This Year’s Reading (So Far)

I’m always happier about my reading if I write a little something about each book. So, here goes.

  1. The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie, A (reread): In this Agatha Christie mystery, Poirot receives a letter signed by ABC, who claims that he or she will commit murder. They challenge Poirot to solve the case. Christie was always trying to fool her readers, and half the fun of reading her work is trying to puzzle it out. This was a good one.
  2. Austenland by Shannon Hale, A: A while back I saw the movie that was based on this book. I wondered at the time if the book were better. Well, now I know. The book is much better. The main character is far less pathetic, having received the trip as an inheritance from a rich great aunt (a much more more Austenian  scenario than using her life’s savings to purchase it). Otherwise, the movie follows the book pretty closely. But, though I really liked the book, I liked the movie versions of the male characters more.
  3. Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss, A-: A fun book about punctuation marred occasionally by the author’s zealotry.
  4. Elephants Can Remember by Agatha Christie, B-: Poirot is asked by his friend, mystery author Ariadne Oliver, to investigate a case of double suicide that occurred over a decade previously.  The two of them separately dig into the mystery, interviewing the people who knew the deceased, etc. This was, if I understand correctly, the last Poirot mystery that Christie wrote. She was past 80 and possibly suffering from Alzheimer’s. The book is coherent, but it’s composed mostly of dull dialogue. It lacks the spirit with which she imbued earlier works. I recommend it only for completists. Most others will want to give it a pass.
  5. The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt, B+: I reviewed this book earlier this year.
  6. The Little Red Writing Book by Brandon Royal, A: As the title suggests, The Little Red Writing Book is little and red and all about writing. It is attractive both inside and out, with its fancy border designs and illustrations. The information it contains about writing is useful and stated in a way that’s easy to digest. I enjoyed it. There were few revelations in it for me, though, having worked with language most of my life. In fact, it felt like a collection of everything that I’ve learned about the English language over the last 25 years, making me sincerely wish that I had read it 25 years sooner. I therefore recommend The Little Red Writing Book for high-schoolers and college students (seriously, if you had a kid of that age, you’d be doing them a big favor by giving them this book).
  7. Lord Edgware Dies by Agatha Christie, B+: This is a typical Christie mystery involving the murder of an unlikable person (Lord Edgware) and all the people, including his estranged movie-star wife and her friends, who may have done him in. The twist that I’ve come to expect from Christie was there, but it didn’t work for me.
  8. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, C: This is the story of Fanny Price, a girl from a poor family who is taken in by her rich aunt and uncle. They feed, clothe, and house her, but they’re not very nice to her, and they never let her forget where she came from. She grows up, and she falls in love, but there are barriers in the way of her happiness. In the end, very little happens, but OMG, do the characters ever talk and talk! I would never have finished this book had I not been so keen on the idea of reading every Jane Austen novel. I have now read them all, and since there are few authors with any major literary cred that I can say that about, yay. For the record, my favorite is Pride and Prejudice, and the other five I would rank in this order: Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, and dead last, Mansfield Park. I would be willing to read all of them again except for Mansfield Park.
  9. Murder After Hours (a.k.a. The Hollow) by Agatha Christie, A (reread): A woman is standing over the dead body of her husband and holding a gun in her hand when when a bunch of people arrive on the scene, including Hercule Poirot, who is there by invitation. He is incensed that anyone would act out a fake murder for him, until he realizes that it is not fake. The husband is really dead, but was it really the wife who killed him? This is a typical Poirot mystery, but one of the better ones.
  10. Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie, B: Someone murders the wife of the head archaeologist at a dig in Mesopotamia (an area that is probably now part of Iraq). Poirot just happens by and solves the case. This wasn’t one of Christie’s better mysteries. The characters were all unlikable, the setting was not as interesting as it ought to have been, and the solution to the mystery was not believable.
  11. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie, A- (reread): A rich woman is murdered in her own home, and every person there, including her sons and her new husband, is a suspect. A visitor in the home at the time, Captain Hastings, calls his old friend Poirot in to solve the case. I liked this one. I think the Hastings-narrated Poirot mysteries are among the best that Christie wrote.
  12. Origins of the Specious by Patricia T. O’Connor and Stewart Kellerman, A: This is a lighthearted collection of short essays on etymology and grammar. It’s very good, as long as you don’t mind puns. Recommended for language lovers.
  13. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, A-: Ready Player One takes place in a dark future. Much of the population is impoverished. Trailer parks have gotten larger by growing vertically, trailers stacked one upon the other. People spend as much time as they can hooked up to their computers, connecting through a vast virtual reality network. The creator of the network has died, and he left his entire fortune and power over the network to whoever can solve the clues to a game that he based on the pop culture of his childhood (the 1970s and 1980s). The main character is a teenager who is determined to win it. Ready Player One is a tough book to review (and not just because I read it a while ago and the details have become somewhat fuzzy). It is a fun, nostalgic page-turner, but it’s also somewhat juvenile and has some plot issues. How you feel about it will likely depend on when you were born and what kinds of pop culture interest you. If you were born in the late 1960s or early-to-mid 1970s, you played a lot of video games in the arcade, you like rock bands such as Rush, you know Monty Python and the Holy Grail by heart, and particularly if you are also male, then you will probably enjoy this book. If not, then you might wonder what all the fuss is about. I fit some of the criteria and enjoyed the book immensely. I ate it up as if it were popcorn. But it was popcorn with a several unpopped kernels in it. I wish that the author and editor had spent a little more time improving the language and fixing the narrative order in a few spots, and that they had played just a little fairer with the reader at the finale.
  14. Seaglass Summer by Anjali Banerjee, B+: An 11-year-old girl spends her summer on an island with her uncle, a veterinarian, while her parents are away in India. She learns about being a veterinarian, and all the good, bad, and ugly things that go along with that profession. This is perfect summer reading for the younger set.
  15. The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher, B+: T. Kingfisher is a pseudonym that Ursula Vernon uses when writing for adults. Though this book is dark, it doesn’t seem like an “adult” book to me. It’s short, has a teen heroine, has no sex in it, and most of the violence happens in a time before the story takes place, so you see the terrifying aftermath, but not the actual doing of the violence. Excepting the terrifying things, it comes off quite “young,” and I think most young adult readers could handle the scary bits. What happens is this: a miller’s 15-year-old daughter is unexpectedly courted by Lord Crevan, a nobleman to whom she cannot say no without risking her parents’ livelihood. So she agrees to go to his house in the middle of the night, as he instructs her, and there she finds out the terrible truth about her husband-to-be: he is a murderer and a sorcerer, and he has six wives already. But with the help of those wives and some animals that she meets along the way, Rhea might be able to defeat Lord Crevan before the wedding. I really liked The Seventh Bride. I liked the premise (very Bluebeardesque) and the characters, including the animal ones. The bad guy was sufficiently bad and the background sufficiently scary. I think there are parts that could have been smoothed out and others that could have been fleshed out more. To put it simply, the book has some of the weaknesses of a writer attempting to expand her reach. So, I recommend this book because it’s a quick, enjoyable read, and I will likely read her next book, whatever it turns out to be, with the expectation that it will be even better.
  16. Uprooted by Naomi Novik, A: This is the story of Agnieszka, who comes from a small village near a forest. The local wizard chooses her to live with him in his tower, but she resents being taken, and she doesn’t understand what he wants from her. They’re both stubborn, but they will need to learn to work together to counter the evil that inhabits the forest. I hated this book initially and only stuck with it because my friend recommended it so highly. I’m glad I did, because I ended up really liking it. The beginning was no so great (or so it seemed to me as I read it) and the pacing at the end was awkward, but everything in between was great. Recommended.
  17. The Violinist’s Thumb by Sam Kean, B+: After reading and enjoying The Disappearing Spoon, I couldn’t resist this book about DNA by the same author. It was not quite as good as I was expecting, but it was still pretty interesting, and I would recommend it for those who have an interest in genetics.
  18. The Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed by Karen Elizabeth Gordon, A-: This is a punctuation handbook that uses some interesting (and some very odd) sentences as examples. I liked it, but I didn’t love it.
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3 Responses to This Year’s Reading (So Far)

  1. sprite says:

    Yay! I love reading your book reviews! I need to get off my butt and finish the one that’s sitting in my drafts and then move forward.

    It doesn’t look like my library has The Seventh Bride. I’ll have to see if either VA library I can borrow from has it. D.C. does have Origins of the Specious, so I’ll put that on my list.

    I’m glad you eventually liked Uprooted.

  2. chick says:

    Thank you!

    I had planned to donate “The Seventh Bride” to the library book sale, so I think it is in a box in the trunk of my car. I will check, and if it’s there, I’ll take it out and “donate” it to you instead 🙂

    I’m really glad that I stuck with “Uprooted,” because it turned out to be very good. It was the first book I finished in 2016 and a positive way to start the year. Thank you for giving it to me.

    Good luck with your book reviews. They’re such a pain to write, but don’t you feel so much better once they’re done? I know I do. It felt wonderful to finish this post. Of course, just a few days later I finished reading “Gold, Fame, Citrus.” That means I’ve got more reviewing to do. My “work” is never done!

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