What are you reading the week of December 28, 2019?
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I have to tell one (sortta) funny thing that happened this week. Just before Christmas, I ordered a couple of books from Amazon. The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. Both are by Richard Hofstadter. Christmas morning, I decided to look and see if my books had been shipped. I found a new book recommendation: Law and Disorder Rearming the 66mm Light Anti-Tank Weapon. It's apparently an instruction guide to dismantling an M72 rocket launcher and modifying it to make it operational again.
Really? Really? I think Amazon is out to get me investigated by the government. Eighteen years ago, after buying a book called Theory of Detonation, they recommended a book titled "How to Build Bombs in Your Basement."
Incredible novel mixing philosophy, adaptation of Plantagenet kings' bios, characterization, themes, betrayal, saga, and redemption. How do people who write these things write these things?!
Moving along in my Secret Santa gift Two Years in the Forbidden City, a highly interesting memoir of Dowager Empress Cixi's court in early 20th C.
Want to pick up something light and quick from my shelves but can't decide.
Happy New Year!
By Ellen Raskin
A group of residents from the same apartment building are invited to the home of the wealthy Samuel W. Westing to hear his will being read. To receive money from the will, they will have to partner up and play a game. But the game is very tricky and dangerous and they will have to rely on their partners to win! The core reading group for this Newberry Medal winner is teen and older children but adults will enjoy it too.
Last book of the year!
Lady Osbaldestone And The Missing Christmas Carols (Lady Osbaldestone's Christmas Chronicles, book 2) by Stephanie Laurens
(1800's/village in England/historical fiction)
I don't have much time for reading on weekends, but when I obtain some, I'm going to read My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier and The First Signs by Genevieve von Petzinger.
This week I’m reading short stories in The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir, In the Dream House. Both are rather harrowing.
Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and peaceful New Year!
The Fact of a Body – Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Digital audiobook read by the author.
From the book jacket: Before Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich begins a summer internship in Louisiana, working to help defend men accused of murder, she thinks her position is clear. The child of two lawyers, Alexandria is staunchly anti-death penalty. But the moment convicted murderer Ricky Langley’s face flashes on the screen as she reviews an old tape – the moment she hears him speak of his crimes – she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by her reaction, after she graduates from law school she begins digging deeper into the case. Despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.
Wow. I was completely mesmerized by this memoir / true crime work. Marzano-Lesnevich puts me right into the narrative and I feel invested in both her story and that of convicted murderer, and pedophile, Ricky Langley. I totally understand her compulsion to research Langley’s case, and marvel at the strength of character shown by the author and by Langley. Yes, by Langley.
Here is a man who knew he had a problem and begged – repeatedly – for help. And here is evidence that was overlooked or flatly ignored. Questions that remained unanswered. And a jury’s decision that was perplexing. And here is an author who faced her own history, peeled back the layers of secrecy and denial to confront her own past.
Marzano-Lesnevich narrated the audiobook herself. I cannot imagine anyone else doing a better job.
Now I'm trying to finish Oogy: The Dog Only a Family Could Love by Larry Levin before midnight.
Happy New Year everyone!
May the worst thing that happens in the new year be the best thing that happened in the old.
Happy New Year !!
The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St Clair
(unusual stories of 75 fascinating shades, dyes and hues)
On Wings of Devotion by Roseanna M. White
New and #2 installment in "The Codebreakers" trilogy. The story focuses on Phillip and Arabelle, who appeared in The Number of Love, the 1st novel in the trilogy. In the author's note, Ms. White writes that her forthcoming novel A Portrait of Loyalty will conclude the trilogy.
The World of Sanditon by Sara Sheridan
A look behind the scenes of the adaptation of Jane Austen's unfinished work Sanditon. I read this book (and the original novel several years ago) ahead of the show's US broadcast next month.
The premise--that American popular society places restrictive boundaries on its expectations for how women should behave and the ways in which they are and aren't "allowed" to achieve success--is hardly a new one. Nevertheless, while I found some of Petersen's examples and explanations problematic, these are issues that, in my opinion, need to be addressed and brought to our society's (especially male society members such as myself) attention endlessly and in many different ways.
I thought that the best two essays were the first two: "Too Strong - Serena Williams" and "Too Fat - Melissa McCarthy." The "Too Strong" chapter explores the ways in which Serena Williams' physical strength and muscular body--and her unabashed pride in both--confounded the culture's expectations and caused pushback against her successes. Also particularly good was, "Too Pregnant - Kim Kardashian" which examines the ways in which women are and aren't allowed to be pregnant and famous in public.
I did not find all of the chapters to be as strong or as coherent, however. For example, in "Too Old - Madonna," Peterson seems as critical of Madonna for trying to maintain a youthful-looking body and overall appearance as she is of the culture for forcing her into such choices in order to retain relevance in the pop music world. In "Too Queer - Caitlyn Jenner," Peterson criticizes Jenner's attempts to be transnormative, to attain as closely as possible the appearance of a "normal" woman and follows Jenner's progressions and growth via the episodes of her reality television show. So, not until the very end, is Jenner unruly enough to gain Petersen's approval.
A Sudden Light – Garth Stein
Book on CD performed by Seth Numrich.
I read and loved The Art of Racing in the Rain. This is a VERY different book.
Fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell wants nothing so much as for his parents to be reunited. His parents’ marriage is stressed by his father’s business failing; they’ve lost their home and his mother has gone to England to see her relatives. Meanwhile, Trevor accompanies his father to the home where Dad grew up – the extraordinary Pacific Northwest mansion, Riddell House – to help Grandpa Sam who is ill. What Trevor finds in the house, though cannot be readily explained by his grandfather’s apparent dementia.
This is a ghost story, an historical novel, a coming-of-age story, and a tale of dysfunctional families and long-held secrets that MUST COME OUT. I found it very atmospheric and liked the way Stein handled the paranormal elements.
I loved Trevor who is obviously curious, but definitely still clinging to a hope that somehow, he can fix what is wrong with his parents’ relationship. He’s a keen observer and while the adults are keeping secrets (and even sometimes purposefully misdirecting him), he continues his explorations of the many nooks, crannies, secret compartments, and locked cabinets in the mansion that has seen better days. What he discovers helps him piece together not only the answers to what happened in the past, but a clear understanding of what is really going on in the present.
There were some elements that I found rather unbelievable, but for the most part I was ready to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride.
Seth Numrich did a fine job narrating the audiobook. He set a good pace and has the skill as a voice artist to give the many characters sufficiently unique voices. His interpretation of Trevor’s Aunt Serena is downright chilling.
Final Truth by Mariah Stewart
(book 4, Truth series/true-crime writer Regan Landry)
In a further effort to retire some volumes from my TBR library, I also finished What Angels Fear: A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery, Book 1 by C.S. Harris. Utterly formulaic Regency murder mystery spoiled a bit by lack of care to period accuracy and suffering from overlooked editing. Spare yourself reading it. Instead, read a near-identical example of the genre by Bruce Alexander, Blind Justice. It has all the same elements of the Regency murder mystery without the careless mistakes that Harris makes. Much, much better.
For a change of pace, just stared a humorous satire on performance artists called The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson. Gonna start 2020 with a laugh.
The battle descriptions are very well done, although they are all "top-down" descriptions, seen through the eyes of commanders rather than foot soldiers. And the novel is an affair of hero worship, as the historic figures selected by Shaara (or perhaps by his father - I haven't read The Killer Angels) are all admirable men (or, again, at least as presented by Shaara). The author's recreation of the four men's thoughts, frustrations, triumphs and personal lives are believable only within that framework. I don't have any idea how realistic they are. Overall, the book was enjoyable though flawed for me by its glorification of war and an odd way Shaara has here of jamming sentence fragments and clauses together to try to create a "train of thought" feeling.
* “Fragments – 1976-1982” from Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs
* Excerpt from West With the Night by Beryl Markham from The Norton Book of Women's Lives edited by Phyllis Rose
* “The North African Invasion” from The Secret History of the War, Volume 2 by Waverley Root – Finished!
* “The Retroactive Existence of Mr. Juggins” from Laugh with Leacock by Stephen Leacock
* “Chastity/Castidad” from It's All In the Frijoles: 100 Famous Latinos Share Real-Life Stories, Time-Tested Dichos, Favorite Folktales, and Inspiring Words of Wisdom by Yolanda Nava
* “Football: Nothing but the Best” from the December 2, 1967, issue of The New Yorker Magazine
As noted above, I thereby finished The Secret History of the War, Volume 2 by Waverley Root. Root was a corespondent in France in the years leading up to the German invasion in 1940. The book is an extremely detailed account of events during the war years, published, in fact before the war in the Pacific was concluded. Rather than writing about the military aspects of the war, Roots wrote about the diplomatic, propaganda and economic machinations of the various powers, both public and, as the book title suggests, secret. Although Root writes about events and power relationships all over the globe, his two main theses are that a) France was betrayed by traitors highly placed within their government and military who were themselves fascists and wanted to see the Republic eliminated and that b) the U.S. State Department made one wrong-headed move after another, particularly when it came to their decision to legitimize the collaborators within the Vichy government and freeze out De Gaulle and his Free French movement as much as possible, despite the fact that Vichy was willingly cooperating with the Axis and De Gaulle was actually fighting alongside the U.S. and England. The book's final 140-page chapter details at great length the ways in which this dynamic played itself out in France's vast colonial territories before, during and after the Allied invasion of North Africa.
I'm going to give this same "between book" stack another run-through before beginning my first novel of 2020, The Rescue, A Romance of the Shallows by Joseph Conrad.
If you liked Gods and Generals you might enjoy E L Doctorow's The March. This is a multi-pov novel about Sherman's epic sweep through Atlanta to the Atlantic. Soldiers, slaves, women, and camp followers all speak in this vivid and deeply observed novel about the ravages in general and triumphs in particular experienced during the American Civil War.
Doctorow was never a favored author by me -- until I gave him a second chance and read this book.