2.09.2014

The best and the worst

I have to stop using the Big Move as an excuse for not doing things, like keeping up with the blog.  Although, because of all the unpacking I've been doing, I think I could stretch it out for another month or two.  Nevertheless, it's time to be responsible.  Ish.

I read fewer books during 2013, probably because of moving.  But, wait.  I wasn't going to use that as an excuse.  Anyway, here they are:

1.  The Emperor's Soul, by Brandon Sanderson.  Sanderson is always an entertaining writer, and he comes up with some fabulous magic systems.  Sometimes you have to be a little patient -- with him or with yourself -- as he unfolds (or you eventually figure out) exactly what is going on, but it's always worth it.  Recommended.

2.  Edward Ardizzone, by Gabriel White.  This is a sort of biography/review of Ardizzone's art.  I've been collecting books illustrated as well as written by Edward Ardizzone for the last five or six years, so I found this to be an interesting account.  Recommended if you like Ardizzone or children's book illustration.

3.  The Greyfriar (Vampire Empire #1), by Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith.  I'm not a huge fan of angst-ridden, romantic vampires.  I prefer a more traditional, Bram Stoker-Dracula type vampire.  To me, vampires are evil and incapable of loving anyone or anything outside of their own existence.  That doesn't mean I can't occasionally read books about romantic vampires, as long as they're not too sappy or annoying.  The Greyfriar is a case in point.  I think it helps that the book has a steampunkish setting, which is a big plus.  It also has fairly engaging characters that manage to transcend the stereotypical.  Recommended if you like vampire love stories and steampunk.


4.  I Am Not a Serial Killer, by Dan Wells.  Young Adult and older fiction, the protagonist is a young serial-killer-in-the-making.  Not my favorite thing to read about (I've avoided the Dexter books), but the protagonist is a sympathetic character, and Wells writes well from a teenager's point of view.  There is an element of the supernatural, which sort of comes out of the blue, but if you're prepared for it beforehand (as I was), it doesn't annoy.  This book is the first of three novels.  I haven't read the other two, but I probably will.  Recommended if you like YA horror.

5.  The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley.  A classic English countryside mystery novel with an 11-year-old genius for a detective.  It works brilliantly.  Suspense, humor, pathos -- it's got it all.  Recommended.  There are sequels!


Incidentally, I've read some complaints that there's no way an 11-year-old girl would talk the way Flavia (for that is her name) does, but I've decided the narrator is not Flavia as an 11-year-old, but an older Flavia writing about when she was eleven.

6.  Some Danger Involved, by Will Thomas.  A historical murder mystery set in Victorian London and featuring a detective and his assistant.  Very well written.  There are, if I'm not mistaken, three other books in the series.  Recommended.

7.  Salvage and Demolition, by Tim Powers.  A time-travel mystery novella by the author of the brilliant Anubis Gates.  Salvage and Demolition has the same kind of intricate plot that all comes out clearly at the end, but I was a little disappointed in the characters.  Recommended if you like Tim Powers.

8.  The Pale Blue Eye, by Louis Bayard.  Another historical murder mystery, this one set at West Point and featuring Edgar Allan Poe, who was a cadet there back in the day.  Edgar Allan Poe involved in solving a murder?  Sounds good to me!  But I was not happy with how it turned out.  I won't say why, in case you decide to read it, but I felt cheated.  Not recommended unless you like feeling cheated.

9.  Elegy for Eddie, by Jacqueline Winspear.  Another Maisie Dobbs case, and a pretty good one.  These are not formulaic murder mysteries, so if that's what you want, don't read the series.  But if you like good historical fiction with characters you can feel affection for, and with a dash of psychology and a little murder and suspense thrown in, then you may enjoy the Maisie Dobbs books.  Recommended.

10.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain.  I first read this when I was about twelve years old, and I loved it.  I especially thought the last few chapters (where Tom and Huck try to help Jim "escape" from prison) were hilarious.  Of course, I had a different reaction now that I'm older,  The last few chapters were kind of annoying, but I related them to the beginning chapters and could see how Tom was so anxious and eager to make his life as exciting as the books he read, and organizing events so that they would be.  A little sad, but understandable.  He just needs to grow up a little, like Huck does during the course of the book.  So I appreciated the book just as much as I once did, but on a different level, whatever that means.  Recommended.

I'll add that the part that annoyed me the most when I was a kid was the chapters with the King and the Duke.  And those were the parts that annoyed me the most this time around, although I think I could see more humor in them now.

11.  Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, by Dai Sijie.  There were some entertaining anecdotes herein, but overall I could not see the point to this book.  Not recommended, unless you need something for your book club to pointlessly fawn over.  It's just that kind of book.

12.  The Aylesford Skull, by James P Blaylock.  Hurrah for the return of Langdon St Ives and his family and associates.  And his nemesis, too, I suppose.  My one complaint about the book was that I could see where it was going but the characters couldn't and so they made what I thought were a couple of stupid decisions.  But it lengthened out the story, so that was all right.  Recommended, especially if you like steampunk and even if you don't.


13.  Slightly Chipped:  Footnotes in Booklore, by Lawrence & Nancy Goldstone.  Entertaining account of the adventures of two book collectors.  Recommended if you're a book collector.

14.  The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson.  A Middle Grade book and a lot of fun.  Pretty standard middle grade/young adult fare about a lone teenager learning to deal with issues that bother lone teenagers, but made entertaining by the plot and setting and by Sanderson's sense of humor.  And there's suspense, provided by evil creatures.  At first, the evil creatures don't seem that scary, but as the book goes on, they acquire a sort of nightmarish quality.  Recommended.

15.  The Bookman's Tale:  A Novel of Obsession, by Charlie Lovett.  Book collecting, Shakespeare, secret manuscripts, mystery, love!  Oh, and a murder that's not all that important, except to the guy who got murdered, I guess.  Good stuff all around.  Recommended.


16.  Les Mis√©rables, by Victor Hugo.  This book is too profound for me to say much about it, especially since others have said it already and much better than I ever would.  I will say that it made me sad to read about what Hugo thought we ought to do to make the world better, that if humanity continued on the progressive course it was on, eventually there would be no poverty, no prostitution, no thievery, no injustice.  Well, Victor, I'm sorry to say that those problems are all still very much with us.  But I loved reading about how one man, fighting against seemingly hopeless odds, did all that he could to live a righteous and virtuous life.  Recommended.

Note:  I read the unabridged version, which I recommend.  Also, Gavroche was probably my favorite character.

17.  The Winter Queen, by Boris Akunin.  Another historical mystery, this one about a Russian detective in the early 1900s.  Or was it the late 1800s?  Anyway, it was a little confusing, and I don't mean the dates.  I mean, I got what was going on, but the exposition wasn't smooth and the characters were just a little annoying.  And the ending was just too typical, and so predictable that I wonder the characters in the book didn't see it immediately.  Fah.  There are sequels, but I haven't decided if I'm going to read them.  If someone told me they were much improved over the first one, I might.  Recommended, with reservations.

18.  The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak.  I liked this book a lot, except I was kind of annoyed by Death's interpolations.  Recommended.

19.  Steelheart, by Brandon Sanderson.  A YA book, and a very good one.  There will be sequels, and I'm glad.  Recommended.


20.  Mister Max:  The Book of Lost Things, by Cynthia Voigt.  Middle Grade semi-mysterious book about a boy suddenly having to fend for himself and doing it by solving situations.  Well written, although a little slow moving at times.  It rewards patience, however.  Recommended, especially for reading aloud to kids under the age of 12.

21.  Mitosis, by Brandon Sanderson.  More like a long short story divided into chapters than it is an actual book.  And speaking of actual books, it was, at the time I read it, available only as an e-book, so it's actually not an actual book.  This story fits in between Steelheart and the next novel in the series.  Recommended.

22.  Walking through Shadows: el Camino de Santiago de Compostela, by Carl Sesto.  Sesto's account of his walking the Camino when he wasn't even prepared for it, physically or emotionally.  Very interesting and, I think, useful if you're planning a similar jaunt.  He could use a proofreader, though.  Recommended.

On to reading more books!

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