Thursday, June 30, 2011

June Round-Up: It's Easy Like Sunday Morning


I read in June, it's just that most of it was light and easy. Oh well, I refuse to be embarrassed. So here we go...

Faithful Place
This is the third in the series by Tana French---and it might be my favorite. I don't know if you remember, but this series of police novels is set in Dublin. The main characters of the books are police officers in the murder squad. Each novel takes a secondary character from a previous book and pushes him or her into the pole position ( that I'm thinking about it, it's what Louise Erdrich does, too.) In this novel, undercover detective Frank Mackey returns to his old neighborhood, a place he has not been back to since he was 19. On that night, Frank was planning to run away with his girlfriend. She never appeared at their meeting place, and he, like everyone else, assumes that she ran off to London on her own. Now, her body has been found and he must solve her murder almost 20 years after she went missing. This is just a great stories: well-written with a rip-roaring plot, but still with plenty of emotional heft.

Succubus Heat
This book was made all the sweeter by the brilliance of the Kindle borrow. I loved it, of course. I might be ready to borrow the next one soon! Not to overthink the whole thing, but how did you feel about her and Seth finally doing the deed? As soon as her "powers" were lifted, I knew exactly what was going to happen. I guess all that sexual tension must have it's day, but I don't know. The truth is, I never found Seth that interesting as a character. In real life, I like a good guy. In books, I like them a little more edgy. Although, I guess he's been corrupted by the cheating, so we'll see how that goes. More on the good guy/bad boy continuum below.

Lord of the Flies
We read this in high school (I even pulled the cover image that I remember), although I can't remember exactly when. Want to help me out there, memory girl?

I'm teaching the book over the summer in a course called "Freshman Prep." In the course, they have the opportunity to read the summer book in a classroom setting rather than being completely on their own. I'm quite enjoying teaching the book. I've never taught it before, so it's different and interesting. It's very rich with it's syntax, imagery, and symbolism. There is *so* much to talk about. But, holy shit, this book is FAR more terrifying and scary as an adult. Is the beast in all of us? I don't know, but this book sure makes a convincing case for the savagery of human nature.

Sizzling Sixteen and Smokin' Seventeen
At least a million years ago, I started reading a screwball comedy/mystery series about a New Jersey bounty hunter named Stephanie Plum. Stephanie is a total screw-up as a bounty hunter. She's not too good at her job, but it pays the bills. The books are full of zany and hilarious supporting characters: the crazy grandmother, the slimy boss, the ex-prostitute sidekick.

Stephanie also has romantic entanglements with 2 very different men. One is Joe Morelli, a guy she's known since high school. He's a good guy and Stephanie loves him, but the idea of commitment to Joe and all that it would entail (big family wedding, lots of babies, etc) is just too much for Stephanie. She values her independence and fears that something will be missing if she settles down with Joe. The other man in her life is Ranger, ex-special forces and her bounty hunter mentor. Ranger is a real mystery. He loves her, but in his own way, and he's perhaps a little too comfortable walking on the dark side. (I'm a Ranger fan. Morelli just seems sort of boring. Kind of like Seth from the Succubus series.)

The stories are peppered with fairly flimsy plots, but they are so full of humor and laughs that I always looked forward to the next one. Through the first 10 or so books, Evanovich did a pretty good job at advancing Stephanie through life's challenges: she was learning to be a better bounty hunter, figuring out how to juggle the demands of her conservative Jersey family, and believably torn between Morelli and Ranger. But then the books just started to drag on and seem the same (sort of what's happening with Sookie)...all the plots were the same, there was no movement towards one man or another, the jokes were stale. I was starting to get bored.

After 15, I thought I'd just give up. 16 came out last summer, and I thought of a brilliant plan: I'd wait a year until 17 came out, and then go back to reading one a year...but at the paperback rather than the hardcover price! This week, while Darius and Kazi were watching Cars 2 in the movie theater, I downloaded 16 and started reading. (Yes, this is how I pass time in bad kid movies. I read on my phone.) Turned out a few years off was just what I needed: Stephanie felt fresh again and I enjoyed the book. Even though I logically realize that the problems with it are still there, it had been long enough to make them fun again. I went ahead and downloaded 17 when I was done with 16. They were the perfect summer reads. A very satisfying end to a month's worth of light, frothy reading.


What? No!

The Oxford comma is dead.

This is nonsense. I love the Oxford comma. I know we've had this conversation before, although I don't know remember you fall on this. Want to weigh in, give me your opinion, and let me know what you think? (Heh. Did you see what I did there?)


Monday, June 27, 2011

Jenny's Book 7: The Plague of Doves

Dear Kelly,

When people ask me who my "favorite author" is, I almost always answer by naming Louise Erdrich.

Back in college, I received her novel Tracks as a gift from Fay, Jim, and Corey who were traveling in the upper Midwest. I loved the book, and I went back and read her previous novels, and just fell in love with the world of her stories. Often secondary or tertiary characters in one novel will become main characters of other novels, sometimes she goes back in time to visit their ancestors. Most of the novels are set in the same fictional universe: a town, a reservation, a set of families. Although you don't need to read all of her books to understand any one, I did enjoy the deeper knowledge and understanding that came with having read them all. Also, she just writes beautifully. I really love the whole package.

She was one of the few author's in my life who was an automatic buy--a new novel of hers came out and I bought it. No questions asked. Probably her favorite of my books was The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse. But then, for some reason---(Just kidding. I totally know why: because somebody was born and I stopped reading)---I've missed her last few novels. There's one I don't even *own*, The Master Butcher's Singing Club, which shocked the hell out of me until I realized it was published in 2003. That's the beginning of the Dark Years, when I stopped reading books, watching movies, etc.

At some point, I picked up The Plague of Doves, but I never got around to reading it. I'm looking forward to catching up with my favorite author. Along with this book, I also found a copy of her newest, Shadow Tag, at another going-out-of-business Borders books.


PS. You know I keep *nothing*, and yet here's Tracks, complete with inscription from Fay. How about that?!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Kelly's Book 7: The Master and Margarita

Dear Jenny,

As you can see from this photo, this is yet another book I have decided to "Go Kindle" on (that's my phone -- my most commonly used Kindle reading device -- on top of the paper book).

What started out as my initial feeling of "I'm never going to get through this book if I have to read it on paper..." ended up opening a surprising new door for me: considering translations.

Translators: It makes a difference!
So far this year, I have read two other translated books (Love in the Time of Cholera and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle). In Cholera, I was so blown away by the prose that I really thought about the job that that translator had to do to keep the language so beautiful. For The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, I honestly didn't really think much about the translator one way or the other. (Which, I guess means that it was fine, right?)

But when I went to buy The Master and Margarita as a Kindle book, I noticed that the Kindle version had a different translator from my paper version. Huh. So I started to investigate which, if any, is considered the "best" translation. Turns out, most folks think the version that is sold via Kindle (translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky) is the best. Sold!

I had already read one chapter of the book, so my initial plan was to pick up on Kindle where I had left off on paper. But then I thought... well, here's an interesting opportunity. I could re-read that initial chapter and see if I (no scholar on this topic) could tell a difference between the translations. And you know what? I could! After just a few pages of the Kindle version, I really appreciated this new translation.

Helpful words are helpful

One small, but appreciated difference I noticed right away: individual word choice. In the paper version, a character approaches a beverage stand and says, "Give us some Narzan." Using context clues, I figure it's a beverage and I move on. In the Kindle version, the character says, "Give us seltzer." A-ha!

I've probably just outed myself as some sort of troglodyte for not knowing what Narzan is, but there you have it. I like the swap out.

But flow... now that's the kicker
Here is a comparison of two paragraphs that really blew me away (no spoilers -- this is in the first few pages). The differences are subtle, but I have to say that reading one of them is just... far smoother for me. Wonder what you think:
"And now came the second strange thing, which involved only Berlioz. He suddenly stopped hiccuping, his heart thumped and dropped somewhere for a second, then returned, but with a blunt needle stuck in it. Besides, Berlioz was gripped with fear, unreasonable but so strong that he had the impulse to rush out of the park without a backward glance." [4]
"Here the second oddity occurred, touching Berlioz alone. He suddenly stopped hiccuping, his heart gave a thump and dropped away somewhere for an instant, then came back, but with a blunt needle lodged in it. Besides that, Berlioz was gripped with fear, groundless, yet so strong that he wanted to flee the Ponds at once without looking back" [6]
For me, that second paragraph just flows better. What do you think?

Footnotes: a love/hate relationship
The Kindle version also includes linked footnotes. I find it nearly irresistible to click on them, so I do. This interrupts my reading, which I hate, but so far they have actually been super interesting, which I love! I'm torn.

Go, Kindle. I love you for being so smart.
There has been an improvement sometime in the last year to the Kindle app -- I had previously read a book that counted my "footnote click" as the "last page I had read" (because the footnotes are at the back of the book.)

So if I synced on another device (I also read on my iPad and, of course, my Kindle), it would take me to... the footnote. Grrrr. But it now seems to realize that, if I'm in the footnote area, that doesn't mean I've actually read that far and it syncs me to where I've read. YES!

Kindle, who loves ya, baby? I do.

Wow! This is a long post and I'm only about 30 pages in. As for content, I am... intrigued. No other real judgment at this point.


PS - This book is technically for July, but I thought I'd get a jump on it because it's long and seems dense. I read the lastest Sookie and... I liked it. Probably because everyone else said how bad it was. Low expectations can frequently help in these situations!

Completed: The Unlikely Spy


I finally had a few hours this morning to finish off The Unlikely Spy. I literally just put it down so take these thoughts as very, very fresh!

The novel is set most in the early months of 1944 at the British and American forces were planning to invade France. In this spy novel, the action is all about keeping the Germans from discovering the secret behind Operation Mulberry (apparently, this was a real thing and not just made up for the book), which was the codename for a massive Allied construction project. The Allies were building huge, artificial ports that would allow their forces to land in France and every day the ports would be used to bring ashore thousands of pounds of supplies needed to fuel the invasion.

The hero of the novel Arthur Vicary, a former history professor who is recruited to work for MI-5. He is running spies and counterespionage for the British. It seems there is a threat to the security of Operation Mulberry and Vicary and his team desperately try to stop the German spies from discovering the invasion plans.

For some reason, this book didn't grab me and have me itching to read it. I think I was just distracted with other things. For example, I watched the entire first season of The Good Wife on DVD in the time I was reading this book. It was definitely slow for the first 250 pages. This is where all of the various characters are introduced and put into play. After that, the book really picked up. I don't know. I think everything just took too long. When I think about the actual plot of the novel, it just doesn't seem to require this many pages. The end of the novel is the German spies attempting to escape London and make it back to Germany. Their very long-and-drawn-out escape took over 150 pages. It actually went by really fast, it was interesting and engaging, and I like reading about all the machinations of the various spies, handlers, etc.

But...I guess when I think about it, my major problem seems to be that I knew what was going to happen all along. For a spy novel to *work*, it really does have to be suspenseful. You have to be constantly wondering "what's going to happen?" But because the whole plot of this book is about the run-up to D-Day, and whether or not the Germans will figure out the invasion plans, all of that mystery was already solved. I know damn-well that we surprised the Germans on D-Day and successfully landed at Normandy. I didn't feel any urgency while reading the book.

Finally, it's just creepy to read a book with Hitler, Himmler, and the rest of the Nazi regime as a characters. I don't know why, but that sort of bugged me.

Anyways, I'm glad I finished it, and certainly if someone who was already a fan of the genre requested a recommendation, I could say good things about The Unlikely Spy. I think my issues with it are so personal, and even then they didn't ruin the book for me.

Whew! I feel like I just got in under the wire with this one!

PS. We're halfway done! I just want to say at this point how happy I am that we are doing this. It's very satisfying to move these books off the TBR pile. Of course, the TBR pile keeps growing and growing...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Completed: The Firemaster's Mistress

Dear Jenny,

Well, that was quick! I started reading this book six days ago and burned straight through it! (It was even a paper book, so you know I was into it...) The plot, both personal and historical, was great and I loved the characters. It was borderline "romance," but didn't get super graphic (which, as you know, I prefer) -- it was really more about relationships and treason and adventure and plot twists and, of course, gunpowder (hence the "firemaster" part of the title).

As I mentioned at the outset, I've never been one for the "historical fiction" genre but I am now thinking this genre might be perfect for me. I'm terrible with history, but I like a good story. For many folks, history is a good enough story on its own, but I think I need to sink my teeth into some relate-able (and probably fictional) characters to get hooked.

There's a brief "history behind the story" portion in the back of the book which supported the idea that I may have learned a little nugget while reading this book. (Yay!) I particularly enjoyed the author's book recommendations, as she mentions a book she read as a child and says, "I understood for the first time that you could learn real history from riveting, colourful and gently erotic fiction." I'm not sure I'd even call this book "gently erotic" -- more like "barely erotic," (which, again, is okay by me) but I think that the author did a good job of writing a book that's riveting and colorful and also teaches some real history.

The book centered on Guy Fawkes' unsuccessful plan to blow up Parliament in 1605, which is known as the "Gunpowder Plot" (wikipedia link there, so read with discretion). Some of the historical plot twists were difficult for me to follow, but Dickason did a great job of keeping me in the loop, so I never got completely lost. I'm very proud of myself for predicting a personal plot twist for the fictional characters involved -- I almost never "see it coming," but I did this time and was so pleased when I was right! Heh.

One part of the book that I struggled with was the fact that these people were fighting over the right to practice Catholicism. It's hard for me to relate to a situation where it would be treasonous to have a certain religious belief. I know it happens -- and still happens today! -- but it's still hard for me to imagine. Also, I don't think I'd hold up long if someone told me to deny my faith in order to live. Yeeeah... I wouldn't make a very good martyr.

Meanwhile, since I've finished this book so quickly, that means I've got time to read the latest Sookie before it's time to fire up July's book. The general consensus is that it stinks, but I'm still excited!


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Kaesea also enjoys my latest book...

At first, I thought maybe he wanted to read it too:

But it turns out he had other plans:

Still. A good book for both of us!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Kelly's Book 6: The Firemaster's Mistress

Dear Jenny,

This book is classified as "Historical Fiction" and I think this may be my very first book ever in that genre. At least, there have been very, very few.

I picked it up off of the "free book" pile at work -- folks recycle books there (you'd love it), and someone recommended it. I liked the image on the front and the story seemed interesting, so I grabbed it. My expectations were low.

I got distracted reading Bloodroot last week (Loved. It. Thanks so much for sending it to me!), so I'm a bit behind this month and was worried about finishing a 500 page paper book (there's no Kindle version of it! Wha--?!) in less than 3 weeks, but I started it yesterday and am already 120 pages in. Two things: 1. It's a quick read. 2. It's engrossing.

I'm loving it so far, but I do worry about filling my mind with historical mis-information. As you know, my knowledge of history is weak. I read a book like this and am likely to get my head all filled with this "history" that's not quite right. However, there is a reading guide at the end to talk about the real history surrounding the events in the book and the author started the book with list of the real historical figures vs. the fictional characters, so... maybe it's a good way for me to get some history?

The only niggling problem I have so far with the book itself is that the sometimes frustrating plot device of "misunderstanding" may be heavily employed. "If only he had known ____." "If only she had realized ____." That can really fire me up as I yell, "Just TALK to each other, people!" It hasn't been too bad so far, but if there's much more of it, it might sink this ship.

Meanwhile, I like the characters and I'm totally engrossed.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Jenny's Book 6: The Unlikely Spy


I picked up this book at least 3 or 4 years ago. It was actually my cousin Julie who recommended The Unlikely Spy. This must have been right around when we first moved to Chicago, and we were talking about books we'd read. Keep in mind that I just really hadn't been doing that much reading at that point. I told her how much I appreciated fast-paced and fun reads. I recommended And Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. And I vividly remember what she said about The Unlikely Spy: "Paul and I both read it. And he said 'If every book was like that, I'd do a lot more reading." This is pretty strong praise, no?

This is spy thriller set during WW2. I like a spy novel. I like WW2. It seemed perfect for me! Of course I went out and bought it. I'm pretty sure I actually read the first 40 or 50 pages, but never got past that. The whole book is crazy long---724 pages! I could tell that it was going to be one of those books where a whole set of characters is introduced, they're in wildly disparate circumstances and places, and only over the many hundreds of pages will their stories come together. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, I'm just saying that at the time, it seemed too overwhelming.

One last funny note about this book. When my Dad was in town last summer, I gave it to him, repeating Julie's recommendation. I told him not to worry about returning it to me. But a few months ago, he mailed it back and told me I really should read it. Since it came back into my life just when we were making our TBR lists, it seemed the right time to finally tackle it.


PS I often give my Dad books for Christmas. Inspired by our conversation about great spy novels, I inadvertently gave my Dad a very funny Christmas gift last year. I picked another book by this author, Daniel Silva, along with the newest Mitch Rapp book by Vince Flynn. I wasn't really paying too much attention to the titles until I got my confirmation email from Amazon. I ended up calling it Assassination Christmas. I think you'll see why:

PPS. Sookie's in the mail. I forgot how annoyed I get when I go to the UPS shipping place across the street because they totally rip you off. So it's coming media mail rather than priority mail. Sorry!

PPPS. I forgot to tell you about another book I read in May: Tina Fey's Bossypants. This book was hilarious, fun to read, short, and sweet. I highly recommend it. Well, except for the creepy manhands cover. And thanks to 3M, that was easy enough to take care of.