. Her quiet determination soon wins the men’s respect, but she frequently finds herself at odds with their leader, a man tattooed with menacing symbols and thus referred to as the Painted Man. The arguments between Liadan and the Painted Man eventually transform into a grudging respect and then something more, but outside pressures continually conspire to drive them apart.
I read the first Sevenwaters book, Daughter of the Forest, a few years ago and absolutely loved it. Soon afterward, I acquired the next two books in the series, but for some reason I never got around to reading them. Now I can say that Son of the Shadows is an excellent read, though not a very quick one. There’s so much lush language and description that the book moves fairly slowly. While I got a little impatient with the pervasive mystical elements (telepathic communications, mysterious prophecies, etc.), they definitely help to create the full-bodied world of the series. I was also annoyed by the Big Secret involving Liadan’s sister Niamh, which was predictable and should have been revealed a lot sooner than it was. However, I really enjoyed the story of Liadan and the Painted Man, and I look forward to seeing what happens in the next installment of the series, Child of the Prophecy.
The title of this nonfiction work is pretty self-explanatory: Barker narrates the progress of the Hundred Years’ War starting shortly after Henry V’s victory at Agincourt. She describes the major battles and sieges in meticulous detail, while also painting a picture of the broader diplomatic situation between England and France. The book depicts the major players during this phase of the Hundred Years’ War, including Henry V of England; the Duke of Bedford, Henry’s brother and the chief military leader in France; Charles VII of France; the Duke of Burgundy, whose relationship with the English informed much of the course of the war; and Joan of Arc. Ultimately, Barker analyzes the course of events and offers an explanation for why England eventually lost its claim to the crown of France.
Honestly, this is a book you’re only going to like if you’re already interested in the subject matter. Personally I’ve always been fascinated by the Middle Ages; I’d also previously read Juliet Barker’s Agincourt, so in some ways I was the ideal audience for this book. Barker is a good writer, and this book appears meticulously researched. The book is told more from the British perspective than the French; I wouldn’t necessarily call it a pro-British bias, but there is definitely more time spent on England than on France, perhaps because of the availability of sources. I will say that I struggled at some points because of the repetitive nature of events (“then X castle was besieged and taken by the English, and then the French got mad and took it back,” etc.). But I would definitely recommend this book as a source for anyone studying the period. For someone with less knowledge of or interest in the late Middle Ages, I’d recommend Agincourt instead.
Strangely, no touchstone, even though this was my August LTER book! Anyway.
This little book comprises excerpts of sermons that Pope Benedict XVI has given on various Catholic holy days throughout the past few years. Most passages are short, a few paragraphs at most, but they all have something thoughtful and interesting to say about some aspect of Catholic theology. My only complaint is how short the book is (less than 100 pages); I would have liked to read the excerpted sermons in full and delve into each holy day a little more deeply. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book and plan to use it as a devotional text, reading the relevant sermons throughout the year. I’d recommend this one to Catholics, as long as they don’t mind a fairly cursory look at the holy days mentioned.
Still reeling after the tragic events of One Salt Sea, Toby Daye has thrown herself into her work, rushing into unnecessarily dangerous situations and pushing all her friends away. But she can't avoid the people around her forever -- a fact made abundantly clear when Etienne, one of Duke Sylvester's knights, comes to her for help. His daughter Chelsea, a changeling whose existence he only recently discovered, has inherited extremely strong powers from her fae blood, but she has no idea how to control them. Now she's ripping doors through Faerie that were never meant to be opened, and Toby has to stop her before she inadvertently destroys the world of Faerie.
I'm really enjoying the Toby Daye books, and this latest installment is no exception. The book moves at a quick pace, with the need to find Chelsea being the driving force, but there's still the occasional quiet moment to balance out the action sequences. I also noticed several little hints throughout the novel about what might come next in the series: for example, the clues about Quentin's background should pay off in future installments. Tybalt also plays a prominent role in this book, which is always a plus for me! And as always, I love Toby's sarcastic voice and gallows humor, which are the perfect antidote to the violence and cruelty that she confronts on a daily basis. Overall, this is another strong installment in an excellent series. Can't wait for the next Toby Daye novel!
It’s nearly impossible to describe the plot of this book, since there’s so much going on. Suffice it to say that it involves a murder, a mechanical monk (who believes things so you don’t have to), an extremely dull dinner at St. Cedd’s College, Cambridge, a ghost, a cutting-edge (in 1986) computer program, a conjuring trick, a time machine, and the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. There’s also some musings on Schrödinger’s cat, a sliver of romance, and a fairly staggering number of coincidences that ultimately demonstrate “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.” In short, it’s a wacky sci-fi rollercoaster of a read, and fans of the “Hitchhiker” books should really enjoy it.
Normally this is the point at which I’d talk about what I liked, what I didn’t like, and my overall opinion of the book. But for some reason, I don’t have much else to say about it. I found it a very enjoyable read and laughed aloud several times (often in public). There were a few parts where the scientific explanations came dangerously close to going over my head, but I was always able to follow what was going on. I would have liked a little more character development for Richard, who is pretty much the only everyman in a world populated by nutcases. But Dirk Gently is absolutely delightful, especially when he’s bamboozling old ladies into paying for his trips to the Bahamas — because although he’s been hired to find their lost cats, the vacations are all part of his process. (OK, so I have things to say about it after all!) In short, I’d definitely recommend this book if you’re in the mood for some humorous science fiction. I plan to read the sequel, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, one of these days.
But back to the point. I remember enjoying Dirk Gently, and your review excites me and makes me smile. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, and the reminder of this fun but wacky author.
@ 12 -- Thanks, psutto. I really need to see if my library has a copy.
Seventeen-year-old Taylor is used to running away from her problems; after all, she’s been doing it for as long as she can remember, storming out of the house whenever she got into an argument with a parent or sibling. But when she learns that her father is dying of pancreatic cancer, she knows that this is a problem she can’t escape by running away. Instead, she and her family decide to spend one last summer at their lake house in the Poconos, where they used to spend every summer vacation when Taylor was little. At first Taylor dreads the trip, but eventually she begins to come to terms with her father’s illness. She also mends fences with her ex-best friend, her first love (who’s all grown up and cuter than ever), and her parents and siblings, learning that it’s still not too late to give or receive a second chance.
I really liked Matson’s previous novel, Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, so I was happy to find a copy of this one at the public library. While this book is just as well-written as Amy & Roger, it deals with the tough subject of a parent’s death in a much more direct way; while Amy’s father was already dead at the beginning of Amy & Roger, in this novel we experience Taylor’s dad’s illness right alongside the characters. For this reason, the romance, while it does exist, is not really central to the book. Rather, the main focus is Taylor’s relationship with her parents and her brother and sister, which I personally loved. Taylor’s family is reasonably close — at least, they all get along most of the time — but the tragedy of her father’s sickness makes them realize how much they’ve been taking each other for granted. They grow closer to each other as a result of their shared fear and grief. This is a very sad book in some places — I cried copiously, as per usual — but ultimately it has an uplifting message. I’d definitely recommend this book to fans of YA.
When I read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell last year, it pretty much knocked my socks off, so I was excited to find Clarke’s collection of short stories (all of which were, I think, previously published elsewhere). Here are my thoughts on the individual stories:
“The Ladies of Grace Adieu” — Jonathan Strange visits his brother-in-law in Gloucestershire and is surprised to discover three young ladies with magical talents; however, they don’t always use these talents for benevolent purposes. A suitably creepy and atmospheric story, but I didn’t quite follow the plot.
“On Lickerish Hill” — In the 15th or 16th century, a young peasant girl marries the local squire and is forced to spin a large quantity of wool in an impossibly short period of time. My least favorite story in the bunch; the period language got on my nerves, and in general the story didn’t feel like it had very much substance to it.
“Mrs. Mabb” — In Regency England, a girl’s lover jilts her for the mysterious Mrs. Mabb, and the girl decides to fight back. I liked this story, especially the descriptions of the girl’s experiences in fairyland, which are darker and more painful than the word “fairyland” suggests.
“The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse” — The title of this one is pretty self-explanatory. :) This is one of the shortest, most amusing stories in the bunch, and the setting (the village of Wall) is borrowed from Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. Definitely one of my favorites in the bunch.
“Mr. Simonelli or The Fairy Widower” — Simonelli keeps a journal about his new job as the vicar of a country village and his encounters with a fairy lord who is looking for a new human bride. I liked this story because it was longer and more fleshed out than most of the others; it also conveys a subtly disturbing atmosphere.
“Tom Brightwind or How the Fairy Bridge Was Built at Thoresby” — A Jew and a fairy visit the decaying town of Thoresby and make a plan to help its inhabitants. I wasn’t terribly interested in this story as such, but it does shed some light on Clarke’s fairies and their family relationships.
“Antickes and Frets” — Mary, Queen of Scots, plots to destroy Elizabeth by using magic. I enjoyed the incorporation of actual historical figures into this story.
“John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner” — John Uskglass, the Raven King, inadvertently injures a lowly charcoal burner, who turns to various Christian saints for retribution. This was my favorite story in the bunch; the saints were hilarious, and I just really liked the whole idea of this story.
Sorry that took so long! I never know how to review short story collections. Should I talk about each story individually or just give my impressions on the collection as a whole? As you can see, I’ve chosen the former approach because I think it’s more helpful to people who are deciding whether the collection is worth their time or not. Anyway, I wouldn’t recommend this book to someone who hasn’t read Jonathan Strange, but for those who have read it, these stories shed an interesting light on Clarke’s world and her vision of the realm of fairy.
This novel begins, as so many British cozy mysteries do, with an awkward weekend at an English country house. Sir Arthur Billington-Smith is a tyrannical husband and father with a terrible temper; therefore, he is less than thrilled when several unexpected guests arrive for the weekend. All the guests dislike Sir Arthur, but since he also happens to be quite wealthy, they are hoping to manipulate him into giving them money. Naturally, Sir Arthur is murdered during the course of the house party, and Inspector Harding of Scotland Yard is called in to investigate. He soon finds that nearly everyone has a motive, but there is a dismaying lack of evidence that any one suspect committed the crime.
As I've said about a million times by now, I absolutely love Georgette Heyer! :) I’ve read all her Regency-era romances and am now making my way through her mysteries. As a mystery, I have to say that this book is fairly average. Many of the characters seem two-dimensional and could be found in any number of mysteries from this period: the long-suffering wife, the lively young sister-in-law, the disappointing son, the unworldly vicar, and the sharp-tongued vicar’s wife. Still, Georgette Heyer’s snappy dialogue and characteristic hint of romance made this a fun read for me. I even appreciated the meticulous nature of Inspector Harding’s investigation; I never found myself thinking that the police were jumping to conclusions or overlooking evidence, they way they so often seem to do in mystery novels. All in all, if you’re a fan of Golden Age mysteries, I definitely recommend Heyer’s books.
@ 18 -- Thanks, psutto. I certainly enjoyed the book overall, though like most short story collections, it's a bit of a mixed bag.
Richard Stark, The Hunter
Alexander McCall Smith, Portuguese Irregular Verbs
Anthony Berkeley, The Poisoned Chocolates Case
Edith Pargeter, A Bloody Field by Shrewsbury
Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time
Kristan Higgins, My One and Only
I'm planning to return tomorrow with a friend. I really love library sale weekend. :)
@ 22 -- It's not my usual type of book, so I'm very curious about Portuguese Irregular Verbs. I may not like it, but that's fine -- it's short, and it wasn't expensive! I read one of McCall Smith's Sunday Philosophy Club books, and I thought it was only so-so...but I'm guessing the von Igelfeld books are very different, so that could be a good thing!
ETA: I thought I should correct my grammar!
I acquired two more books at the library sale today -- Empire State by Adam Christopher and Winter in June by Kathryn Miller Haines. Altogether, I spent $14 on 8 books, which isn't too bad, I'd say!
This novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1921, tells the story of Alice Adams, a young woman who is determined to rise in society. Her father is kind-hearted and hardworking but content to be merely an employee at the factory of J.A. Lamb, the (unnamed) city’s most prominent businessman. He makes a decent salary, but it’s not enough for Alice to be able to mix in high society. Alice and her mother therefore continually badger her father to go into business for himself, which he eventually does — with disastrous consequences. Meanwhile, Alice meets the well-to-do Arthur Russell and immediately determines to marry him so that she can finally be the fine lady she’s always wanted to be.
I found this novel fascinating for several reasons. First, the plot manages to be suspenseful despite the ending’s inevitability; you know things are not going to end well for Alice, but you can’t help turning the pages in horrified fascination. Especially toward the end, when I could really see where things were heading, every terrible decision the Adamses made caused me to squirm. At the same time, I couldn’t help pitying Alice, her father and even her mother. They’re not bad people; they just think they’re entitled to a better lifestyle than they’re used to, and they don’t quite know how to get there. Alice is an especially interesting character. On the one hand, she’s basically a gold-digger, but she at least has enough self-awareness to realize that she’s being shallow. So I did enjoy this book, although in my opinion it’s not as good as Tarkington’s other Pulitzer-winning novel, The Magnificent Ambersons.
Not bad, at all. May I also mention how impressed I am by the obvious restraint you exhibited?
When Julia Beckett was five years old, she saw a house while traveling with her family and instantly felt drawn to it. Years later, she sees the house again and impulsively decides to buy it. As she settles down in the country village of Exbury, she is fascinated by the history of her house and the surrounding area. She also begins to experience “flashbacks” from the perspective of Mariana Farr, an inhabitant of the house in the 17th century. The more time Julia spends as Mariana, the more she is captivated by the events of the past — especially when the handsome Richard de Mornay, lord of the neighboring manor, shows an interest in Mariana. However, Julia must eventually discover why she shares Mariana’s experiences and what the consequences will be for her own life.
I had heard a lot of wonderful things about Susanna Kearsley, but I ended up being a bit underwhelmed by my first Kearsley novel, The Winter Sea. I enjoyed this book more, probably because I had more moderate expectations going in. Julia is a likable character, and I really enjoyed her relationships with the other present-day characters, especially her brother Tom. I was actually much less interested in the historical plot line, which is unusual for me. I felt like Kearsley wanted me to care more about Mariana’s story, but I honestly cared more about Julia’s. I wasn’t totally satisfied with the present-day romance either, but I can’t explain why without spoiling the book. Overall, I found this book a pleasant read, but unfortunately it didn’t grab me the way I wanted it to.
Set in the early 20th century, this short novel tells the story of Helen McGill, a 39-year-old spinster who has spent the last several years living on her brother’s farm and keeping house for him. One day a traveling book salesman named Roger Mifflin shows up at Helen’s door and persuades her to take over the business. She purchases his van, called “the traveling Parnassus,” and sets off with Mifflin to have an adventure. Along the way, she meets several interesting people, discovers the joy of literature, and even finds true love.
I think this novel is a must-read for any book lover. Roger Mifflin’s love of literature is contagious, and he is very eloquent in praise of the written word:
“Lord!” he said, “when you sell a man a book you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue — you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night — there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book I mean.”
The book isn’t particularly complex or thought-provoking, but it’s sweet and cheerful and a real pleasure to read. I definitely recommend it, and I hope to read the sequel, The Haunted Bookshop, soon.
Book #89: Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book
“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” So begins this novel about an ordinary boy in an extraordinary situation. When the sinister man Jack murders the boy’s family and comes after him, he manages to escape to the local graveyard and evade Jack for the time being. He is taken in by the ghostly inhabitants of the graveyard, who give him the name Nobody Owens. Bod grows up in the graveyard with certain abilities (such as Fading and Haunting) but certain limitations (such as not interacting with living people). He loves his family in the graveyard but is also curious about the outside world. The older Bod gets, the more he is drawn to the world of the living; but the man Jack is still looking for him, and he must confront many dangers before he can truly begin to live his life.
This book is a wonderfully atmospheric tale, perfect for a chilly autumn evening. Gaiman’s descriptions are evocative and often spooky, from the menace of Jack and his associates to the slavering ghouls to the ancient power of the Sleer. Bod is a grave (pun intended) but likable child, and his adventures both in and out of the graveyard make for entertaining reading. I also loved Silas, Bod’s guardian, and I would have liked to know more about him. The ending is sad in some ways, but it feels absolutely right for the story. My only complaint is that this book is less substantial than Gaiman’s work for adults (Neverwhere is still my favorite), but I definitely enjoyed it nonetheless.
Sam Spade is a private investigator operating in the seedy underbelly of early 20th-century San Francisco. His clients are usually shady types who don’t want to get mixed up with the police, so he knows right away that the beautiful Miss Wonderly, who comes into his office with a sob story about a missing sister, is trouble. Spade agrees to take the case, and his partner Archer shadows the girl in hopes of discovering more about her. When Archer ends up dead shortly thereafter, Spade must investigate Miss Wonderly (whose real name is Brigid O’Shaughnessy) and the various shady characters with whom she is involved. But the case becomes even more dangerous than he imagined when he discovers a group of criminals on the trail of a priceless historical artifact known as the Maltese falcon.
I hate to say this about such a well-loved classic mystery, but I wasn’t a huge fan of this book. The writing style didn’t do anything for me, and the plot was only so-so. Now, I’m sure it was wildly creative at the time, as I believe Hammett was one of the pioneers of the noir genre. But in this day and age, the twists are all too familiar. I am glad I read the book, since it’s an influential part of pop culture, but it’s not something that I’d read again just for fun. I am curious to see the movie, though; I predict that this is one of those rare cases where the movie is better than the book! All in all, while I quite liked The Thin Man, this book was just not for me.
Ananna is the daughter of a prominent pirate clan, which makes her a valuable matrimonial prize. Yet when her parents arrange an advantageous marriage with a man from another pirate clan, she rebels. Fearing that her parents will force her into the marriage, she runs away — but not before her scorned fiancé threatens to send an assassin after her. Ananna has heard the horror stories about assassins: they lurk in the shadows and use blood magic to curse their doomed victims. But when her assassin catches up with her, Ananna inadvertently saves his life, thus binding them together. Now she needs to find a way to break the curse that ties her to the assassin without getting into even more trouble.
The first cool thing about this novel is that it's set in a quasi-Middle Eastern fantasy world — a refreshing change from the faux-medieval backdrop of many fantasy novels. Also, there are pirates, and they’re the fun kind of pirates, roguish yet charming. I also grew to enjoy both Ananna and Naji (the assassin) as characters, although Ananna’s extremely informal dialect did get on my nerves at first. My biggest gripe with the book is that, after the major characters and conflict are established, nothing happens. And in the end, absolutely nothing is resolved; you have to read the sequel (not yet published) to find out what happens! The book doesn’t technically end on a cliffhanger, but basically it’s only the first part of the story. What’s worse, there is no indication before the ending that this book is part of a series. So if you do decide to read it, be forewarned that you won’t be able to find out what happens until #2 is released! That said, I liked the book and will probably read the next one; I’m just sorry the (non)ending left such a bad taste in my mouth.
At the beginning of this novel, 16 people of all ages and walks of life are invited to live in a fancy new apartment building overlooking Lake Michigan. They all accept due to the luxurious accommodations and affordable rent, but it soon becomes apparent that they have been gathered for a purpose. Old Samuel Westing, who founded the town and employed many of its citizens, has just died. When the apartment dwellers are summoned to the reading of the will under the guise of being his heirs, they are shocked to hear that Mr. Westing has accused one of them of being his murderer. He proposes a game to the 16 heirs: The person who discovers Mr. Westing’s killer will inherit his vast fortune.
This is one of those books that I somehow missed in my childhood, and I decided to pick it up for the read-a-thon since I assumed it would be a fairly effortless read. But while I enjoyed the book a lot, it was definitely more complex than I thought it would be! There are a lot of characters to keep track of, which was hard at first, but they each had such distinctive qualities that I was soon able to tell who was who. The game itself was delightful to puzzle through, and I’ll admit that I didn’t see many of the twists coming! I think this would be a great read for bright children, especially those who love mysteries — but it can definitely be enjoyed by adults as well!
Harper James is a ball-busting divorce attorney who firmly believes in the nobility of her calling. In her words, she helps people’s hearts to accept what their heads already know — that they and their spouses are simply no good for each other. Harper knows the truth of this saying firsthand, as she divorced her college sweetheart, Nick, several years ago. Harper has done her best to move on from Nick and is even contemplating marriage to another man. But when she learns that her younger stepsister is about to get married to Nick’s half-brother, she can’t help but get upset. She’ll have to see Nick again and confront their shared past, from the intensity of their love to the heartbreaking disintegration of their marriage. How can Harper get over Nick when the sight of him unearths feelings she thought she’d buried long ago?
Another winner from Kristan Higgins! This book is a real page-turner, especially after Harper’s past with Nick slowly starts to be revealed. I didn’t particularly like Harper at first — I found her shrill and abrasive — but it gradually becomes clear that she has good reasons for being the way she is. Nick is also a compelling hero, swoonworthy but not flawless, and certainly not blameless in the conflict between him and Harper. I really liked how the obstacles separating the hero and heroine are legitimate and not the result of a silly Big Misunderstanding. Rather, they seem like the kind of problems that many married couples fall prey to: they take each other for granted and are afraid to fully open up to each other. So I think this book has a little more emotional weight than Higgins’ other books, but that’s not a bad thing! I’d definitely recommend this to fans of contemporary romance.
In a household full of witches, psychics, and otherwise supernaturally gifted women, Blue Sargent is the only one with no powers of her own. She does, however, possess a gift for strengthening other people’s magic; so every year on St. Mark’s Eve, she goes with her mother to a certain church to count the dead as they pass by. Blue has never seen the spirits before, so this time she is shocked to notice a boy about her age walking past the church. He’s wearing an Aglionby sweater, which marks him as a student at the local fancy prep school, a Raven boy. Blue is troubled by her vision because the boy’s presence on this path means he’ll die within the year. When she meets the Aglionby boy and his friends in person, she decides to try to prevent the boy’s death and help him on his own magical quest.
I feel like I didn’t do a very good job of explaining this book, because there are a lot of things going on. Blue is one of the main characters, but the book also spends a lot of time with each of the four Raven boys (the one Blue saw and his three best friends). So we learn a lot about the boys’ pasts, their various problems, and their quest to find the lost body of the Welsh king Owen Glendower. As a result of the scattered focus, nothing is covered in very much depth. I learned just enough about the characters to grow attached to them and become curious about their fates, but there’s a lot left to be resolved. The book’s pace is fairly slow, which fits with Stiefvater’s reflective style of writing. The romantic element of this book, though present, is very low-key; I imagine it will be more prevalent in later books in the series. Overall, this book didn’t blow me away like The Scorpio Races did, but I still really enjoyed it and look forward to reading more by Maggie Stiefvater.
Nick and Amy Dunne are attractive thirty-somethings living in a large house in Missouri, right by the Mississippi River. From the outside, they seem to have a charmed life, but in fact they’ve been having increasingly severe marital problems. Then, on their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing. Suspicion naturally falls on Nick, since in these situations it’s usually the husband who is guilty. Did Nick kill Amy, and if not, what happened to her? As the narrative slowly unfolds, the truth becomes ever more complex and more elusive.
This is the kind of book that’s really hard to discuss without major spoilers, but I’ll do my best not to give anything away! For starters, this is not my usual genre; I hardly ever read thrillers, but this one is so popular that I decided to see what all the fuss was about. Overall I think I enjoyed the book, or at any rate I found it compelling. I got sucked into the story and had to keep turning the pages to find out what would happen next. Neither Nick nor Amy is entirely likable, and they both get more unpleasant as the book goes on. But it was fun to chase all the plot twists and try to stay one step ahead of the narrators. (Nick and Amy take turns narrating, him from the time of the disappearance and her from diary entries written beforehand.) I didn’t like the ending, though obviously I can’t be more specific. Still, this is a good read for what it is, and I’d recommend it for planes or beaches (but definitely not on your honeymoon!).
@ 60 -- Good tip, pammab. I'll keep that in mind the next time a storm blows through. :)
So the storm has officially passed through my neck of the woods without dire consequences. I had power and water the whole time, and I didn't have to go to work Monday or Tuesday! My thoughts and prayers are with everyone still being hit by the storm -- hope everyone stays safe!
Happy Halloween to all! Best costume I've seen today: a guy on the subway dressed as Fifty Shades of Grey! He had paint chips in various shades of gray attached to his normal business attire. It was pretty amazing!
@ 64 -- mamzel, I think napping is an excellent solution to the eye strain problem!
Dany Ashton has lived a fairly sheltered life with her Aunt Henrietta in rural England, but she dreams of travel and adventure. So when she has the opportunity to visit her mother and stepfather in Zanzibar, she jumps at the chance. However, before she even gets on the plane to leave England, mysterious events conspire to throw obstacles in her path. Her room is searched, her passport is stolen -- and the family solicitor, whom Dany had visited earlier in the day to pick up a document for her stepfather, is murdered. Dany nevertheless manages to get to Zanzibar, but more sinister occurrences follow her. When a member of her stepfather's house party dies, seemingly by accident, Dany can't help suspecting that it might be murder -- and that her own life may also be in danger.
I have really enjoyed all the "Death in..." books, but I think this one is my new favorite. I liked that there isn't a lot of tedious exposition at the beginning of the story; rather, Dany is immediately plunged into a mystery and a possible romance, so I was paying attention right away. It was also interesting to read about 1950s Zanzibar from a British perspective. Kaye describes it as an idyllic region fairly removed from politics, yet communism and Cold War ideology are beginning to creep into the area. Kaye is also fairly evenhanded in her portrayal of the native Africans, though certain turns of phrase are harsh on 21st-century ears. If you like the basic premise of "girl travels to exotic location and becomes embroiled in danger and romance," you'll probably enjoy this book. Recommended, especially for armchair travelers!
Nick Carter is a midlevel associate at an intellectual property law firm. His biggest problems are lack of job security — if he doesn’t get on the partner track soon, he’ll most likely be fired — and his crush on the hot girl in his apartment building. But things get a whole lot worse for Nick when two aliens suddenly appear in his office and announce that Earth is in serious trouble. The aliens explain that Earth’s music is the most popular in the universe and that various alien species have been pirating the music at an alarming rate. Due to Earth’s copyright laws, the aliens owe us a whole lot of money — and they’re not happy about it. Can Nick use his legal knowledge and bluffing ability to save the world?
This is an extremely clever sci-fi novel whose success really depends on its premise. If the idea of aliens getting all worked up over copyright infringement appeals to you, you’ll most likely enjoy this book. Personally, I thought it was a funny and entertaining read. The satire of U.S. copyright laws and their total inability to deal with the Internet is pretty spot-on, but the book mostly focuses on silliness rather than social commentary. I loved the musical in-jokes, which mostly focus on classic rock (“year zero” to the aliens is 1977, the year in which they were first exposed to Earth music). Gotta love a universe where aliens will be reduced to a state of quivering ecstasy by hearing a Simply Red song! Anyway, as I said, if you like the premise, this one is worth a read.
@ 71 -- hailelib, isn't it the worst when the library doesn't have something you want to read? Hope you enjoy it if you do track it down!
@ 74 -- I don't read a lot of sci fi, but Year Zero does seem to be a little nontraditional for the genre. Hope you like it if you do decide to check it out.
The Honorable Daisy Dalrymple doesn’t need to work for a living, but she’d rather be independent than live with her disagreeable relatives. She works as a journalist, writing about English country houses for the society columns. Her latest assignment is at Wentwater Court; since Daisy knows the family slightly, it shouldn’t be difficult for her to get some good interviews. Daisy arrives in the midst of a small house party and soon notices tension within the group. When one of the guests is found dead, everyone assumes it’s an accident, but Daisy finds evidence that points to murder. Inspector Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard arrives to take charge of the case, and Daisy is eager to assist the investigation. But what if the murderer is someone she knows and cares about?
This is a fun little cozy mystery set in the 1920s. Daisy Dalrymple is a likable heroine — cheerful, intelligent, modern but not unbelievably so. I often get annoyed with amateur detectives in mystery novels, because they always seem to do stupid things (not tell the police everything, go off to hunt the killer on their own, etc.). But here, Daisy works with the police, and her motives are pretty plausible: she wants to help prove her friends’ innocence if possible, and she’s attracted to Inspector Fletcher. And from Alec’s point of view, it makes sense to ask for Daisy’s help because she knows the people involved but is still a somewhat impartial observer. The actual plot is somewhat unoriginal and forgettable, but the book is still a pleasant read. I wouldn’t mind reading more in the Daisy Dalrymple series.
Mary Yellan is a young woman who finds herself alone in the world when her mother dies. She decides to seek out her Aunt Patience, who lives not far away at Jamaica Inn. But as Mary travels to her new home, the coachman warns her that it’s not a respectable place and that it could be dangerous for a young woman like her. Nonetheless, Mary continues her journey, but she soon finds that the coachman was right. Her uncle, Joss Merlyn, is a brutish drunkard who completely dominates Aunt Patience with violence. Joss is also involved in some extremely unsavory business activities, which Mary does her best to ignore for her aunt’s sake. But eventually, Joss and his sinister confederates perpetrate an outrage that is too shocking to ignore, and Mary must decide whom she can trust to ask for help.
I’ve read several books by Daphne Du Maurier, and this is the first one that I really didn’t like. Honestly, my overall reaction was simply meh. The prose is too flowery, the plot is too melodramatic, and the whole thing is entirely too drawn-out and predictable. I knew immediately what Joss Merlyn’s mysterious business was, I knew whom Mary would end up with, and I knew who the bad guy was — all before the book was half over. In such a slow-paced book whose main entertainment value is the suspense, this much predictability just made the whole thing dull, in my opinion. So all in all, I wasn’t a fan. It’s one of Du Maurier’s earlier works, though, so presumably her writing style matured over the years. I would definitely recommend Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel or Frenchman’s Creek instead!
@ 82 -- Maybe if I'd read the book earlier, I would have enjoyed it more. I think that certain books have to be read at certain times in your life; otherwise you won't get optimal enjoyment out of them.
In this second Flavia de Luce novel, the town of Bishop’s Lacey plays host to some prestigious guests from the BBC. Rupert Porson, puppeteer and creator of the popular TV show “The Magic Kingdom,” has arrived in town with his entourage and plans to put on a show. Naturally, Flavia is in the thick of things, helping to set up the show and making friends with Rupert’s beautiful companion, Nialla. Being an exceptionally observant child, Flavia notices that there is some tension between Rupert and Nialla, and also that Rupert seems to have a surprising number of acquaintances in Bishop’s Lacey. When Rupert is murdered during the climactic moment of his show, Flavia is on the case, using her intelligence and passion for chemistry to discover the killer and uncover new information about a years-old tragedy.
How you feel about this series will largely depend on how you feel about its narrator and protagonist, Flavia de Luce. She’s an incredibly precocious 11-year-old girl who has an encyclopedic knowledge of poisons and can’t keep her nose out of a mystery. Personally, I don’t find her remotely believable, or even very likable, but she is extremely entertaining. This book moves fairly slowly, with lots of top-heavy exposition as the main players are introduced. For this reason, I was less interested in the mystery than in the de Luce family dynamics, which are both fascinating and a little disturbing. But fans of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie will undoubtedly enjoy this second installment of the series, and I’ve already borrowed the next two books from the library.
This slight novel is set in an unnamed town that’s experiencing perpetual winter. The townspeople know that this is caused by a godlike being named February, who has also banned all forms of flight. Birds fall from the sky, kites don’t work, and hot-air balloonist Thaddeus Lowe can no longer take to the sky. The town’s children begin to go missing, and adults commit suicide out of their desperation and despair. Eventually Thaddeus and some of the townspeople decide to fight back, but how can their pitiful efforts outmatch the might of February?
I should say right up front that I don’t think I’m the right audience for this book. I loved the concept, and the cover blurb made me think that it would be sort of a magical fable. But ultimately I just didn’t get the point of the book; in fact, I’m not entirely sure it has one. The writing style is lyrical, almost like poetry — and maybe I’d have liked the book more if I’d approached it as poetry rather than a novel. The plot is interesting, but it’s only outlined as the merest sketch. I felt like a lot more could have been done with the ballooning/flying idea, for example. That said, I don’t think this is a bad book at all, and I’m sure there are many people who would absolutely love it. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t for me.
When an unidentified man is stabbed to death while waiting in line outside a theater, the crime becomes an immediate sensation in London. Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard is assigned to the case, which at first seems impossible. The people standing closest to the dead man noticed nothing, and the murderer seems to have left no trace behind. However, eventually one witness mentions that he saw the dead man arguing with someone in the queue — someone who afterwards left in a hurry. With the help of this statement, Grant is soon on the trail of the man who argued with the victim. However, the more evidence Grant obtains, the more complicated the case seems to grow.
My experience so far with Josephine Tey has been very hit-or-miss: I was disappointed by The Daughter of Time, I really liked Brat Farrar, and now I find myself underwhelmed by this book. I read in the introduction that Tey didn’t like to use the standard conventions of the mystery genre, and that’s certainly evident in this novel. A lot of the book takes place inside Grant’s head, as he immediately begins to theorize about what sort of man might have committed this crime. Thus, much of the novel is Grant jumping to conclusions and then being proved wrong as more evidence is uncovered — which may be true to life but isn’t a lot of fun to read about. The mystery is also technically not “fair,” as the solution comes out of nowhere with no clues given in advance. So I wasn’t a huge fan of this book, but I think I will try some more Josephine Tey in hopes of finding something better.
At the church fête in Bishop’s Lacey, Flavia de Luce is drawn to the fortune-teller’s tent, where a local Gypsy gazes into a crystal ball to see the past or the future — for a price. Flavia impulsively invites the Gypsy woman to camp on the grounds of Buckshaw but is shocked when she finds the woman badly beaten the next morning. Who would want to harm the Gypsy, and could the incident possibly be related to an alleged kidnapping that took place several years ago? As usual, Flavia is excited to be in the thick of a mystery, especially when the body of a poacher is soon afterwards found at Buckshaw. Once again, Flavia is on the case, accompanied by her trusty bicycle Gladys. But will she be able to beat local policeman Inspector Hewitt to the solution?
I don’t have too much to say about this book other than what I already said about The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag. I enjoyed this installment of the series a bit more because the pacing is better. The Gypsy woman is attacked very early in the book, so the mystery kicks off right away. As always, it’s fun to follow Flavia along in her investigations; I especially like when she pretends to be a sweet, innocent little girl. I’m also continuing to enjoy the fraught familial relationships of the de Luce family. Honestly, I get a bit angry with the father sometimes. Why isn’t he paying more attention to his girls? And Ophelia and Daphne are so consistently mean to Flavia that it’s almost unbelievable. There are a few flickers of kindness from them, but mostly they terrorize her — which is fun to read but also a bit one-note. Still, I enjoyed this book a lot and look forward to I Am Half-Sick of Shadows.
This novel, set mainly among the leisured class of 1930s England, follows a small group of social acquaintances and sheds light on their shallow approach to life. Brenda Last is married to Tony, a traditional English gentleman who is devoted to preserving his estate. Bored and lonely in the country, Brenda decides to spend more time in London. She soon enters into an affair with John Beaver, an idle young man with no job and not much money, whose greatest talent is lunching at other people’s expense. Tony is oblivious to what’s going on until a shocking tragedy forces his failing marriage into the limelight. As the Lasts try to cope with the fallout from Brenda’s infidelity, they both hope that striking out on their own will bring them happiness, but their efforts are ultimately doomed to failure.
I’m the kind of person who tends to enjoy books with happy endings and likable protagonists. I figure, why read a book that’s just going to depress you? But this book is the antithesis of the qualities I just mentioned, and I still thought it was excellent. Most of the main characters are horrible, odious people, but they’re like a train wreck that I couldn’t look away from. I did sympathize with Tony quite a bit, especially because of one truly heinous thing that Brenda said (don’t want to spoil, so unfortunately I can’t be specific). The whole time, I was hoping that things would somehow work out in the end, even though I knew it was extremely unlikely. I’m also a fan of Waugh’s writing style: he mocks his characters mercilessly, but you can’t really fault him for it because they truly deserve it! So I would definitely recommend this book to fans of classic literature, even those who prefer more lighthearted literature.
At the prestigious Longbourn Academy for girls, money and status matter more than anything else, so scholarship students are constantly taunted and made to feel like outsiders. Lizzie Bennet is one of only two scholarship students in her class, and while she knows she's lucky to be getting such a good education, she can't help feeling miserable due to her low social status. Her only friends are the other scholarship girl, Charlotte Lucas, and her roommate, Jane. Jane has a thing for Charles Bingley, a popular student from nearby Pemberley Academy who's been studying abroad for the past semester. When he returns, he acts really interested in Jane -- but his snobby sister Caroline and moody friend Darcy don't seem to approve of the relationship. Lizzie is happy about Jane's romance but takes an immediate dislike to Darcy. However, as she gets to know him and his group better, she realizes that she may be letting her prejudice against rich people blind her to the truth.
As should be obvious, this is a modern-day version of Pride and Prejudice set in a young adult context. Though I'm an ardent fan of Jane Austen, I've found that the various Austen-inspired sequels and spinoffs are usually nowhere near as wonderful as the original novels. There are exceptions, of course, but unfortunately this book isn't one of them. The plot sticks to the original P&P fairly closely but doesn't add anything new or interesting to the story. None of the characters have any depth -- even the protagonists -- which made it hard for me to care about them. Even more importantly, I found the world of the novel unbelievable. While I accept that there are high school bullies and snobs and cliques, it seems wildly unlikely that everyone at Longbourn would be actively mean to Lizzie (stealing her stuff, throwing milkshakes on her, etc.) just because she has a scholarship. I understand that the author was trying to re-create the social hierarchy that existed in Austen's day, but the end result just wasn't credible. I have read YA Austen spinoffs that work very well -- Polly Shulman's Enthusiasm is a wonderful example! -- but this book didn't do anything for me.
@ 110 -- Thanks for stopping by, kpolhuis! I really do want to read more Douglas Adams. And I'd encourage you to pick up Georgette Heyer -- her Regency romances are the best ever! And thanks for the encouragement to relax. I'm still reading books that would theoretically fit into my challenge, but I'm trying not to stress about completing all 12 categories. I'm definitely looking forward to 2013 -- see you there!
Book #106: Shan Sa, The Girl Who Played Go (trans. Adriana Hunter)
This novel is set in a place and time that I have very little knowledge of, Manchuria in the 1930s. The two narrators are a Chinese schoolgirl whose passion for the game of go makes her unique and a Japanese soldier who has come to China with Japan’s invading army. The soldier muses on the nature of war and his victorious country’s relationship with the conquered Chinese. The girl, on the other hand, is more concerned with her widening romantic experience and the problems of daily life. But when the two characters meet over a game of go, the consequences will be far-reaching and devastating for them both.
What I liked most about this book is that it opened a window for me into another culture and way of life. I mistakenly thought the book would be more about Japan’s military movements in World War II, but instead it deals with an earlier conflict that I knew nothing about. But while the setting was unique, the problems the soldier faces in this book are universal: What is courage? What are the possible justifications, if any, for waging war? What are the circumstances under which a soldier can or should disobey orders? I found the soldier a more compelling character overall than the Chinese girl. She’s very shallow and frivolous for much of the novel, and while she does eventually change, it happened too late for me to care much about her. I also didn’t feel the emotional impact of the ending the way I think I was supposed to. Overall, I enjoyed this novel, but I wouldn’t race to pick up another book by this author.
It’s Christmas at Buckshaw, and Flavia de Luce is determined to use her chemical knowledge to capture Father Christmas, proving that he really exists once and for all. But her holiday plans must take a backseat when a film crew arrives at Buckshaw with movie star Phyllis Wyvern in tow. Flavia is fascinated by the spectacle and quickly insinuates herself into the proceedings. She is especially interested in Phyllis Wyvern, who turns out to be hiding several secrets under her glamorous façade. When Phyllis is found strangled by a length of film, Flavia once again investigates in hopes of discovering the killer. But with the entire film crew and half of Bishop’s Lacey snowed in at Buckshaw, everyone is a suspect — which makes this case Flavia’s most difficult and dangerous one yet.
This is yet another enjoyable outing for Flavia de Luce, and the festive Christmas atmosphere is an added bonus. The mystery plot is a bit underdeveloped, in my opinion, with a solution that basically comes out of nowhere. But for me, it was more interesting to read about the film crew and all its internal drama, as well as the townspeople’s response to having celebrities in their midst. I also enjoyed reading more about Flavia’s strained familial relationships, which finally seem to be loosening up a bit. Fans of the series should enjoy this installment despite the weak mystery plot.
Question: Doesn't Who's Who only list living people? (Flavia looked up someone who died in 1912 in the 1946 edition...)
I'm really looking forward to the next one. Lucky you, Christina!
Regarding the Who's Who question, I honestly have no clue. Being an ignorant American, I'm somewhat insulated from being annoyed by British-specific mistakes. :)
Dorothy Sayers is best known for her mystery series featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, but she wrote on a lot of other topics too. This short volume contains two of her essays in which she explicitly talks about the role of women in society and the feminist movement as she perceived it in the early 20th century. Sayers’ central point in these essays is that people should spend less time thinking about “women” as a class and more about each particular woman as an individual. She notes that opinions, beliefs, intellect, and abilities vary among women just as they do among men. She also champions a woman’s right to work outside the home if she wants to; both women and men should be able to do work that they enjoy and at which they excel.
I really enjoyed both of these thoughtful, witty essays. Even though they were written many decades ago and the world has changed a lot since then, I think Sayers’ observations remain relevant and interesting. I especially liked what she says about the idea that a woman’s place is in the home. She points out that in the Middle Ages, a lot of the most interesting and important jobs were done in the home — weaving, dyeing, food production, brewing, estate management, etc. These all used to be women’s jobs, and they didn’t become men’s jobs until after the Industrial Revolution, when they moved into factories. I don’t tend to read a lot of feminist theory, but I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the feminist movement — or anyone looking for a quick, humorous, and thought-provoking read!
I do hope to read a few more books this month: Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley (it's an ER, so I really need to read and review it soon!), The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green, and the Poetics of Aristotle. These books will allow me to complete the other 2012 challenges that I'm involved with.
After that, I plan to enjoy some glorious "free" reading (if I have the time!), and then it will be time for the 2013 Category Challenge!
In the year 2060, time travel is not only possible, but it’s the preferred method of historical research. Instead of digging through old records to get a sense of a particular time period, why not just go there in person and see for yourself? Mike, Polly, and Eileen are three such historians who have all been assigned to World War II. Mike is going to Dover, where he’ll pose as a journalist and interview the heroes of the evacuation of Dunkirk. Polly will be a London shopgirl in the midst of the Blitz, and Eileen will be observing evacuees in the English countryside. Soon after they arrive at their assignments, however, things begin to go wrong. Minor discrepancies in the historical record start showing up — which ought to be impossible, because everyone knows that historians can’t affect the outcome of events. Then all three of their “drops” (the portals through which they can return to their own time) mysteriously close, leaving them stranded in World War II. As Mike, Polly, and Eileen try every possible method of reopening the drops, they’re forced to conclude that they might be trapped in the wrong time forever.
Although Blackout and All Clear were published in two volumes, they’re really just one novel, so I’m reviewing them together. My overall feeling about this book is one of awe. This was obviously a labor of love for Connie Willis, and it is truly epic in scope. The time period is meticulously researched, and I really felt like I was there in World War II, seeing how ordinary people reacted to the war and especially to the Blitz. That said, the book is extremely long (over 1,000 pages if you count both volumes), and it probably could have been trimmed substantially. Additionally, there were several confusing plot threads that jumped between different characters and different time periods. These were all resolved by the end of the book, but it made the reading experience a bit difficult at times. On the other hand, there were so many little diversions that I loved — the allusions to Shakespeare and Agatha Christie, for example, as well as the segment where every character was named after someone in The Importance of Being Earnest. So I have mixed feelings about this novel, but overall I have a lot of respect for what Willis accomplished here. Definitely recommended for people interested in WWII!
@ 131 -- RG, I definitely wanted to love them, but they meandered a bit for my taste. I do agree that the books were very well done and that many of the diversions were incredibly interesting.
This classic American play centers around the Wingfields, a lower-middle-class family living in the Midwest. The mother, Amanda, is a former Southern belle who is desperate to prevent the family from sinking into poverty. The daughter, Laura, is a fragile young woman with a slight physical deformity that has made her morbidly self-conscious and shy. The son, Tom, works in a warehouse but dreams of being a poet and living a life of adventure. When a “gentleman caller” comes to dinner, Amanda pressures Laura to make a good impression on him, but the evening doesn’t go according to plan.
I haven’t had much prior experience of Tennessee Williams, but I quite liked this play and can see why it’s considered a classic. I was definitely invested in the story and felt particularly sympathetic toward Laura. Amanda, on the other hand, drove me crazy; she reminded me of Mrs. Bennet in her pushy eagerness for Laura to attract an eligible husband. And Tom was actually the least interesting character for me, because it seemed like he was nothing more than a spokesman for the author. Though he’s fairly artistic about it, Williams definitely uses this play to express his views on the flaws in his society. I would be interested in seeing the work performed, as there are a lot of very specific stage directions, but it also “reads” well. Overall, I’d say it’s worth reading, even if it’s not destined to become one of my favorite plays.
In this early American detective novel, young lawyer Everett Raymond is shocked to discover that a longtime client of his firm, Horatio Leavenworth, has been shot dead in his New York home. Since the firm’s senior partner is ill, Mr. Raymond takes on the responsibility of visiting the bereaved family, which consists of two beautiful nieces, a private secretary, and the servants. He also attends the inquest, where the evidence points to one of the nieces, Eleanore Leavenworth, as the guilty party. But Mr. Raymond, struck by Eleanore’s beauty and grace, is convinced of her innocence. He decides to clear her name by collaborating with the police detective in charge of the case, Ebenezer Gryce. But his investigation unearths a shocking secret about the Leavenworth family that may have dire consequences for the family as well as for the murder investigation.
This book is a mystery novel written in the 19th century; that’s pretty much all you need to know to decide whether or not you’ll enjoy it. I thought it was an entertaining and quick read. Despite the flowery language, the book moves quite quickly, with the shocking news of Mr. Leavenworth’s murder being revealed on the first page. The plot is engaging and inventive, especially for its time (the book predates Sherlock Holmes by several years). The characters, on the other hand, are a bit dull and ill-formed. Mr. Raymond, the narrator, could basically be anybody; and the Leavenworth women have few characteristics, at least for the first half of the book, other than being extremely beautiful. So if you’re looking for a deep psychological study, this book probably isn’t for you. But I still found it fun and entertaining, and I’d consider reading more of Green’s work.
In this slim treatise, Aristotle shares his philosophy of literature, including both tragedy and epic poetry. (There may at one point have been a section on comedy also, but if so, it has been lost.) He sets forth the various rules governing tragedy in some detail, including what subjects are appropriate for a tragedy, the best plot devices to use, the proper length, the best types of characters, and the primary goal of tragedy. He backs up his assertions with examples from the various poets and playwrights of his day, none of whom measure up to “the divine Homer.” With systematic deliberation (and occasional humor), Aristotle lays out his formula for creating great literature.
The thing about Aristotle is that he is hard — and the Poetics is harder than many of his other works, for several reasons. First of all, there’s no single definitive text, so translations can vary widely. (I read a cheap edition published by UNC Press in the 1940s. It seemed serviceable enough, and there were many footnotes explaining why the translator had chosen one word over another.) Also, many of Aristotle’s literary examples made no sense to me, since I’m not terribly familiar with ancient Greek drama. In fact, I think many of the plays he cites have been lost to the modern world! That said, I did find his general rules about literature to be interesting, and I’m glad I finally read this classic work.
In this fifth Flavia de Luce adventure, the entire town of Bishop's Lacey is agog at the forthcoming exhumation of St. Tancred from the village church. Of course, Flavia is determined to be present when the saint's body is uncovered. But in her eagerness to be on the scene when the exhumation takes place, Flavia discovers another body in the church: that of the organist, whose corpse has been hidden in St. Tancred's crypt. As Flavia investigates the organist's death, she also stumbles upon several other mysteries. For example, what is wrong with the local magistrate's son, and why is he kept in a locked room? Where do the tunnels underneath St. Tancred's churchyard lead? Is Feely actually getting married, and if so, to whom? And of course, will the de Luces have to leave their beloved yet crumbling home at Buckshaw?
Five books in, this series is still going strong. I always enjoy Flavia's adventures, and I think she's becoming a bit more human (and less serial-killer-esque) with each new book. I wonder if Alan Bradley will ever let her grow up, or if she'll always stay a precocious pre-teen. I'm kind of torn about which scenario I'd rather see...but regardless, Flavia is a whole lot of fun to watch as she copes with the pressures of adult life that intrude on her childhood. While corpses and detection are still a game to her, she is remarkably sensitive about her family's complex emotions as their life at Buckshaw is threatened. I like that her familial relationships seem to be moving forward (albeit at a glacial pace) and that she may now have some competition as a detective in Adam Sowerby, a newcomer who specializes in botany and "inquiries." There are enough interesting teasers here that I'm really looking forward to the next book!
Maggie Beaumont is incredibly unlucky in love. Her first serious boyfriend dumped her for another girl without even telling her about it, and for the past year or so she's been carrying a torch for the local priest. Although Maggie has a job she loves (owning and operating the only diner in her tiny town of Gideon's Cove, Maine) and many friends amongst the townspeople, she can't help feeling incredibly lonely at times. In desperation, she agrees to go on several blind dates, but each one is more catastrophic than the last. Just when she's about to give up hope, however, a surprising kiss from an unexpected source makes Maggie think that maybe she's finally met her match.
Once again, Kristan Higgins delivers a fun and fast contemporary romance. I found Maggie instantly likeable despite her flaws -- and she actually does have real flaws, not the "flaws" that chick-lit heroines often have that are actually adorable quirks in disguise. Her obsession with her priestly friend, Father Tim, is a case in point: she knows he's off-limits, but she spends an inordinate amount of time obsessing about him anyway. On the other hand, I didn't get to know and love the taciturn hero, Malone, in the same way. Maggie is utterly bewildered by his behavior for much of the novel, and I can't really blame her. If Higgins had developed his backstory a bit more and given us some insight into his point of view, I would have enjoyed the romance more than I did. But even though I thought the hero was underdeveloped, I still enjoyed this book! I definitely look forward to reading more of Higgins' work in 2013.
I've only read the 1st so far so that's good to know.
No.... I have a stack two deep of library books beside my favorite reading spot of books with not a reread among them that I will be sifting through... between them and my TBR bookcase I think I am set to, at a minimum, find something to read that I will like. I will be revisiting a favorite next year when I join the group read for The Count of Monte Cristo, if that helps any..... ;-)
I think it's something about the challenge -- it makes reading just one more task to accomplish, rather than something done purely for pleasure. It's makes me think about taking 2014 off, just as an experiment....
@ 150 -- I have also done a lot less rereading since I started doing challenges. I always feel like I have to get through all the new books that will "count," rather than reading something just because I like it. Since I gave up on the 12 in 12, I've had a little time to reread this year, and it's been nice. I've thought of inserting a "reread" category into my challenge...it'll happen one of these years!
No rereads this holiday season. I usually just do that when I'm in the mood for a specific book.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
@ 153 -- hailelib, I almost gave myself a reread category as well. Maybe in 2014!
@ 154 -- Loved The Book Thief, mamzel! I'm glad your daughter enjoyed it too!
And thank you all so much for the Christmas wishes! I've really been enjoying this time with my family (and away from work, haha). Alas, I have sadly neglected LT as a result -- but I can't wait to get back into the swing of things in 2013!
1. Maggie Stiefvater, The Scorpio Races — Absolutely my favorite book of 2012, and maybe one of my favorite books of all time! The wild, strange setting of Thisbe enchanted me, and I loved the slow-burning romance between protagonists Sean and Puck.
2. Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity — My other favorite book of 2012. It’s either tied with The Scorpio Races or a very, very, VERY close second. It’s a wonderful WWII adventure story, as well as a portrait of the close relationship between two best friends. It’s also told in a unique and interesting way that packs a huge emotional punch.
3. Poul Anderson, The High Crusade — Good writing, a kick-ass premise, and unexpected character depth made this book a pleasure to read. I’m not big on aliens in general, but when they land on Earth in the middle of the Crusades, well, color me intrigued!
4. Jean Webster, Daddy-Long-Legs — An adorable book that is destined to become a lifelong comfort read. It’s sweet and old-fashioned and reminds me a lot of Anne of Green Gables.
5. Sarah Addison Allen, The Sugar Queen — A delicious book in more ways than one. Main character Josey comes out of her shell and finds true love amidst the lush, magical backdrop of a small North Carolina town.
6. Kathryn Miller Haines, The War Against Miss Winter — I really enjoyed this book’s unique approach to the World War II period. Rather than using the setting as a shortcut to manipulate the reader’s emotions (as I think some WWII books do), this book simply treats it as the grim everyday background of the characters’ lives. The novel also has a great twist ending!
7. Josephine Tey, Brat Farrar — Books set in English country houses are my not-so-guilty pleasure, and this novel has a wonderful setup The protagonist is a con man pretending to be the long-lost son of the family, but he soon finds himself changing in response to their kindness.
8. Jennifer Echols, Such a Rush — I really like Echols’ romantic dramas in general, but this is one of her best. I loved main character Leah and her passion for flying airplanes. She’s deeply flawed but strong as hell and determined to succeed in life. Also, the romance is wonderful, both sexy and sweet.
9. Rainbow Rowell, Attachments — This book is a delightful romantic comedy with old-fashioned flair. The love story is given a unique twist in that the hero falls in love with the heroine through reading her email conversations with her best friend, even though he’s never met her in person.
10. Helene Hanff, 84, Charing Cross Road — A must-read for every bibliophile! This collection of letters between the American Hanff and a reserved British bookseller is funny and witty and smart and charming and just amazing! It’s a real testament to literature and its ability to create lasting friendships.
1. P.D. James, Death Comes to Pemberley — Being a sucker for anything Austen-related and also a fan of British mysteries, I thought this book would be a slam dunk. Sadly, I was extremely underwhelmed, both by the mystery and the P&P elements. A poor start to 2012, for sure!
2. G.M. Malliet, Death of a Cozy Writer — This is a mystery in the English country house tradition, but it’s so unoriginal that I just found it boring. There are a lot of great books in this genre, but this isn’t one of them.
3. Susan Elia MacNeal, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary — A mystery set during World War II. (I don’t seem to have had much luck with mysteries this year!) I was really interested in the premise of a woman using her mathematical abilities to crack German codes, but I found this book far too scattered to be compelling.
4. María Dueñas, The Time in Between — Again, this book was supposed to be about a Spanish woman who worked for British intelligence during World War II…but that plot didn’t actually begin until about page 400 of 600. It really annoys me when a book’s blurb and cover give a completely erroneous description of what the book is about.
5. Alexandra Potter, You’re (Not) the One — This is another book whose great premise was let down by bad execution. The plot is about a girl who kisses a boy under Venice’s Bridge of Sighs, thus binding him to her as her one true love — but when she meets him again 10 years later, she discovers they’re not truly compatible. It sounded like a really fun chick lit book, but in practice it just…wasn’t.
6. Elizabeth Speller, The Return of Captain John Emmett — Another mystery! This one is set during the aftermath of WWI, which is an interesting time period to me. I think my problem with this book is that it tried to be “literary” but only succeeded in dragging and being dull.
7. Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon — With all due respect to Mr. Hammett, I wasn’t a fan of this classic noir novel. I can’t really put my finger on why; I guess it just wasn’t for me. Loved The Thin Man though!
8. Daphne Du Maurier, Jamaica Inn — This book was just way too soap opera-esque and melodramatic for me. I also found it extremely predictable. A lot of the book focuses on creating a sense of suspense, but the heroine was such a passive person that I didn’t really care whether evil befell her or not!
9. Shane Jones, Light Boxes — I found this novel a bit too experimental. There were many different narrators, a plot that didn’t quite make logical sense, and hardly any character development. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I’d approached it as loosely releated poetry rather than a cohesive novel.
10. Josephine Tey, The Man in the Queue — Another disappointing mystery! I love the genre, but I definitely seem to have picked a lot of clunkers this year.
TL;DR -- Despite not finishing the challenge, 2012 was a pretty good year. Here's hoping 2013 is even better! I won't be posting to this thread anymore, but I hope you'll all come visit me in the 2013 group, HERE.