Saturday, December 27, 2014

2014 in Review

I take pleasure in looking over what I have read at the end of the year and seeing what kind of reading year it has been. I have to say it has been a good one, once again. I continued to read mostly historical fiction, thrillers/mysteries, contemporary fiction, some young adult, some non-fiction, and much to my own chagrin, Nora Roberts.

Some of the best books of the year have been from favorite authors - Sue Monk Kidd's The Invention of Wings about the first women abolitionists, Susan Vreeland's Luncheon of the Boating Party about Renoir's painting, which I got to see weeks after finishing the book, and Elizabeth Gilbert's Signature of all Things about early botanists, especially a woman botonist. Jim Fergus had a great book about white women sent off to marry Cherokee men in One Thousand White Women. The funniest book I read was The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Diappeared by Swede Jonas Jonasson. I started handing that book out as soon as I had finished it. I also really liked autobiographical American Gypsy by Oksana Marafioti, a gypsy born in Latvia that I met at a conference.

I found a new author and series to like - Robert Galbraith's Cormarant Strike books Cuckoo's Calling and Silkworm. I read one more book from Baldacci, Flynn and Silva. I also finished off Deborah Harkness' trilogy with Book of Life, and though I don't usually like vampire stories, this one in combination with a smart witch who uses libraries a lot, had me hooked. I read all of the Inn Boonesboro trilogy from Nora Roberts, as well as some of her old stuff.

I seemed to go retro this year - partially because as I clean out parts of my house I am finding old books I liked, partially going back to reread books or picking up ones I meant to read. This ranged from erotica from Anias Nin and D.H. Lawrence (very mild) to various science fiction, especially enjoying Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land over a long drive to Texas.

I read some powerful non-fiction too, such as On Killing by Dave Grossman and Grace and Grit by Lilly Ledbetter, who's fight for equal pay resulted in the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act.

I am surrounded by books I "should read," but there is only so much time, and I feel I actually get through quite a bit with the help of audio books. I read and listen to books for my pleasure, and to learn about some part of the world, some historical period, some group of people, or even just to think about alternative possibilities in a good story. Thank you dear writers for teaching and entertaining me.

Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (2013)

Don't believe I didn't write this one up. This is the first Cormorant Strike mystery. He has recently broken up with his gorgeous girlfriend and his private investigator's business isn't doing very well. A temp agency sends him Robin to help out in the office. She has always dreamed of being an investigator herself, and for some reason she gets along with gruff, straight shooting, one-legged war hero Strike. A friend from childhood asks him to investigate his sister's death. Lula Landry is a well known supermodel and hear death has been ruled a suicide, but the brother doesn't believe it, as she had a lot to live for. Strike goes about investigating with intelligence and intuition, fighting his own demons in the process - and ending up leaning on Robin for help. Thoroughly enjoyable read.

Mistletoe Promise by Richard Paul Evans (2014)

Continuing my streak of Christmas novels, this one intrigued me. A man walks up to a woman in a food court and asks if she could pretend to be his girlfriend for the couple of months before Christmas, so he would not have to attend holiday parties alone. She had seen him in the building, but had never talked to him, but she too is lonely and takes him up on it. The deal is he pays for meals, transportation and sends her a gift every weekday. She just has to be nice to him and maybe hold hands every once in a while in public to uphold the image. Of course they get to know each other, fall in love, etc., but quite a few other issues get resolved through the process. May be worth trying something else from this author.

Going Home by Nora Roberts (2005)

Not the best of Nora Roberts, but it has three short novels from the 80's and 90's. Read over a longer time, so don't remember details. But as I write these up, I realize all of them do tackle the mother (or father) - daughter relationship. Many of the other romances get written in a vacuum, where parents and even friends aren't part of the story, but in all three below, the relationship with the parent is important. The romantic relationships can't really happen until the parental one is resolved, as it has often left a lot or mistrust or other negative feelings.

Unfinished Business (1992)
This one was about Vanessa, a classical pianist, whose father dragged her around the world performing, away from her mother and any other life. After her father dies, she returns to her hometown, starts rebuilding her relationship to her mother and an old flame - Brady, now a local doctor.

Island of Flowers (1982)
Laine spends her last dollars to go to Hawaii to find her father, who left her and her mother when she was little. Now that her mother has died, she found an address and headed out. Turns out he is a wonderful man and has a good looking younger partner Dillon in running a small airport.

Mind Over Matter (1987)
This one was about David Brady, a documentary producer working on a program about paranormal occurances. He finds a special woman Clarissa that he wants to interview, but has to go through her agent A.J. Turns out Clarissa is A.J.'s mother, and though they love each other, A.J. doesn't want to accept that she may have some of the same powers as her mother.

Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (2014)

I really like Cormoron Strike and his secretary/helper Robin, so I thought I would try one more of these books and was not disappointed. The murder is utterly bizzare and gross - I could have used less details on that, but it fit into the strange character - a writer himself - that was murdered, and seemingly described his own death in his last manuscript. Strike systematically goes around meeting the people that were a part of the writer's life, and it seems that most of them would have some reason for offing him, as he was an unpleasant man. With the help of Robin, Strike again solves the case, but it is more than just a private investigator finding the real murderer. All the characters are richly drawn, including Strike himself - with his constantly sore leg stub, where he lost a leg in the Gulf War, and his gruff manner, which somehow still elicits loyalty from Robin, though she too is struggling with a fiance who does not understand her and her enjoyment of detective work. There are some misunderstandings between her and Strike too, and I keep hoping the two of them end up together, but we need that tension to keep going for a while, ala Castle and Beckett or Bones and Booth. Looking forward to the next one.

Important Contemporary Artists of Latvia by Mark Svede (2012)

My friend and art historian Mark sent me his latest work for Christmas. I don't know if I am allowed to call him the author, but all of the text except for the forward were written by him, so I will.  There are six pages of those responsible for the idea, the honorary committee, contributors, art selection committee, organizations that helped, and finally the 9 artists, and the normal attributions. The foreword by New York art critic Eleanor Heartney helps put Mark's essay in context of the never-ending cycle of death and resurrection of painting in the last 40 years in the art world. (Not sure why I didn't publish this months ago.)

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (2013)

This is an intense book telling many stories. I had not read anything about this book before I started, just chose it based on the fact that I like the author - Elizabeth Gilbert.

First of all, it is a history of the study of botany book. It starts with Kew gardens in England, reminding me of a Philippa Gregory's Earthly Joys. Henry Whittaker is the son of a gardner, who gets caught stealing rare plants and selling them to others, so instead of being hung, he gets sent around the world to collect specimens for Kew. He ends up starting his own business and settles in Philadelphia. He takes a Dutch wife and they have one daughter - Alma.

Some scribbled notes - the book takes us to Tahiti to collect specimens, where the Tahitians think that plants grow in shapes to help humans. They also mentioned that Eurpeans brought illnesses that decimated the population from 200,000 to 8,000. Wikipedia explains that the first number was an overestimation, but that the population did drop to 16,000 and even to a low point of 6,000.

One more unfinished review. It is the books I really loved and wanted to do them justice that I sometimes don't get around to finishing. This was from early in the year, so I don't remember details, just that I learned a lot about how early botanists worked and the main character, I believe, was a woman botanist, though I could find no historical character that she was based on.

Dance to the Piper by Nora Roberts (1988)

As soon as I heard the beginning, I was afraid it was one of the many Nora Roberts' books I had read, but then I realized it was just the story one of the other Hurley sisters, and I had read at least one of the others. Maddy, the youngest of the O'Hurley Triplets, is a dancer on Broadway. She meets Reed Valentine, the investor in the show and of course they have quite a bit to work through, but you know how it ends...

Book of Life by Deborah Harkness (2014)

Third in the All Souls Trilogy full of current day witches, vampires and demons, and I loved it again, could read more. The conflict comes to a head and of course our lovely couple - historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire Matthew Clairmont prevail. I am sorry I didn't have time to write this up when I finished reading it, but it is now the end of the year, and I just want to make sure I have it recorded. I do remember a very accurate description of the birthing process - a major event often glossed over in books. I am glad Harkness did it justice.  I also remember looking up the distance between the Bodleian Library in Oxford and London (about 60 miles) and the book seem to refer to it being in London. Ahh, small detail. I love that libraries and books play a major role in this story.

Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Numaweera (2012)

Learned about another corner of the world - Sri Lanka. I am sorry to say that though I believe I was aware of strife on this large island off the southeast coast of India at one point, if someone had asked me about Sri Lanka before I read this book, I couldn't have said anything about it. This covers the civil war between the Sinhalese and Tamils 1983-2009. The narrator tells of her family's life before the war, the hardships and terror during the war that made it impossible for her family to stay and ending up in the U.S. with all the difficulties of immigrant life. Other people's lives are shown in the book, including one woman who is forced to join the Tamil Tigers and is trained to be a suicide bomber.Wonderfully written.

Comfort and Joy by Kristin Hannah (2005)

A Christmas miracle novel. The novels I have read by Hannah so far have taken someone with a major life crisis and works them through to a level of healing. Here Joy is still reeling from a divorce and spontaneously gets on a plane to just get away for a while during the holidays, but the small plane crashes. She walks away from the wreck and walks into the life of 10 year old Bobby, who is suffering from the loss of his mother. His divorced father Daniel has returned to take care of him and get the bed and breakfast ready to sell, but they do not get along. Joy helps to heal the relationship, falling in love with both boy and father. But things are never what they seem to be...

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Starry Night by Debbie Macomber (2013)

I was told this was "light" and so it was. Carrie works for a newspaper in Chicago, but dislikes her assignment as society reporter. She is given the opportunity to work on something more substantial, if she can get a an interview with the reclusive writer Finn Dalton from Alaska. She ends up finding him and spending a couple of days with him in his cabin, and of course they don't get along, but when they go outside to see the stars and northern lights, they fall in love. Of course it takes them the rest of the book to work it through. I liked the life in the cabin, the beauty of its nature, the need for family, especially around holidays, the difficulty of compromise in relationships, but I am not sure I will bother with any more of Macomber books. 

The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore (2004)

Subtitle: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror. I was looking for something light, and Moore has amused me before, though I don't think I can read his stuff too often. This is set in Pine Cove - a fictional California coastal town not far from Big Sur. It is town full of odd characters, some off their rocker more than others. Then we get a character I remember from his previous books - Tuck. There is a theme of not wanting to be alone at Christmas and I liked their lonely hearts Christmas party. There was a variation on the story where the woman cuts her hair to purchase a chain for her husband's watch and he sells his watch to buy her a hair comb. In this one she goes off her psychmeds so she can afford an expensive artsy bong for him, though he has gone off weed. He grows some weed again to buy her an expensive historical sword. Then there are the dead that hear what is going on and especially the hanky panky that goes on in graveyards. I used to sunbathe in graveyards in college and kept wondering what the dead thought about it, so Moore takes this a step further. It looks like there will be a movie of this book which I would enjoy watching.