Monday, January 30, 2012

January 2012 Books Read


I read a LOT of books. Most of them are read just once and mailed on to another reader via my Paperback Swap account. I very rarely add to the set of books I re-read every once in a while. Unless a book makes a major impression on me I don't remember much about them later.

For example, I read The Time Traveler's Wife several years ago. I cannot remember the characters names or specific details but I remember the basic plot, time contortions and the ending very well. I liked that book quite a bit until the end which made me crazy/angry. I still don't think I will ever read it again though. But that is probably why I recall as much as I do: strong emotion imprinted it into my head.

So what I'm saying is, I will eventually have no memory of the details of most of the books I have read except to remember that I HAVE read them. I think that is a function how one learns. CPA Boy and The Boy can read or hear something once and they never forget. I need to read something at least twice (and usually much more than that) before it has a chance to stick firmly in my mind.

In any case, here are the books I've read in January 2012. I read more than usual because it is a slow month for TV! I can think of no good symbol to use in grading so we will go with letter grades!

NON-FICTION

  • Bossypants by Tina Fey (audio book)
    • A very funny book, especially hearing Tina read it herself.
    • A+
  • If You Ask Me by Betty White
    • We all love Betty White but I didn't love her book. You'd read something in one section and then it would be mentioned again, almost verbatim, in the next section too. It was not a deep memoir by any stretch. Cute but of little substance.
    • C
  • In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson
    • In 1933 FDR assigned William Dodd, a college history professor, to be ambassador to Germany right as Hitler assumed power. Ambassador Dodd was not the right man for the job, as the book clearly documents, but it was the ambassador's adult daughter Martha who really made the most of her social life while in Berlin.
    • The "horrors to come" is not really the correct phrase to use as the Jewish population of Germany is already suffering, as are political dissidents and foreigners, including brutal attacks on Americans in Germany. Martha parties on amidst these happenings.
    • Ambassador Dodd knew immediately that Hitler was dangerous but this was still in the age of appeasement so his hands were tied, making him an ineffectual diplomat.
    • B+
  • Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts by Anne Llewellyn Barstow
    • I really wanted to like this book but it was not well researched. The reason I know it was not well researched was because the author constantly says, "but more research needs to be done". Um, okay.
    • Her theory basically says the witch craze accused more women than men which makes sense as women have almost always been secondary to men in history. That and women tended to be the healers and midwives, seemingly responsible for who lived and who died.
    • The only book I did not finish. Perhaps the book improved but life's too short to waste trying to find out.
    • Incomplete
 FICTION
  • Matched by Ally Condie
    • Book 1 of a trilogy.
    • A dystopian young adult novel where Society decides everything for its people: how much and what they eat, what their jobs will be, when they will die (at age 80), who they will match with.
    • Cassia is matched to her best friend Xander but is also shown a different match in Ky, a Society outsider.
    • What will she do once she falls in love with Ky even though she's supposed to love Xander? I guess we'll find out in books 2 and 3.
    • I really want to love these dystopian books but there is a certain sameness to them. Since The Hunger Games became popular we will see more and more of these trilogies (some predate The Hunger Games, of course) where a girl in a "perfect" society finds a crack and becomes the agent of change to bring down the entire facade. Just like Twilight and True Blood begat the huge sections of vampire/werewolf books for teenage girls. 
    • Do boys read at all anymore?! I cannot think of what my son would have read after Captain Underpants or Artemis Fowl. I guess boys play more video games??
    • B-
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
    • Book 1 of a trilogy (actually there are 4 books because he wrote another book that takes place years after the first 3)
    • People are "uglies" until they turn 16; then they have surgery turning them into "pretties" where life is a party all the time. Until the next surgery to make them "middle pretties". And so on.
    • A girl named Tally --- gasp! --- in a perfect society --- gasp! --- finds out about the rebels living on the outside of the cities and that her society isn't so perfect after all --- gasp! (Seriously, someone could easily design a story wheel covering all the possibilities of girl-based dystopian trilogies!)
    • I liked this one more than Matched because there was definitely more action. The other books in the series should be here in the next month or so via Paperback Swap.
    • B+
  • Alive in Necropolis by Doug Dorst
    • A police officer in Colma, California, the city where there are more people buried in its cemeteries than alive, is affected by a case involving a teenage boy and elements of the supernatural.
    • The dead are aware and keeping an eye on Officer Michael Mercer because there are (dead) bad guys who killed the last cop.
    • The book was interesting (I have family buried in Colma so I am well aware of its cemeteries) but I think the supernatural portion got short shrift. I wanted more in that area. If you're gonna go there, go there. In many ways it seemed more of an afterthought plot, a way to kill off the first cop.
    • B
  • The Pig Did It by Joseph Caldwell
    • Book 1 of a trilogy. I have the other 2 books but I am not sure I want to read them.
    • A guy named Aaron goes to visit his aunt Kitty (who is only a few years older than he) in Ireland. A pig attaches itself to Aaron and finds a body in Kitty's yard.
    • The book is more of a character study than full of any big plot. Things happen but he writing is abstruse so I am not always sure what they are!
    • I am not a fan of abstruse writing so I am ambivalent about the other two books. Right now I am not disposed to read them when I have so many others to choose from on my shelves.
    • C
  • Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
    • Book 1 of at least 2
    • I wanted to love this book but it doesn't really END. It should seriously end with "to be continued".
    • Unusual children are secreted away in time loops under their guardians. Jacob's grandfather, in the present day, dies and Jacob goes back to find the time loop his grandfather was once a part of during World War II. 
    • I liked the time loop set-up and the characters are interesting but I would need to read a sequel to feel completely satisfied.
    • B-
  • Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
    • LOVED this book! Two 16-year-olds living in the Chicago area named, duh, Will Grayson, come together and combine forces for a great finish to the book.
    • The supporting characters are fabulous, some in the cliche sense. Tiny Cooper, one of the Will's best friend, is out and proudly gay and also trying to produce a musical called "Tiny Dancer". The other Will is also gay. It is a book full of sympathetic representations of gay characters as well as the usual high school problems.
    • The ending, featuring the musical, was wonderful. I want to see this as a movie!
    • I noticed in the last couple of days that John Green has a new book out called The Fault in Our Stars which is getting great reviews. I may need to check it out!
    • A+
  • The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens
    • Book 1 in a trilogy (uh, are you sensing a pattern this month?)
    • Three children, Kate, Michael and Emma, are passed from orphanage to orphanage, always hoping their parents will return to reclaim them. Meanwhile they are the children prophesied to locate the 3 missing books of magic.
    • Obviously this book concerns the Emerald Atlas. I assume the next two books cover the search for the other two: The Diamond Dictionary? The Sapphire Syllabary? We shall see.
    • Someone described the book as similar to A Series of Unfortunate Events but without all the silliness. I think that's fair. Like the dystopian novels above, there are several tropes that make it into every fantasy book these days. Even the Harry Potter books followed certain fantasy tropes; that doesn't mean they aren't good!
    • The next two books haven't even been published yet but I will definitely read them to see how the story goes.
    • B+
  • The Elephant Keeper by Christopher Nicholson
    • I really had high hopes for this book but alas, it was not that great. Nothing really HAPPENS. It's just a quiet novel that follows the relationship between an elephant and his keeper in the late 18th Century. Then a final chapter comes out of the blue in the present day.
    • A quick read but nothing that will stay with me past winter.
    • C-
  • The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen
    • This book is told from the point of view of a 12-year-old Montana boy who wins a prestigious position at the Smithsonian Institution (they don't know he's a child). The first few chapters lay out the story; the next cover his freight train ride (following the hobo code) to Washington D.C.; and the final chapters cover the Smithsonian stay.
    • There are many side notes in the novel including pictures and graphs, all drawn and annotated by the hand of young genius T.S.
    • In the middle of the novel T.S. reads a journal of his mother's, recounting the life of an early ancestor who originally settled in Montana. That part was fascinating. The story is a good one but I missed a final meeting with T.S. and his mother which would have really wrapped things up nicely.
    • It's an unusual looking book, what with all the side notes, but I enjoyed it.
    • B+
  • At Mrs. Lippincote's by Elizabeth Taylor
    • A quiet novel about life during World War II. It's another book where nothing really HAPPENS but you get inside the heads of the characters. I always enjoy reading about how life was during the wars so that part was interesting.
    • Unfortunately, not all of the characters were engaging and it wasn't always pleasant to be inside their heads!
    • The writer had no relation to the actress.
    • C-
  • Much Ado About Anne by Heather Vogel Frederick
    • Book 2 in the Mother-Daughter Book Club series.
    • Four young girls (ages 12-13) and their mothers have a book club where they read a certain book each year. This year's book is Anne of Green Gables, which I haven't read in about 25 years!
    • These books are really cute. I am assuming the author will continue with the series until the girls graduate high school so there should be at least 5 more books to go!
    • The 4 main characters, Emma, Cassidy, Jess and Megan and their nemesis Becca act like typical junior high girls, just noticing boys and trying to fit in in their way. I am hoping for more character development for Becca though.
    • B+
  • Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler
    • Book 1 in the Peculiar Crimes Unit mystery series.
    • I somehow picked up book 6 of this series (The Victoria Vanishes) a while ago and really thought it was fun so I am going back to the beginning!
    • The 2 lead detectives, Bryant & May, are ages 82 and 79 so they're a little different than some other mystery series protagonists!
    • The story covers a modern day bombing and looks back to Bryant & May's first case, a kind of Phantom of the Opera murder spree.
    • Some things I saw coming but not all. Plus Bryant is a curmudgeonly hoot. I am looking forward to reading more of this series.
    • A
  • A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
    • I read another book of Egan's called The Keep which I didn't really like so I was not disposed to read more of her work. But this one kept popping up with good reviews (and it won a Pulitzer Prize last year) so I took a chance.
    • It's a novel made up of short stories (like Olive Kitteridge, if you've read that one) centering around a couple of main characters in the music business.
    • Some characters are more interesting than others so some chapters are great and some good.
    • The novel starts off in its current day of 2006 and proceeds to jump back and forth in time. The character Sasha is 35; Bennie is 44. Since the book starts with Sasha I was more intrigued by her at first than by Bennie. Then I realized that Bennie is MY age so became more intrigued by him (he's considered "old" in the music world).
    • B
Some statistics:
  • 16 books read
    • 1 incomplete (non-fiction/history)
  • 3 non-fiction
    • 2 autobiographies/biographies
    • 1 history
  • 13 fiction
    • 7 young adult/children
    • 1 mystery
    • 5 general (not sure what a good term should be: literary? other?)
  • Grades
    • A: 3 (2 A+, 1 A)
    • B: 9 (5 B+, 2 B, 2 B-)
    • C: 4 (0 C+, 2 C, 2 C-)
    • Incomplete: 1
    • In process: 0
 I think reading young adult/children's books allowed me to read more this month than normal. Won't it be nice to have a complete list of books read blog entries when the year is done?!

Oh, and I went for a short walk today, only 20 minutes, and I met a neighbor down the street who was very sweet. Yay, exercise!

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