Monday, November 4, 2013

Books of 2013 - October

1. A Matter of Days. Fiction by Amber Kizer. My Goodreads review: Not "dystopian", exactly, but I don't have a category for "post-apocalyptic". (Maybe I should?) Great story, good characters (although I never connected to the main character Nadia the way I felt for Rabbit), realistic (I guess - I've never had to survive a virus that wipes out the world) but not TOO realistic. Would be good book to inspire discussion with a teenage book group. Some bad language, darker than I'd want for a young teen.

I liked this one well enough to pass it on to my husband. His review: he thought it was OK but not great. I liked that it's a stand alone, although it did feel like it ended abruptly since we won't be going on to the next book to find out what happened to the main characters (or the Earth).

Recommended for: those of you who can't wait for the next Hunger Games movie.
Not Recommended for: germaphobes.

2. Making a Literary Life. Non-fiction by Carolyn See. My comments on Goodreads: Occasionally crude, dismissive of marriage, feel somewhat certain the author and I wouldn't be friends. And that's OK.

Some really clear, helpful advice alongside a messy, occasionally painful memoir. Loved the positive responses to rejection - it's going to happen and writers (even bloggers) need to know how to respond without totally losing it.

Practical advice: 1,000 words a day, five days a week or 2 hours of editing. Notes of appreciation to writers, editors, publishers (bloggers?) you admire. Positive responses to rejection. Ideas for self-promotion of published work (most likely no one else will do it). Helpful explanations (for those who remain unaware) of POV, character and plot.

The most positive thing I took away from this book: I am now writing 1,000 words a day, five days a week, whether I feel like writing more or not. And I don't write more than that when I want to, because I'm trying to "leave something on the table" to come back to the next day. I feel completely re-inspired by this discipline. So, even though I didn't love this book and I've never read (and will probably never read) anything else by this author, that inspiration alone was worthy of the time it took to read this book.

3. The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After. Non-fiction by Elizabeth Kantor. My Goodreads review: Part advice, part literary analysis, part cultural critique. Well written, engaging, and enjoyable for any Austen fan. The women of today have much to learn. It would be preferable to learn from Austen's sage advice (in novel form) rather than go along with the "anything goes, sex with no strings (or relationship) attached is A-OK" mentality of today that leaves so many hearts broken or with the ridiculously stringent "we'll invent a new form of courtship that leaves young women and men subject to their parents but please don't call it arranged marriage" backlash.

My main complaint (other than the typos I found, some even of the Edmund for Edward or Maria for Mary variety - so important to keep those Austen characters straight!) was the footnotes. They are extensive and entertaining. I'm not sure why the lengthier ones weren't simply kept as part of the text. Flipping back and forth gets old quickly.

Recommended for: Austen fans, young women, older women, parents of future young women, observers of(and participants in) the current culture wars.

4. A Fatal Likeness. Fiction by Lynn Shepherd. My Goodreads review: This is one of those times where I judged a book by its cover (because the cover, in this case, is gorgeous). I started reading this book and then remembered I had read the previous book in the series (The Solitary House) and not liked it.

As in: I pretty much hated it.

But I decided to give this book a chance anyway. The author has a decided style, which I can never quite decide if I'm enjoying or annoyed by. She obviously does her research but I'm not really swayed by her conclusions. I'll admit that I don't know much about The Romantics in general and the Shelleys in particular (although I did read a biography of Mary Godwin Shelley a few years back) but I don't think Shepherd's conclusions are the most likely.

The characters in this are good, the plot is slow (and heavily dependent on flashbacks), the style is interesting if not endearing. (Enough with heavily stylized Present Tense already! And no more omniscient narrators while we're at it.)

I think this book is stronger than the first, although that could be because I care less about the Shelleys and their reputations than I do Dickens, Bleak House, and Wilkie Collins which were the inspirations for the first book.

There is much to recommend this author and this book, I'm just not sure I would call her or it a "favorite" of mine. And yes, there were points while reading when I had trouble putting this book down, and that's always a good sign.

Disclaimers: Some bad language, somewhat spells out the strange, possibly incestuous relationships of Shelley, Byron, Mary Godwin, Claire Claremont, and others we now call The Romantics.

Recommended for: fans of "real people" in fictional situations and fans of Anne Perry mysteries.

5. How Am I Smart? A Parent's Guide to Multiple Intelligences. Non-fiction by Kathy Koch. My comments on Goodreads: The concept of multiple intelligences is no longer new. I think it would be helpful for all parents and people who work with children to familiarize themselves with the 8 intelligences and try to utilize that knowledge while raising / working with children.

This is an explicitly Christian book, which I thought was a plus.

The downsides: calling the intelligences "smarts" ("You like to move, you're body smart!" "I like patterns, I'm using my nature smart!") is just cutesy in the extreme. I cannot imagine talking about this subject like this, even with children.

Another downside: is the only way a parent can support their child's intelligences by spending money? Because it seems like every example is "Sacrifice so your kid can have [fill in the blank: riding lessons, dance class, art lessons, etc.] so they will know you love them." Parents aren't made of money and for those of us with more than one child, we need more practical solutions. Treating each child as a complex and worthy human being is admirable; treating each child like the most special little snowflake that ever fell to earth is a recipe for narcissism.

Recommended for: parents, teachers, anyone who would like to understand personality differences.

6. Phraseology. Non-fiction by Barbara Ann Kippler. Goodreads review: Disappointing. Lots of words and phrases here but the definitions were suspect. I found myself wanting to argue with the author more than once - "That's NOT what that means!" The entries for things I already knew made me suspect the author's definitions for the things I didn't already know.

Can't imagine anyone else reading through this the way I did. Save yourself the trouble.

Could be useful as a reference, I suppose, since it's organized like a dictionary.

7. A Severe Mercy. Non-fiction by Sheldon Vanauken. My Goodreads review: Fantastic memoir. The letters by C.S. Lewis alone are worth reading but the biography of Vanauken and his wife, Davy, is also incredibly moving.

Vanauken lived a life I can only dream of: time spent in Oxford; long, meaningful conversations with intelligent people; personal friendship with one of the great minds of our age.

I don't agree with everything Vanauken & his wife first established in their relationship (nor did Lewis), but I admire them for recognizing that marriage (love) can be work and needs tending and protecting.

Highly recommended for anyone, but especially for: Lewis fans or as an introduction to Christian Apologetics. This is another book I passed on to my husband just so we could talk about it.

8. Hero on a Bicycle. Fiction by Shirley Hughes. My Goodreads review: I pre-read this before passing it on to my (almost) twelve year old daughter. This story is hard to put down: Set in Florence, Italy during a few weeks near the end of the Second world War, this is the story of two teenagers, their English born mother, and competing forces destroying their world.

This should join "When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit" and "Number the Stars" on WW2 reading lists for young teens.

Note: the material in this book is occasionally graphic. Some tense situations, one profanity, guns fired, threats issued, and one teenage kiss. These things are appropriate to the book and not gratuitous but I would be cautious before allowing a child younger than ten or eleven to read it. Great to inspire discussion with an older tween or young teen.

Recommended for: 12+ readers who have already been introduced to the history of WW2.

9. Among the Janeites. Non-fiction by Deborah Yaffe. My comments on Goodreads: I have never joined JASNA. I only toured Bath on a trip four years ago and have never gone to England on a Jane Austen related tour. I have never worn a Regency costume, much less danced at a ball or assembly. I'm not active on the Republic of Pemberley message board and I only check Austen Blog and Austenprose on occasion instead of every day. I haven't written Jane Austen fan-fic, well, OK, I haven't published any Jane Austen fan-fic. Yet.

Despite those things, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. This is my tribe, these are my people. (Well, not Arnie. I don't think there are any other people like him.)

Yaffe has written a fun, witty, readable introduction into the world of Jane Austen fandom (obsession?). If you love Austen, you'll probably enjoy this book although it might not break any new ground. If you don't, this might help explain those of us who do. Maybe. Explaining why some of us love Austen so deeply is hard to do. Yaffe tries, but even she knows that is an impossible task.

Recommended for: fans of Austen, folks who want to know what all the fuss is about.

10. Blackmoore. Fiction by Julianne Donaldson. My Goodreads review: OK but not great. The multiple flashbacks (in italicized print!) wore on me. The hero was too perfect. The ending was not really in doubt (although it does leave some problems unsolved, but the main characters seem not to realize that). The main characters are entirely too comfortable with each other, seeing each other at all times of the day or night and in various stages of undress (all very chaste but still...)

There are some interesting elements here and, while it never quite "gelled" for me, it might for you.

Recommended for: folks who like their romance with as few heaving bosoms as possible and nothing explicit. If you liked Donaldson's first novel Edenbrooke, then you'll probably like this one.

11. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. Non-fiction by Lawrence Wright. What I said on Goodreads: A biography of L. Ron Hubbard and the religion Hubbard created. It makes for harrowing reading, and one wonders how Scientology will retaliate against the author if the organization is as connected and vindictive as the author asserts.

The book builds a case but peters out a bit at the end, collapsing without dealing with the current cases (or situations like Katie Holmes divorcing Tom Cruise). The focus on Haggis's film career is a bit much (especially since "Crash" is one of the most over-rated movies of recent memory and it is irrelevant to the case against Scientology).

The footnotes are extensive but the reader suspects that it doesn't matter: anyone who is convinced Scientology is OK are unlikely to be persuaded by this book. Everyone else already thinks it's nuts and this book is simply evidence for HOW nuts it is.

12. Assignment in Brittany. Fiction by Helen MacInnes. Review from Goodreads: This is a slow burning spy / espionage novel set in 1940. It was first published in 1942 which lends it some extra suspense: the author didn't know how or when the war would end.

Strains credulity many times, slow to start, but still entertaining and well crafted. The copy I read was a 1942 edition from my library. I'm pleased these books are being re-released but I think they lose some of the charm in the newer editions.

Recommended for: WW2 buffs, fans of John Buchan.

So, what did you read in October?

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