Thursday, January 2, 2014

Books of 2013 - December

Last month of the year, usually a good month for reading. There's nothing like curling up with hot chocolate and a good book.

Except for those months when you buy a house.

Yep. We bought a house in December. We closed December 13 and we've been trying to work on it (and do the holidays) ever since. Nothing like buying a house to put a cramp in your reading.

Anyway, here are the books I finished in December:
1.Instruments of Darkness. Fiction by Imogen Robertson. My Goodreads review:
Solid debut by an author who has clearly done a lot of research.

My quibbles with this book that kept me from giving it a higher rating:
- slow start. It took me a long time to get into it.
- extremely wordy. I put this down more to the need for an editor with a stronger hand than a fault of the author
- the epilogue was unnecessary
- the suspense was lacking. The bad guys were all bad and you could see them a mile away.
- the author was introducing characters well into the book, and these were not just peripheral but people upon whom the plot would hinge.
- once again a writer is trying to front-load the backstory of her main characters. Just let it come out bit by bit instead of hitting us over the head. "I'm tragic!" "I'm mysterious!" "I happen to know semi-underworld characters who own dangerous, possibly man-eating animals!" (Yes, that last thing is applicable to this book.)
Disclaimers: occasionally severe profanity, graphic violence

Recommended for: fans of Anne Perry or historical dramas (I wouldn't call this series a mystery series)

So, bit of a mixed bag but I will be interested to see what this author produces in the future.

2. Singing in the Shrouds. Fiction by Ngaio Marsh. Good fun, with the usual cast of diverse suspects (this time on a ship), and there's never any doubt that Inspector Alleyn will get his man. This book does have one bonus: an interesting discussion on how to pronounce "Alleyn".

Recommended for: mystery fans, Marsh aficionados.

3. Dad is Fat. Nonfiction by Jim Gaffigan. My Goodreads review:
As a parent of five (although we live in a tiny two bedroom house instead of a two bedroom fifth floor walk-up), I could identify with both the truth and the humor of this book. The only way to survive it is to laugh and this book is hilarious.

My only guilt is that Gaffigan wrote this book so he could make some money and maybe move his family out of that tiny apartment. I checked this out from the library. But I've recommended it to others, so maybe he won't hold that against me.

Recommended for: parents, fans of Gaffigan's comedy routines.

4. Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman's Guide to Igniting the Writer Within. Nonfiction by Barbara DiMarco-Barrett. Fabulous advice. Helpful writing exercises. Encouragement. A reminder that we don't have to have huge chunks of time or a retreat in order to write.

(One quibble: there is nothing in this book that wouldn't also apply to a man, but I guess that's not how they wanted to market it. Men might want to wrap the cover in brown paper and read without shame. Or you could always say you were just holding it for your wife.)

Recommended for: those who want to write, those who are writing but need more encouragement and those who would like to improve their writing.

5. The Various Haunts of Men. Fiction by Susan Hill.
In some respects, finely crafted. In others, annoying, pretentious and melodramatic. For a book subtitled, "A Simon Serrailler Mystery", Simon Serrailler is surprisingly nonexistent and certainly not integral to the plot. He does not solve crimes. He makes no impression whatsoever, despite the author insisting on his good looks, charisma, etc.

The POV jumps around, which can be disconcerting in a novel of suspense. I particularly dislike it when we are somehow in a murder victim's POV.

Still, I was intrigued by this book, reading along because I wanted to know what happened when the ending took an unexpected (and much dismaying) twist. There are no real answers. No further understanding of culprit, victims, or hero. A book that may have ended up in my "Not quite my cup of tea but maybe I'll give the next one a chance" list instead ends up on my "This author is not to be trusted with your time" list.

Gore level: high Frustration level: equally high - thrown to floor in disgust.

Recommended for: fans of Elizabeth George, or suspense readers who appreciate hearing the culprit's thoughts.

6. Spunk & Bite: A Writer's Guide to Punchier, More Engaging Language and Style. Nonfiction by Arthur Plotnik. With a title that plays on the famous (infamous?) writing guide Strunk & White, you might guess this is a book about writing. And you'd be right. This is about punching up your style, losing cliches, and making your writing un-put-downable. (OK, I admit I just made that expression up)

Recommended for: writers (including wannabes), bloggers, lovers of English.

7. A Christmas Hope. Fiction by Anne Perry. Not really much to do with Christmas and not much fun. More of a novella than a novel. Mentions some familiar characters from other Perry books but otherwise stands alone.

Recommended for: Anne Perry fans, readers of the Thomas Pitt or William Monk series of mysteries.

8. The Crime at Black Dudley. Fiction by Margery Allingham. A manor house, ancient towers, house guests, Nazis, spies, murder, intrigue, secret passages, fools (and fellows pretending to be fools), brave young women, Bright Young Things, and a mystery that's not quite as it seems: something for everyone in this book.

Recommended for: fans of classic mysteries, people who are running out of Sayers, Christie or Marsh stories to read.

9. The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. Edited by Otto Penzler.
I probably could have finished more books in December if this hadn't been in my stack. I don't regret the time it took to read, though: there are so many fantastic stories in this collection. There are 60 short stories, some mysteries, some suspense or other-worldly. The best writers of the genre are represented here.

There are murders, thefts, and re-worked Christmas Carol type stories. There are detectives, inspectors, police officers, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, and a few ghosts for good measure.

Highly recommended. My only real complaint: I caught a few typos and the format of the book is difficult. There are over 600 pages of small, two columns on each page print. If you have the option of an ebook version, that may be preferable. It's hard to cuddle up with an oversize book like this one.

Recommended for: mystery buffs but really, there's something in this collection for any reader.

Totals for December: 9
Fiction: 6 (all mysteries!)
Nonfiction: 3

What did you read in December? What was your favorite book in 2013? Stay tuned for my annual reading year in review post.

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Deb said...

Okay, yay books and everything, but what's this about a house? Pictures! Details! Inquiring minds want to know!

Happy New Year!

Arthur Plotnik said...

Thanks for reading SPUNK AND BITE, you undiscourageable lover of books. A gladsome 2014 to you in your new house.
--Art Plotnik

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