Monday, July 28, 2014

July 28: Books and (Maybe) a Few Pictures!

Thereby Hangs a Tail (A Chet and Bernie Mystery, #2)Thereby Hangs a Tail by Spencer Quinn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Quinn's idea could go terribly wrong, and it IS hoky: the dog narrates this whodunnit series. However, Quinn's narration as Chet is clever and, for those dog-lovers out there, spot-on: smells sidetrack Chet; he frequently succumbs to naps and misses parts of a story; he has several embarrassing stories involving other dogs, javelinas, and/or irresistible food, etc. I listened to this during a long, slow drive to CT and back and found it really fun: not great literature, but certainly entertaining. The reader got Chet's voice and delivery nicely, and the plot is interesting enough to keep things moving. Recommended for people who know dogs but don't want an overly cutesy involvement with them.

Never Too Late (Barsetshire #25)Never Too Late by Angela Thirkell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cleaning out the shelves, I spotted my vintage copy of this Thirkell and succumbed to its lures (and then also read A Double Affair, the next one in the series). . . . Thirkell is SUCH an acquired taste, but she is truly wonderful when she's at her best. I wish there were movies: the life with butlers and maids is presented as so normal, the mention of leasing out the wing of the big house for a school is so common, and the concern about how to keep the family property intact so frequent that it's hard to realize that these are REALLY RICH PEOPLE! The people in the village who are so gently but snobbishly described as different or as trying hard but not quite making it--they are US! I'd love to see the "actual" landscape that she was describing. It is surely alien to this American, but I do love to visit it.

Plot-wise, not her freshest, as there is a lot of repetition about Edith and her difficulties and George and his. Still, worth a visit.

A Double AffairA Double Affair by Angela Thirkell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

As I mentioned in my Never Too Late review, I read this after NTL, and I think I'd over-dosed on the less-energetic Thirkell genre by then: this one felt overwritten and repetitive as a whole, although it does have some nice parts and is, after all, escapist Anglophilic Thirkell, regardless! It "forwards the story" but it's not her best.

GoldGold by Chris Cleave
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wary after the intense experience of reading LIttle Bee, I flirted around the edges of Gold, but ultimately I committed to reading it, and I'm glad I did. Cleave is a skilled and intriguing author, and this novel about the competing demands of family and top level athletic competition is powerful and good. The sport (short track bike racing?) is esoteric, but once I got into the book, it became a backdrop for the deeper questions and issues. Cleaves's characters are unique and sympathetic (I especially liked Tom, the coach, and Jack and Kate's relationship) and the story as a whole is suspenseful and interesting. Recommended.

A few of his riffs on modern culture (usually delivered from Tom's perspective) are really brilliant: he has one about young men who have to post everything on line and who make fun of everything, including themselves, while taking themselves incredibly seriously. Snap.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

July 17: Reading a lot at Julie's!

Takedown Twenty (Stephanie Plum, #20)Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's understandable that after cranking these (and many other offerings!) out at an amazing pace, the quality of JE's writing should flag at times, but this effort was solidly in the "okay" range. Grandma and Lola were pretty funny but not over-the-top ridiculous, and the plot had some coherence, though I wonder how long the Joe/Ranger conflict can continue without making Stephanie clearly unethical and flat-out unfaithful--she's right on the edge now. All in all, an entertaining beach read.

Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a MarriageDelancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like Molly Wizenberg's Orangette blog, and I was delighted to see this book in the Ridgefield Library. I might buy it, because I like a lot of the recipes--both for weird experiments (gin with ground pepper and garlic?) and for plain ol' "that sounds great!" meals (penne alla vodka). The story of the ins and outs of starting the restaurant was engrossing, too, and the progress of her relationship with and understanding of her husband caught my attention as well, though Julie did not find the book interesting at all. One aspect I noted with respect was that she discussed various people who entered their lives through the restaurant process, and it was really hard to tell if they would be friends, foes, betrayers, or loyal supporters: her tone was always level and respectful, an approach that I find difficult in my own life and in much public discourse today.

Recommended (though Julie disagrees!) as an interesting resource and a good story, though I am surprised that it's a NYT bestseller. Doesn't seem jazzy enough. Maybe a lot of people want to open restaurants and find this book, as I do, a good replacement!

Food Rules: An Eater's ManualFood Rules: An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay: amazing is over-the-top for this little book (booklet, maybe?), but I really liked its zippy format, its straightforward advice, and its clear diction. It was another 25 cent investment at our neighbor's yard sale, and I've shared it with Michael (it is his "I've read one book!" book already) and we both thought it was enlightening and funny.

Anyone who's hoping? trying? to "eat better" should read this book--preferably a copy picked up for 25 cents at a yard sale!

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

July 13: Before I Leave for Julie's!

I woke up at 5 so am burning some time as I drink my coffee and get ready to start getting ready. . . . Some catch up posts!

Blacklist (V.I. Warshawski, #11)Blacklist by Sara Paretsky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Got this at the book sale, and since I once was an avid fan of Paretsky, I tried it for old time's sake. Paretsky is a good writer--before I knew it I was really reading, not just skimming: good descriptions, a terrific balance between action and setting, etc. However, I found this one pretty predictable and about 100 pages too long for me as a result. The plot surrounding HUAC hearing and 9/11 profiling seemed trite, though it might not have seemed so in 2005, when the book came out. ANyway: VI is still tough as ever!

Bet MeBet Me by Jennifer Crusie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of Crusie's stronger outings, with a lot of fun events, a terrific supporting cast, great food descriptions (though, really, enough with the chicken marsala already! There are other great dishes out there!), and not too much detailed sex (because some of her earlier ones are a little too much like a Playboy (or girl) entry). I've read this before, and I'll probably read it again. . . a perfect summer pleasure!

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

July 10: Reading, reading, reading!

The Ashford AffairThe Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well written, but *very* predictable story, combined with one of those flashback/flashforward, trite plots. Characters are shallow, and the story basically feels like White Nights, a movie/book story about lust and crimes of passion in Kenya. . . . Shows little to none of Willig's usual sense of humor.

That SummerThat Summer by Lauren Willig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Now in THIS one, Willig has stepped up her game away from the Flower spy stories and far exceeded The Ashford Affair's dreary predictability. Yes, this novel jumps time periods AND has echoes of another work (Possession by AS Byatt), but That Summer is well-written and pretty darn hard to put down. The idea of inheriting a house full of stuff--treasures OR junk--is before and after fodder and pretty compelling; the story in the past becomes quite involving as well. I ended up really enjoying this one, but the challenge for Willig will be to write a novel that never changes time period and never uses the word "slaphappy," which she used, annoyingly, at least four times in this one. Otherwise, highly recommended!

Chestnut StreetChestnut Street by Maeve Binchy
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Wellllllllllllllll. It was, truly, "okay": a patchwork collection of stories loosely connected by their setting (?), but lacking any sense of coherence or connection otherwise. The usual Binchy characters showed up and meandered around. I skimmed quite a bit. End of story.

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Friday, July 4, 2014

July 4: Hot, Humid, and Loose Ends.

The Storied Life of A. J. FikryThe Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this novel despite the reader: Scott Brick's delivery and voice personified the "bad" AJ Fikry, the pedantic and patronizing, lonely and isolated man who appears in the start of the book. It's a novel about growth, and it's a novel about reading as well, and eventually I could ignore Brick's voice and fall into the depths of the story itself. It's a little fluffy, but it raises great ideas about human relationships, reading, the role of books, and, finally, the role of our brains in this amazing world we've (at least partially) created. Zevin has a line that captures what I've thought about often. . . . I don't have the exact text since I listened to this book as opposed to reading it, but when AJ goes to see his doctor, he marvels about having to use his brain to understand what is happening to his brain. I remember that same sense of wonder when I was taking AP Bio and learning neuroscience (BABY neuroscience, but still!).

This is a delicate and enjoyable book. I wish I had a list of all the short stories AJ recommends: perhaps I'll stop into the library and copy them down!

EmmaEmma by Jane Austen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Juliet Stevenson does an amazing job of presenting Emma: each character is distinct, and the infamous "Mrs. E." and the sweetly overwhelming Miss Bates are topnotch. I've read, seen, and listened to this work probably 6 times, and Stevenson's version does a fantastic job of highlighting the wit, insight, and satire of Austen's novel.

Highly, highly, highly recommended on all fronts.

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 It's the 4th! Amazingly, the whole family (sans our Norge girl, of course) is around for most of the day. We may get visited by Hurricane Arthur, so our tentative outdoor plans for fireworks and concerts may be disrupted by downpours and high winds, but I plan to head to Hannaford's for pectin, sugar, and jars so I can turn my 10 lbs of lovely fresh picked berries into jam!

Other than that: family time, I guess! Or I could tackle the dining room and decluttering. . . .

Thursday, July 3, 2014

July 3: Hot, humid, and vacation!

Saving Lucas BiggsSaving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Marisa de Los Santos is one of my favorite adult authors, so when she and her husband released a y/a novel, I wanted to read it, too--and I wasn't really disappointed. The plot is a bit clunky, the devices a little timeworn, and the outcome a bit predictable, but I enjoyed the story overall and her writing is as effective and lovely as usual. I think for a y/a reader (which, of course, I am not!) this would work really well. It also reminds me of Ingrid Law's Scumble and Savvy, two y/a books from last summer.

One great quote: "For every big, bad, attention-getting thing that happens, there are thousands of small good ones, acts that might even seem ordinary but really aren't, so many that we can forget to notice them or to count them up. But it's what has always amazed me: not how terrible people can be to each other, but how good, in spite of everything." 211

Knit One Pearl One (Jo Mackenzie, #3)Knit One Pearl One by Gil McNeil
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third and final in this fun, funny, readable series dragged a bit, though it could've been my level of busy! Still, it has some laugh out loud scenes and a strong message that it's okay for women to be independent. I will definitely read more Gil McNeil if I can find her. Highly recommended, knitter or not!

The Surprising Life of Constance SpryThe Surprising Life of Constance Spry by Sue Shephard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Julie sent me this for my birthday, and I *really* enjoyed it, though the writing was poorly constructed and confusing at the beginning (either it got better or I got used to it!). In many ways, this is an odd book: I'd never heard of Spry, and the depth of the story did at times seem excessive for a life that, while interesting, wasn't really heroic or even widely varied. However, Spry's character and the way her life unfolded made for interesting reading, and I ended up liking the book a great deal.

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 And today I picked 12 qts of lovely strawberries with Cathi Goebel, and tomorrow I will probably make jam! Yay! Also made this pie (I replaced the whipped topping (eeewwwww) with 1 cup of heavy cream, whipped with conf. sugar and some vanilla) which was delicious and even better Day 2. And tonight was yoga, which left me noodly and dripping!

Happy July!