Saturday, December 14, 2013

37. The Fault in Our Stars

By John Green (313 pp)

I didn't really read this book in one day. I finished Verona the day before yesterday but forgot change the date when I posted. I read this in two days. This is a YA romance about teenagers with cancer. There is no reason a book like this should work as well as it does and obviously from the set up you know there is no way you are going to get of this without a box of tissues at your side. It's one of those stories that is as brilliantly funny as it is sad at the same time. And instead of hating the writer for doing this do you, you feel content in your sadness. I was thinking about leaving a quote but I'm afraid it might not work out of context. Recommend.

36. A Season With Verona

By Tim Parks (447 pp)
This is a terrific book that very few people that I share books with would appreciate.  It's written by a British man who ends up living in Italy and following the soccer team in Verona. He decided to attend every home and away game for one season and write a book about it. It's about soccer fan culture in Italy. I LOVED it. At 447 pages it's very long and it felt long at times. But the soccer season is both long and not long enough. I went to my last match on November 24 and already have the pre-season matches in February on my calendar. Here's a quote that perfectly captures it: "Everybody is yearning for that stupid excitement of waiting for a goal, for or against, trembling on the edge of our seats, on the edge of euphoria or disappointment." I have to add, however, that near the end there is a scene of horrifying sexual harassment that goes on forever and was so disturbing I had to skip over it because it threatened to derail my feelings about the entire book. Overall for soccer fans: huge recommend.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

35. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever

By James Tiptree, Jr. (508 pp)

This is another one of those short story collections I've had for several years, reading a few stories here and there. I noticed I was about 2/3rds through and decided to hunker down and finish it. Tiptree is really Alice Sheldon. I discovered a Tiptree story called "The Women Men Don't See" in a giant science fiction collection I read a number of years ago. I still love it and re-read it fairly often. The stories in the collection are good but really grim endings so it's kind of a slog to read one story after the other. Many I should re-read since I think I missed something. Lots of vivid images that stick with you. Recommend.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

34. The Shining Girls

By Lauren Beukes (368 pp)

It says on the book jacket that this is Time Traveler's Wife crossed with Silence of the Lambs. I'd say just Silence of the Lambs with time travel. Creepy and hard to put down. Recommend.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

33. Glow

By Amy Kathleen Ryan (255pp ebook)

This is a YA book with a great premise. Two generation ships from earth are traveling across the universe to populate a new planet. One ship attacks the ship that our protagonists live on and they don't know why. Lots of intriguing questions and plenty of action. Unfortunately, the story loses its way in the middle and gets bogged down. I lost interest by the end. There is also a religious aspect that could have been interesting but is too heavy handed to work.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

32. In the Presence of the Enemy

By Elizabeth George (623 pp)

This is a murder mystery that I picked because I read a writing book by this author (Book #31). I had some problems with this book but I think it's more because it's not my kind of book that problems with the book. I enjoy reading a murder mystery every once in awhile. This one seemed endlessly long, I had several episodes of character fatigue and I didn't care enough to go back and figure who was who, and there were a lot of details that I thought bogged the whole thing down. I think there is a type of murder mystery reader who loves those kind of details. There were also a couple of revelations that I thought were pretty obvious and I'm not the kind of reader who likes to crow about how "I knew it!" Recommend to people who like long murder mysteries.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

31. Write Away

By Elizabeth George (pp 254)

This is a writing book that came highly recommended so I grabbed a copy. She does have some helpful stuff on research and process that I liked. I've never read her fiction so I picked up a paperback to add to the never ending stack of books to read.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

30. The False Prince

By Jennifer Nielson (342 pp)

Kira passed this book to me when I was in Atlanta. It's a YA book about four orphans who are bought by man who wants to pass one of them off as the King's long lost son. It's a competition to see which boy could pull this off the best. Great protagonist and fun book to read.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

29. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

By Junot Diaz (335 pp)

This won the Pulitzer in 2008 and it is terrific. It's about a geeky fan boy who lives in New Jersey. His family is from the Dominican Republic and the story goes back a couple of generations to tell the story of their life in the DR. It is one of those stories that is both sad and funny. Great characters and a real world place that I knew nothing about. Recommend.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

28. Cinder

By Marissa Meyer (298 pp ebook)

A couple of months ago I downloaded a bunch of samples of popular YA books into my nook. I was looking for something fun to read but it turned out to be a good exercise in seeing how the beginning of a book grabs you or not. This was one of the two titles that grabbed me.

It's a futuristic re-telling of Cinderella. In the first few pages we meet Cinder, who in this version has cyborg parts and is a talented mechanic. She's working at a big outdoor market when she meets the prince. Sounded like fun.

The book, I'm afraid, is not very good. While the story does take some interesting turns, the execution of both the future world, and the prose style, were weak and cliched.

Friday, August 30, 2013

27. Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies

By Blake Snyder (286 pp)

Normally I don't approve of certain kinds of non-fiction writing where it seems the author grinds out a variation of the same book over and over. I own all three Save the Cat! books and I love them all. They're all screenwriting books although I'd recommend the original book, Save the Cat! to any one who writes stories and likes to think about story structure.

I'm behind on my reading goals for the year. If I can read something the size of a George R.R. Martin book tomorrow, I'll be caught up.

26. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

By Rebecca Skloot (345 pp)

I picked a book on my shelf but while we were in Seattle we went to Elliot Bay Books and I bought this and once I started I could barely put it down. I've heard about it a few times. I can't remember what motivated me to grab it now. It's about a woman whose cells were sampled in 1951 and the cells had unique qualities that made them invaluable for science research up until this day. The story is both about the woman and her family, and how the cells were developed. The author did a terrific job of making the science interesting and accessible and lovingly characterizing this woman, and her family who struggled for years to learn what exactly happened.  Highly recommend.

Friday, August 16, 2013

25 1/2. Abandoned Book

I just read the first 100 pages of another one of those popular dystopian YA novels with first person present tense narration that is poorly written and not terribly original. The author is not shy about throwing around big words and more than once I wanted to say: this word doesn't mean what you think it means.

After yet another ridiculous plot turn I realized the only reason I was still reading it was so I could write a bad review. Instead, I set it aside and I won't mention the title because there is no need to be mean. I'm sure it's being made into a movie right now and the author is sleeping on a bed stuffed with money.

Not sure what to read next. Going to dig around the shelf and find something good.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

25. Zeitoun

By Dave Eggers (335 pp)

Nothing like a book that stirs up your outrage. It's a non-fiction story about a Muslim man who stayed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to watch over his home. He ended up linking up with a few other people and together they helped other people and pets stranded by the storm. They were arrested for looting while in a home owned by Zeitoun and surrounded by their own stuff. Other than randomly imprisoning any brown people they found, the big takeaway is that FEMA managed to build and maintain (bathrooms, food, water) a giant temporary prison while people were stranded around the city or stuck in the Superdome with no bathrooms or food or water.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

24. Gone Girl

By Gillian Flynn (465 pp ebook)

It's been a long time since I read a page turner like this. I read it on my Mom's iPad while I was visiting so that was my excuse to keep reading: I had to finish before vacation was over. It only took me two days. It's about a married couple and the woman disappears on their wedding anniversary. As the story unfolds, everything is not as it seems. It's definitely a fun book to read, but the story goes a little off the rails by the end.

Monday, August 5, 2013

23. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

By Ben Fountain (307 pp)

I had a friend coming in from out of town and even though I have a number of books on the to-read shelf, I decided I needed go to Powell's with him and buy a few more. This was recommended in something I was looking at so I grabbed it. It is terrific. It's about an American soldier who is involved in an attack in Iraq that is caught by an embedded news team. His squad becomes famous and are sent on a tour of the U.S. that culminates in a visit to a Superbowl game in Texas. Most of the events of the story take place during the game. Great writing, great characters, great social/political commentary. Recommend.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

22. Messi

by Luca Caioli (249 pp)

Years ago I read a biography of the band REM. It was a tome and I was about halfway through before I realized that it was basically an inventory of every show REM played, the set lists and what clothes the guys wore.

This book is a little like that. It's an inventory of endless matches and goals scored by Lionel Messi. (International soccer star in case anyone is actually reading this, and doesn't know who he is.) This is broken up with interviews with people from Messi's life. Every person from Messi's Mom to his UPS man says some version of what a great player he is and what a nice guy he is. There are some interesting biographical bits particularly about his move from Argentina to Spain but I don't recommend unless you're a total soccer nerd. Also this book is from 2010 and he's accomplished a ton more since then.

Friday, July 19, 2013

21. Best American Short Stories 2007

Stephen King, ed. (411 pp.)

I loved 05 so much I went ahead and finished 07. I don't have any more on the shelf so this is it for now.

Again, I thought almost every story in the collection was terrific. "Toga Party" by John Barth stuck with me for a long time. I also really liked Eileen Pollack's "The Bris." One of those stories that is both sad and hilarious at the same time.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

20. Skellig

By David Almond (182 pp)

I read a book that I'm too embarrassed to list. After some of the stuff I've listed, can you believe it? So this should be book 21 but if I'm too embarrassed to list it, it doesn't count.

I think this would be classified a middle grade book? This is one of the books that was recommended by Nick Hornby and it is terrific.

It's about a boy whose baby sister is sick. He moves to a new house and finds a strange creature-person (?) living in the garage. It's so good. Recommend.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

19. Best American Short Stories 2005

Michael Chabon, ed. (397 pp.)

I love these collections. I've been reading them for years. I don't keep them, though, because they take up too much space. That would be a great idea to sell the entire collection electronic version. Maybe they do. I'm too lazy to look it up. Probably too many rights issues to make it work.

Even though I love them I rarely read them from start to finish. I tend to read a few stories and then put them away. There are at least a half dozen story and essay collections like this on my shelf. It's taken me years to finish this volume.

I thought almost all of the stories were terrific. Tom Bissell, "Death Defier" made the biggest impression on me and unfortunately I read it right before I went to sleep and then I had insomnia issues and unsettling thoughts. But it's quite a story. It was originally published in the Virginia Quarterly Review, v.80 n.3, Summer 2004. If you have access to literary databases (public library!) you should check it out.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

18. Freedom

By Jonathan Franzen (562 pp)

We saw Franzen at Arts & Lectures during the last season and I liked him a lot. I told Bob I wanted to read one of his books and a hardcover copy of Freedom appeared on my nightstand. As I have said on many occasions, I do 90% of my reading on the bus and I kept putting off starting this because it's huge and because I didn't want to be dragging it on the bus for a month and I'm too cheap to buy an electronic copy of a book we already own. Last week, I decided to give it a shot and what do you know? I was sucked in immediately and ended up spending half the weekend on the couch finishing this book.

I have a million thoughts about it and I wish I had the time and brain juice to write them all out because I think it would be a good exercise for me. I've become so lazy about doing any personal thinking project that requires more than two brain cells rubbing together. But the weekend is almost over and my garden needs some attention and I have a few administrivia items that I need to wrap up so this is the short version.

The writing is amazing and there were only a few moments when the book felt a little long. There were a number of passages where different characters experienced emotional moments that I have felt, and thought were deeply personal and exclusive to me.  At the same time there were bits that I thought implausible and I had some trouble with the women characters. Overall: huge recommend.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

17. The Bartimaeus Trilogy: Ptolemy's Gate

By Jonathan Stroud (501 pp.)

This is book 3. I read Book 1 in 2011 and Book 2 also in 2011. Not sure why it took so long to get to this one. It's about a young magician, who is complex but also a jerk and his relationship with a djinni, Bartimaeus who is a hilarious smart ass. Also, a common girl named Kitty is involved. A bunch of bad stuff happens in London with scheming government officials and a magical attack. These three have to try and save the day. Another good one.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

16. Fear of Landing: You Fly Like A Woman

by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (93 pp ebook)

This is a non-fiction book about a woman who didn't intend to get a pilot's license but then sets out to get one anyway. And it's not easy for her. I am fascinated by people who get a pilot's license. It seems impossibly scary to me. I have a recurring dream about flying a plane and being terrified that a giant hunk of metal can stay in the air. Fun book.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

15. Tenth of December

By George Saunders (251 pp)

I love these stories. I think every one has a moment that fills the reader with dread. I think "Escape from Spiderhead" is my favorite although the title story is great, too. If you ever want some cheap entertainment, go read the one star reviews of this book. Hilarity for days.

Friday, April 26, 2013

14. Wide Open

By Deborah Coates (320 pp)

I can't remember where I heard about this book. I gave it to my sister and she liked it so when the offered the ebook for cheap I bought another copy. It's set in South Dakota and is about a woman who returns from Afghanistan after her sister dies. Also, she sees ghosts. The story comes from the speculative bits but it feels like a real world story with this crazy unexplained stuff going on. The setting and the tone are different and I never felt like I knew where it was going. There were a couple of sections that went slow for me but over all I liked it.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

13. We Live in Water

By Jess Walter (171 pp)

Short stories that are so, so good. It's a small collection and a few are a little iffy but the good ones are so good. My favorites are "Helpless Little Things" and "Statistical Abstract for My Hometown of Spokane, Washington." Recommend.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

12. Seraphina

By Rachel Hartman (451 pp)

This morning I said, screw it, I'm going to stay in bed until I finish this book. Otherwise I probably won't finish it until next weekend. It is terrific. It's hard to say much without spoilers. It's fantasy in a world with a tenuous peace between people and dragons. It's about a talented young musician who goes to live at the castle and becomes involved in the investigation of a royal murder. I recommend. I did a have a bit of a problem with character fatigue: too many names and nicknames, titles and informal titles. Over halfway through the book I was thinking: if a book ever needed a directory of characters, it's this one. And then I flipped to the back and there it was. Now you know.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

11. Shakespeare Wrote For Money

By Nick Hornby (131 pp)

I'm doing something I never normally do and I've started at least 7 books. In general I prefer project to process. I like beginning, middle, end. I don't like unfinished things. But I here I am in the middle of 2 books of short stories, a YA fantasy novel, a regular novel and 3 non-fiction books. I finally put everything aside to focus on this so I could finish one thing. This is the third and final collection of Hornby's Believer columns. I read The Pollysyllabic Spree in 2005 and Housekeeping v. the Dirt last year. He makes everything he reads sound terrific and it's hard to resist the urge to start a list and plan a trip to the library immediately, except, I'm already in the middle of 7 books and have a groaning to-read stack. But I'm going to get to these some day.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

10. Half A Life

By Darin Strauss (205 pp)

This book is tough, but really, really good. Two months before he graduated high school, Strauss was out with friends and a bike swerved in front of his car. The bicycle rider was a classmate and she died from the accident. He was not at fault. This happened in 1988. The story is about him dealing with it for the rest of his life, so far. It is, at times, completely heart-breaking. There are a lot of ways a book like this could go wrong but this one does not. It does not tie up in some neat conclusion. Recommend.

Friday, March 15, 2013

9. Confessions of a Shopaholic

By Sophie Kinsella (269 pp ebook)

Another light reading book for travel. A young woman can't stop buying things and it catches up with her. There was a part of me that experienced severe anxiety about her spending. "You don't need that," I wanted to shout at the book. But there was another part of me that understood her rationale. "I should get that white coat. I would be known as that girl with the white coat." Hilarious and fun to read.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

8. On The Island

By Tracey Garvis Graves (281 pp ebook)

After I finished the Twilight series I figured I'd never again find a book that I enjoyed as much as I thought it was awful. I was wrong. On the Island is the story of a 17 year old boy recovering from a serious illness and his 30 year old tutor who get stranded on a island in the Maldives. Don't worry, nothing happens until he's legal. The writing is weak and cliched. Implausibility builds upon implausibility. I completely enjoyed it during a long day of travel.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

7. Footnotes in Gaza

By Joe Sacco (418 pp)

Last year I decided I would read more graphic novels and this is the first one I've managed to read since then. It's a journalistic account of a couple of incidents in Gaza in the 1950's. It's also a journalistic account of the author researching and interviewing to tell this story. It's dense and lost me in a couple of spots. It's a tough story but really well done.

Friday, March 1, 2013

6. Jagannath

By Karin Tidbeck (111 pp. ebook)

I go through these phases where I try to support small presses and look for books I might normally not read. I think if you call yourself a writer you should do your best to support all kinds of reading.

I had a credit at Weightless Books and this is the book I tried. These are short stories with odd speculative elements. Tidbeck is Swedish and her voice and perspective are original and sometimes disturbing. Definitely recommended for folks who like strange with their stories.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

5. Beautiful Creatures

By Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (563 pp)

This book just came out as a movie. I saw a movie trailer and a couple of references to the book online and thought: this looks just the kind of cheesy teen romance book that I love. It was not. I really wanted to like the book and it started out pretty good. Small town in the South. New girl moves in with relatives in the creepy rundown mansion. She doesn't fit in. Strange powers.

But the longer it goes on the more it goes off the rails. The story execution is criminally terrible. Every stereotype of the South you've ever seen. Pedestrian, on-the-nose dialogue. Random potentially interesting story elements that come up and then disappear. In the acknowledgements the authors say it took 3 months to write and it shows. Do not recommend.

Friday, February 8, 2013

4. Beautiful Ruins

By Jess Walker (337 pp.)

This fabulous book was a gift from Hannah. There is no way to sum it up briefly without criminally short-changing it. It starts in Italy with a pitiful young man whose family owns a pitiful inn called Hotel Adequate View. A dying starlet shows up and changes everything. It's funny and sad and really wonderful. RECOMMEND.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

3. The Marriage Plot

by Jeffrey Eugenides (406 pp.)

I have mixed feelings about this book. I enjoyed reading it but it didn't totally work for me. Although now that I'm writing this I realize what didn't work for me was what happened in the story. It's not like it's the author's job to make the characters do what I want them to do. It's set in 1982 and it's about three college graduates trying to figure out what they're doing with their lives. Also troubled romance.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

2. City of Dark Magic

by Magnus Flyte (448 pp.)

This book is about a music student who is invited to Prague to work on restoring Beethoven for a museum. One of her professors was also working on the project and appears to have committed suicide. Turns out there is a lot going on with this museum and a number of people with something at stake in the collection. There's also a speculative element. The story is silly at times especially the ending. But I liked the setting in Prague and it was perfect bus reading.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

1. The Waste Lands

by Stephen King (588 pp.)

This is book #3 of the Dark Tower series and yike-a-roni, it's a slog. Fortunately, SK had the foresight to end it right in the middle of an action bit so people would have a hard time skipping #4. I'm going to assume the books get better since the series goes to #7. In this tome, our band of heroes wander around and do lots and lots of talking by the campfire. They deal with some crazy-pants stuff. I think SK could have knocked out 200 pp and had a real page turner. But I liked the good parts enough that I'm going to continue with the series. After I read my stack of xmas books.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Book List for 2013 Starts Here

I read 37 books in 2012. Not bad but I'd still like to read more. You should see the stack I got for Xmas/Birthday. Yay.

For 2012 My list of short stories/novellas/novelettes says I read 166 and that's not everything. I don't always keep track of the shorter stuff.

For a change in 2013 I'm going to count pages on novels. Counting for the short stuff is too much work. How about a goal of 15k?

My favorites for 2012 were the pair by Kendare Blake: Anna Dressed in Blood and Girl of Nightmares. Among Others by Jo Walton, Angelfall by Susan Ee, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, the Megan Whalen Turner series and the two by Patrick Rothfuss, Name of the Wind and Wise Man's Fear.