Monday, February 16, 2015

What I've Been Reading Lately

To keep track of what I'm reading, I'm going to start doing a post each month and link up with Modern Mrs. Darcy. This first batch is books I've read over the past few months. They're in no particular order.  I've decided to give each book a rating (understanding that this is very subjective because we all have different tastes, and these ratings will reflect my own):
  • 1/5 = didn't like it at all
  • 2/5 = had some redeeming quality that raised it from a 1/5
  • 3/5 = okay. not great, but okay.
  • 4/5 = really liked it
  • 5/5 = loved it
Norwegian By Night by Derek Miller
(4/5)  It's a mystery. It's a story about families and how they deal with loss and grief and one another. It's a story about how our memories loom large when we grow old and they're all that's left. I was sad when I finished the book, because I'd developed a great affection for grumpy old Sheldon who does the right thing even though he knows he's all kinds of crazy for doing so.

A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet By Sophie Hudson
(4/5)  I've followed Sophie's blog, Boomama, for years and have been wanting to read this since it first came out. When the digital version was offered for free recently, you know I was all over it, like beans on white rice. Pretty much read this in one sitting. I love Sophie's humor; she has a gift for writing honestly and lovingly about life in the south. From football games, to teaching her mother-in-law how to use a Kindle, to going on an extended family vacation with an uncle who's slowly losing his mind, Sophie shares a rich and beautiful description of what family can -- and should -- be.

[I'm pretty excited that I won a copy of her newest book "Home is Where My People Are" and hope I can find someone traveling down here soon who can bring it to me. I don't trust the postal system so I have to wait until someone is coming to visit.]

Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman
(3/5)  I liked the idea of a female protagonist about my age (50s). Brigid Quinn is a retired FBI agent who's making a new life after a late-in-life marriage to a professor. She's learning to cook, takes long walks to collect rocks for their garden, and reads in the evenings. Then she gets sucked into a murder mystery and her idyllic new life starts unraveling. While some of the scenes seem a little contrived, for the most part I thought the characters were well developed and real. A nice little mystery, but not on the cozy side.

Full Force and Effect by Mark Greaney (continuing the Jack Ryan series by Tom Clancy)
(3/5)  I've been a fan of Tom Clancy for decades and especially enjoy the action-packed Ryan series. I wondered if anyone other than Tom could carry on, and Mark's doing an okay job. Frankly, you could tell someone other than Clancy had a hand in several of the last few books Tom authored. Some scenes and dialogue are so bare-bones; Clancy would always layer on just enough information to flesh out a person or a situation, and that's often missing in the newer books. Well, this was never meant to be great literature, just great stories, and his books do a wonderful job of entertaining for several hours. My son, another Clancy fan, has gifted me several books in the series when they've been published in December near my birthday (thanks Jon!)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
(5/5)  Loved this book! As someone who was in her 40s by the time I figured out I was an introvert, this book was illuminating, in the sense that it clarified some things that had always puzzled me. I also found it inspirational, and made note of things that really stood out. I plan to read it again, more slowly this next time. Definitely a worthwhile read for any introvert, but anyone would benefit -- because who doesn't have at least one introvert in their life, whether that's a friend, spouse, child or colleague? 

Murder 101 by Faye Kellerman
(4/5)  While it's not absolutely necessary to read the Decker/Lazarus novels in order, it does help, as characters come and go and some stay, and it's just easier to start at the beginning. Murder 101 is a transitional book, as the Deckers move from California to New England and Peter tries to switch gears from running a busy homicide division in L.A. to being a regular detective in the very quiet, not-much-ever-happens small town of Greenbury. Rina is along for the ride, and as always proves helpful to the first murder case the town has seen in decades. After all these years and all these books (22), the characters seem like family friends and I'm always happy to see them again.

Mad About Us: Moving from Anger to Intimacy with your Spouse by Gary J and Carrie Oliver
(5/5)  One of my favorite books on marriage. I read it last August, and kept stopping to read portions out loud to Ivan. Now we're going through the book together, chapter-by-chapter. Seriously, one of the most practical guides to dealing with anger in your marriage -- and let's face it, anger is inevitable in any relationship, and especially in marriage. Highly recommend!

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon
(5/5)  Ivan and I have very different reading tastes -- I really like fiction and he rarely reads it --  but we both love the Mitford books with Father Tim. This one did not disappoint, and like always, I was sad when I came to the last page. Now I'm going to start at the beginning and re-read the whole series again. I usually have multiple books going, and the Karon books are the ones I pick up when I need to calm down, and be soothed and coddled just a bit.

Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging by Marilyn Gardner
(5/5)  One of my favorites because Marilyn does such a fantastic job addressing the emotional aspects of moving back and forth between your passport country and your country of residence. I devoured the book in one big gulp and plan to go back and re-read it more slowly.

Miss Buncle's Book by D. E. Stevenson
(5/5)  After discovering D. E. Stevenson in a library three decades ago, I started picking up her books whenever I'd see them at yard sales or library sales. With the advent of eBay and Amazon, I was able to track down even more. My collection is not complete but I'm not missing too many. I'm thrilled to see that they're being republished again. I love all her books, but Miss Buncle's Book is my hands-down favorite. What you need to understand is that these books are more about character development than plot. Yes, there is a plot, but it's almost always subservient to the characters themselves. In this charming story, impoverished Barbara Buncle decides to write a book in the hopes she'll make enough money to pay the coal man and the butcher. But since she doesn't have any imagination, she has to write what she knows -- and that would be the people who populate the tiny village where she lives. The reaction when the book is published reaches epic proportions of hilarity and misunderstanding, as the townspeople find themselves acting very out of character -- but very much in character with their alter egos in the book.

Her Last Breath by Linda Castillo
(4/5)  Police Chief Kate Burkholder grew up Amish and once again she's drawn back into the community when an Amish man and two of his three children are killed in a buggy accident. The deceased man's wife was Katie's closest childhood friend, but their shared history doesn't prepare Kate for the twists and turns in the case. This series can be a little dark and disturbing at times, but I'm enjoying the progression of the characters in each successive book.

Still Reading...

I'm re-reading Winston Churchill's six-volume series on World War 2, starting with The Gathering Storm. Being a history buff, particularly of the 30s and 40s, I found these books really interesting the first time I read them about 20 years ago. But the truth is, I flew through them -- like I did most of my reading back then -- because I was homeschooling my kids and personal reading time was at a premium, so my tendency was to inhale books and move on. With this second go-round I'm taking my time, because, believe me, these are so chock full of information it would make your head implode if you didn't take it slowly. I honestly don't know how I managed to blow through them so quickly the first time. 

I've also started another history book, The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914, by David McCullough. It's fascinating but I set it down a while back and haven't picked it back up again. But I will, because this is an event and a period of time I know little about. And this is a loooooong book so it will take a while to get through the whole thing.

Frozen Assets by Quentin Bates is the first in a series featuring Officer Gunnhilder. It was initially hard going to get all the names straight because they're so different from what I'm used to, and I have no idea how to pronounce the vast majority of them. So far it's following a familiar police procedural format. The characters seem a little flat, and I'm not connecting to any of them, even the main character who's an older female leading a small police post in a rural Icelandic fishing village. Usually I have the "who", although maybe not the "how" or "why",  figured out by this time; with this one I'm still guessing as to all three. which is why I'm still reading.   

On my waiting list...

All the Light We Cannot See -- hearing lots of good things about it.
Romey's Place -- recommended by a cousin who has very good taste in books.
Lizzy & Jane -- another one that's generating a lot of buzz.
The Leaving of Things -- I'm intrigued by the concept of a child who has been raised in the U.S., being taken by his immigrant parents to live the land of his ancestry.

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What have you been reading? Please share in the comments!

5 comments:

arenda said...

I love the sound of the Miss Buncle book - character-driven novels are the best! :)

The Bug said...

Glad you reminded me of the new Father Tim book - I don't know how I'd forgotten that it was out! I love those books... You have several on here that I need to try - I think I'll pin your post so I can remember to browse your list the next time I'm looking for a book.

You know, I've been rating the Chief Burkholder books a 3 - but I think it's because I've been listening to the audio books & the narrator is just so fraught & dramatic - it's annoying :)

Terra said...

The Miss Buncle book and the book by Sophie are both on my wish list; I see we have some similar reading interests. I read all the Jan Karon books as she writes them; they do have a gentle soothing effect, as do the books by Alexander McCall Smith, in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. I just complete Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear, and the main character is very life affirming like Mma Ramotswe and Father Tim.

rita said...

Your list is impressive!!!
As are your synopsis and reviews.
I could never keep up with you, sistah!

jennakristine.com said...

I just used the recommendation feature on my Overdrive library for Miss Buncle :) Now i just have to wait for them to get it-- hopefully by then I'll have less intimitating currently-reading and to-be-read-immediately lists, because it sounds great!