Thursday, January 3, 2013

December 2012 Books

Here's the final list of books I read in 2012. A mere 10 to report but I think that's pretty good for a month like December where other things take priority over reading time.

NON-FICTION


  • Elizabeth the Queen by Sally Bedell Smith
    • An interesting biography of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain. This was a straightforward account, not sensationalized at all. I think many authors might have succumbed to placing more importance on Diana's life but, really, this was such a small part of the queen's life overall that the author placed it in its proper place: part of the story but not the focus.
    • One always tends to forget that Elizabeth probably wouldn't have been queen if her uncle hadn't abdicated the throne for Wallis Simpson. If he had married "properly" then his children would have inherited the throne, not his niece.
    • This is a new book so it cover everything right up until the marriage of William and Catherine but stops before the London Olympics. We don't get any scoop on the queen's decision to (pretend to) skydive into the stadium with James Bond.
    • A lot of the coverage concerned the queen's relationship with each of her prime ministers and the presidents of the United States (and their wives). For example, Queen Elizabeth met the Kennedys in the early 1960s and while Jacqueline Kennedy was only about 33, the queen was only 3 years older. 
      • This is interesting because my memories of each of these women really began when they were both in their 40s, so they always seemed old to me (now that I'm 50, I have revised my definition of "old"). But they were so young when they met!
    • B+
  • Buffy: The Making of a Vampire Slayer by Nancy Holder
    • One of my Christmas presents, I finished this book on December 26!
    • Background on the making of the TV series "Buffy The Vampire Slayer". It's apparently the first authorized retrospective (there are TONS of Buffy books out there --- I own several already).
    • It was certainly interesting but too short! So I started watching the show on Amazon Prime. Just started Season 3 last night!
    • B
  • America Again: Re-Becoming the greatness We Never Weren't by Stephen Colbert
    • The thesis of the book is basically predicated on the fact that many people believe  that "America is great but we need to fix it". If you watch "The Colbert Report" then you will have heard almost all of the book's points on the show. This was a pretty quick read and I look forward to when Mr. Colbert (and Mr. Jon Stewart!) get back to work next week!
    • B
  • And the Rest is History: The Famous (and Infamous) First Meetings of the World's Most Passionate Couples by Marlene Wagman-Geller
    • This is a perfectly acceptable book for reading in the bathroom or between tasks in the kitchen. The chapters are short. You will have heard of almost every couple.
    • Many of the footnotes --- and doesn't that usually indicate to you that the book is somehow more scholarly? --- are sourced from Wikipedia! Now, I love and adore Wikipedia myself but as one of a book's main sources? No. And I am shocked that the publisher allowed it.
    • The writing is adequate. My very favorite sentence of the whole book, during the chapter on Linda Eastman and Paul McCartney, referencing Linda's first husband: "They divorced in 1965; he committed suicide in 2000." These two things are PROBABLY unrelated but the semi-colon makes it seem as if he killed himself due to the divorce 35 years earlier.
    • C-
  • American Nations: A History of the Eleven Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard
    • This book was fascinating. I've been annoying people all week telling them about it in (no doubt boring) detail.
    • The author posits that due to the patterns of settlement in North America the various areas developed distinct regional cultures that exist to this day. He starts from the earliest settlements to the 2008 election.
    • A+
FICTION
  • The Fire Chronicle by John Stevens
    • Part 2 of the Books of Beginning trilogy, a children's series. Three siblings live in an orphanage but it turns out they are prophesied to find the Books of Beginning, repositories of magical knowledge. In the first book eldest sister Kate finds and learns how to use the Emerald Atlas, a time traveling book. In this one, middle sibling Michael finds and masters the Fire Chronicle. (Presumably younger sister Emma will find the 3rd book in the next installment.)
    • This series is pretty good. Except for the overall story, which of course has some loose ends to wrap up, the books are complete adventures in themselves. And the gist of the first book is mentioned so you don't get lost trying to remember something you read a year or two ago. 
    • I am looking forward to the final book which I think will come out this summer.
    • B+
  • Reached by Ally Condie
    • Unlike the book above, this book assumes you remember everything from prior books and does not refresh your memory. It's almost as if it was one big book and then it was broken into 3 pieces for sale purposes.
    • Anyway, this is a young adult dystopian novel and the conclusion of a trilogy. 
    • Nothing much happens in the first couple hundred pages. The three main characters, who were assigned positions as part of the Rebellion at the end of the last book, remain in their places and you keep waiting for the rebellion against the Society to begin but it never really does. And then it turns out (spoiler alert!) that the Society and the Rebellion are basically working together so the whole thing fizzles out (they want to make small changes to keep the populace docile and unrebellious). They mention a different land (the Otherlands?) where people escape to but never return from so you kind of assume this will play a part in the conclusion. Nope, mentioned but never explained.
    • And big whoop, the girl Cassia picks the same boy, Ky, by the end of the series whom she has loved from the start. No big mystery there. Plus, I am not a big fan of the "Romeo and Juliet" school of romance. Isn't it possible that Cassia and Ky grow up and mature further and decide they love someone else? Does Katniss HAVE to choose between Peta and Gale? Isn't it possible she meets someone else eventually? And are even Bella and Edward going to want to stay together for (literal) eternity? 
      • I'm obviously a cynic regarding this area. Yes, some young romances last forever but most do not. I really dislike the whole "girl needs to save the world and choose between one of two boys" scenario.
      • Man, I really write more about the books I dislike than the books I like!
    • The book art is really great.
    • D
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
    • I saw the movie first (also written and directed by the author) and really loved it. He did a great job putting his book on screen. I liked the characters and I liked the interpretation of the actors who played them onscreen.
    • FYI, above are the book cover (minimalist) and the movie poster.
    • B
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth
  • Insurgent by Veronica Roth
    • Yep, another dystopian young adult series! In this case books 1 and 2.
    • This has the same basic pattern of all these books: strong teen girl put into a situation; she's somehow different than the others; there's a boy or two to pick from; rinse and repeat.
    • This one doesn't have the second boy to choose from so that's something. This one ended on an intriguing note so I am looking forward to the next (jokingly called "Detergent" on the author's blog). I hope this series doesn't end with a fizzle!
    • B for both 
That's it for 2012! I read 120 books altogether. 

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