Reading Round-Up: December 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 December, 2012…

Village Affairs, by Miss Read (Fairacre #13) – Poor Miss Read goes through the ringer in this Fairacre installment.  Early on in the book, she learns of rumors that Fairacre School may be closing, and the children bussed to nearby Beech Green.  These rumors pop up occasionally but seem to have more force this time.  Soon enough, the villagers are up in arms about the idea of their beloved school closing and their cherished teacher being turned out of her home!  Meanwhile, school cleaner Mrs Pringle is on a diet (bad news for everyone) and her niece Minnie Pringle is going through marital difficulties.  To help Minnie out, Miss Read offers her an afternoon’s cleaning once a week, but immediately regrets the offer – as anyone who has journeyed through Fairacre knows, Minnie is more akin to a tornado than a cleaning lady.  How will Miss Read cope with all the stress?  With her trademark wit and good humor, of course!

The Kalahari Typing School for Men, by Alexander McCall Smith (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency #4) – I was into this series awhile back and then got sucked into Maisie Dobbs, and apparently I can only read one mystery series at a time, because Mma Ramotswe & co. got thrown aside in favor of Maisie and Billy.  But since finishing the Maisie series (or all the books that have been written in the series thus far) I have wanted to get back into this one and finally grabbed the next two installments during a library run.  Precious Ramotswe is back and in good form here.  As usual, Mma Ramotswe has many things on her mind – a new detective has set up a competing agency, touting his manliness as an essential ingredient in private investigations, Mma Makutsi is lonely and needs a man, and a new client has asked Mma Ramotswe to help him right some old wrongs.  One thing is for sure – Mma Ramotswe will sort out these messes as she always does, gracefully and with good humor.

The Full Cupboard of Life, by Alexander McCall Smith (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency #5) – Back to Botswana for the fifth No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency book, and Precious Ramotswe is as busy as ever.  Between investigating the suitors of a wealthy client and trying to help Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni get out of the latest trap set for him by Mma Potokwame, Mistress of the Orphan Farm (this time, a parachute jump for charity), Mma Ramotswe has her hands full.  But she has more than just work and the usual hijinks on her mind.  When will she ever become Mrs. J.L.B. Matekoni???  I love these novels, so full of sweetness and joy.

Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall #2) – A lawyer’s work is never done, is it?  Poor Thomas Cromwell.  In Wolf Hall, the first installment in a planned trilogy, Cromwell was working tirelessly to oust Katherine of Aragon and insert Anne Boleyn.  Now it’s three years later.  Anne has failed to produce a son and – a worse offense – she’s gotten skinny and shrewish.  And Henry has noticed a pretty, polite, and most important of all, quiet maiden named Jane Seymour.  Now Cromwell is again tasked with ousting a queen and placing a new family in power.  Boleyns out, Seymours in.  Like its predecessor, Bring Up the Bodies was meticulously researched, fastidiously written and monumentally engaging, and like its predecessor, it won the Man Booker Prize.  And well deserved it.  The Wolf Hall novels are going to be among the highlights of my reading year.

Village Christmas, by Miss Read (Fairacre #6) – Despite my best efforts to read in order, I’m a little off with the Fairacre books and am reading all three Christmas novels this month.  This is a short one, more of a novella, and Miss Read doesn’t even appear.  Instead, it focuses on the elderly Waters sisters and how they come to show Christmas goodwill to their new neighbors.  The Emery family are Londoners, with habits the Fairacre folk consider odd (wearing funny clothes, being excessively friendly, and the like), but when Mrs Emery goes into labor on Christmas morning, Mary and Margaret put aside their plans for a quiet holiday and learn a lesson about goodwill and loving their neighbors as themselves in the process.  Sweet holiday read.

The Christmas Mouse, by Miss Read (Fairacre #10) – Hmmm.  This was the first Miss Read book that I was decidedly cool on.  The book focuses on the Benson family near Caxley, one memorable Christmas Eve.  Mrs Benson and her widowed daughter Mary are preparing Christmas for Mary’s two young daughters when Mrs Benson discovers a mouse in her room.  She has a horror of mice and exiles herself to the parlor while Mary sets a trap.  That night after Mary has gone to bed, Mrs Benson receives another unexpected visitor – a young boy who has run away from his foster family.  If little Stephen expected tea and sympathy, he presented himself at the wrong house.  Instead, he gets bread and milk and a lecture on ingratitude, and is sent packing (to walk three miles in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve) as soon as the rain stops.  To me it seemed clear that he was yearning to feel truly part of a family and that he felt himself an outsider.  If he’d shown up at my door, he’d have gotten hugs, not lectures.

No Holly for Miss Quinn, by Miss Read (Fairacre #12) – Muuuuuuuuuch better!  Here was a Scrooge-like character who actually changes!  The introverted, solitude-loving Miss Quinn is planning a quiet Christmas holiday filled with decorating when she is suddenly pressed into sisterly service, having been called upon to watch over her brother’s three children while their mother is hospitalized.  Reluctant and disappointed at first, Miss Quinn throws herself into aunt duties and allows her two irrepressible nieces to sweep her along a tide of family fun and holiday joy, resulting in a thawing of Miss Quinn’s icy demeanor and a rejuvenated relationship with her brother.  Loved.

Skios, by Michael Frayn – You could tell the author is a playwright.  Not since Shakespeare have I read a farce in which so many people were confused about one another’s identities, or in which so much general hilarity resulted.  The cool, efficient Nikki Hook is preparing for the keynote speech at a cultural organization she effectively runs on the island of Skios, and is pleasantly suprised to find that the speaker isn’t the paunchy, balding, pompous man she expected but rather a rakish charmer.  Mere miles away, Nikki’s friend Georgie is preparing to cheat on her boyfriend with a rakish charmer and instead finds a paunchy, balding, pompous man who is supposed to be giving the keynote speech for a cultural organization… can you say oopsie?  I was laughing from beginning to end.

A Christmas Memory, One Christmas and The Thanksgiving Visitor, by Truman Capote – I’ve read In Cold Blood (four times) but never picked up any of Capote’s other works, so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from these.  What I found were sweet, poignant semi-autobiographical tales of the holiday memories of Buddy, a young Alabama boy modeled on Capote.  In A Christmas Memory (my favorite of the bunch), Buddy and his best friend, his elderly cousin Miss Sook, make fruitcakes and Buddy ruminates on his love for Miss Sook.  In One Christmas, Buddy is shipped off to New Orleans to spend Christmas with his estranged father and suffers the loss of several of his childish illusions.  Finally, in The Thanksgiving Visitor, Miss Sook teaches Buddy an important lesson about friendship and forgiveness when she invites the school bully to take part in their holiday celebrations.  I got through this slender volume in a day and loved every minute.

The White Robin, by Miss Read (Fairacre #14) –  Another slim volume took me back to Fairacre, which has suddenly been graced with the presence of an albino robin.  The town is beside itself with excitement and the local ornithologist is much in demand.  But the white robin comes to an untimely end and the perpetrator is in the townsfolk’s midst.  Can they forgive and move on?  This one was the work of a day, and much of it read out loud to Peanut.  I liked the sweet, simple story of understanding and forgiveness, and the satisfying ending.

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, by Alexander McCall Smith (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency #6) – Mma Ramotswe is always busy, but in this installment of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books, she has a real problem on her hands.  Right when Mma Ramotswe should be settling in to enjoy life with her kind new husband, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, and their two adopted children, her first husband Note Makoti comes back and threatens to reveal a damaging secret from Mma Ramotswe’s past unless she pays him off.  Oh, and there’s more.  One of the apprentices has run away, the garage has a new employee with a past, Mma Makutsi has begun taking dance lessons, someone broke into Mma Ramotswe’s house and hid under the bed until he was almost crushed by her traditional build, and a mysterious pumpkin has appeared in her garden.  What is a private detective to do?  I think this was my favorite so far from this series.  Some real drama – Note is a bad, bad, evil person – kept me turning pages until the characters wrapped up one of their nice, neat endings.  This series gets better and better!

Betsy Was A Junior, by Maud Hart Lovelace (Betsy-Tacy #7) – Back to the Betsy-Tacy books.  As is the pattern with the high school books, the first chapter finds Betsy making all kinds of resolutions and promising to be serious about her writing.  And of course it all goes haywire.  Betsy’s sister Julia goes off to college and comes home with tales of sororities, inspiring Betsy to start her own sorority at Deep Valley High, the Okto Deltas.  But the Okto Deltas have the effect of branding Betsy and her friends as snobs, causing them to be excluded from school events, and even threatening to break up the Crowd.  In the end Betsy learns that sisterhoods must grow – they can’t be forced.  This was a sweet read and I love getting lost in the escapades of Betsy and her Crowd, although I didn’t agree with the “sororities = bad” message.  (I’m proud to be a sorority girl; I had a wonderful sorority experience.  My Alpha Phi sisters are some of my closest friends to this day and I will never regret getting to know them in college, nor will I ever forget the visits, flowers, messages of support and even boxes of diapers that so many Alpha Phis sent when hubby and I were deep in the NICU trenches.  But I do agree that sororities in high school are a terrible idea – high school girls are far too catty and juvenile to be trusted with Greek letters.)

Betsy and Joe, by Maud Hart Lovelace (Betsy-Tacy #8) – Finally, finally, Betsy gets to “go with” Joe Willard.  In fact, Betsy has two admirers – Joe, who she likes romantically, and Tony, who she was once keen on but who now inspires only sisterly feelings.  Tony’s attentions soon threaten to drive a wedge between Joe and Betsy, and Betsy can’t seem to find her way out of the predicament.  (I suppose it’s because this story took place in 1909-10 that Betsy couldn’t simply say to Tony, straight up, “Look, I’m flattered but I have feelings for someone else.  Friends?”)  But at least Betsy is a bit more serious about school this year, and she even foregoes the Easter Week parties when she realizes she needs a break.  Growth!  The other characters are growing up, too.  Julia is off studying music in Germany, Tib exercises her persuasive abilities, and Tacy, who Betsy and Tib had speculated would wind up a spinster, turns out to not need any help at all in the matrimonial department.  The end of the book – which culminates in Betsy’s, Joe’s and the Crowd’s graduation from high school – is satisfying and heartwarming.

Taft 2012, by Jason Heller – I saw this on a book blog and knew immediately that I’d love it, and I was right.  The premise is this: William Howard Taft, President of the United States, disappears in early 1913, on the morning of Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration and his departure from the Oval Office.  Taft, a political Rip van Winkle, spends the next ninety-nine years hibernating under the grass of the Ellipse until he awakens in 2011 and soon finds himself running for President again, much to his dismay.  Taft 2012 was warm, witty, and packed quite a bit of common sense – worthy of Taft himself.  I’d vote for him!  Highly recommend.

Betsy and the Great World, by Maud Hart Lovelace (Betsy-Tacy #9) – I think that Betsy and the Great World was my favorite of the Betsy-Tacy books.  In this book, Betsy departs for a Grand Tour of sorts, to learn to live in the world and gather material for her writing.  She stops for extended periods in Munich (where she befriends three Germans of very different circumstances and encounters some German soldiers outside a bathroom; Venice (where she is courted by a handsome Italian architect who almost makes her forget her ex-love, Joe Willard); and London (where she finds herself a Crowd of Brits and witnesses the beginning of World War I).  Betsy returns from her tour amidst gathering storm clouds of war, but with a joyful new future to anticipate.  This read was sweet and fun, as all the Betsy-Tacy books are, but also a bit chilling as you watched the beginnings of a disastrous war through Betsy’s eyes.

Betsy’s Wedding, by Maud Hart Lovelace (Betsy-Tacy #10) – Betsy has returned from Europe to find her old love, Joe, waiting for her and prepared to rekindle their romance.  They are engaged quickly and married even more quickly, and Betsy plunges into her new life as a wife.  She discovers that she is good at cleaning and at budgeting, but not so much at cooking or matchmaking.  I loved reading about Betsy’s wifely learning curve – especially during the only episode where her relationship with Joe is really tested (he invites his Aunt Ruth to stay with them for an extended period of time and Betsy must come to terms with the idea of sharing her newlywed nest with the closest thing to a mother-in-law she has – she rises to the task with grace).  Although Betsy’s Wedding ended with a joyful celebration, there is darkness ahead for the Crowd and friends as the men go off to war.  But I do believe that Joe comes home and that Betsy gets her baby Bettina one day.  I wouldn’t have it any other way!

A good end to 2012 – snuggling and reading on the couch for long stretches of the day with my sweet Peanut curled up in my arms.  What could be better?  I loved most of this month’s reads.  Some No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, some Fairacre, Bring Up the Bodies and some Betsy-Tacy, and more.  This was a happy month of reading.  Now to dreaming of pages to be turned in 2013…

6 thoughts on “Reading Round-Up: December 2012

  1. How could you go wrong with Betsy Ray, Miss Read and Mma Ramotswe? I love them all and am so glad you do too. (Must pick up Wolf Hall soon, after reading your reviews of Mantel’s books!)

    • Oh, do pick up “Wolf Hall” – amazing book. I think you’d really enjoy it. I loved the writing, and that’s one of my favorite historical periods (ahem, social studies nerd here) so Mantel had me at “Henry VIII.” The writing style takes a little bit of getting used to (lots of “He, Cromwell”) but once you’re into it, it just sweeps you along on the tide of these massive historical changes. Loved, loved, loved.

  2. WOW WOW WOW WOW! I don’t have a lot in common reading but that’s something to be happy about! I am so bookmarking this and trying these out 🙂
    Very impressive this post is :)Loved the way you summed it up!

    • Glad you enjoyed! I post every month on my reading, so do check back. 🙂 December was a bit out of the ordinary for me because I’m still home on maternity leave. I’m going back to work this month (sniff, sniff, no idea how I’m going to leave the baby every morning) so I’m expecting a drop-off in my January reading numbers.

      Let me know if you try any of these books, and if you enjoy them!

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