Recent-ish reads, digest edition

May 29, 2011 at 10:19 am (book review, current reading)

A month-long posting drought isn’t the most auspicious start to a new blog. Hopefully it won’t happen again. Why the drought? Well, the end of a semester is always intense in academia with lots of papers and odd ends of assignments to grade. I decided to make it more interesting by moving in the midst of all that. In the long run, though, that move should yield more blogging material since I now have more time to both read and crochet. Yes, it turns out that days seem to have more hours in them when one doesn’t have a TV or wireless internet at home. It may be spartan, but my quality of life has gone up as a result. My recent reads list is testament to that:

Dry, Augusten Burroughs – OK, technically, I read this before the move but just didn’t get to blogging it. If anyone has read Burroughs’ previous memoir Running with Scissors, which tells of the utmost dysfunctional upbringing, it should be no surprise that this memoir traces his struggle with alcoholism. It’s got his signature dark humor, but more than anything, his humanity is what shines through. Readers can find something to identify with, whether it’s his attempts to make the right decisions or struggle to come to terms with difficult and painful feelings.

The Midwife, Gay Courter – This was the first book I read in the new place. I love a good work of historical fiction. I also love stories with strong yet believable female protagonists. Oh yes, and I also love immigrant stories of people making new lives for themselves in a relatively young America. This had everything, and once I got into the story, I could barely put it down as I followed protagonist Hannah Blau from an increasingly anti-semitic Russia to America where she struggled to hold her marriage together and was up against a medical profession bent on putting midwives out of business.

Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger – Several years ago, I read Catcher in the Rye for the first time. I chalked up my dislike of it to my being probably too old to be reading it for the first time (the best time likely being the teenage years), so I decided to give Salinger another try. Can’t say I particularly cared for this one either. I believe that he captured some of the listlessness of a post-WWII ennui. That said, I still found the characters self-absorbed and difficult to identify with or even like.

Bluebeard’s Egg and Other Stories, Margaret Atwood – The first book of Atwood’s I ever read was Oryx and Crake, which while a bit didactic was still an excellent read. That was quickly followed by reading The Handmaiden’s Tale, another powerful dystopian read. Usually two strong books is enough to indicate a favorite author. Not so in this case. Bluebeard’s Egg is one of several of Atwood’s books that I have since tried reading. Several stories are good (the title story, for one), and many of them deal with characters coming to terms with changes or cracks in the facades of their relationships, but as a whole, I would not go out of my way for this short story collection.

Working for the Devil, Lilith Saintcrow – This is the first novel of the Dante Valentine series, and wow, was it hard to put down. To be straightforward, this is not high literature. It is not deep or profound. But it tells a story so fast-paced and engaging with a strong heroine that I maaaaay have set aside my grading for an evening to devour it, which is the mark of great storytelling. I like a bit of urban fantasy with a strong, somewhat mouthy protagonist (a la Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files or to a lesser extent Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series). This tale of a necromancer enlisted by Lucifer himself to chase down a lesser demon and given a demon familiar to aid in her quest was an intensely enjoyable bit of escapism.

Dead Man Rising, Lilith Saintcrow – After Working for the Devil, I promptly checked out the next few Dante Valentine books from the library, and this is the second. I approached this warily since sequels often disappoint, but this one didn’t. At times, Dante Valentine got a bit, well, emo, for lack of a better word, but given the circumstances, it was at least understandable if moderately irritating. However, did it also tell a fast-paced yarn that kept me up late and made an evening fly by rapidly? Oh yes.

The Better Part of Darkness, Kelly Gay – Ironically, I realized that this book had an endorsing blurb from Lilith Saintcrow on the cover. It’s yet another urban fantasy novel with a tough female protagonist (a single mother detective in this case). It’s set in Atlanta, a city that has become almost a portal for otherworldly beings, some creatures of light and goodness and the others much darker and more dangerous. It was also good escapism and I may follow up with the next book in what appears to be the start of a series, but it won’t break my heart if I don’t either.

That brings my current reading up to date. For a preview of coming attractions, here’s what’s on the current reading stack: Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.

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“Not leaving”

March 14, 2011 at 10:00 pm (current reading)

Markus Zusak's The Book Thief

A touching excerpt from my current reading, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief.

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