I like trees 'cause they give us books

To continue:

19.  Pacific Beat, by T Jefferson Parker - 3 stars.  Parts of this book were kind of annoying (I'm thinking especially of Ann's diary, or maybe Ann was meant to be an annoying character and so I would naturally find her diary to be the same), parts of it were predictable; but overall it was an effective, well-written crime story with mostly realistic characters and evocative descriptions of Newport Beach and environs.

20.  The Bay Psalm Book Murder, by Will Harriss - 2 stars.  Except for learning a bit about the Bay Psalm Book and bibliography, I feel like I wasted my time.  Oh, and all the characters sounded like the same person.

21.  The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte, by Laura Joh Rowland - 1 star.  The Brontë family gets involved in a plot to destroy the English empire.  So far so good.  However, Charlotte is whiny and stupid; Emily is whiny and self-centered; and Anne is a cipher.  Maybe they were like that in real life -- I don't think so, but I don't know.  At any rate, it doesn't make for very enjoyable reading.  The outrageous plot is all right, as outrageous plots against the English empire go, but Charlotte's constant editorializing and second-guessing, as well as her precipitative propensity for passionate attachment to any man who looks at her twice and her consequent inability to think rationally, are downright annoying.

22.  A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare:  1599, by James Shapiro - 4 stars.  Really interesting account of the year when Shakespeare's company moved from the Theatre and built the Globe on the south bank of the Thames.  I wish Shapiro would do other years.

23.  Huber Hill and the Dead Man's Treasure, by B K Bostick - 3 stars.  Good adventure/mystery story for middle readers, just the kind of thing I loved to read when I was the age of the characters in the book.  Sometimes the vocabulary borders a bit on the erudite -- like calling a spade a digging implement -- but there's nothing wrong with making the reader stretch a bit.  And now there's a sequel!

24. Dust and Shadow:  An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr John H Watson, by Lyndsay Faye - 4 stars.  Of all the Sherlockian pastiches I've read, this one captures the voice of Watson better than any other.  I qualify that statement by saying that I haven't read a terribly great lot of pastiches, but I have read a few, plus all four novels and 56 stories that Conan Doyle wrote.  Plus, the mystery of Jack the Ripper adds to the intrigue.

25.  The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett - 3 stars.  In this novella, Queen Elizabeth II starts checking books out from a bookmobile -- monarchical upheaval ensues.

26.  Paragon Walk, by Anne Perry - 3 stars.  A good solid mystery in Victorian England -- kind of thing Anne Perry excels at -- also reveals the classbound society and its attitudes.

27.  Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms:  Magic, Mystery, & a Very Strange Adventure, by Lissa Evans - 4 stars.  A fun and touching book for middle readers.  There's a sequel that's on my list of books to read this year.

28.  The Bad Quarto, by Jill Paton Walsh - 3 stars.  Ultimately unsatisfying conclusion to the mystery, but all the incidental stuff about Cambridge academic life and student productions of Shakespeare and narrow boats on the canals(!) was interesting.  Recommended if you like cozy mysteries.

29.  Murder at the Library of Congress, by Margaret Truman - 2 stars.  Formulaic mystery, mildly entertaining but intellectually unsatisfying.

30.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson - 2 stars.  Eh.  I don't see what the big deal is.  Everyone I know (who read the book) said, "Oh!  Lisbeth Salander is such an amazing character!  What she went through and how she deals with it!"  But I didn't see that in the book at all.  And now I find out that you have to read the second book in the trilogy before you start seeing how amazing she really is.  I don't know if I want to.  Frankly, these people all seem rather mundane.  PS  I also don't get why the book is called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I think the tattoo is mentioned once, and is only one of several the Girl has.  The original title in Swedish translates as Men Who Hate Women, which is more apt but less appealing, I guess.

31.  All About Emily, by Connie Willis - 3 stars.  A cute little Christmas novella, chock full of movie references that I appreciated. The story is a little scanty, but perfect for reading in one evening during the holiday season.

32.  All Seated on the Ground, by Connie Willis - 3 stars.  Another Christmas novella written with lots of humor (as is frequently the way with Connie Willis).

33.  The Hobbit, by J R R Tolkien - 4 stars.  This is the third or fourth time I've read The Hobbit; the last time was more than 20 years ago.  I enjoyed it.  It was fun to go back and read it again, even if it didn't have the same emotional impact it did when I read it as a child.

34.  Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation, by Noel Riley Fitch - 3 stars.  Interesting topic with much detail on the relationship between Sylvia Beach and James Joyce.  Somewhat drily written, it took me way too long to read.  As I mentioned previously, I want to read David McCullough's book on the subject now.

35.  Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal, by J K Rowling - 4 stars.  I read this book to help me practice and improve my Spanish (I got the idea from my nephew who said he improved his Russian that way).  I learned how to say "dungeon" and "wand" and lots of other wizarding words.  I enjoyed the experience and hope to eventually read the rest of the series in Spanish.

Some mildly interesting statistics about the books I read here follow.

Non-fiction books:  5
Steampunk books:  7
Murder mysteries:  12
Children's/YA books:  5
Foreign language books:  1
Novellas:  5

I noticed I read a good number of novellas this year.  Maybe that's how I was able to exceed my expectations.  Perhaps I should stick with 25 books as a goal, especially since I plan to read something as long as Les Misérables.

On to another year!


You can read it for yourself

Once again, my goal was to read 25 books during the past year, which was 2012, for those of you who don't keep track of that kind of thing.  And again I exceeded my goal:  I read either 34 or 35 books.  Every time I count, it comes out different.  So we'll see when I actually list them here.  Since there are so many, I'll do half now and the rest later.  Those with three or more stars are recommended.

1 and 2.  The Kingdom beyond the Waves (5 stars) and The Rise of the Iron Moon (4 stars), both by Stephen Hunt.  I put these two together because they are independent but related stories from the same "universe".  I've already mentioned how much I enjoy Hunt's non-stop-action plots, his pseudosteampunk world, and his engaging characters.  He also writes in a style that rewards the reader.  I have two more books to read in the series, and then it's done, which makes me a little sad.

3.  Death Comes to Pemberley, by P D James - 2 stars.  I've never read any books by James before, but I've seen some reviews that said this book is very like her other mysteries, just with Austen characters added.  Or I should say, characters with Austen names, because they didn't act much like the characters I know from Pride and Prejudice.  In fact, Elizabeth was scarcely in the story at all, more's the pity.  The mystery itself was pretty easy to figure out (the Who part, if not the Why) because of the clues dropped in our way, there was no investigation to speak of, and the nick-of-time resolution to the case and the long explanations at the end were kind of a let-down.  On the other hand, I think James got the language right for the kind of story she was writing.  And finally, even though I kept wanting to really like the book but never got to that point, I did finish it.  I don't know if I'll ever read another book by James, however.

4.  The Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson - 4 stars.   Set in the Mistborn world, but several hundred years after the time of Vin and Elend, this book was a lot of fun to read as it traces the adventures of an ex-frontier lawman who returns to the big city and finds himself involved in a kidnapping/theft plot of major proportions.  It was supposed to be a stand-alone novel, but doesn't end like one.  There will be further adventures (thank goodness), but probably not for a while.

5,  Legion, by Brandon Sanderson - 3 stars.  The idea of a man who is such a genius that he must hallucinate various personas (or aspects, as he calls them) to process everything in his brain makes a brilliant story.  I give this story three stars only because I felt the treatment was sometimes too shallow for the subject matter.  This is a novella, but I would have liked to see things (plot, character, etc) more developed in a longer format.  Still, I look forward to the further adventures of Stephen Leeds.

 6.  The Sherlockian, by Graham Moore - 2 stars.  Even though I know intelligent people do stupid things, especially when they get desperate, it's still distressing to see them acting stupidly.  And it makes me wonder if the author wants us to dislike his main characters.  Not a bad mystery, though.  Both stories in the book are intriguing, although I preferred the one with Conan Doyle over the modern one.  There was also some really good descriptive writing, which I enjoyed.  Although I gave it two stars, I recommend it to Sherlock Holmes fans.

7.  Murder in Grub Street, by Bruce Alexander - 4 stars.  Another excellent entry in this series about an 18th-century crime-solving magistrate.

8.  Skybreaker, by Kenneth Oppel - 4 stars.  Skybreaker, classified as a YA book, is the steampunk-like story of a young airman who deals with pirates, a mysterious island with strange creatures, and an adventurous young woman.  Constant action and great characterization make it well worth reading.

9.  In Defense of Elitism, by William A Henry III - 4 stars.  Published 18 years ago, this book is still relevant.  Henry can be somewhat infuriating with his pronouncements, but his basic premise makes sense:   not everyone is equal; there are some who are more talented in certain areas, more ambitious, more intelligent. But the current socio-political agendas are meant to bring us all to the same level.  Henry argues for a strictly merit-based elitism that would give people equal opportunity to do their best (however good that may be), rather than empty promises of equal outcome.

10.  The Ebb-Tide, by James P Blaylock - 4 stars.  I'm a fan of steampunk literature, dark and light.  This is a somewhat lighter one, although there are harrowing moments.  It's also a novella, which I knew going in but which still makes me a little sad because I wanted it to keep going.  But what I really appreciate is how skilled the author is at characterization.  The characters seem real and I wish I could hang out with them.  On to the next adventure!

11.  The Affair of the Chalk Cliffs, by James P Blaylock - 4 stars.  Another fine Langdon St Ives adventure.  It's fun reuniting with Jack and the gang.  There's not quite as much involvement with St Ives, as he's out of commission part of the time, but we get to know Alice St Ives a little better, which is nice.  And there are more adventures to come:  The Aylesford Skull comes out this month, and so it's on my list of books to read for this year.

12.  Homunculus, by James P Blaylock - 3 stars.  Here is the first Langdon St Ives adventure.  The very funny, quirky, intricate, and sometimes creepy goings-on make for rewarding reading in this seminal steampunk novel.  It's even worth reading just to enjoy Blaylock's writing style, even if you're not a steampunk fan.

13.  Zeuglodon, by James P Blaylock - 4 stars.  You may have figured out by now that Blaylock is one of my new favorite authors.  In this YA novel, Kathleen Perkins, a young cryptozoologist, and her two cousins, Percy and Brendan, become enmeshed in a mysterious adventure of Vernean proportions involving the Guild of St George, a mermaid, and two very bad villains.  It's a beautifully, sometimes poignantly, written story with plenty of humor and action.  Once again, I hope there will be more.

14.  Murder on the Eiffel Tower, by Claude Izner - 2 stars, or maybe 3.  I can't decide.  This is the first of a whole series of mysteries featuring a 19th-century Parisian bookseller/amateur sleuth.  See, I thought, "Ooh...19th century, Paris, bookseller, mystery!" and decided that four out of four of my favorite things would make a pretty good book, so I was looking forward to immersing myself in the series.  But I found I didn't like Victor Legris (the bookseller) very much.  I'll give the second book a go, however, just to see if he doesn't improve.

15.  The Silverado Squatters, by Robert Louis Stevenson - 3 stars.  Robert Louis Stevenson is one of the most compassionate and humorous writers it's been my pleasure to read.

16.  Shakespeare and Company, by Sylvia Beach - 3 stars.  This memoir, a very selective memoir at that, by the woman who opened and ran the famous original Shakespeare and Co bookstore in Paris for nearly 30 years, was fascinating to read.  It got me interested (and sometimes re-interested) in the authors of the day.  There's not a lot of depth, though, like she didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings, so I decided to go looking for another book on the topic.  I found one, which I'll mention below, but I also want to eventually read David McCullough's book on the subject.

17.  The Lady Vanishes, by Ethel Lina White - 3 stars.  A somewhat pleasant, kind of fluffy little mystery.  The Hitchcock movie is better.  Contrary to what many people believe, there are times when the movie is better than the book.  This is about the eighth case where I've found that to be true.

18.  The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers - 4 stars.  What took me so long to read this steampunk classic?  I don't know!  Highly recommended if you like books with plenty of action, suspense, creepiness, and humor, plus the added goodness of time travel and English Romantic poets.