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« January, 2017 »

The Shadow Land   book icon  
by Elizabeth Kostova (2017)

read: 29 January 2017
rating: [0]
category: fiction

I loved The Historian. I never would have picked up this book if I had knows that it had a lengthy multi-chapter explicit concentration camp narrative in the middle of it. The story is otherwise interesting though nowhere near as compelling as The Historian. Kostova reveals in the afterword that this book is more autobiographical which may have something to do with why there are many parts of it that would be interesting-if-true but also make bad fiction. I felt assaulted by the lengthy descriptions of what amounted to torture in the prison camps. I am aware this is true to life and do not want to diminish the suffering of people who were there, but those sort of witness stories are a very specific sort of narrative that I usually avoid. I found myself frequently frustrated reading this book with both the excessive “What I saw when I looked around the town square” sorts of things, the anxious and not-super-compelling main character and the sequence of events that only becomes plausible when you realize how the story ends (an ending that was surprisingly predictable). I don’t mean to be a weird internet person about this, I really like most books but this one was a frustrating read though i did finish it. Not for people who want to avoid torture narratives.

The Mapping of Love and Death   book icon  
by Jacqueline Winspear (2011)

read: 23 January 2017
rating: [+]
category: fiction

I’d been growing a little tired of these so read a bunch of other books in-between. This was a better one in the series with a lot of complex plots including an American (!) killed in WWI. Maisie starts dating someone seriously and her mentor dies shifting her into a different situation concerning her need to work and etc. A lot of loose ends tied up, a good story, a good read.

Full-Time RVing: A Complete Guide to Life on the Open Road   book icon  
by Bill and Jan Moeller (1993)

read: 23 January 2017
rating: [+]
categories: non-fiction, reference

It’s sort of hard to imagine the usefulness of books like this back in the pre-internet times it was written. I saw when looking it up that there is an updated version and I am curious what it would be like. This guide, which really did give me a great idea of what it would be like to live in an RV, was super meticulous about things that just don’t need to be so detailed now (where to buy thing, notably). I liked the energy of the authors, though some of their priorities did not seem to be mine. At the point at which they were suggesting exactly what ruled graph paper to buy for making lists, I did tune out on some of it. Enjoyable but I’d pick up the new version if I were you.

Gate to Women’s Country   book icon  
by Sheri Tepper (1988)

read: 23 January 2017
rating: [-]
categories: fiction, unfinished

I usually like these ecofeminist books. This one was on the free table at the local college and I picked it up and slogged through parts of it and just couldn’t get excited about picking it up again. Too much weird theatrical overlap (you know the kind where the characters are preparing for a play and there are PAGES of play text in there?) and I couldn’t get over it.

The Stranger in the Woods The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit   book icon  
by Michael Finkel (2017)

read: 16 January 2017
rating: [+]
category: non-fiction

This was a book I received an ARC of from Netgalley. I read a lot about this story when it was in the papers. In fact I read every story I could find. The “North Pond Hermit” as Christopher Knight was known, was a solitary man who was living alone in the woods for decades. He had a little camp set up that was totally invisible to the outside world and he sustained himself by stealing from nearby seasonal cabins in northern Maine. Big news when he was finally found, captured and brought to justice. But what happened next?

Finkel tells the story and does a good job giving you details of Knight’s life both in the woods and out of the woods, without pretending like he had more access to Knight than he really did. They exchanged some letters and had a few face to face visits, but Knight was an extremely private person and did not really encourage or seem to enjoy these visits. Finkel winds up in the awkward journalistic situation of trying to create a relationship with a person who doesn’t want one. I appreciated that Finkel didn’t embellish, didn’t make it seem like they were friends, and didn’t try to tie this all up with a bow at the end. Along the way there are a lot of good anecdotes about hermits but not enough to make you tired out by all the not-the-main-story stories.

Devil in a Blue Dress   book icon  
by Walter Mosley (1991)

read: 15 January 2017
rating: [+]
category: fiction

This was the most-recommended series written by a person of color when I asked about this on my mailing list. I read and enjoyed the first book and will be reading more of them. This is a book written in the 90s about California in the 40s. There’s a lot of grit and casual (and not-so-casual) racism so some of it is tough to read but the plotlines are interesting and I was engrossed all the way through.

The Accidental Time Machine   book icon  
by Joe Haldeman (2008)

read: 11 January 2017
rating: [+]
category: fiction

I love time machine stories! And this one started off pretty good. Guy at MIT finds an accidental time machine, tries to figure out how it works as he deals with a bunch of other things in his life. But then things get weird. He goes so far into the future that things are weird. And then SO far into the future that things are unrecognizable. And there’s this naive gal the protagonist meets along the way who you’re worried he’s going to have an inappropriate relationship with (this is scifi after all). It wraps up neatly but I didn’t like the second half of the book as much as I enjoyed the first half.

Every Stamp Tells a Story   book icon  
by Cheryl Ganz (2014)

read: 6 January 2017
rating: [+]
category: non-fiction

This book is a well-illustrated slightly dry book about the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum written by the former Curator of Philately of the museum. It presumes an interest in the subject matter so that looking at the photos and reading about the plans to build the museum, and choices they made to create and enhance the collection will be of interest. It worked for me and I greatly enjoyed this book.

Underground Airlines   book icon  
by Ben Winters (2016)

read: 6 January 2017
rating: [+]
category: fiction

Really enjoyed this alternate “What if Lincoln hadn’t wound up getting elected?” history book where slavery is still legal in the Hard Four states down South and even the North is a mess of racism and complex rule and class systems to keep everyone in line. The story itself is told by a “bounty hunter” of sorts an escaped slave who is now beholden to the government to trap other escaped slaves. Fascinating stuff. Winters does a good job explaining the details without getting bogged down in them and outlining the racist situation without the book actually falling into a lot of racist cliches.

Among the Mad   book icon  
by Jacqueline Winspear (2009)

read: 2 January 2017
rating: [+]
category: fiction

Enjoyed this one more than the previous one. Maisie is coming to grips with her wartime service and is also deciding to try to be a better friend to Priscilla. Along the way she gets a camera, meets and works with the people at Scotland Yard and learns a lot about mental illness and chemical warfare.

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