SouthernBluestocking's 100 Books in 2015
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So many reading goals...
100/100/100: 100 Books, 100 Short Stories, 100 Academic Articles
ETA: finished 100 Short Stories on June 21
ETA: 10 plays
Within the 100(+) books...
10 biographies or memoirs (Colette, Tina Fey, Beauvior, Strayed)
10 nonfiction (heavy on Victorian society)
10 critical theory (desire, death, supernatural, gothic, gender) (my life in a nutshell!)
20 classic novels (2 Dickens, 2 Wilkie Collins, 1 Victor Hugo, 2 other sensation novels)
50 Reader's Choice (Reread Harkness? Reread Glen Duncan? Finish Byatt's Fredricka novels? Something from the Booker short/long lists?)
10 Plays (Wilde, Stoppard, Kushner, Shakespeare)
Goals beyond book choices:
*Read actively. With a pen in hand. Make notes. (At least for everything but novels.)
*Write about what I've read. Every single book. And be a little more critical, a little less adoring. Weekly/Monthly blog section?
*Keep up with others' threads.
1) As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride, Cary Elwes
2) Bad Feminist: Essays, Roxanne Gay
3) Orange is the New Black, Piper Kerman
4) Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed
5) Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and Other Concerns) Mindy Kaling
6) Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's Learned, Lena Dunham
7) Why Not Me, Mindy Kaling
8) Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari
9) Yes, Please, Amy Poehler
10) Bossypants, Tina Fey
11) How to Be A Woman, Caitlan Moran
12) Furiously Happy, Jenny Lawson
1) Teaching Your First College Class: A Practical guide for New Faculty and Graduate Student Instructors, Carolyn Lieberg
2) The Secret History of Wonder Woman, Jill Lepore
3) Fifth Avenue, 5 AM: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's and the Dawn of the Modern Woman, Sam Wasson
4) He's a Stud, She's a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know, Jessica Valenti
5) Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing, Roger Rosenblatt
6) Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach
Critical Theory (10)
1) Heroines, Kate Zambreno
2) Outside the Pale: Cultural Exclusion, Gender Difference, and the Victorian Woman Writer, Elsie B. Michie
Classics, Modern Classics (20)
This is such an arbitrary designation... nonetheless
1. Memories of my Melancholy Whores, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
2. The Dream of Scipio, Iain Pears
3. The English Patient, Michael Ondjaatje
4. The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
1. Arcadia, Tom Stoppard
2. The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde
Reader's Choice (50)
1. The Hundred-Year House, Rebecca Makkai
2. The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell
3. The Devil's Grin, A. Wendeberg
4. Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932, Francine Prose
5. Euphoria, Lily King
6. Station Eleven: A Novel, Emily St. John Mandel
7. The Girl with All the Gifts, M. R. Carey
8. The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde
9. Lost in a Good Book, Jasper Fforde
10. The Husband's Secret, Liane Moriarty
11. The Well of Lost Plots, Jasper Fforde
12. Something Rotten, Jasper Fforde
13. Wicked, Gregory Maguire
14. Texts from Jane Eyre, Mallory Ortberg
15. The Hawley Book of the Dead: a Novel, Chrysler Szarlan
16. Strong Poison, Dorothy Sayers
17. Dark Rooms, Lili Anouk
18. Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl
19. Garden Spells, Sarah Addison Allen
20. First Frost, Sarah Addison Allen
21. Station Eleven: A Novel, Emily St. John Mandel (January, March)
22. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
23. The Fall, A. Wendeberg
24. The Journey, A. Wendeberg
25. The Last Sherlock Holmes Story, Michael Dibdin
26. Getting Rid of Bradley, Jennifer Crusie
27. The Nightingale: a Novel, Kristen Hannah
28. The Light Between Oceans, M. L. Stedman
29. Maybe This Time, Jennifer Crusie
30. A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler
31. At the Water's Edge, Sara Gruen
32. The Secret Life of Violet Grant, Beatriz Williams
33. Reconstructing Amelia, Kimberly McCreight
34. Death at the Chateau Bremont, M. L. Longworth
35. Murder in the Rue Dumas, M. L. Longworth
36. Murder in the Ile Sordou, M. L. Longworth
37. A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin
38. Yes, My Darling Daughter, Margaret Leroy
39. The Language of Silence, Peggy Webb
40. The Forgotten Garden, Kate Norton
41. The Brief History of the Dead, Kevin Brockmeier
42. Bellweather Rhapsody, Kate Racculia
43. Rose Daughter, Robin McKinley
44. Spindle's End, Robin McKinley
45. Entwined, Heather Dixon
46. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, Lauren Willig
47. The Masque of the Black Tulip, Lauren Willig
48. The Deception of the Emerald Ring, Lauren Willig
49. The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, Lauren Willig
50. The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, Lauren Willig
er, this year's reading plan isn't quite proceeding as planned...
51. The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, Lauren Willig
52. The Mischief of the Mistletoe, Lauren Willig
53. The Orchid Affair, Lauren Willig
54. The Garden Intrigue, Lauren Willig
55. The Passion of the Purple Plumeria, Lauren Willig
56. The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, Lauren Willig
57. And Only To Deceive, Tasha Alexander
58. A Poisoned Season, Tasha Alexander
59. A Fatal Waltz, Tasha Alexander
60. The Quick, Lauren Owen
61. Death in the Vines: A Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery, M. L. Longworth
62. The Cater Street Hangman, Anne Perry
63. Callander Square, Anne Perry
64. Paragon Walk, Anne Perry
65. A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness
66. Shadow of Night, Deborah Harkness
67. Resurrection Row, Anne Perry
68. Rutland Place, Anne Perry
69. Bluegate Fields, Anne Perry
70. Death in the Devil's Acre, Anne Perry
71. Cardington Crescent, Anne Perry
72. The Monogram Murders, Agatha Christie and Sophie Hannah
73. Fin & Lady: A Novel, Cathleen Schine
74. The Martian, Andy Weir
75. Ordeal by Innocence, Agatha Christie
76. The Tutor, Andrea Chapin
77. Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers
78. Whose Body, Dorothy Sayers
79. Stone's Fall, Iain Pears
80. Clouds of Witness, Dorothy Sayers
81. The Lure of the Moonflower, Lauren Willig
82. An Appetite for Violets, Martine Bailey
83. Emma: A Modern Retelling, Alexander McCall Smith
84. Funny Girl: A Novel, Nick Hornby
85. Enchanted August, Brenda Bowen
86. In the Unlikely Event, Judy Blume
87. my grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorry, Fredrik Backman
88. That Summer, Lauren Willig
89. Bittersweet, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
90. At the Water's Edge, Sara Gruen
91. The Secret Life of Violet Grant, Beatriz Williams
92. The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery
93. Open House, Elizabeth Berg
94. Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
95. Love By the Book, Melissa Pimentel
96. Queen of Hearts: A Her Royal Spyness Mystery, Rhys Bowen
97. The Cloud Atlas, Liam Callanan
98. The Ashford Affair, Lauren Willig
99. The Hundred Year House, Rebecca Makkai
100. Tiny, Beatriz Williams
101. The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing, Mira Jacob
102. Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George
103. An Unnecessary Woman, Rabih Alameddine
104. Girl Waits with Gun, Amy Stewart
105. A Reunion of Ghosts, Judith Claire Mitchell
106. The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde
107. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan
108. The Bookseller, Cynthia Swanson
109. The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde
110. The Well of Lost Plots, Jasper Fforde
111. Something Rotten, Jasper Fforde
112. Recipes for Love and Murder: A Tannie Maria Mystery, Sally Andrew
1. The Hundred-Year House, Rebecca Makkai
2. The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell
3. The Devil's Grin, A. Wendeberg
4. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride, Cary Elwes
5. Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932, Francine Prose
6. Teaching Your First College Class: A Practical guide for New Faculty and Graduate Student Instructors, Carolyn Lieberg
7. Euphoria, Lily King
8. Bad Feminist, Roxanne Gay
9. Station Eleven: A Novel, Emily St. John Mandel
10. The Secret History of Wonder Woman, Jill Lepore
January Short Stories
1. Savage Breast, Elizabeth McKenzie
2. The Story of an Hour, Kate Chopin
3. A Good Man Is Hard to Find, Flannery O'Conner
4. Clothe the Naked, Dorothy Parker
5. The Wonderful Old Gentleman, Dorothy Parker
6. A Jury of Her Peers, Susan Gaspell
7. Coming of Age in Karhide, Ursula Le Guin
1. If Men Could Menstruate, Gloria Steinem
2. A Day Without Feminism, Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards
3. Still Needing the F Word, Anna Quindlen
4. The Five Sexes, Revisited, Anne Fausto-Sterling
5. The Social Construction of Gender, Judith Lorber
6. "Teaching Susan Glaspell's A Jury of Her Peers and Trifles," Taking Stock: Women of All Colors in Legal Education, Marina Angel
7. "Love and Death and Returning to Rer," Coyote's Song: The Teaching Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin, Richard D. Erlich
8. "Feminist Politics: Where We Stand," bell hooks
9. "Fear of Feminism: Why Young Girls Get the Willies," Lisa Marie Hogeland
10. "We Are the Ones We've Been Waiting For," Moya Bailey and Alexis Pauline Gumbs
2014, 352 pgs, 1 of 50 Reader's Choice, first read
Fascinating, and a bit inconclusive. The structure, most of all, was just intriguing. Makkai tells the story in retrospect-- 1999, then 1955, then 1929, then 1900. We get the ending, then a bit of the interior, and everything fits together, but how is not clear until the end. the unconventional timeline takes a good story snd makes it great. I'll definitely reread.
The Hundred-Year House is about the long history of an estate in northern Illinois--a lavish home, a debauched art colony, the place of many secrets--every generation has something else to find and something else to hide. Good stuff.
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New Yorker fiction from 12/24. A woman mysteriously returns to her childhood home; animals have taken the place of her friends and family. Fundamentally about language, how it divides, the pretense of it, how it separates us from the animals and how that doesn't really always work for us.
2014, 624 pgs, 2 of 50 Reader's Choice, first read
This is the third Mitchell that I've read--first was a long ago Audible version of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, then (of course) Cloud Atlas, and now this. And I feel I'd need three or four more rereads of each to be able to speak intelligently (i.e., craft any sort of argument or critical analysis) of the books.
But. I liked it very much. Mitchell requires (and, imho, deserves) a lot of attention. The plots are not straightforward. They twist, they turn, they curl back on themselves and rewrite what you thought you just figured out. Nothing is linear, or singular, or simple.
The Bone Clocks is, at the root, the story of a divine war and the repercussions on humanity. (Ok, I know the Atemporals et al are not actually divine, but that whole rebirth thing definitely puts them as more than human.) Reminded me of the Illiad in that respect: the battle of the gods, the casualties all human.
The book is divided into six novellas, each with a different protagonist, each divided from the previous by a decade or so. All of the stories are linked by character and by plot (that central battle between the Atemporals and the Anchorites: Atemporals are naturally rebirthed into a new body after death, Anchorites have found a way to stop aging on a cellular level through murder).
My favorite novella--the one I thought most well-written--was the second: "Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume (1991)", which focuses on Cambridge undergraduate Hugo Lamb who is not, shall we say, exactly what he seems. Excellent sketch of a psychopath, without ever using the word, without anyone but the reader putting together all the pieces of his very fragmented lives.
2012, 225 pgs, 3 of 50 Reader's Choice, first read
A. Kronberg is a doctor--and what's more, the premier bacteriologist-- in late Victorian London. The credentials the good doctor holds are impressive--even more so when it is revealed (by the third page, no spoilers here) that Anton Kronberg is really Anna Kronberg--short haircut, breast binding, and fake penis all employed in the singularly unfeminine goal of being a doctor. As all of her cross-dressing is in pursuit of employment, not in desire to express a felt gender, it seems ok to refer to her as Anna from here on out. Anna is called in to examine a cholera patient who has floated down the Thames. When she arrives, a tall, skinny, beaky nose man is bent almost double, examining the ground around the corpse. Yep, you guessed it, the intrepid Sherlock has beat our intrepid doctor to the scene.
Anna and Sherlock vie back and forth with their respective secrets: he sees through her male attire almost immediately, she has more insights into his character than are usually voiced in the canon... but soon they are distracted from their battle by the realization that this case of cholera doesn't have any of the usual traits. Anna gets it back to the lab, and during a dissection, comes to believe that the corpse was infected purposely. Why anyone would do this, and who is behind the heinous crime--and how far it reaches--is a puzzle that neither Anna nor Sherlock could answer on their own.
I enjoyed this. (I have the next two books in this series and the prequel lined up on my dresser, so it's a good thing I did!) I compare all Sherlock-ish stories to Carole Nelson Douglas's Irene Adler series--while I might perhaps still prefer those (Sherlock always kind of grates on me, he doesn't strike me as a romantic lead. At all. Honestly, more of a psychopath, but with a conscience, which is a contradiction... whatever.) So the romance angle didn't grab me, but that's completely because I'm going into this with so many preconceptions about Sherlock. That aside, the mystery was good, I was impressed by the historical detail (especially the slums--h/t to Henry Mayhew), it was a quick read, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.
(And now I'm really in the mood to reread all of the Irene Adler series, but they're just so freaking long that it's a bit more of an investment than I want to make right now....)
2014, 272 pgs, 1 of 10 biographies or memoirs, first read
Cary Elwes memoir about the making of The Princess Bride. Very enjoyable anecdotes about life on the set--heart-warming memories of Andre the Giant, of Rob Reiner, of William Goldsmith, of Mandy Patinkin. I think this was probably interesting because of my love of the movie (I imagine this is why it's doing so well--people just haven't gotten quite enough of the movie)... had it been about another movie, I'd likely not have been as interested. The voice of the author (Cary? ghost writer?) is very appealing--he doesn't come off as cocky or presumptuous, his self-doubt and marveling at the others involved in the project is pleasantly humble.
Made me want to reread The Princess Bride or rewatch the movie.
2014, 448 pages, 4 of 50 Reader's Choice, first read
Holy crap. And I don't say that lightly. If this doesn't make the year's top ten favorite books list, I'll be shocked.
And it is turning out to be surprisingly difficult to summarize: first of all, the story (ostensibly about Lou Villars--cross-dressing lesbian, almost Olympian, Nazi informant--but more about the society) is told from many different perspectives--the baroness who played Lady Bountiful, the Hungarian photographer who caught the images of the age, the jealous American author, the language teacher who begrudgingly taught German students the words for curfew and crime, the biographer with a somewhat complicated relationship to her subject.... all, in turn, relate and create the fervor and the frenzy of the years immediately leading up to the Occupation.
I'm doing a dreadful job of introducing this book. Here's what Amazon had to say:
A richly imagined and stunningly inventive literary masterpiece of love, art, and betrayal, exploring the genesis of evil, the unforeseen consequences of love, and the ultimate unreliability of storytelling itself.
Paris in the 1920s shimmers with excitement, dissipation, and freedom. It is a place of intoxicating ambition, passion, art, and discontent, where louche jazz venues like the Chameleon Club draw expats, artists, libertines, and parvenus looking to indulge their true selves. It is at the Chameleon where the striking Lou Villars, an extraordinary athlete and scandalous cross-dressing lesbian, finds refuge among the club’s loyal denizens, including the rising Hungarian photographer Gabor Tsenyi, the socialite and art patron Baroness Lily de Rossignol; and the caustic American writer Lionel Maine.
As the years pass, their fortunes—and the world itself—evolve. Lou falls desperately in love and finds success as a race car driver. Gabor builds his reputation with startlingly vivid and imaginative photographs, including a haunting portrait of Lou and her lover, which will resonate through all their lives. As the exuberant twenties give way to darker times, Lou experiences another metamorphosis—sparked by tumultuous events—that will warp her earnest desire for love and approval into something far more.
As for me, opinion: loved it. I usually find that in a book told from shifting perspectives, there's usually one that you like and a bunch of stinkers--characters that just aren't as fully developed, but still given weight in the narrative. This, however. Wow. There wasn't a narrator that I was sick of--I'd have happily read more from each. This was just so so good.
2008, 195 pgs, 1 of 10 Nonfiction, first read
Not terribly fun, but a quick read and provided more than a few useful ideas. I'm teaching my first college class (80 students! yoikes!) this semester, and desperately scrambling for tips on keeping discussion moving, planning useful activities, and just acting like a grown-up for a substantial chunk of my day.
A few thoughts on this book: (a) I wish I'd read this (and a few other books) earlier. I love most of my syllabus, but I'd have left a little bit more wiggle room for myself to assign small projects and/or give quizzes throughout the semester; (b) I'm in totally over my head; (c) Lieburg has some really excellent tips on fostering a cordial and engaged atmosphere in the classroom--a project I'm already concerned about, given the strongly held emotions and beliefs that my students bring to my topic (I'm teaching Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies); (d) don't be afraid to assess, evaluate, and switch things up that aren't working (that said, grading structure is sacrosanct... so I think she's primarily talking about how you lead discussions and what sort of assignments and activities you work with.)
Lieburg brings up a number of things that I suspect education majors have already considered (teaching philosophy, anyone?)--things that I probably need to start thinking about. (I know all kinds of things about my subject: gender in the 19th century; and quite a lot about gender studies in general... but I know things to write papers, to research, to analyze. Teaching is, in the words of the gatekeeper of Oz, a horse of a different color.) So this semester is a crash course in effective communication. Great for my CV, but going to be a difficult few months, I do believe.
If you can't tell, I always had students who hated my classes, because they just wanted to read the material and pass the tests, and students who loved my classes because there were no right or wrong answers, just critically supported or unsupported ones, and they were challenged to think. There were even students who moved from the first group to the second in the span of the course. ;-)
2014, 261 pgs, 5 of 50 Reader's Choice, first read
Such a good book. Took me right away from everything I was stressed about, all of the tasks and troubles and whatnot. And phew! What an adventure!
Nell, Fen, and Bankson are anthropologists in 1930's New Guinea. Nell and Fen just left the tribe they were working with under circumstances that aren't fully explained, but seem to have left their mark. Bankson is haunted by the deaths of his brothers--he's accomplished little in the last eighteen months and his recent suicide attempt was unsuccessful. They are all frayed and falling apart when they meet at a holiday party, but the connection invigorates them all: Nell's success (and Fen's lack thereof) is somehow covered over and made less glaring, Bankson is inspired both by Nell's methodical approach and by Fen's more organic connection to the cultures that they are studying. But, of course, their connection ends up having a bit more dire results.
Highly recommended. A completely and wholly absorbing book.
2014, 226 pgs, 2 of 10 biographies or memoir, first read
Loved this. I've been very lucky with my book choices so far this year. Gay talks about all the gritty underbelly of feminism: being a good enough feminist, being a good enough everything.
How do we reconcile the imperfections of feminism with all the good it can do? In truth, feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed. For whatever reason, we hold feminism to an unreasonable standard where the movement must be everything we want and must always make the best choices. When feminism falls short of our expectations, we decide the problem is with feminism rather than with the flawed people who act in the name of the movement. (Gay, Roxane. Bad Feminist: Essays.)Gay takes on political feminists, misogyny, reality television, rape jokes, race in the movies, reproductive rights, other recent feminist memoirs, and the problems of making each new feminist the savior of the movement and then toppling her off the pinnacle.
Really, really well done. So smart, so thoughtful, so enjoyable.
2014, 352 pgs, 6 of 50 Reader's Choice, first read
In a genre that is getting a little full (post-apocalyptic road stories), this one stands out. I read this in one long and slightly feverish gulp, in bed recovering from a bout of the flu in the middle of a snow-storm. If there is a better way to read a novel about the collapse of civilization following an epidemic, I'm not sure what it is. I read so much that often the experience of reading is lost--I read on the metro and in between classes, I read while the water in the shower is heating up and the coffee is brewing. I often read while I walk. I remember the plots, but not myself while reading.
There are a few exceptions--I remember the first time I read The Woman in White--I'd been dreading it, because it was so long and I had to get it done in three days, and I enjoyed it so much I read it in one sitting. I remember the first time I read Little Women, on a road trip up to Grandma's house, nestled in the back of the station wagon with suitcases and Christmas gifts all around.
I'll remember this one. Perfect setting to read such a good book.
Station Eleven traces the effects of a global pandemic on a few survivors. Twenty years after 99.99% (estimated--there is no way to verify in the new world) of the world's population dies, after technology collapses, after the gasoline goes bad, when the world once more becomes huge and unknowable, The Traveling Symphony moves from camp to camp, putting on Shakespearean dramas and playing the music of Brahms and Beethoven. Their motto is from a line from Star Trek: Because survival is not enough. Humans play music and sing songs and tell stories because imagination is a necessary human function. The book is preoccupied with what it means to be human, with what it means to be civilized, with how much of our world is dependent on the people in our world. I loved this take on the post-apocalyptic.
And besides the themes, which I loved, the structure of the book was just amazing. One of the problems with a book like this is that it is so unremittingly bleak. We once had it all, and everything fell apart. In stories of "after," people are always looking backward. It can make the movement of the story stutter. This, instead, moved back and forth between long before and just before and after and later after, in story lines that were connected enough and memorable enough to stay clear, but not actually directly interwoven. Really good.
And the language!
Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city.~
He’d been able to see reasonably well with an extremely thick pair of glasses, but he’d lost these six years ago and since then he’d lived in a confusing landscape distilled to pure color according to season— summer mostly green, winter mostly gray and white—in which blurred figures swam into view and then receded before he could figure out who they were. He couldn’t tell if his headaches were caused by straining to see or by his anxiety at never being able to see what was coming, but he did know the situation wasn’t helped by the first flute, who had a habit of sighing loudly whenever the seventh guitar had to stop rehearsal to ask for clarification on the score that he couldn’t see.~
This is my soul and the world unwinding, this is my heart in the still winter air.
There are about a million more that I noted for their sheer beauty and craft, but you should find them yourself.
2014, 432 pgs, 2 of 10 nonfiction, first read
Some good, some a little uneven. On the whole, very enjoyable.
The good: Lepore explores in great detail the impact of feminism on the creator of WW, William Moulton Marston, and, in turn, on the creation of Wonder Woman. She locates Wonder Woman's history within the feminist utopias of the turn of the century (of which, she relates, there were many.) Also, she gets into (in the epilogue) the later incarnations of Wonder Woman--in the 50's, she traded her boots in for soft slippers (telling, no?), in the late 70's she appeared on the first cover of Ms. Magazine, in the 80's she was (gasp) portrayed by a former beauty queen.
A little less compelling, to me, was all the bondage stuff. Marston was a fan of bondage, which Lepore repeatedly points out, and she could have done a more complete job of explaining or trying to tie that in (or showing the contradictions of) with Wonder Woman's adventures. She points out, correctly, that WW is always being tied up--she is bound on nearly every page. She alludes to Marston's attempts to show the power of the "bonds of love" over the bondage of war, but honestly, what does that mean? Lepore points out that this led to WW being fetishized (as if she weren't already--blue bustier, anyone?) and she suggests that the predilection of Marston's is more than just sexual preference--he had a whole philosophy behind it. I think the philosophy could have been gone more into. Clearly, bondage is central, but we didn't really get into why.
Marston is an interesting character. I think (were I writing a 10-15 pager on this) I'd draw connections between his invention of the lie detector and the bondage bit. The lie detector assumes that the body is the shackle--you might try to lie, your spirit/self/mind may want to tell this alternate reality--but your body, the flesh and blood cage, reveals the truth. Maybe.
Still, for all the excellent work that was done in this "Secret History," a little more theorizing (or bringing in of the existing theorists on BDSM) would have been an improvement.
11. The Girl with All the Gifts, M. R. Carey
12. The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde
13. Lost in a Good Book, Jasper Fforde
14. The Husband's Secret, Liane Moriarty
15. The Well of Lost Plots, Jasper Fforde
16. Orange is the New Black, Piper Kerman
17. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed
18. Fifth Avenue 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman, Sam Wasson
19. Something Rotten, Jasper Fforde
20. Wicked, Gregory Maguire
21. Heroines, Kate Zambreno
11. A Vindication of the Rights of Women (excerpt), The Essential Feminist Reader, Mary Wollstonecraft
12. Constitutional Argument, Susan B. Anthony
13. Address Delivered at Seneca Falls, Elizabeth Cady Stanton
14. Ain't I a Woman? Sojourner Truth
15. The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Harriet Jacobs, Frances Harper, Anita Hill; Lauren Berlant
16. The Fourth of July, Audre Lorde
17. Growing up Asian in America, Kesaya E. Noda
18. Shakespeare's Sister, Virginia Woolf
19. Poetry is Not a Luxury, Audre Lorde
20. Jane Hocus, Jane Focus, Merri Lisa Johnson
21. Fuck You and Your Untouchable Face: Third Wave Feminism and the Problem of Romance, Merri Lisa Johnson
22. The Sexual Girl Within: Breaking the Feminist Silence on Desiring Girlhood, Caitlin Fisher
23. Sex Cuts, Becky McLaughlin
24. I Learned From The Best: My Mother Was a High-Femme Whore, Paula Austin
25. (Rethinking) Gender, Debra Rosenberg
26. I Shop Therefore I am: Is There a Place for Afro-American Culture in Commodity Culture?, Susan Willis
27. The Bob--Not an Afro, but still a Liberating Do, Daphne Muse
28. The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House, Audre Lorde
29. Notes toward a Politics of Location, Adrienne Rich
February Short Stories
8. They Opened the Graves, Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d'Argens
2014, 403 pgs, 7 of 50 Reader's Choice, reread
Melanie's favorite stories in school are the Greek myths--especially the story of Pandora, the girl who had all the gifts of the world, and opened death. Melanie's school is a little different--the students arrive in shackles, the teachers are terrified and covered in a gel that blocks their pheromones, the whole complex is under military rule, and Melanie's classmates occasionally disappear--never to be seen again.
Miss Justineau is afraid that this job is more than she can handle. Of course, after the event, there were fewer choices--she was lucky to have the job--but teaching these students every day is proving a bit difficult on her mental stamina. Of course, it doesn't help that Melanie, the prime specimen, has bonded with her.
And then there is Captain Parks, who is just trying to keep everybody alive. Everybody who is still alive, that is. The rest are not his concern.
I particularly loved, this time around, the idea of generation and continuity. This is such an intriguing book, the premise takes a while to make itself clear, but once it does--wow! The reader learns about Melanie's world as Melanie does--she's piecing together the evidence, as the reader is, and coming to the same disturbing conclusions. A thoroughly enjoyable read.
I hope your class is going well!
2001, 400 pgs, 8 of 50 Reader's Choice, reread
I absolutely love Jasper Fforde's books--I love the profusion of random unexplained literary allusions (because of course you get the joke already), I love the world that prioritizes literature, I love the idea of going into a book. I've read this series a good number of times, this time I'm going through it via Audible (my commute is going to kill me) and I'm enjoying immensely.
If you haven't read, I highly recommend.
2002, 399 pgs, 9 of 50 Reader's Choice, reread
Love this one too. Thursday has finally settled down with the love of her life, only to find herself unexpectedly single again when Landon disappears. A few corrupt Chronoguard agents have changed the events of a near-fatal accident that occurred when he was a baby, and in the new reality, Landon doesn't exist. Their baby still does.
Enter Miss Havisham, a race with Mr. Toad, a fight with the Red Queen, and several unexpected entrances (and departures) by the Cat formerly known as Cheshire, and all is well--eh, maybe not-- in Swindon.
2013, 416 pgs, 10 of 50 Reader's Choice, first read
Eh, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this. This is the third Moriarty that I've read--I was given Little Big Lies and The Hypnotist's Love Story last year, and this was a Christmas gift.
These books--ok, reviewing one book, so THIS book--is just so entwined with the tiny intangible connections between human (all of the things that are traditionally fall in the realm of the feminine) that it's hard for me not to let my internalized sexism sit in judgment on this.
The story is told very well. Moriarty is an excellent story-spinner. It's hard for me to judge if my slight distaste for the book (like what I feel when forced to watch Jerry Springer at the mechanic's or doctor's--just grimy) is based on the quality of the book or the privileging of one set of interests over another.
Whatever. That was super convoluted.
Plot: Ok, there's a husband with a secret and it blows everything--all these perfect little lives--to pieces.
2004, 375 pgs, 11 of 50 Reader's Choice, reread
Landon is still eradicated, she's expecting, and things are a little too dangerous in the real world. Thursday retreats to the Well of Lost Plots to hide from Goliath, but there are complications and problems in the fictional world as well. Thursday suspects a conspiracy, but finding proof is, well, problematic.
2011, 327 pgs, 3 of 10 Biographies/Memoirs, first read
Enjoyed but didn't love. Had trouble getting past my knowledge of her privilege, which is my privilege, to hear what she was saying. This was an outsider's view, a Heart of Darkness come-watch-the-natives reset in the correctional institution. But. It was her experience. She isn't writing, or trying to write, or claiming to write, the experience of every woman in a prison. She is writing her experience. I think that, my reaction, is a problem. Like Bad Feminist, we don't want to talk because we can't say what everyone wants to hear. I have no right (write) to critique her for not speaking for all. No one can. If an experience is personal, then it is singular. So I'm full of crap.
Everyone knows what this is about, but I was so interested in the ways the social groups formed. In what happens to the psyche when you stop being protected by your insider status (even though she still was, she was still an outlaw, quite literally, so denied many of the privileges of society because of it.)
2013, 315 pgs, 4 of 10 Biographies/Memoirs, first read
I really loved this. I tore through Orange is the New Black and this in a gulp on a Saturday morning/afternoon, stressed out and swimming in someone else's experiences. And this. Loved.
Again, most know the outlines of this book--the author decided, seemingly almost on a whim, to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. The decision came following the death of her mother, the dissolution of her marriage, some drug experimentation, basically personal desolation. She hikes to find herself, to get things together, to figure out the next step.
I was most interested in her grieving process--how we grieve in the west, how we think about death, how we think about adulthood, and futurity, and fatality, and maturity. And her too-heavy pack. What is the gender construction of that--why carry everything, what is the gendered relation to nature, how connected to women on the wagon train, managing and preparing for every eventuality. And her shoes! I get stressed out when reading about financial difficulties--too many years living on a shoestring, afraid to open the bank statement, knowing that the numbers inside reduced me to the indelible and undeniable truth of failure. (See how I position this in the past? I still can't read Nickel and Dimed without a panic attack.) But now, when the wolf is a little farther from the door (I typed woolf accidentally, Three Guineas anyone?) I read things like problems with shoes and want to send her a check for a little bit of money. I did the same thing during my first trip to Japan--brought shoes that were cute and (ha!) comfortable, and ended up with gauze grey-taped to my feet because I couldn't stand my shoes. More scars on my feet, to match those left by the ankle straps I wore to the Valentine's Day banquet two decades ago, to match the crooked toes broken in cheerleading, to match the bumps from that terrible slip and slide. Oh the impossibility of having fun when your feet are bleeding.
I have realized that my rhetorical style is basically a spirograph.
2011, 288 pgs, 3 of 10 Nonfiction, first read
This is the problem with waiting two weeks before you review a book: I barely remember this. I did enjoy it (if you knew how many half-finished books are lying around my house, you'd know that just finishing it means that.) but I don't really recall why. I picked it up (bought it on Kindle) because of the subtitle--the dawn of the modern woman bit, but there really wasn't much intelligent gender analysis here. There was a lot of good gossip though--why Hepburn didn't want to take the part, why Capote didn't think she was right for the part, who they wanted to write the music, who said what about who and what. I enjoyed it: I like Hepburn, I like Breakfast at Tiffany's, I like gossip about long dead but fabulous celebrities. Not terribly intellectual, but good fun.
2005, 416 pgs, 12 of 50 Reader's Choice, reread
I seem to have little to say about these books upon this latest reread. I love the character of Thursday Next--she's a brainy, sex-positive, action hero-- I love the word in which people actually care (have riots about!) who wrote the Shakespeare plays, I find Fforde's humor consistently funny. And now that I think about it, that's pretty high praise.
Ok, in this one, the weird and wonderful politics of alterna-England are being driven by an escapee from BookWorld who plots a pseudo national grudge against Denmark to consolidate his power base. Hamlet is in the real world (and Ophelia is staging a coup), Emma Hamilton is hanging around, and somehow everything depends on the outcome of a croquet match.
I don't use the phrase "zany adventure" all that lightly, but this is it.
2004, 416 pgs, 13 of 50 Reader's Choice, reread, (audiobook)
I always forget how much is in this book. It's enormous and intricate and funny and so very sad and (this isn't all that original of a sentiment, I know) but just so very, very good.
I wrote and presented a paper about the queerness of Elphaba--about her social construction, about the slippage between different and unidentifiable and dangerous. With all of these alternate histories, there's a sense of the construction of the role before the fitting of the individual into it--Elphaba is the wicked witch because Oz needed a wicked witch, just as fairy tales need an evil stepmother and knights need a dragon. Those phobic slurs at the beginning! I love that Maguire leaves it mysterious--Elphaba is presented as questionably gendered by her enemies (can she not be strictly female because she doesn't play the game like Galinda or Dorothy?), and there is a clinical acknowledgement by the midwife of something a little different, perhaps, but she isn't marked (constructed) by that difference. She's already constructed as other by her color. (Difference without community: reminds me of Deborah Harkness's articulation of the difficulties of daemons--since not born to others like them, confused and alone.)
Anyway. Good stuff.
Didn't, of course. Responsibilities. Lack of survival skills. Lack of courage.
You've given me a much-needed bump to read Wild in the next few months.
Something Rotten is still my favorite in that series, it's just SO fun. Admittedly I don't care too much who wrote Shakespeare's plays, I have the writing and that's all I really want.
2012, 312 pgs, 1 of Criticism, first read
This is the best book I've read in ages. I know, I often rave about what I'm reading (truth is, I just don't finish the books I don't like, so I don't talk about them here!), but this. Wow. I underlined paragraphs, scribbled annotations in the margins, wrote essays on the end papers, wrote gobs in my journal. This, along with Nancy Mairs's Voice Lessons: On Becoming a (Woman) Writer are the books that I'll return to to stay inspired, to keep working.
“The biographies of the great men see their excesses as signs of their greatness. But Jean Rhys, in her biography, is read as borderline; Anaïs Nin is borderline; Djuna is borderline; etc. etc. Borderline personality disorder being an overwhelmingly gendered diagnosis. I write in Heroines: “The charges of borderline personality disorder are the same charges against girls writing literature, I realize—too emotional, too impulsive, no boundaries.”
Heroines is ostensibly about the modernist wives and mistresses, but more about how the woman's voice is silenced, how women living outside the lines are eccentric, mad, while aberrant, even anti-social behavior is merely a part of genius in a man. But it's a personal memoir, not a history, more of a rambling and digressive contemplation of Zambreno's position as a woman, as a writer, as a wife, as an academic. She's overtly working out her own role through the studies of these other women (she terms it Bovarizing--as in, interpreting your life through literature, like Madame Bovary did.)
“I am beginning to realize that taking the self out of our essays is a form of repression. Taking the self out feels like obeying a gag order--pretending an objectivity where there is nothing objective about the experience of confronting and engaging with and swooning over literature.”
So much good stuff in this book.
22. Texts from Jane Eyre: and Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters, Mallory Ortberg
23. The Hawley Book of the Dead: a Novel, Chrysler Szarlan
24. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and Other Concerns) Mindy Kaling
25. Outside the Pale: Cultural Exclusion, Gender Difference, and the Victorian Woman Writer, Elsie B. Michie
26. Strong Poison, Dorothy L. Sayers
27. Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's Learned, Lena Dunham
28. Dark Rooms: A Novel, Lili Anolik
29. He's a Stud, She's a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know, Jessica Valenti
30. Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl
31. Garden Spells, Sarah Addison Allen
32. First Frost, Sarah Addison Allen
33. Station Eleven: A Novel, Emily St. John Mandel
34. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
35. The Fall: A Kronberg Thriller, A. Wendeberg
30. "Reading the Body: an Introduction," Patricia Foster
31. "A Weight that Women Carry," Sallie Tisdale
32. "The Story Of My Body," Judith Oritz Cofer
33. "The Floating Lightbulb," Joyce Winer
34. "We Should All Be Feminists," Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
35. "Beating Anorexia and Gaining Feminism," Marni Grossman
36. "Love Your Fat Self," Courtney E. Martin
37. "Is Fat a Feminist Issue? Exploring the Gendered Nature of Weight Bias," Janna L. Fikkan and Esther D. Rothblum
38. "My Fight for Birth Control," Margaret Sanger
39. "The Way It Was," Eleanor Cooney
40. "Our Bodies, Ourselves: Reproductive Rights," bell hooks
41. "Why I Love Trash," Joshua Gamson
42. "Revolting Bodies: The Monster Beauty of Tattooed Women," Christine Braunberger
43. "The Social Construction of Disability," Susan Wendell
44. "The Triumph of the Working Mother," Stephanie Coontz
45. "On the Politics of Domesticity," Nancy Armstrong
46. "The Politics of Housework," Pat Mainardi
47. "Maid to Order: The Politics of Other Women's Work," Barbara Ehrenreich
48. "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," Ann-Marie Slaughter
March Short Stories
9. The Obelisk, E. M. Forster
10. Crocodile Tears, A. S. Byatt
11. The Malice of Inanimate Objects, M. R. James
12. "Queen of the Jungle", Publish and Perish: Three Tales of Tenure and Terror, James Hynes
13. "99," Publish and Perish: Three Tales of Tenure and Terror, James Hynes
14. "Casting the Runes," Publish and Perish: Three Tales of Tenure and Terror, James Hynes
15-78. One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, B. J. Novak
2014, 240 pgs, 14 of 50 Reader's Choice, first read
Fun snippets of the classics, as re-imagined in the digital age. Enjoyable.
2014, 352 pgs, 15 of 50 Reader's Choice, first read
Really excellent. A complicated story of Vegas illusionists and Massachusetts witchcraft, of love and death and misery and joy. All that good stuff.
Reve and her husband are successful stage magicians until the night everything came apart. Someone switched the blank in the prop gun for a real bullet, Reve's husband dies--shot by her hand-- in front of a horrified audience. (This is all first chapter stuff--no spoilers.) The mystery of who switched the bullet, and why, becomes a fear for the safety of her daughters, and so she returns to the home that she so many years ago.
The town of Hawley Five Corners has been empty since the entire community disappeared some seventy years ago. Settled by Reve's ancestors (at least one of whom in each generation is named Revelation) just after the Salem trials, the property has remained in the family, and Reve's grandmother offers it to her when she needs a place to escape to.
from the Amazon review Revelation “Reve” Dyer grew up with her grandmother’s family stories, stretching back centuries to Reve’s ancestors, who founded the town of Hawley Five Corners, Massachusetts. Their history is steeped in secrets, for few outsiders know that an ancient magic runs in the Dyer women’s blood, and that Reve is a magician whose powers are all too real.
Reve and her husband are world-famous Las Vegas illusionists. They have three lovely young daughters, a beautiful home, and what seems like a charmed life. But Reve’s world is shattered when an intruder alters her trick pistol and she accidentally shoots and kills her beloved husband onstage.
Fearing for her daughters’ lives, Reve flees with them to the place she has always felt safest—an antiquated farmhouse in the forest of Hawley Five Corners, where the magic of her ancestors reigns, and her oldest friend—and first love—is the town’s chief of police. Here, in the forest, with its undeniable air of enchantment, Reve hopes she and her girls will be protected.
Delving into the past for answers, Reve is drawn deeper into her family’s legends. What she discovers is The Hawley Book of the Dead, an ancient leather-bound journal holding mysterious mythic power. As she pieces together the truth behind the book, Reve will have to shield herself and her daughters against an uncertain, increasingly dangerous fate. For soon it becomes clear that the stranger who upended Reve’s life in Las Vegas has followed her to Hawley—and that she has something he desperately wants.
Brimming with rich history, suspense, and magic, The Hawley Book of the Dead is a brilliantly imagined debut novel from a riveting new voice.
2012, 222 pgs, 5 of 10 Biographies/Memoirs, first read
I'm loving the recent influx of smart, funny, feminist memoirs. Kaling talks about size and race, about making it in a tough field, about who she has been, who she is, what she wants. Really excellent.
1993, 190 pgs, 2 of 10 Critical Theory, first read
Fascinating analysis positioning the woman writer as insider/outsider to society, and connecting the changing definitions of Victorian femininity to other forms of prevalent cultural exclusion.
Many later writings that I'm quite (!) familiar with are based on some of Michie's rhetorical moves, so a lot seemed familiar. However, there was more than enough that either I'd never considered or never put enough effort into to justify going back to the beginning.
1930, 192 pgs 16 of 50 Reader's Choice, zillonth read
I love this book, I love Whose Body?, I really love Gaudy Night. And much that I love about the individual books is based on why I love all three--namely, character and plot arcs that aren't resolved until Gaudy Night--so it's difficult for me to talk about just one.
However, in Strong Poison we are introduced to Harriet Vane, Lord Peter Wimsey's true and perfect match. Unfortunately, when we meet her, she's in the dock for killing her lover--a cad of a man who convinced her that he didn't believe in marriage (he's quite modern, you see) merely to see if her "devotion was abject enough." After agreeing to live with him (a bargain that, not to be a prude, but this is 1930, is most certainly going to affect her much more negatively than him) he eventually proposes. Feeling she's been made a fool of, she throws him over, ditches him flat... and lo and behold, he winds up dead, not too much later.
Peter sees her in the dock, is thrilled by the dark seriousness of her eyes (of course, that may just be insomnia) and proposes immediately. After receiving his rejection, he toodles away to solve the mystery and free the mysterious and clever Miss Vane.
Ok, honestly, I'm never all that thrilled by Sayers' plots. But the people! This relationship is my favorite in literature, bar none. It's romance for grownups, for people who don't necessarily believe that following your heart will lead you right, for people who stopped believing in the fairy tale some time ago, thankyouverymuch. Harriet and Peter (mostly Harriet) is as smart as she is passionate. So watching these two individuals come together--scratching each other raw, wrangling feelings and histories and futures, feels so much more real and more satisfying than any number of once upon a time stories.
2014, 288 pgs, 6 of 10 biographies/memoirs, first read
Not a fan. It wasn't dreadful--I was listening to the audiobook and it made the 8 hour drive from Boston to D.C. positively enjoyable--but I really just hated her and everything else when it was done.
I'm the wrong generation for this. I shouldn't be--I'm about a decade older than her, one thinks that I could stretch my little mind to appreciate her particular brand of whatever it is.... but I just can't. I want to shake her. I want to send her on a Peace Corps trip--and I'm all for self-actualization and exploring your psyche. But this is just a little too self-indulgent for me.
2015, 336 pgs, 17 of 50 Reader's Choice, first read
I'm having trouble synthesizing my thoughts on this one.
First of all, it was written a childhood friend of my partner--I don't know her, but somehow, that connection makes it seem like a commentary on how much I've not been working on MY novel. (Because, naturally, her achievement is all about some random person only so very tenuously connected to her.) So there's a chance, because it's a little more personal than the random book I just come across, that I'm not judging it in quite the same manner that I judge other books. (Like the difference between works you read in a writing workshop, and articles you read on the train: in one, you're looking for flaws, in the other, for escape.)
Second, dude. Dark.
Anyway. Everything starts with the death of Nica, beautiful, popular and 16. Grace, her older sister, becomes obsessed with finding Nica's murderer. And finding the body is pretty much the sunniest part of the book.
2008, 224 pgs, 4 of 10 Nonfiction, first read
Not written for me (can you say preaching to the choir?) but I'd absolutely get this for a young teenage girl in my life. (Why just a girl? Find, a boy too. Like there are teenagers in my life at all.)
Valenti (of Feministing fame) lays out a bunch of gendered double standards that are common in our culture. I listened to this driving in to teach my gender class, in large part because I like the (occasionally simplistic) "What can you do?" conclusions for each section.
Good stuff. Very intro level, good for a teenager.
2007, 528 pgs, 18 of 50 Reader's Choice, first read
Holy crap was this a great book. Blue van Meer, only daughter of a university lecturer who travels constantly, has landed at the elite St. Gallway School for her senior year. She is abruptly and unexpectedly taken in by the most exotic and eccentric clique, a blending that doesn't seem so much comfortable or desired as demanded by the mysterious professor who is the center of their group. After two unexpected and unexplained deaths, Blue brings the force of her oh-so-educated mind to the task of puzzling out exactly what is going on.
I loved the structure of this book--at the beginning, Blue waxes eloquent about something her father said about the connection between the syllabus and life: the syllabus purports to be complete knowledge, but actually, it's carefully selected and condensed information, blocked apart from the real world by the borders of the page, a bite-sized piece of life. And so the book is framed, roughly, like a syllabus, with each successive chapter holding the title of a great work of literature. Infinitely enjoyable to match why the work was chosen (thematic connections) and the illustrations were excellent.
I'm bad at "best of's" because, well, every book is different every time you read it. But I think this was the best of the month, at least.
2007, 304 pgs, 19 of 50 Reader's Choice, first read
And now for something completely different.
This was enjoyable, but it seemed so close to Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic, that honestly, I just wanted to reread that. And it's close, but not quite as good--it's the pastel version of Hoffman's oil color.
Two sisters with a long and magical heritage are reunited after years apart when the sister who fled returns home to escape a bad romantic situation. (Seriously. Straight up Hoffman.)
However, I love Hoffman, so I absolutely understand the desire to enter that world. And I enjoyed this, critical review notwithstanding.
2015, 304 pgs, 20 of 50 Reader's Choice, first read
Enjoyable follow up to Garden Spells. It takes up the characters some 10-12 years later... and I don't really remember anything else.
I should really write my reviews a little closer to the time I read the book-- this was at least a week ago, maybe two--and I remember the cover, which is beautiful, and very little else. (Helpful, aren't I?)
2014, 352 pgs, 21 of 50 Reader's Choice, second read (January, March)
I read this in January, and I've not stopped thinking about it since. I reviewed it back then--the major things I'm impressed with haven't changed: the plot structure, all the different voices (so well done!), the necessity of the arts to human consciousness.
Love. Best book I've read so far this year.
1) This "100 academic articles in a year" goal is so easy as to be laughable. I should have been recording my "work-reading" for years-- labor feels so much more profitable when it is quantifiable, something that is often lacking in academic pursuits. That said, nearly all of these articles are ones that I've assigned for my class--I really need to be working on my own stuff, not just what I'm teaching.
2.) Short stories are not an easy fit for me. I like the luxury of a few hundred pages ahead--and so often, short stories are rather bleak. (I'm not sure why I have this impression, but I've read more devastating shorts than I can count.)
3.) Publish and Perish: Three Tales of Tenure and Terror was excellent. I've read (and written extensively) about M. R. James's stories (a turn of the century academic who wrote really creepy ghost stories), these were reminding me of those, and then, lo and behold, the final in the volume is an overt homage to his most famous work Casting the Runes. This was the best in the volume--unputdownable.
4.) B. J. Novak's whole book was excellent, my favorite was "J. C. Audetat: Translator of Don Quixote"--made me want to read Cervantes this year.
2015, 336 pgs, 22 Reader's Choice, first read
This review is going to be one long spoiler. So, Spoiler Alert!
That said, I loved the narrator. The descent from "ok" to "not ok" was terrifying. And the realization that her husband had so manipulated her--god, that was well done. The structure of the book was excellent--the narrative voices were different enough to be distinctive, I was a little confused by the timeline (primarily because I was reading on a device and it just wasn't worth it to flip back to the beginning of each chapter to locate the date, so I just tried to figure it out) but it all became clear in the end.
Final quibble: too many villains. I get that the author had to maintain the suspense about who the murderer was, but this ended up being one murderer, one abuser, and one --well, I know the therapist is supposed to be a relatively good guy here, but wow did he handle things poorly. Basically, testosterone equals untrustworthy. Unsurprising that the women have to band together to help each other.
I probably won't read it again, in all honesty, but a good way to spend a few hours.
2014, 323 pgs, 23 of Reader's Choice, first read
This series is very enjoyable, though I'm still having a bit of trouble imagining Sherlock as the answer to a maiden's prayer. Of course, this is no ordinary maiden (no maiden at all), but still. Sherlock is a little too far on the self-centered bastard spectrum to be appealing to me, no matter how quick and precise his mind.
So this series works much better if I ignore what I think I know from the canon, and just accept it as a stand-alone. That said, I'm very much enjoying the character of Anna Kronberg. Her background was recounted in The Devil's Grin: she is a doctor, in a time when being a doctor as a woman meant binding your breasts and wearing a prosthetic penis. She has a lover and a mind to match Sherlock's.
The Fall occurs some time after the events of The Devil's Grin, and the master criminal whose minions she and Sherlock brought to the law in the last book is now on her trail. She's held captive in Moriarty's house for months and forced to work to develop germ warfare.
Ok, it's a little melodramatic. But it's fun.
36. The Journey (An Anna Kronberg Thriller), A. Wendeberg
37. The Last Sherlock Holmes Story, Michael Dibdin
38. Getting Rid of Bradley, Jennifer Crusie
39. The Nightingale, Kristen Hannah
40. The Light Between Oceans, M. L. Stedman
41. Maybe This Time, Jennifer Crusie
42. A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler
43. At the Water's Edge, Sara Gruen
44. The Secret Life of Violet Grant, Beatriz Williams
45. Reconstructing Amelia, Kimberly McCreight
46. Death at the Chateau Bremont: A Verlaque and Bonnet Mystery, M. L. Longworth
49. Surviving Globalization: Immigrant Workers in Late Capitalist America, Evelyn Hu-Dehart
50. Sex Work as a Test Case for African Feminism, Marlise Richter
51. Color Me Nontoxic, Momo Chang
52. Power Plays: Six Ways the Male Corporate Elite Keeps Women Out, Peggy Drexler
53. The Feminist Factor, Eleanor Smeal
53. Name It, Change It, Rachel joy Larris and Rosalie Maggio
54. What we do for love, Rose Wietz
55. The Cult of Virginity, Jessica Valenti
56. Romance: Sweet Love, bell hooks
57. Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, Audre Lorde
58. A World of Difference, Leila J. Rupp
59. Resisting Gender Violence, S. Shaw
60. Anti-LGBTQ Violence: Three Essays, Tony Hobday, Michaelangelo Signorile, Hope Gillette
61. Activism, Change, and Feminist Futures, S. Shaw
62. Feminist Men, Byron Hurt
63. What Pussy Riot Taught the World, Michael Petrou
64. The Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting What You Want, Mark Forsyth
April Short Stories
79. The Man who Hated Cats, P.G. Wodehouse
80. Deep Waters, P.G. Wodehouse
81. Jeeves Takes Charge, P.G. Wodehouse
82. A Scandal in Bohemia, Arthur Conan Doyle
2014, 254 pgs, 24 of Reader's Choice, first read
This follows immediately after The Fall: Kronberg Crimes, and doesn't stand alone--the drama that is played out in this book was set up in the previous. Enjoyable, but read it almost three weeks ago and very little is standing out about this particular iteration. (Overall opinion of the series is qualified enjoyment--love the protagonist --cross-dressing doctor in Victorian London--what's not to love?--but this view of Sherlock doesn't fit my preconceptions.)
1978, 192 pgs, 25 of Reader's Choice, reread (first in a decade)
And said preconceptions (about Sherlock's general inability to convincingly play a romantic lead) are likely in part drawn from this book. I read it ages ago, but so long ago that I'd honestly forgotten the denouement. Wow.Michael Dibdin doesn't disappoint, but this is one of my favorites. So freaking dark, a twist on the canon, but so aware of the canon that it's entirely believable. Of course, I am of a cynical turn of mind....
In 1972, fifty years after the death of a retiring army doctor, immortalized through the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle, a box of letters and documents is produced. It claims to be the final, and only unfictionalized, story of the great detective, written by his companion, Dr. Watson. (Watson relates how he passed on his notes to his old school chum, ACD, who wrote fictionalized versions of Holmes's cases. This is something else entirely.)
Watson begins his history in the fall of 1888--all of London is rocked by the brutal slayings in Whitechapel, the residents of 221b Baker Street with all the rest. At the pleadings of the police, Holmes begins investigating the crimes, and reveals the existence of the arch-criminal, Moriarty, to Watson. Bored with success at university and in organized crime, Holmes relates, Moriarty finally went for the ultimate thrill of personal murder. Watson records how Homes matched Moriarty's wits, point by point, sometimes preceding and preventing him, sometimes failing, in the chess game that the public knew as Jack the Ripper's murders. But something else, as they say, is afoot....
Love this book. I'd forgotten how much.
1994, 336 pgs, 26 of Reader's Choice, reread
I've read every one of Jennifer Crusie's novels so many times that I can almost always predict the next line. I just love her romances--her characters are well-realized, the dialogue is great, the heroines all a little older and established in their careers (usually about 36), they have dogs, they have great friend groups, they end up with a great guy who adores them and who thinks their jokes are funny. Seriously. I think many of my ideas of ideal relationships--familial, friend, romantic, canine--come from her books.
Lucy meets Zach, Zach investigates her ex-husband, Bradley's stories don't match up, shenanigans ensue.
Good stuff. This was an Audible entry, made my day of cleaning and running errands so much more enjoyable.
2015, 440 pgs, 27 of Reader's Choice, first read
Just a completely enjoyable escape from the end of the semester.
The Rosingal sisters have very different wars: Vianne tries to ignore the war after her beloved husband is drafted from their idyllic country home just after France's entry; bored with her privilege, Isabelle goes searching for danger and adventure when the Germans take Paris. Each makes her way through the unimaginable aftermath, loving, leaving, surviving.
Ridiculous review. It was a very good book, but it's resisting summary and analysis. However, recommended. This one took me completely away.
2013, 345 pgs, 28 of Reader's Choice, first read
Really excellent. Tom Sherborne returned from the trenches unscathed, but carrying the burden of all the friends he'd lost. He takes a posting at the remote Janus Rock, and after a few years, marries the beautiful Isabel. They are idyllically happy, but completely alone. Then they start accumulating tiny crosses on the hill, miscarriage after miscarriage, and something in Isabel just shifts.
Then a boat drifts up with a dead man and a crying baby. And it all goes off the rails.
Really good. Couldn't put it down. (Literally. I got up at 7 to prep for class, and instead I read until the book was done.)
2010, 352 pgs, 29 of Reader's Choice, re-re-read
I love this book. I've read it a million times. First of all, Jennifer Crusie is always amazing. This is a retelling of The Turn of the Screw, but reimagined through the romance version.
Andie Miller divorced North ten years ago, but now he has a favor to ask of her--he inherited two wards, young cousins living in a remote house in Southern Ohio. The last several nannies have broken their contracts, claiming that their are ghosts in the house. That can't be right, but something is going on, and Andie's strength--thinking outside the box--might help her figure it out and fix it.
The house is a monstrosity straight out of a Gothic novel. And the kids!--little Alice talks to an empty chair, Carter throws candles--and they have convulsions when nannies have tried to forcibly remove them. And then Andie starts seeing the ghosts.
2015, 368 pgs, 30 of Reader's Choice, first read
After a certain number of books, I just get tired of reviewing them. If I've finished, I generally have nothing but praise (if you could see the stacks of opened books around my house that never quite get finished!), but if it's done well, I tend to not have anything all that insightful to say. It was a good book. The end.
I've never loved Anne Tyler--my sister went through a phase in her early 20's, and as a result, I read a few, but I never connected with her or her works in any real way. I'm not entirely sure this has changed my mind--I respect what she's doing, she's doing it well, but the domestic sphere, for me, needs a little bit more. A tad dull, or prosaic, or something.
But. I really liked this particular book, so perhaps I have no idea what I'm talking about. Whatever.
I think this is about the power of our own myths in our lives, how our telling of a story frames our understanding of our circumstances, and that understanding then creates our reality. The Whitshanks are a relatively new family in the old Baltimore neighborhood. The patriarch is only a generation removed, the house he built (for someone else, then acquired through means that perhaps don't bear investigation) is the cornerstone upon which they rely.
The structure was well done. I always appreciate a reverse timeline The Hundred-Year House, which I read in January, brought this to my attention, as did Station Eleven--the importance of order of telling in the final analysis.
This review is completely incoherent. May be redone, perhaps not. Liked the book, not sure I'd save it from a burning building.
2015, 368 pgs, 31 of Reader's Choice, first read
Now this was just amazing. Read it in one long gulp, one of those run-into-walls books, that you can't seem to put down long enough to make a cup of tea. I enjoyed Water for Elephants (the only other of hers that I've read) but this was something else entirely.
After a somewhat raucous New Year's celebration on the eve of 1914, Maddie finds herself and her husband, Ellis, exiled from his family home and the financial support that they've been relying on since their marriage. They decamp, with Ellis's best friend and their constant companion, Hank, to Scotland to determine once and for all the validity of the stories around the Loch Ness Monster.
The village they land in is less than welcoming--the natives have little sympathy for privileged Americans who flit to Europe during a war, and even less when their purpose becomes known. But as Maddie navigates the danger of Europe in war, she begins to realize that danger isn't just from without.
Anyway. Good book.
2014, 448 pgs, 32 of Reader's Choice, first read
I read Beatriz Williams's A Hundred Summers last summer and--while I enjoyed it--it didn't really register as anything especially great. (Of course, I was reading a lot of books in a row on vacation--sometimes they don't really register.) Now I'm thinking I need to reread it. Because this was really very good.
Vivian Schuyler is two weeks into a fancy new job at a magazine in 1960's New York when she gets notice that a package is waiting at the local post office. She rushes off to find the package and meets the amazingly perfect Doctor Paul, who carries the package back to her walkup, stays as she opens it (to find an old suitcase emblazoned with the name Violet Schuyler) and an apology from the Swiss government for lost luggage. She then proceeds to spend the rest of the day with Paul, researching who Violet might have been.
Her mother provides the first clue--Violet Schuyler was a great aunt, the blueblood Schuyler's disavowed knowledge of her after she pursued her goal of becoming a scientist. She disappeared from Weimar Germany soon thereafter.
Such a great book.
2013, 400 pgs, 33 of Reader's Choice, first read
This (like so many of my first reads) wasn't really on my radar, but I kept seeing it pop up on book recommendations based on previous reads, so I gave it a go. Glad I did, this was an excellent read. I think it does what several of the other books I've read this year were going for--it reminded me of The Lake of Dead Languages (which I didn't like at all), a bit of Dark Rooms--though not quite as dark, maybe even a bit of Special Topics in Calamity Physics (which was amazing).
(No spoilers here--this setup is revealed in every review and takes about 3 pages in the novel.)
Kate is pulled out of a very important client meeting when her daughter's posh school calls, telling her that Ameila--brilliant, studious, quirky Ameila--has been caught cheating and is suspended. In the time that it takes Kate to get across the city--subway lines stuck, traffic snarled--her daughter has done the unthinkable. The police have cordoned off the school grounds and are huddled around the broken body of the student who jumped from the roof. Her daughter.
The rest of the book moves back and forth between before and after--Amelia's texts to her friends, conversations with her friends, interspersed with Kate's attempts at investigations, interspersed with Kate's journal entries about Amelia's unknown biological father.
I really enjoyed this. Primarily the setup-- I'm apparently a little obsessed with timelines right now--since Station Eleven I'm just noticing them more--and this one worked really well. A straightforward procedural (death, investigation) would have worked, but this jumping around gave the dead a voice and a personality. Downsides--perhaps a little too Mean Girls, and I may be maxing out on the whole dreadfully prestigious prep school thing. I know rich kids have problems... but seriously.
2011, 311 pgs, 34 of Reader's Choice, re-read
These books are the best of all possible escapes. They're somewhere between Frances Mayes (whom I love and whose books I return to when I can't possibly analyze another thing) (they're basically really glorious travel essays), and Dashiell Hammett. Love.
Judge Antoine Verlaque is the chief magistrate in the small French town of Aix. Verlaque is called in to investigate by the relatives of nobleman Etienne de Bremont after he was found dead outside the third story window in the family estate. He might have just slipped, but why would an athletic man fall from a place he's been standing his whole life? Verlaque is happy to join, not the least because it gives him an excuse to reconsider his last romance. He dated law professor Marine Bonnet for a year before his insistent privacy and self-protection drove her away... and though he's still frequently irritated by her, he misses her too. Since Marine grew up with the recently deceased Bremont, Verlaque has the perfect chance to see if he made a mistake.
One of the blurbs on the back of the book compares Longworth's books to Dorothy Sayers--and I think that's a comparison that holds true--both in the good aspects and the bad. Sayers' plots are all (in my opinion) a little forgettable, but her characters--the dialogue, the relationships, are amazing. (And besides, this relationship--the reluctance/frustration/desire/affection on both sides reminds me a bit of the Wimsey/Vane pairing.) The relationship in these books is great, the location is just intoxicating. The plot, well, the plot is there too. Still, highly recommended, very enjoyable.
47. Murder in the Rue Dumas, M. L. Longworth
48. Murder on the Ile Sordou, M. L. Longworth
49. A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin
50. Yes, My Darling Daughter, Margaret Leroy
51. Memories of my Melancholy Whores, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
52. The Language of Silence, Peggy Webb
53. The Forgotten Garden, Kate Morton
54. The Brief History of the Dead, Kevin Brockmeier
May Short Stories
83. A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, Amy Bloom
84. Rowing to Eden, Amy Bloom
2012, 304 pgs, 35 of 50 Reader's Choice, reread
I absolutely love the atmosphere of these books. The mysteries are fine, but the atmosphere is just excellent.
A theology professor, holder of a well-endowed chair, is found dead--the most obvious suspects are his possible successors. Judge Verlaque thinks something else is happening--and when Marine's mother, another professor in the theology department, tells him about the board's most recent findings... well, all is not as it seems.
2014, 320 pgs, 36 of 50 Reader's Choice, reread
This is my favorite in the series--I love the structure. Longworth uses a form that Christie used with such frequency--a group of sequestered people, apparently strangers, one ends up dead, the cause is located deep in the history of one of the individuals. And it works.
Antoine and Marine are taking a long-deserved and frequently postponed vacation at a new resort on the very remote Ile Sordou. On their second day there, the aging film star--since demoted to dog food commercials--is found dead. Primary suspects: the too-young and too-plastic wife (who has already begun making the rounds of the available men on the island) and her volatile teenage son. But Antoine begins asking questions--and Marine starts putting pieces of the puzzle together--the realize that there are connections between people on the island that go deep into an unspoken history.
2003, 819 pgs, 37 of 50 Reader's Choice, first read
So I fell down the rabbit hole that is A Game of Thrones. First, I just needed something complex and interesting to have on in the background while I graded papers. So instead of grading papers (yes, they got done. eventually) I watched four seasons and all the episodes that are available of season 5.
And THEN, since I hadn't, apparently, been in that world long enough, I downloaded the book on Audible and spent another 40 hours there. No regrets, I'll be listening to the next one as well.
Couldn't possibly review the books, because way too much happens. Suffice to say, I haven't really been living here lately. I've been somewhere else entirely. At least I'm getting some knitting done!
2010, 349 pgs, 38 of 50 Reader's Choice, first read
So you know that part in Friends where Joey puts the book Little Women in the freezer because he's scared? Yeah. Had I been brave enough to walk to the kitchen in a dark house, this book may have had the same fate. Gave me the creeps something fierce. Ended up watching Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple (love) for an hour after finishing the book. Creeps.
Sylvie is 3. and Sylvie is troubled. Grace, her mother, is struggling to manage the tantrums, the phobias, the odd otherness that her darling daughter seems beset with. She's always been this way--a little distant, a little obsessive. Sylvie is obsessed with a house she's never seen on a coast in Ireland that she's never been to. And so Grace and Sylvie, and the psychology professor who is helping and funding, take the trip to Coldharbor.
I'm not sure why this book got me so much. Part of it is the creepy kid thing--Sylvie isn't violent, but she's terribly other. It's just eerie. And the setting is Ireland, but reads so much like I've pictured Cornwall (Rebecca--all those crashing waves and lonely houses) that it evoked every Cornish gothic (a subcategory that I firmly believe should be part of the lexicon). (Maybe just coastal gothic... nothing is creepier than the awe-inspiring and implacable sea.) Anyway. All of that went together to make this a memorable, if perhaps not entirely enjoyable, read.
(Note: I'm a wimp. Eerie and creepy, not terrifying, should be the words to describe this book.)
2004, 115 pgs, 1 of 20 Classics, reread
The first time I read this, I hated it. I was horrified by this old man's use of the young girl's body--not physically, not in the book (after, probably) but how she became a symbol. She wasn't a person--he gave her a name, he preferred her sleeping, he said he was in love, but really, he didn't even know her. He was in love, but with his idea of love, not a person. I'm still not sure if that changes.
That still bothers me, because the history of women being used as metaphors and symbols rather than real people--agents of their own lives--is so long. But this time I could see some of the beauty of the book too--it's a meditation on age and life, on what love is and the purpose and place of love in life.
2014, 308 pgs, 39 of 50 Reader's Choice, first read
This is for a book club that I just joined, and based on this selection, I may not be in it for very long. Was not terribly impressed. I feel like I've read too many versions of this book.
From the abused wife running from her powerful husband (invariably with connections to law force, so she can't rely on anyone) to the circus as hiding place to the guy who calms and soothes all the problems. Lots of tropes, really obvious tropes.
2008, 549 pgs, 40 of 50 Reader's Choice, first read
Enjoyable, some strengths and weaknesses.
Strengths: the structure of this novel really appealed to me--it's a mystery that spans about a century, from a little girl who turns up on a dock in Australia with a small suitcase and no identification, to the same woman's attempts to find her family later in life, to her granddaughter's eventual piecing together of the puzzle--it just worked. It reminded me of Possession, my absolute highest praise, but only in structure. And this brings me to the weakness of the novel, which might not have been noticed had ai not made the connection with Byatt--not many can stand the rarefied air up there. Although the structure was great, the writing was a little thin, there weren't really any ideas in the novel--ideas as in Ideas--and that's really what attracts me to a piece of fiction. I like an author to show me a little bit of the world more clearly (Stendhal's mirror being carried down the road), and this was a lovely piece of escapist literature, but didn't show me anything new.
That's unjust, I suppose--but I'm rereading The Dream of Scipio, and am completely overwhelmed by how much I love a novel that challenges me, even as it provides an escape.
2006, 252 pgs, 41 of 50 Reader's Choice, first read
Holy crap, this book was amazing. Inventive. That's the word. There are not a whole lot of books that genuinely tread new ground--and maybe this doesn't either, maybe it's just my lack of familiarity, but i was astounded.
The City is a place that people go, for a time, after they die. It is thought that they stay for as long as they live in the memories of people still alive--that until they are forgotten, they are not completely dead. But lately, The City has gotten dramatically smaller--this isn't unprecedented--minor plagues and devastating wars have, in the past, cleared out sections of The City--but this is on a different scale altogether. Those arriving tell of a plague that has decimated the population on every continent.
Interspersed with stories of life in The City is the story of the survival of Laura Byrd. Laura is an ecologist working for Coca-Cola, on a publicity stunt venture in Antarctica. When her team of three lost contact with HQ, they waited a few weeks for contact to be reinstated or for someone to come investigate, then her partners set off to find help. Laura's existence narrows to survival--how to stay warm, how to stay fed, how to stay sane. When no one returns, she sets off alone to return to civilization.
This book was seriously amazing. The connection between the two stories takes a while to become apparent, but when it does--it's just really well plotted. The sane/insane parts in Antarctica--I've not read much else that is this clear of a description of fraying sanity. Maybe the beginning of Girl, Interrupted. Maybe a few others. I'm fascinated by women and Antarctica and madness--in Angels in America, Harper dreams of Antarctica as a place to rebuild life, to plant trees and to have a child. Antarctica in Angels in America is threatened--ozone holes are opening and the ice caps are melting--Antarctica is the last place of nature to hold and to cherish. It's the same here--Laura thinks frequently of the melting of the ice caps, of the ecological devastation her company and the entire industrialized world has wrought upon the end of the world. I think this is verging into ecological feminism--a connection between the raping of the land and the difficulties of gender--though The Brief History of the Dead isn't really about gender at all. In fact, Laura is remarkably unmarked by gender--I'm relying too much on Harper in Angels in America, but Mr. Lies attributes Harper's fascination with Antarctica to a freezing (and therefore freeing) of desire-- Harper resists this interpretation, but still, something to think about.
(This book will play into my eventual article about Antarctica and Harper Lee....)
2002, 606 pgs, 2 of 20 Classics, reread
This has to be in my top ten favorites of all times. I love the ideas--the novel delves into the conflict between big concepts: civilization and barbarism, belief and fanaticism, compromise and corruption. So excellent. Pears tells the story of three men struggling against the times they live in to preserve what is important to them.
At the end of the Roman empire, Manlius has to decide what to save-- to give up the name of Rome and preserve the core of Greek and Roman civilization, to be protected by the barbarian rule, or is that a capitulation that will corrupt?
Olivier is struck by the beauty of a serving girl in Avignon, and is led through her and her Jewish master to an attempt to interpret a document by a little known Roman saint--or was he a philosopher?--at the end of the Roman Empire. Manlius's Dream of Scipio is a reimagining of the earlier text, and questions central Christian philosophies--strange, given that Manlius was canonized.
Julien is an academic tracing the history of Manlius's Dream of Scipio, through Olivier's interpretation. His research is prevented by the winds of war--as France capitulates, negotiating safety is difficult, requiring tiny concessions to the Reich that have long-lasting results.
Incomplete summary at best--so much is going on in this book, on the level of plot as well as the concepts and ideas beneath, that it would take a lot more space than this to give a good idea of the whole. But this is a start. And wow, is it worth the effort.
56. Bellweather Rhapsody, Kate Racculia
57. Rose Daughter, Robin McKinley
58. Spindle's End, Robin McKinley
59. Entwined, Heather Dixon
60. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, Lauren Willig
61. The Masque of the Black Tulip, Lauren Willig
62. The Deception of the Emerald Ring, Lauren Willig
63. The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, Lauren Willig
64. The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, Lauren Willig
65. The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, Lauren Willig
66. The Mischief of the Mistletoe, Lauren Willig
67. The Orchid Affair, Lauren Willig
68. The Garden Intrigue, Lauren Willig
69. The Passion of the Purple Plumeria, Lauren Willig
70. And Only To Deceive, Tasha Alexander
71. A Poisoned Season, Tasha Alexander
72. A Fatal Waltz, Tasha Alexander
73. The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, Lauren Willig
74. The Quick, Lauren Owen
75. Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing, Richard Rosenblatt
76. Death in the Vines: A Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery, M. L. Longworth
77. Arcadia, Tom Stoppard
78. The Cater Street Hangman, Anne Perry
79. Callander Square, Anne Perry
80. The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde
81. Paragon Walk, Anne Perry
82. A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness
June Short Stories
85. Night Vision, A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, Amy Bloom
86. Light into Dark, A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, Amy Bloom
87. Stars at Elbow and Foot, A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, Amy Bloom
88. Hold Tight, A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, Amy Bloom
89. The Gates Are Closing, A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, Amy Bloom
90. The Story, A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, Amy Bloom
91. The Thing Around Your Neck, This Is Not Chick Lit, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
92. Two Days, This Is Not Chick Lit, Aimee Bender
93. An Open Letter to Doctor X, This Is Not Chick Lit, Francine Prose
94. Gabe, This Is Not Chick Lit, Holiday Reinhorn
95. Documents of Passionate Love, This Is Not Chick Lit, Carolyn Ferrell
96. Volunteers are Shining Stars, This Is Not Chick Lit, Curtis Sittenfeld
97. Selling the General, This Is Not Chick Lit, Jennifer Egan
98. The Seventy-two-Ounce Steak Challenge, This Is Not Chick Lit, Dika Lam
99. Love Machine, This Is Not Chick Lit, Samantha Hunt
100. Ava Bean, This Is Not Chick Lit, Jennifer S. Davis --Reading 100 Short Stories was my goal for the year... maybe I should double that? or add in 100 poems? Hmmm....
2014, 352 pgs, 43 of 50 Reader's Choice, reread
The Bellweather is a huge old hotel in the middle of nowhere. It would have closed years ago--and is so decrepit that it probably needs to--if it weren't for the annual music convention that keeps it solvent. Every year, the best high school musicians in the state are invited to play for recruiters from the top conservatories in the nation. And this year, both Hatmaker twins have been invited.
Bertram Hatmaker--Rabbit to his friends (of whom he has few)--desperately needs to tell his sister something. But Alice is a little difficult to talk to. She's so used to being the center of attention that she doesn't always register the emotions of those around. Sometime during this weekend away from parents and school, he'll find the time.
Alice is self-centered and sure of herself, always. Until the boyfriend she didn't know she was going to miss suddenly broke up with her, sending her into a tailspin of questions and doubt. And her triumphant return to the Bellweather Convention isn't, quite, going as she'd imagined. Instead of leading the fun, she's watching everyone--her brother, her roommate--shine, while she doesn't. It doesn't help that her roommate is one of the few legitimate young stars in the country. Instead of being the star, Alice is--possibly for the first time--not shining.
And that's the high school musical/Glee component of the book. And if that's all there was to it, it'd be good, but I probably wouldn't have ever finished it in the first place. However...
There was a murder/suicide fifteen years ago at the Bellweather. A bride shot her groom, just after the wedding, and hung herself in one of the suites with an orange extension cord. Minnie knows all about the extension cord--she was eight at the time, at another wedding, and stumbled into the wrong corridor and saw the whole thing. She's seen it every time she closes her eyes since.
Jill is a child prodigy. Or at least, that's what people say. What she knows is that her mother--steely eyed and perfectly suited Viola Fabian--demands the best and generally gets what she desires. One way or the other. And Jill is (quite literally) at the end of her rope.
Natalie Wilson knows all about child prodigies. She was one--or at least, people said she was. And now she's a school chaperon, chauffeuring the Hatmaker twins to this insufferable competition. And she needs to get away....
And everybody ends up at the Bellweather, on a weekend of terrible storms and worse events, on the anniversary of that first murder. And all is not well.
320 pgs, 1997, 44 of 50 Reader's Choice, first read
Liked, but not (quite) as loved as Beauty. The broad strokes of the earlier novel are still there (and the earlier novel is so like the Disney, that I have trouble keeping them straight--I hope McKinley got some money out of that), and I'm so familiar with the other that I find the plots are rather confused in my mind. Well-written, dealt with some of the things that so bother me about the fairy tale and the novel. Makes it a bit more feminist, but still a fairy tale (which is almost a contradiction, but perhaps not quite.)
432 pgs, 2002, 45 of 50 Reader's Choice, first read
And if (for whatever reason) Rose Daughter wasn't quite as lovely as I remembered Robin McKinley's genre to be, this brought it all back to normal. Spindle's End tells the story (of course) of Sleeping Beauty, with emphasis on the years between the christening and the completion of the curse. And it was excellent. The young fairy who spirits the cursed baby away, the world of magic that the whole country resides in, the relationships --solid and comfortable, though not quite understood--all of it is quite wonderful. Reminded me of reading Beauty for the first time. Or The Ordinary Princess. I do love a well-done fairy tale.
All of these are ridiculously well written, but also twist the traditional in a way that keeps the good stuff of a fairy tale--little girls often like princesses (I think it's something about knowing your place in the world. Princesses always have a place, it's easy to wonder what your place is when you're small) , magic seems closer when you're a kid and have less of this dreadful rationality that we are beset with as adults-- but also twists the traditional to make good not always beautiful (and beautiful not always good), rank and wealth not synonymous with happiness, power often corrupt, worth comes from the inside... and all sorts of other good humanitarian and feministy values. :)
Happy book providing! Few things are as fun as sharing books.
2011, 480 pgs, 46 of 50 Reader's Choice, reread
This book is up there with Robin McKinley's Beauty for me-- it's engagingly written, the relationships are believable and enjoyable--but had I read this younger, I'd have been a little scarred by it.
And you'd think with that particular type of darkness, that the rest would either be super dark, or kind of disjointed. It's not--the characters are quite funny, from Princess Azalea all the way down to baby princess Lily (Lots of kids. The poor queen was pregnant for most of her adult life. No wonder she died. God bless Margaret Sanger.) And the darkness kind of creeps up on you--there's so much else going on--the king is a crap father, Azalea is trying to figure out if the guy she likes even knows her name, all the little princesses need care and there is no money, and mourning is difficult when all you want to do is dance. Azalea probably should have known not to trust the gentleman in black... but he didn't seem quite as menacing then.
A central motif throughout the book is The Entwine--a dance of capture and release between partners in which the man tries to twist a scarf around the woman's wrists, and the woman tries to prevent this happening. But sometimes she lets herself be caught. There's a strong subtext of power, which can be used for or against you, and the necessity of equality in relationships (not just Azalea, but her two closest sisters find unexpectedly different beaus.)
2005-2014, about 450 pgs each, 47-57 of 50 Reader's Choice (whoops), first three were rereads, rest were new
Fluff, but such very good fluff. The premise of the titles and the central conceit of the books is based on Emmuska Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel, one of my absolute favorite books from high school.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is the identity chosen by Sir Percy Blakeney as he smuggles aristocrats out of Revolutionary France. He was rather spectacularly unmasked by his nemesis, but Eloise Kelly, grad student extraordinaire, plans to do a little unmasking of her own. She's obtained a grant to research spies in the early 19th century. Sadly, spies tend more to the burning of important papers than the filing, so the project is more than a little difficult. She's stymied, in particular, by the descendant of a contemporary of the Scarlet Pimpernel, inventively styled the Purple Gentian, who was revealed to be Sir Richard Selwick by French agents. She knows that if she could get access to the Selwick papers she could trace correspondence to other, unmasked, agents... but Colin Selwick is less than helpful.
Ok, that's the modern bit, and the relationship between Eloise and Colin provides the structure of the rest-- the modern bits got a little dull at times, they occur at about the rate of one modern chapter for six or seven history chapters, and I was usually so enmeshed in the story that I really didn't give much of a crap about the inevitable Eloise and Colin deal. Another reader would inevitably have a different opinion, and structurally, I thought this was a really good tactic. A problem that series authors often face is that once the romance is settled, the tenor of the books change. (TV shows too--once the couple gets together, the show's usually over. Or they just break them up a few dozen more times until you get bored and go play Tetris.) Anyway, by dribbling out the relationship so slowly (I think there's only an almost kiss in the first book, it's pretty slow.) Willig is able to kind of keep that from happening. Works quite well, actually. ETA--wrote this before reading the last available one (The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla)--modern bit gets a little more emphasis here, and it was good. Really quite good.
But the rest is so much better. These are unabashed romance*/adventure stories. The phrase "rollicking good adventure yarn" comes to mind. Each book follows one of a number of increasingly ridiculously named spies as they do deeds of daring and fall in love.
60. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation-- Amy's father was a victim of the Terror, Amy, luckily, was visiting family in England and so escaped. Some ten years later her brother wants her to come and play hostess as he tries to garner favor in the tumultuous Napoleonic court. And since Amy has been plotting the downfall of the Revolutionary government since she was seven, the opportunity is just what she's been looking for. Unfortunately, she doesn't really have any experience with intrigue. But off she goes, meeting the insufferable Richard Selwick on the ship from Dover... who has more than a little experience with intrigue himself.
61. The Masque of the Black Tulip-- Both Henrietta and Miles are on the trail of the Black Tulip, a French spy who provides more than a little distraction from their inconvenient feelings.
62. The Deception of the Emerald Ring--whoops, wrong sister!
63. The Seduction of the Crimson Rose--Mary Alsworthy is a completely unlikable antihero in the last book--her little sister, Letty, accidentally eloped with her coup of a suitor, and now Mary, after one too many seasons out, has to start over. Bunch of imbeciles, the lot of them. Instead of letting her unabashedly besotted sister and brother-in-law/ex-beau pay for another season, Mary begins working with the scandalous Lord Vaughn in an intrigue that only the Pink Carnation could be orchestrating.
64. The Temptation of the Night Jasmine--seemed somewhat medieval in flavor--Charlotte reminds me of a painting by Waterhouse (i.e. romanticized mythical)
65. The Betrayal of the Blood Lily--spies by way of M. M. Kaye
66. The Mischief of the Mistletoe--shades of Bertie Wooster
67. The Orchid Affair-- Laura Grey, longtime governess, has gotten sick of governessing and joined up with Pinky and the gang. Her first mission puts her in Paris, again as a governess, but this time to the two young children of one of Bonaparte's ministers. Andre Jaouen would have preferred to leave his children in the country, where they've been safe for the last five years. But now they're with him, complete with a new governess, and Andre has to work a little harder to keep everyone around him safe, and everything he's doing secret. (Shades of Jane Eyre etc, but very enjoyable.)
68. The Garden Intrigue-- a flowery (ahem) English poet has been smuggling secrets out of France for a decade--now his talents, and his contacts, are needed to foil an attack on Britain. Emma, American friend of Napoleon's Josephine and her daughter, needs little convincing to help.
69. The Passion of the Purple Plumeria--Miss Gwen has been the Pink Carnation's companion and chaperon from the very beginning of their missions-- but they haven't dealt with anything quite like this before. Pinky's little sister and a friend have gone missing from their elite finishing school--a school that keeps cropping up in the correspondence that they've intercepted. It could be a school girl lark--or it could be a way to get to the Pink Carnation. Colonel Reid is dreading his return to England--after twenty years (and two native wives) in India, his reintegration into society will likely be a little less than comfortable. But his daughters--who he long ago packed off to England for their own safety--need him, and he's ready to retire. At his arrival he's informed that his daughter is missing, along with another girl, and he and Miss Gwen begin tracking the clues.
73. The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla--little bit Beauty and the Beast, little bit Hamlet, little bit Dracula. Spies by way of the Gothic.
(I liked all of these--I ripped through them at the rate of about three a day--but the ones I liked best are The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, The Orchid Affair, and The Passion of the Purple Plumeria. The other heroines are engaging, but a little less challenging, a little less independent. These heroines are older, harder, more cynical... generally just smarter. And so much more fun because of it.)
*They are romances, but really light on the steamy stuff. The earlier covers are more indicative of the content than the later editions--early covers look like Regency paintings, later covers look like Harlequins. These are closer to Austen than Harlequins.
2005-2008, about 300 pgs each, 58-60 of 50 Reader's Choice, reread
The first one is so good, the second one almost as, and the third--while a bit different in tone--is still great. But then, in my personal and humble, the series goes off the rails a bit.
The heroine and the plot is excellent. At the beginning of And Only to Deceive, Lady Emily is a brand new widow and still a new bride--her husband was killed on the hunting trip to Africa that he left for only a few weeks after their wedding. She's not all that distraught--she married him primarily to get out from under her truly abysmal mother's thumb, and the most disturbing thing about mourning is the boredom and pretending to be sad for his genuinely grief-stricken friends. She begins reading his journals to alleviate the dullness and finds--not the jottings of the somewhat taciturn hunter she thought he was, but poetic peons to her beauty, his love for her, and his dreams for their life together. Her efforts to learn more about the man that was her husband take her to the British museum, where she begins studying some of the antiquities that her ever-more mysterious husband donated.
I just love that her grief takes her to studying, and her studying takes her to resisting the codified gender roles in late Victorian society. The romance is good too--moves slowly from passive whateverness to genuinely mourning her husband to looking elsewhere. The history is genuinely interesting--and the way that Lady Emily gets from politely educated to actually curious is completely believable-- the museum is a great inclusion.
The second book (A Poisoned Season) is good--the mystery is a little Agatha Christie (who poisoned the man with the nicotine plant?) but since I like Agatha Christie, hey, whatever. The solution to the mystery has deep roots in the relationship between England and France--very interesting.
The third book (A Fatal Waltz is set in Vienna, and is much darker. Part of that is the coming conflagration--it's the end of the 19th century, but there are already the rumblings that will turn into World War 1. The suggestions of conspiracy over the deaths of the Crown Prince Rudolf and his mistress at Mayerling point to the later deaths of Franz Ferdinand and his wife. Although Emily and Colin have an understanding--and a (albeit changing) wedding date in the offing-- a previous amour of Colin's--who continues to be a contact for his work in the secret service--puts a great deal of strain on the relationship. I think this one is dark because of the implication that their romance might not be the best thing--Colin, at some point in the past, begged this woman to marry him. But she--more aware than Emily of the realities of his secret service work--refused, making him believe she didn't care for him, because the reality of a wife who would worry/be devastated at his death would make him unable to do his job safely. Ok, perhaps tripe. But it raises the questions of whether he can still be the person he was before with a wife, even a wife as awesome as Lady Emily. (Reminds me of the Bond where his wife dies. Spying seems to be solitary work. And wow have I read a lot about spies lately.
The fourth book (Tears of Pearl (not mentioned above, since I haven't finished and don't intend to) goes off the rails completely. In my humble opinion. Colin and Emily are married and honeymooning in India. Enter strange (English) gentleman on train who proceeds to tell his entire life story (murdered wife, kidnapped daughter, estranged son) and then (maybe) poison himself. Proceed to a harem, in which a girl is murdered nearly under their feet and turns out to be the kidnapped daughter, complete with corresponding tattoo for verification. And then all sorts of harem politics and.... lord. This is where I stopped reading this series the last time--in fact, I'd forgotten that there were more than just the first three in the series.
(I think I've read enough fluff in the last two weeks to kill a person. I need a nice bracing... well, maybe just another historical fiction series. I usually finish up with Deanna Raybourn after Tasha Alexander--I swear, the heroines might be the same person, though the families and the romances are not.
2014, 560 pgs, 61 of 50 Reader's Choice, reread
The first time I read this, I barreled through in about a day--so of course, I needed to revisit. And it was just as good as I'd remembered.
In the beginning, James and Charlotte are living a privileged but strangely lonely childhood--left largely to their own devices, they play games to build up their bravery, such as locking themselves in the priest's hole in the library.
And then James is living in London as a young man, rooming with a friend from university and trying to become a writer.
And then the monsters come.
Most of the reviewers of this novel have noted that, for a vampire novel, it's strange that the word vampire is rarely used in the book, and that there is no thought of anything spectral or other until a good hundred and fifty pages in. The author called it a genre shift--or perhaps a genre intrusion, I don't recall--but she was talking about how, if there were such a thing as vampires, they'd burst into your life at the most inopportune moments. They'd shift the genre, from romance or family drama or whatever to the crisis. I think that's really intelligent--made me consider the ways we categorize genre (and life, I suppose)--all based on the result, not the current understanding.
It's such a lush world--so well-imagined and well-realized, that it's a joy to live in it for a while. I love the overtones of Wilde--the end of the century seems a little less populated in literature than the solidly represented mid and mid-to-late. And I loved the movement between classes in Victorian society. Although it starts (and for a good time remains) in the upper echelon, Owen is just as comfortable writing Cheapside and fossy jaws as she is calling cards and dinner parties.
2011, 155 pgs, 5 of 10 Nonfiction, reread
This was an assigned text in a long-ago creative writing class, and as I'm writing again, thought I'd reread. Considering working my way through my rather extensive shelf of writer how-to books... though that might be a little counterproductive.
I wish I could have been in this guy's class. He structures the book as if it were a memoir of a semester teaching, gives his students identities and voices, and uses all of this as a foil for talking about what he's learned as a writer. And that's a very well-respected method of teaching, and one as old as the ancients. But since I had no real reason to care about all of these character/students who are asking the questions that he wants to answer, it wasn't very effective for me. I'm not sure this type of book is good for me-- he mythologizes the act of writing to the point of instilling terrified fear. Of course anyone who writes wants to reveal the core and essence of humanity, to provide the ax to chop through the ice of the soul. But thinking about that will not help me get my 1000 words today. I'd love to write the great American novel, who wouldn't, but I'm going to get more writing done by trying to write a chapter of genre fiction, and finishing it, than I will by thinking about my fundamental soul.
I just... ok, I've been precious about writing for a while, MFA classes and all, and it hasn't been helpful. I study, I think, I live. That's all going to come through in my writing, if I work to make it the best I can, and trying to grasp a concept of the community of man isn't going to help that.
I liked this, though:
"You must love the world as it is, because the world, for all its murder and madness, is worth loving."
All in all, perhaps a bit more terrifying than helpful.
76. Death in the Vines: A Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery, M. L. Longworth
2013, 289 pgs, 62 of 50 Reader's Choice, reread
It begins with stolen wine and ends with three women murdered.
Like the others in this series, the mystery is less important (and truthfully, less compelling) than the characters, the relationships, and the location. I kept losing track of what, exactly, was happening--and the conclusion didn't really bear the weight of the book. So the mystery isn't great. But the characters are so likable and well-realized, their interactions and relationships are very well done, and oh the beautiful location. It's like going on vacation.
And Verlaque and Bonnet should have been played by Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn.
1993, 97 pgs, 1 of 10 Plays, reread
I love this play more than I can say. It's just so freaking smart. Drama is not a genre that I generally pick up for pleasure reading-- beyond the of-course Shakespeare readings--but my first year of grad school Arcadia was the focus of the school's literature day, so I downloaded the Audible version (highly recommended, by the way) and laughed myself silly on my commute in. This is the first time I've read it, but I've listened to the unabridged version four or five times, so I'm counting it as a reread.
The play takes place in two time periods, in one space: early 19th century and late 20th, at the Devonshire estate, Sidley Park. The early 19th C bit revolves around Thomasina Coverly, a very young and amazingly prescient mathematician and physicist, and her tutor, Septimus Hodge. The late 20th C part is about academics--how we try to learn things, to prove things, the petty infrastructures that beleaguer even the most devoted. The 20th century academics are attempting to recreate--often with hilarious effect--the 19th century structures. Things that were jokes in the 19th century become centerpieces of academic articles, notes are misunderstood, conclusions are leapt to. But more importantly, it's about how the world works, and why it doesn't work when it doesn't, and the centrality of the human idiosyncrisy, even in the rational world of 1809, even in the post-everything world of modern academia.
And it's funny. So there's that. If you haven't read/listened to/seen, you should.
1979, 1980, approx 300 pgs each, 63, 64 of 50 Reader's Choice, reread
Thomas Pitt is a policeman, and after several girls are murdered near the exclusive Cater Street, he is sent to investigate. In his questioning, he meets Charlotte Ellison, who is perhaps a little too outspoken to be a true social success. As neighbors begin doubting neighbors, and wives begin wondering what, exactly, their husbands might be hiding, Thomas has to race to figure out the conclusion before another the hangman reaches another victim.
Aristocratic houses surround a small central garden in Callander Square. When gardeners accidentally unearth two corpses, new born babies, it's easiest to attribute them to an unlucky serving girl. But as Inspector Thomas Pitt, with the assistance of his new wife, Charlotte, begin investigating, they find that there are more secrets above stairs than below.
I've read these before and I'll likely read them again--very enjoyable, the details of the age are very well-realized, enjoyable characters, mostly believable plots. I always get sick of these books after three or four (evil is always at the top of society. Yep, I get it.), and I've read most of them and I never have any idea who the culprit was when rereading (I'm not sure if that's a result of red herrings or wine). Regardless, enjoyable Victorian mysteries, I like Charlotte and Thomas, I think the structure is clever (almost aristocrat marrying down, gives her an outsider's perspective so she can describe things for the audience) and I imagine I'll keep rereading, at least until I get tired of the reiteration of Power=Evil.
1895, 64 pgs, 2 of 10 Plays, reread
This time through was, again, an Audible version. At the end the director spoke a bit about the play-- he discussed the idea of truth, society's truth, superficial truth, actual truth. Fascinating. And, of course, fantastic. I'm not sure what can be said about this play that hasn't--I especially love the dialogue between Cecily and Gwendolyn in the garden--so much is said, so much implied, about relationships and personality and responsibilities. So much fun.
81. Paragon Walk, Anne Perry
1980, approx 300 pgs, 65 of Reader's Choice, reread
A girl is raped and murdered in the oh-so-exclusive Paragon Walk, and Thomas Pitt is called in to investigate. Shockingly, his wife Charlotte's sister, Emily, lives in the square with her husband, Lord Ashworth so, of course, Charlotte gets all up in that business.
It's necessary to maintain the pretense that Charlotte is a traditional Victorian wife (a role which she hasn't really broken so far in the series), and so all of these mysteries have to affect Charlotte or her family in some way personally. When Christina Yang left Grey Memorial (yes, I'm pulling out a Grey's Anatomy reference, #noshame) (#oklotofshame), she referenced all of the horrrrrrible things that have happened to the the group of interns that started together--lord. The deaths (poor George), the crazies (poor Izzy), the terrorists, the bombs, the airplane crashes, the multiple storms that shut down basically everything and were tracked to some thrilling musical score, the divorces, the scandals, the holycrapofitall. I think she called it a crazy devil hospital, thought that might have been a blog post I read after. Anyway. So I think that's basically where Charlotte needs to be right now. She needs to be calling in the wise women to purge her house with sage, because she's got some seriously bad juju going on. And yes, I'll read the next one. But c'mmon. There needs to be a slightly more reasonable reason for Charlotte to get involved. (The next one, the one I'm currently reading, is again a personal connection. Le sigh.)
82. A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness
2011, 592 pgs, 66 of Reader's Choice, reread
I've read this a zillion times. (Ok, maybe three.) And Matthew is beginning to seriously piss me off. At first, it was all so--what a beautiful library! And yay! Authentic details about 16th century England! But now I'm feeling very much like that one reading where I realized what an absolute and utter @sshole Heathcliff was. And I so loved Wuthering Heights before. And that part where freaking Rochester fools Jane into thinking he's going to marry Blanche Ingram. (Blanche Ingram would so have worn pink on Wednesdays.) I know they have their reasons. And it's all about luuurve. But still.
Sigh. This is why Lord Peter Wimsey is the best, h/t to Dorothy L. Sayers. There are so few romantic heroines that you don't have to make so many allowances for. I mean, guys you'd hold an intervention if your friend were considering dating, these are the ones we're supposed to swoon over. Fer crying out loud. Love is awesome, please protect those around you as much as you are able, but the male posturing and authority taking? I'm just so over it. Matthew, please sit down and shut up, you are not actually a pack leader.
(Yes, I know that the series follows Diana gaining power and so becoming equal.... but you don't earn equality. Equality is a given. And I know that it's vampires and witches, and not just straight up gender stuff, but c'mmon. It's ALL gender stuff. And I'm a little pissy right now because I'm listening to the 2nd book, Shadow of Night, and he's much worse in the Elizabethan England than he is in modern Oxford. But still, dear Matthew Clermont whateveryournameis. Go suck and egg.)
That is all. *bows*
So, I read The Pink Carnation and thought it was quite fun, but the boat scene was really too over the top for me--could have done without it quite well.
592 pgs, 2013, 67 of Reader's Choice, reread
Same emotions as above, though obviously not dire enough to throw the book across the room in disgust. I may have yelled at Matthew a few times, in the quiet of my little apartment. Ginger (the very spoiled pup) does not like this book either, as my rants repeatedly woke her from snuggled close snoozes.
Anyway. Matthew and Diana, to escape the Congregation who are trying to put the kibosh on their relationship for inter-species and evolutionary reasons (what will come if they conceive! Oh the horror!), timewalk to 16th C England. Elizabethan England is very different, and Matthew Clairmont was very different in that time period than in the modern era--the veneer of civilizationfeminism (always a rather sheer layer) is stripped away, and he gets progressively more macho, didactic, and generally ass-hatty. (Actually, now that I think about it, Harkness does a really great job here of showing the difference between the attempting-to-be-modern man and the neaderthal courtier. Definitely makes me reconsider all of those time-travel Scottish romances. I fear I'd take a dirk to the dangly bits, were I confronted with the same. That last perhaps should not be said.)
The group this time is embiggened by the rest of the School of Night clan--Walter Raleigh, Christopher Marlowe, George Chapman, Thomas Herriot--and then by the coven of witches that they finally find to help Diana learn to control her magic.
Honestly, I think I quite like this book, though the more times I read it the less I care for the romance at the center.
Most of these I've been speeding through on Audible (oh, the Audible bill) as I knit my way into carpal tunnel syndrome. I quite like the narrator's voice (Davina Porter), and they're working well to keep my mind off of other, more stressful, things. Update on the previous: got a job, a great job, on campus, get to teach the class of my choice, everything is coming up roses. Except that the job is an office job, and largely spreadsheets and communication, but I'm telling myself that'll give me ample brainpower to finish this first draft of the novel. But even with things going well, my anxiety levels are spiraling, and audiobooks to the rescue. So that's good. No complaints here, and I just finished a pretty lace scarf to boot!
84. Resurrection Row, Anne Perry (Pitt 4)
A body--the same body--is repeatedly removed from its grave and left in odd places in an aristocratic square. I think Charlotte gets involved through Aunt Vespasia in this one, and Thomas, of course, is called in through more usual means. This one centers around pornography and prostitution, and a bill that a liberal cohort are trying to get pushed through Congress. (Or the House of Lords? Probably not Congress...)
85. Rutland Place, Anne Perry (Pitt 5)
Charlotte's mother, Caroline, loses a locket with an incriminating picture in it. (I swear, there are only three attractive and eligible men in late nineteenth century England. I appreciate the effort of making a world seem real by having the secondary characters reappear in subsequent novels, but still....) As Charlotte tries to calm her mother, other secrets are exposed, tension is heightened, and--of course--somebody bites it.
86. Bluegate Fields, Anne Perry (Pitt 6)
This one was disturbing. An upper class boy is found in the sewers, naked, with the beginning of syphilis, and having recently engaged in anal sex. What happened, who killed the boy, why does the family want it hushed up, and is the tutor--who was quickly accused, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death--really at fault?
87. Death in the Devil's Acre, Anne Perry (Pitt 7)
Again, disturbing. I think these are getting progressively more bleak. A doctor--and then three other corpses--are found, stabbed in the back and violently castrated, in an area of the slums euphoniously coined the Devil's Acre. Lo and behold, one of the victims was a rather forward footman that Charlotte met back in Resurrection Row (I think), so Charlotte and Aunt Vespasia work from the inside, as Thomas works from the outside, to discover what connected the four very different men.
88. Cardington Crescent, Anne Perry (Pitt 8)
Eh, not as bleak. Maybe I'm becoming inured. An unidentifiable woman's body is found dismembered and wrapped like a parcel. While Thomas investigates, the action moves to Emily, Charlotte's sister, and her efforts to re-fascinate her wandering husband. Emily and George are spending some time in Cardington Crescent with George's cousin, his cousin's wife Sybilla (object of his affection), George's uncle, his grandmother and, of course, Aunt Vespacia. When George is found dead (gasp!) Emily, as the outsider and social climber, is immediately blamed. Charlotte rushes to the rescue, to comfort and to investigate, and begins finding out what, exactly, has been going on in Cardington Crescent.
320 pgs, 2015, 73 of Reader's Choice, first read
I'm always a bit leery of anyone messing with the canon, but I really liked this. Scotland Yard Inspector Catchpool plays Watson/Hastings to Poirot's brilliance (a necessary step in both Holmes and Poirot novels, as the readers are inevitably far closer to the confusion of the sidekick than the insight of the detective), allowing Poirot to explain and encourage hypothesizing. The mystery is satisfyingly obscure: a young woman is terrified that she's going to end up dead; on the same night, across town, three people are murdered in their separate rooms in an exclusive hotel. Inside each of their mouths is found a monogrammed cuff link with the initials PJI enscribed. Poirot is concerned about the young woman he's spoken with, Catchpool is called in to investigate, and (of course) their paths coincide.
There are possibly a few quibbles to be made about Hannah's resurrection of Poirot, but all in all, I thought she did an admirable job. Catchpool could have used a little more development, but I don't really recall Hastings ever getting that much attention in the novels either (aside from his deplorable inability to keep up with Poirot) so maybe that is as true to the originals as anything else. (Also: I swear, half the Amazon reviewers on this novel haven't read a Christie ever. OF COURSE Poirot just gets it. He's Poirot!)
273 pgs, 2014, 74 of 50 Reader's Choice, first read
I resisted this novel--it never quite got me, I never quite stopped trying to figure it out and just lived in the moment--so I'm going to start out with the negatives and try to figure out why that was.
First of all, I hate an unidentified first person narrator. It unsettles me. I want to know who is telling the story, because I don't trust an omniscient view point, and if I know who is talking then I can figure out their perspective. And I didn't find out who was talking until about ten pages from the end. And it never stopped bothering me. (The narrative voice is not intrusive, I'd forget that it wasn't third person for pages and pages, and then it'd be a "Fin told me this....")
Second, there was such a sense of impending doom in the novel. Seriously. Lady is Holly Golightly with a ward. Auntie Mame. Reminded me of The Glass Castle, and that book was really difficult for me (I totally support the individual's right to do what they need to, but get a little wigged out when the kids aren't being taken care of. Responsibility and all.) So impending doom because of unpredictable guardian. Also, sense of doom because of the way it was told--this is in part because of the "Fin told me" mentions, but also because the period of life being recounted is so clearly remembered through a rosy haze. Fin loves Lady too much--it's not a present love, a love tempered by years and by the million little rubs of daily life, but a remembered love. And that comes through. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop the entire novel. And that's fine, but a little unsettling.
(This is all coming off as if I need a happy ending to be happy. That isn't precisely true, but this wasn't exactly a restful book. Front-cover blurb says it will break your heart with joy... um, just break your heart, maybe.)
I feel like I should have liked this book more than I did. Lady was bigger than life, and then so heartbreakingly real and identifiable-- fabulous and broken and miserable and gloriously happy--but through the eyes of Fin she just seemed dangerous, another piece of life that is about to explode.
I loved the Capri bits, though. The descriptions of the cafes, the people, the waters, the joy... I wanted to live in those moments.
91. The Martian, Andy Weir
92. Ordeal by Innocence, Agatha Christie
93. The Tutor, Andrea Chapin
94. The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje
95. Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers
96. Whose Body, Dorothy L. Sayers
97. Stone's Fall, Iain Pears
98. Clouds of Witness, Dorothy L. Sayers
99. The Lure of the Moonflower, Lauren Willig
100. An Appetite for Violets, Martine Bailey
101. Emma: A Modern Retelling, Alexander McCall Smith
102. Funny Girl: A Novel, Nick Hornby
103. Enchanted August: A Novel, Brenda Bowen
104. In the Unlikely Event, Judy Blume
2014, 384 pgs, 75 of Reader's Choice, first read
I listened to this on an interminable ride home to DC from Boston, and the story was so good that I stayed up until 3 am, after driving all day and most of the night, to finish it. No real reason to review or convince on a novel this well known (now) --(how inspiring is it that he self-published when rejected, then got all of this acclaim? Makes me feel like there is justice in the universe and talent is rewarded. I know, it's a fantasy. But still.)
Anyway, what I liked most about this was how not bored I was by the science-y bits. The author did such a great job of taking complicated ideas and breaking them down and interweaving them so tightly into the plot that you really couldn't wait to hear if his home-grown (ahem) fertilizer would be sufficient. Or whatever. Very good.
1958, 319 pgs, 76 of Reader's Choice, reread
Ingenious plot. I don't really have a favorite Christie, but I always enjoy this one. The guy that could have provided an alibi for a convicted murderer returns from an Alaskan expedition; when he confirms the whereabouts of the (now dead) man at the crucial moment, the question of who murdered the matriarch of the family is, once more, opened. It must be one of the family, but without knowing who, everyone is under suspicion.
2015, 268 pgs, 76 of Reader's Choice, first read
The tutor that comes to teach Katherine's nephews is unsettling-- he is too bold, his tongue too quick. He comes into a house of unrest-- the de L'Isle's have been Catholic for centuries, but during the reign of Elizabeth, like her father before her, religion is dangerous. As Sir George contemplates fleeing the realm, and his children and wife vie to fill the ensuing vacuum of power and consequence, Katherine is swept into a maelstrom of beautiful words and emotions and currents a bit darker than expected.
I was iffy about this book--anything about Shakespeare (or any other well-known figure) I assume the best thing about it is going to the be the depiction of that character. In this case, that Shakespeare would be excellently drawn, and everyone else kind of shadowy secondary parts. Not so. I loved Kat, was fascinated by the world, was not at all taken in by the silver-tongued devil (of course, perhaps the point?) and thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing.
1993, 305 pgs, 77 of Reader's Choice, reread
Nothing really to say new about this--I've read it many times, and will read it many times again. Such beautiful language. I paid more attention to Kip and Caravaggio this time around-- the brokenness of surviving a war, the small attempts to begin living again. My favorite character--or rather, my favorite bit of description--continues to be the English lady who helped train the sappers:
Miss Morden drinking one large and stiff whiskey before she got to the sherry. In this way she would be able to drink more slowly, appear more ladylike for the rest of the evening. "You don't drink, Mr. Singh, but if you did, you'd do what I do. One full whiskey and then you can sip away like a good courtier."
Love that. I think I need it on a bar towel. And I love this book--parts are just so beautiful, but the story at the center is just so horrific. Gorgeous book.
105. How to Be a Woman, Caitlin Moran
106. my grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorry, Fredrik Backman
107. That Summer, Lauren Willig
108. Bittersweet, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
109. At the Water's Edge, Sara Gruen
110. The Secret life of Violent Grant, Beatriz Williams
111. The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery
112. Open House, Elizabeth Berg
65. Untangling the F Word, Gwen Kirk and Margo Okazawa-Rey
66. Men's Lives: Introduction, Michael S. Kimmel and Michael A. Messner
67. Purportedly Gendered Body Parts, Dean Spade
68. Trans Respect/Etiquette/Support 101, Micah Bazant
69. Feminism: A Movement to End Sexist Oppression, bell hooks
70. A Black Feminist Statement, Combahee River Collective
71. The Act-Like-A-Man Box, Paul Kivel
72. All Men are Not Equal: Asian men in U.S. History, Yen Le Espiritu
73. The Black Male Privileges Checklist, Jewel Woods
74. Feminist Theories, and Theorizing
75. Patriarchy, the System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us., Allan G. Johnson
76. Jesus Was a Feminist, Leonard Swindler
77. Judaism, Masculinity and Feminism, Michael Kimmel
78. The Social Construction of Gender (1991), Judith Lorber
79. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (1990) Excerpt, Patricia Hill Collins
80. Making a Name for Yourself, Ann Ferguson
81. Genealogies of Community, Home, and Nation (1993/2003), Chandra Talpade Mohanty
82. Who Am I? Who are my People?
83. Optional Ethnicities: For Whites Only?, Mary C. Waters
84. Guyland: Gendering the Transition to Adulthood, Michael Kimmel
85. Elusive Intersections: Becoming a Trans Feminist, Elliot Long
86. A Question of Class, Dorothy Allison
87. Why College Men Drink: Alcohol, Adventure, and the Paradox of Masculinity, Rocco L. Capraro
88. Once Upon a Quinceañara: Coming of Age in the U.S.A (2007) Excerpt, Julia Alvarez,
89. The Comeuppance of Lupe Rivera, The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue, Manuel Muñoz
90. Women’s Sexuality
91. Cultural Cliteracy, Susan Stiritz
92. A Pornographic World What is Normal?, Robert Jensen
93. We Are All Works In Progress, Leslie Feinberg
94. Just One of the Guys?: How Transmen Make Gender Visible at Work, Kristen Schilt
95. Guadalupe the Sex Goddess, Sandra Cisneros
96. The All-American Queer Pakistani Girl, Surina A. Khan
97. Becoming 100 Percent Straight, Michael A. Messner
September Short Stories
101. Leave it to Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse
113. Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
114. Love by the Book, Melissa Pimentel
115. Why Not Me?, Mindy Kaling
116. Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari
117. The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
118. The Cloud Atlas, Liam Callanan
119. The Ashford Affair, Lauren Willig
120. Bossypants, Tina Fey
121. Yes, Please, Amy Poehler
122. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach
123. Queen of Hearts, Rhys Bowen
124. The Hundred Year House, Rebecca Makkai
113. Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng-- for a book club, might not have read it otherwise, can not express how much I loved it. Reminded me of On Beauty (another favorite) and... nothing else. Fantastic. I'll be recommending this book for years.
114. Love By the Book, Melissa Pimentel Completely forgettable. Woman tries tons of dating advice, ends up finding true love by being herself. God. (These are the books that make me furious that I'm not writing regularly. I may not be able to write On Beauty or Possession... but damn it all, this was crap. I could write crap. But I really don't want to. I want to write On Beauty or Possession. Le sigh. )
115. Why Not Me?, Mindy Kaling eh, liked, didn't love. None of these are as good as Yes, Please.
116. Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari except maybe this. I love love love that this is a real book-- with REAL FACTS (cue shock and awe), not just "this is my life" trivia. My respect for Aziz Ansari officially grew three sizes, just like the the grinch's heart.
117. The Woman in White, Wilkie Colins Holy crap, I love this book. I've read it maybe six times now, and it never fails to entrance. (In my humble, Collins is ever so much more readable than Dickens-- there's always a place in Dickens when you're just eating your vegetables, reading because it's good for you. Collins, just when you think you've hit that spot, something awesome happens.) (Of course, it's useful to remember that neither Collins nor Dickens were considered "serious" literature in the 19th century. Both were published for the masses. Fun to remember when you're feeling like an elitist for having a strong opinion about a film version of a book.) (This may be my life.)
118. The Cloud Atlas, Liam Callanan-- no, not THAT Cloud Atlas. Although that is, indeed, why I picked it up. So good, if slightly less complex. (and, interestingly, published three months before the other one. ) The book is set in Alaska, switches between a late 20th century date (don't remember the decade) and the 40's. In the 40's, there is concern that the Japanese have discovered a way to float bombs or germs across the ocean on washi paper ballons-- the narrator is a bomb technician sent up to figure it out, and then (decades later) a dying cleric reflecting on his life. This was such a beautiful book-- reminded me at turns of The English Patient, Deadwood (the HBO show), and that beautiful Japanese cartoon about the bombings in Japan. (Looked it up-- The Grave of the Fireflies. Gorgeous book.
119. The Ashford Affair, Lauren Willig-- Truth: I like everything Lauren Willig has written. This is about the English communities in Kenya, a setting I've been fascinated by since first watching Out of Africa. The plot was fine, nothing earth shattering, but the setting was interesting. I really need to read The Bolter.
120. Bossypants, Tina Fey Good, makes me feel cooler just listening to, so a win.
121. Yes, Please, Amy Poehler God, I love this book. Best of the comedian/memoirs that I've read.
122. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach-- I love these science-lite books. (My science is so sketchy raised as a fundamentalist, it doesn't go away that I always enjoy that which makes me feel smarter.) This was great. A little gruesome, perhaps (I fell asleep listening to a part about rendering and had very vivid dreams) but nothing too too dreadful. Easier than a Stephen King, anyway. All about what we do with bodies afterwards. Gets into the social restrictions on death, a little, but more about the actual physicality of the corpse. Good stuff.
123. The Hundred Year House, Rebecca Makkai
124. Tiny, Beatriz Williams
125. How to Be A Woman, Caitlan Moran
126. The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing, Mira Jacob
127. The Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George
128. An Unnecessary Woman, Rabih Alameddine
129. Girl Waits with Gun, Amy Stewart
130. A Reunion of Ghosts, Judith Claire Mitchell