September 2016: One stand out, a buncha enjoyables, and one sad trombone

The stand out

Dietland by Sarai Walker. So good. You should probably read it rather than my description. But I'll take a stab at it. Let's just say societal pressure around dieting and body image leads to terrorism in this book. Like, realistically. 

I mean, as a concept it's out there, but not so far as you might prefer to think. 

The enjoyables

Arsenic and Old Books by Miranda James. "A cat in the stacks mystery." The rare male protagonist in the cozy genre. 

Knot Guilty by Betty Hechtman. "A crochet mystery." Makes much of the rivalry between knitters and crocheters. Is that a thing?

Death by Devil's Breath by Kylie Logan. "A chili cook-off mystery."

License to Dill by Mary Ellen Hughes. "A pickled & preserved mystery." This one is where a character mentions making jam from apples and onions. So I did. Liked the book, love the jam. Thumbs up!

A Beeline to Murder by Meera Lester. "A Henny Penny Farmette mystery."

Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris. Cover says "first in a new series." I kind of need to read more than one before I endorse the series, but this first one is rather promising. A potentially interesting cast of characters that I'd like to see develop.

Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham. 

Firm Ambitions by Michael A Kahn.

The sad trombone

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby. Started off strong, but ultimately very disappointing. It was like Hornby lost interest in the titular character after a handful of chapters. Bummer, cause she was much more gripping than the male characters that dominated the rest of the book. Wah waaaah. 

May 2016: Variety pack

So, it's June 23. And here's the list for May. It's been a bit crazypants around here. I read every night before I go to sleep, so reading never entirely goes by the wayside. Unlike, say, binge-watching things on Netflix or vacuuming. Gotta have priorities. 

I'm going to do a list. Let's see which books move me to comment on.

1. Brush Back by Sara Paretsky. V.I. Warshawsky rides again. Just realizing that I never did figure out what the title references. 

2. Moss Hysteria by Kate Collins. A typical cozy. 

3. Eighth Grave from the Dark by Darynda Jones. A series (did the numeric title tip you off?) about the grim reaper married to the son of the devil. In this one, they had a baby. I think the charm of this series may be wearing off for me. 

4. Cold Girl by R.M. Greenaway. A murder mystery set in the modern context of the Canadian northwest. There was a secondary, or actually probably more like tertiary, character that I found particularly intriguing. An old, blind First Nations man who is working to preserve his language and teach it to the young people. I want to know his story.

5.  So Much for That by Lionel Shriver. My fingers are hesitating over the keyboard, trying to figure out which thought to pluck out of my brain and lay down for this book. There were some really frustrating moments in this story – as in life – but it all came together. Perhaps a little too perfectly at the end, but I'll take it.  

6. Queen of Babble Gets Hitched by Meg Cabot. The chicklitiest of chick lit. Eye roll-y and yet I'm complicit. Here it is on my list. 

7. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. A lovely counterpoint to the previous entry. The story of a woman to whom life has handed nothing but low expectations and how she gradually begins to break out of the metaphorical chrysalis in which she has been bound.  

8. The First Crusade, A New History: The Roots of Conflict Between Christianity and Islam by Thomas Asbridge. Moral of this non-fiction account? Religion has been the excuse for intolerance, terrorism, and assholitude since forever. 

9. Where Did You Sleep Last Night by Lynn Crosbie. Not for me, Jenn. I couldn't finish it. Not interested in self-destructive faux-nostalgia for the grunge era. 

10. The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer. Lots of unsympathetic characters, but an engrossing read. And no religious element, despite what the title might imply. 

Plus, the fam gave me a new Kobo for Mother's Day. Yay!! 

And I'm thoroughly HOOKED on a podcast series called Rex Factor. (Once you listen to it, you'll start saying that title in a very particular, majestic way.) The audio isn't great in the first few episodes, but hang in there 'cause it gets better. A couple of blokes – I feel like they'd describe themselves as blokes - discuss and score each of the kings and queens of England, starting way back with the Saxons. (They have a second series on the monarchs of Scotland, but I'm not there yet.) So good. Check it out! 

April 2016: Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote

Nah, I didn't read any Chaucer this month. I'm overdue for a reread, actually. Maybe I'll get to that in May... or June, the way this month is already flying by. I just couldn't seem to get arsed to write promptly about any of the books I read in April. But here we go.

First up, The Bees by Laline Paull. This was the rare work of fiction that The Dave read first and recommended. His track record is very good at predicting the intersecting portion of the Venn diagram of what he enjoys compared to what I'll enjoy. I would likely never have read The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffinegger or Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke  except for his reco. So, he's a good picker. (Hey, wait, all three of those books were debut novels by women. I love a good coincidence!) 

Like those books, The Bees creates a fully realized, highly believable world with interesting characters, rituals and distinct cultural history without the crutch of an ungrammatical or weirdly punctuated language or exhausting explication. It's about, well, bees. A specific bee, actually, who's born into a specific role within the hive but with natural abilities that allow her and compel her to become more. It's a fascinating tale that explores how one's "destiny" as defined by society does not have to be one's fate. Beautifully written, this one had me turning pages and leaving the light on far too late. 

Hell's Cartel: IG Farben and the Making of Hitler's War Machine by Diarmuid Jeffreys came next. Wow. I just had no idea, none, about how willingly and enthusiastically massive German businesses supported and enabled the Third Reich. I'm embarrassed to admit that. But learning late is better than learning never.

It was also a recommendation, this time by a colleague, who brought it up as a digression in a discussion around Trump and the strange, scary way utterly unvarnished racism has somehow become permissable in American political discourse. 

I picked it up back before Christmas and it took me a few months to find the gumption to get into it. (I'm tempted to make a Leni Riefenstahl Triumph of the Will reference, but maybe I should leave that unsaid. Oops, too late.) Anyway, once I did get immersed, it was actually a riveting read about both the emergence and considerable genius of the German chemical industry and about how there is no inherent moral core to business doing business.  Recommended reading, for sure.

I know I read The Rebel Wife by Taylor Polites next, but not much of it stayed with me. About a young widow whose husband dies from sort of contagious fever-y, bloody illness, it takes place in Post-Civil War Alabama. The widow never much captured my attention or my sympathy. I'm not sure the author was all that emotionally invested in her either. I find myself remembering more about some of the side characters: the dead husband, a slaver turned abolitionist; the "mammy", a woman slave whose own babies had died before she became a wet nurse many years before; the drunkard former Confederate soldier turned Klansman; a husband and wife who are also former slaves who set out to establish a new life far away. Lots of possibilities for a riveting story without focus on the passive, insipid, not-very-rebellious Rebel Wife.   

I'm pretty sure Saving Sophie by Ronald H. Balson was written in hopes of a movie deal. A conventional thriller, it involves a widower-lawyer whose daughter is kidnapped by some pretty stereotypical baddies, in this case orchestrated by the girl's Palestinian grandfather. If the book was written today, the bad guys would be Syrian, in the 80s, Russian, in the 40s, Nazis... You have read this book even if you haven't read this book. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it. 

And speaking of years past, Spadework by Timothy Findley reminded how long ago the 90s really were. The Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal nonsense is played out in the background of this character drama. People really did paint her as the villain of that piece. It now seems like such a (thankfully) dated perspective, and it kept pulling me out of the main story.   

The main story, though, I enjoyed a lot. It is set in Stratford, Ontario and features The Stratford Festival as a backdrop with little cameos of a few theatrical titans (William Hutt, for example, rest in peace) and, of course, the famous swans. The story revolves around relationships, fidelity and ambition. So you see how the Clinton bits fit. 

I found this novel to be less challenging and more easily torn through than what I usually expect from Timothy Findley. I mean, Not Wanted on the Voyage absolutely enraged me as I read it though I could not put it down. Headhunter baffled me on first read and enchanted me on second. Spadework is much more meh than either of those. Why yes, that is a technical term. But still, better than a lot of what I read (she says honestly) so no complaints. 

So, having ploughed through descriptions of my April books, I'm not sure why I was so daunted to begin. I'll try to get May done on schedule. If I'm not too busy with The General Prologue.

Upgrading my reading (Nah, who's kidding who...)

I start planning to blog about the books I read, and then I think I maybe I should be reading more smartypants-type stuff and fewer books purely for relaxation and entertainment.

Like maybe people won’t think I’m smrt if I’m honest on the (not-so) literary front. I mean, if I only discuss the GG award winners and educational non-fiction, it’s not lying exactly. Is it?

It’s brand strategy, choosing which dimensions of a brand to highlight and which to downplay. Right? I do that all the time. So maybe I should… edit my reading list.     

And then I give my head a shake. My blog, my rules. Judge all you like. And if you tell me I made a typo in the second paragraph, you don’t even know me at all.