Reading Round-Up: January 2012

Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby.  I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book.  Here are my reads for January, 2012…

Arthur and George, by Julian Barnes – I plumbed this one from the depths of the TBR and really enjoyed the story of George Edalji, a half-Indian vicar’s son who is unjustly accused of mutilating cattle, and the champion he finds in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  It was especially cool to read, knowing that it was based on a true story.  The only thing I disliked was that the author kept switching tenses with no apparent rhyme or reason.  I still find it hard to believe that the author, editor and publisher would all have missed such an obvious mistake, so I’m thinking it’s me and I was too dense to understand the reasons behind it.  Otherwise, great writing and wonderful characters.

Morality for Beautiful Girls (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency #3), by Alexander McCall Smith – Each book I read in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, I like better than the last.  This one in particular was a sweet, simple read but managed to pack in a fair amount of philosophizing about morality, African culture, depression, and other issues.  I’ll be continuing to read through this cozy mystery series for sure.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie – Another book that I had been meaning to read for quite some time and finally got to this month, I loved this gentle tale of a storyteller’s son trying to help his father gain his abilities back.  Although it was sweet and funny, Haroun also visited upon themes of environmental destruction and the power of language.  Loved.

The Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown – I enjoyed this story of three sisters who reunite at their family home to nurse their mother through a bout with cancer and, in the process, must learn to forgive old hurts and relate to one another as adults.  I was slightly bothered by the way the author lumped each sister into traditional birth-order stereotypes (there was the staid, responsible eldest, the “bad girl” middle child, and the flighty, volatile youngest), but I did like the writing.

The Coffins of Little Hope, by Timothy Schaffert – This one disappointed me.  It was well-written, but I simply didn’t find either the plot or the characters to be engaging.  I kept turning the pages, thinking “maybe in the next chapter something will really grab me in this story,” but it never happened.  I think my opinion is the minority though, so don’t let me dissuade you from reading it if you had Little Hope on your TBR.  It just didn’t quite hit home for me.

We, the Drowned, by Carston Jensen – This tome has already been praised as “an instant classic” in Europe and as the newest addition to the genre of great seafaring literature.  And although I don’t normally go in for sailor-lit (I’ve never read Moby-Dick and The Old Man and the Sea did nothing for me), I really enjoyed it.  Jensen doesn’t gloss over the harshness of the sailing life, or the atrocities of war.  From the very beginning, We, the Drowned was violent and dark.  But the writing was beautiful – couldn’t believe this was translated – and the characters were compelling.  I particularly loved Albert Madsen’s search for his father (except one scene which terrified this lepidopterophobe) and the relationship between the aging Albert and young Knud Erik Friis.

Maisie Dobbs (Maisie Dobbs #1), by Jacqueline Winspear – I’d been wanting to get into this mystery series for awhile and finally got around to checking the first book out of the library.  Maisie is a charming and vivid heroine.  A brilliant young woman who worked her way up from a housemaid’s position to Cambridge, she has set up a detective business with the help of her old mentor, Maurice Blanche, and has begun taking on cases.  But Maisie’s first case will require her to revisit her memories of nursing in the Great War – memories which she had long buried.  Maisie Dobbs was a charming and exciting mystery and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

The Dean’s December, by Saul Bellow – I chose The Dean’s December for my first entry in Beth Fish Reads‘ “What’s in a Name?” challenge.  It is the story of Albert Corde, Dean of Students at a Chicago university, and the mess he has made as he meddled in a murder trial and published an expose of the crime and corruption in the Chicago jails.  As the Dean’s mother-in-law lay dying in Rumania, he accompanied his wife to say goodbye and, during the interminable waiting that was part of life behind the Iron Curtain, reflected on the American psychology as he observed it in Chicago.  The Dean’s December was a difficult, challenging book, but rewarding if you could stand the graphic descriptions of violence.  I found myself glazing over during introspective passages, while reading over my lunch break in a particularly noisy place.  I was only able to really appreciate the great writing when I sat down with it for a quiet afternoon at home over the weekend.

Un Amico Italiano: Eat, Pray, Love in Rome, by Luca Spaghetti – Yes, he exists, and yes, that’s really his name.  I loved this cute memoir by Luca Spaghetti, best known as the ebullient Roman who shows Elizabeth Gilbert around during the Italy section of Eat, Pray, Love.  Luca loves soccer, American music, the Grand Canyon, and pasta (of course!).  He shares his incomparable love of life in this charming memoir, which left me yearning for un amico Italiano (an Italian friend) of my own.

WOW, what a January!  Is it just me, or did this month seem really long?  And how did I ever manage to cram in nine books – especially when you consider that We, the Drowned was 675 pages long?  I mean, sheesh.  I’m scratching my head about this one, really, because I also lost a lot of reading time this month due to the fact that I’m driving myself to work three days a week (I usually ride with hubby, which means I get to read while he drives).  I sort of feel like this month might have been two months, maybe I missed the January recap and it’s actually the end of February.  But my calendar says it’s January, so I suppose not.  Anywho, I had a great reading month.  I mixed up the reads, including some darker or more violent books than I would normally choose (We, the Drowned and The Dean’s December), and it was certainly interesting to read some different styles.  But I made sure to mix in plenty of fluff, including two cozy mysteries (one Precious Ramotswe and one Maisie Dobbs – and I started the second installment, so expect that in February’s round-up) and Luca Spaghetti, who had me running to the pantry for pasta and dreaming of Rome.  I have another gigantic stack of library books for February, and I’m hoping to mix in some comfort reading with the library books next month to ward off the chill.  So look for another long list at the end of February!

3 thoughts on “Reading Round-Up: January 2012

  1. Wow! You sure had a lovely month, as far as reading goes. 🙂
    I haven’t read any of these books. 😦

    Maisie Doobs sounds lovely. And I have a feeling I should try out the second part of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series – I didn’t like the first part too much.

    I think I would also like to read the one about the 3 sisters. Sounds very interesting.

    • I think the first book in a mystery series is usually the weakest. The author has to set up the characters and introduce the setting, and with all that it’s hard to cram in a good mystery plotline too. Both “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” and “Maisie Dobbs” suffered from the need to set up a backstory. (I did like the fist Maisie Dobbs better than the first No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.) However, both series do get better in my opinion. I just finished “Birds of a Feather,” the second Maisie Dobbs, this morning… and liked it quite a bit better than the first! I’d definitely encourage you to give the second, and maybe the third, novels in a mystery series a chance, and then if you still don’t care for them, perhaps mystery series just isn’t the genre that speaks to you!

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