Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Books of 2014 - September

I'm blogging at Living Unabridged now, but I'm putting this book list here for continuity's sake. (OCD, I know, I know).

Here are the books I finished in September:
1.This is Where I Leave You. Fiction by Jonathan Tropper. I wish I would have left this book earlier. Ugh. (see Goodreads for more of this one star review.)

2. Divergent. Fiction by Veronica Roth. On this one I broke one of my cardinal rules: I read the book after I watched the movie. (I know, I know.)

Anyway, this is obviously a series written to fit in the "Strong Female Heroine Changes Dystopian Society" niche. (see: Hunger Games, The) Tris is an interesting character. Four is an interesting character. The faction system (while inherently contradictory) is a nice set up.

But the risks never seem very high. The bad guys motivations are weak.

And I've had it with first person, present tense. Seriously. Stop. It's a conceit and it's been done. Let's move on from what is essentially a gimmick and tell a story that's compelling even without the gimmick.

 3.Move On. Nonfiction by Vicki Courtney. Read for review.
4.Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me. Nonfiction by Karen Swallow Prior. Loved this one very much. One of my favorite books I've read in 2014. Highly recommended.
5. Insurgent. Fiction by Veronica Roth. Too  long and kind of a let down. I'm fairly worried about the third book in the series now.
6.This is Ridiculous, This is Amazing. Nonfiction by Jason Good. The truth and humor of parenting in list form.
7.Glittering Images. Fiction by Susan Howatch. My Goodreads review:
I don't really know how to review this one. It defies genre.
Set in 1937, the main character is an Anglican Priest, given a tricky assignment by the Archbishop of Canterbury to investigate another bishop. This story contains memorable characters, intrigue, deep theological discussions, family secrets, philosophy, spiritual gifts, supernatural intervention, and a little too much Freud for my taste.
It's mostly talking: one character monologuing to another. It's dense. But somehow that makes it sound worse than it is, because it held my interest. I wanted to know what happened next.
The book was written in 1987, but its subject matter (the nature of self, what happens when we present one self to the world and believe we are another "real" self inside) seems prescient of our social media age when no one is really sure who their "real" self is, much less who other people might "really" be.
The only reason I hesitate to recommend this book is the sex obsession held by more than one character. For the most part this is limited to brief discussions (and the occasional profanity), but one section of the book becomes far more graphic (although not titillating) than I care to read. So, reader beware.
Ultimately, I found the ending unsatisfying. I thought the wish of the author to absolve all characters of being truly "bad" led to an implausible ending. But it's a book I'll think about for longer than it took to read it, so that makes me glad I read it, even with all the negatives.
8.The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens' London. Nonfiction by Judith Flanders. This is a great work of nonfiction. Highly recommended for history buffs, anglophiles, and Dickens fans.
9. What Alice Forgot. Fiction by Liane Moriarty. The premise reminded me a bit of the old Harrison Ford movie "Regarding Henry". What if you (through some trauma) wake up to find time has passed and you don't know yourself and the decisions you've made? It's a great set up.

Taken as a whole (including the epilogue), I think it's a great representation of the messiness of adult life and relationships (particularly marriage).

One caveat: occasional cursing and profanity.
10. The Documents in the Case. Fiction by Dorothy Sayers. Epistolary novels are tricky and even though Sayers is a master, the style is clunky. Notable for being separate from her Peter Wimsey series and also for a lengthy philosophical discussion about the meaning of life near the end of the story.
11. Lost in Translation. Nonfiction by Ella Frances Sanders. Read for review.
12.Surprised by Oxford. Nonfiction by Carolyn Weber. I wanted to love this one as much as I loved #4 above. But I didn't and here are the reasons why:
First, the conversations are stilted. I find it hard to believe that anyone actually talks like this. Memoirs are tricky, of course, trying to reconstruct things that happened in the past is hard enough without trying to piece together long, involved apologia between adults. If Weber was a novelist, I would say that she doesn't have an ear for dialogue. Since she's an academic, writing a personal memoir, I can excuse this fault, at least most of the time.
Second: the only character that seems fully drawn and realized is Weber herself. All the others seem like a cast of characters, exactly who anyone would hope to meet and befriend. (The gracious, older woman who provides just the right food and conversation at just the right times; the delightfully disparate set of friends; the tall, dark, handsome and perfect fellow student.)
Weber and I would not agree on several points of theology, but it's encouraging to learn there are people of faith, even in the driest reaches of academe.
13. The Awakening of Miss Prim. Fiction by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera.
A surprisingly deeply philosophical (and theological) novel. C.S. Lewis meets Chocolat. The characters are quirky, the village unique, and the discussions of literature and books are deeper than they look.
14.52 Little Lessons from Les Miserables. Nonfiction by Bob Welch. Read for review.

Totals for September: 14
Fiction: 7 (including 2 from a YA series)
Nonfiction: 7

You can find these and other reviews by me on Goodreads.

What did you read in September?

And please, don't forget to check out Living Unabridged. You'll find more posts about reading, homeschooling, and real life there.

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