by Tina Fey

How I read it: Audiobook

Quick Take: I’ve been “reading” this audiobook since I believe April of 2012. Fey is funny and witty, and overall I enjoyed the book. Ironically, I was reluctant to listen to the sections about the 2008 election, especially during another presidential election there, yet those were my favorite. Fey includes the original skit she did as Palin with Amy Poehler’s Hillary Clinton about sexism in the media. Fey narrates her own book, and I especially loved the final third. B+

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

How I read it: Audiobook downloaded to my iPad

Quick Take: I love Jane Austen, and Orlagh Cassidy was narrating this novel, which was why I chose to borrow it. I listened to it at night as I was falling asleep. I’m not entirely sure what happened at the end, or all the ins and outs of the plot, but overall it was an enjoyable listen. I was surprised that a supposed Jane Austen addict who finds herself somehow in Georgian England wouldn’t have more knowledge of the customs and mores. Ah well. If my library gets future audiobooks in this series, and they are still narrated by the divine Ms. Cassidy, I’ll probably listen to them, but I won’t seek out the sequels to Rigler’s novel. C

Princess Elizabeth’s Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal

How I read it: Paperback from my library

Quick Take: I fell in love with Maggie Hope in MacNeal’s first mystery, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary. It was one of my favorite reads of 2012. I enjoyed PES, though not as much as MCS. In this adventure, Maggie is sent to Windsor Castle, ostensibly as a maths tutor for 14 year old Princess Elizabeth, but really to protect her from suspected threats. I didn’t find Windsor Castle as interesting as the Cabinet War Rooms of MCS, and it seemed strange to read a novel about the girlhood of Queen Elizabeth, when her majesty is still with us and, to my knowledge, did not experience the escapades of detailed in this novel.

There were further plot developments in Maggie’s life that I also found cliched. Highlight the next paragraph to be spoiled.

WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS! In this novel, Maggie finds code hidden in one of her father’s old books. She believes he was a double agent during WWI, and that he killed the father of her current handler and love interest at MI-5. The big reveal at the end is that her mother was the German spy, and her mother faked her own death in a car accident. This is straight out of Alias, which was one of my favorite shows. We then learn that John, Maggie’s RAF pilot beau who was shot down and presumed dead, is actually alive and hiding in Germany. The missing-presumed-dead-lover-is-really-alive seems terribly trite. B-

2012: My Year in Books

In 2012, I challenged myself to read 50 books. I included audiobooks in my progress, and as of 11:59 p.m. on 12/31/12, I had completed 47 new books. I finished the last half disc of the Bossypants audio book on 1/1/13.

What I Read

  • 3 audio books and 44 books:

36 Fiction, including

  • 1 short story collection
  • 15 young adult/juvenile novels
  • 10 mysteries

11 Nonfiction, including

  • 3 memoirs
  • 1 biography
  • 2 collections of comic essays
  • 2 Jane Austen related books
  • 1 collection of Harry Potter essays

What I Didn’t Finish

I gave up on Practical Magic and The Shoemaker’s Wife. Both audiobooks, incidentally. Practical Magic was not much like the movie, as I remembered it, and I realized I didn’t care about these characters. When The Shoemaker’s Wife switched narrators, I tried switching to the hardcover and realized I just didn’t care about these characters, either. I call it the Tom Jones effect: I’m really unmoved by men who proclaim their love for one woman, then spend their time sleeping with anything in a skirt that crosses their path, while the supposed object of their affection pines away and remains faithful to the idea of them. Bah.

I also didn’t finish A Kosher Christmas (too dry and scholarly; I was looking more for pop culture history), The Marriage Plot (couldn’t get into it and didn’t like the characters), and Like the Willow Tree (far too depressing for me).

Reading Challenges

I signed up for two reading challenges: the Witches & Witchcraft 2012 Reading Challenge and the The Victorian Challenge. For Witches & Witchcraft, I challenged myself to read 1-5 books and read one: Shadow of Night, the second in the All Souls Trilogy

Thanks to favorite series (Lady Emily and the Parasol Protectorate), I did better with the Victorian Challenge and met my goal of 5 books. I read Death in the Floating City, The Yard, A Crimson Warning, A Spy in the House, and Timeless.

Because of work, I did not keep up with my book reviews, nor truthfully my reading journal. And now, my favorite reads (and honorable mentions) of the year: Continue Reading »

Adventures in Young Adult Lit

Divergent and Insurgentt by Veronica Roth

The Series Grade: B+

Will I Read the Sequel: Yes

My Thoughts: I can’t remember how I first heard of Roth’s series. I found the premise of a world in which people are divided into factions based on personality trait (Erudite, Candor, Dauntless, Amity , and Abnegation) intriguing. Yes, I took the facebook quiz before I read the book. I wanted Erudite, because I’m a Ravenclaw, but was instead labeled Dauntless. Hmmmm.

To return to our tale. In some ways, it reminded me of The Hunger Games. Tris Prior is not as engaging or compelling as Katniss, though to be fair, who is? Both endure violent physical trials to survive their dystopian worlds. The difference is Katniss knew what she was choosing; Tris didn’t. Each year, the young adults take a test to determine their dominant personality trait. They can then choose to join the new faction, or stay with the faction in which they grew up. This is complicated for Tris when her test reveals she has aptitude for multiple factions: she is divergent.

What does that mean? It means “our minds move in a dozen different directions. We can’t be confined to one way of thinking and that terrifies our leaders. It means we can’t be controlled. And it means that no matter what they do, we will always cause trouble for them” (442). Divergent is the introduction to this world, Tris’ initiation in her faction, and her gradual discovery of what exactly it means to be Divergent. 

I can’t say much about Insurgent without spoiling it, or Divergent. What I can say is that the world-building continues, the mysteries deepen, and I am patiently awaiting the third book in the series, title unknown (though Roth says it won’t be Detergent).

Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev

The Grade: B-

Will I Read the Sequel(s): No

My Thoughts: I couldn’t buy this world. That was the biggest struggle for me. This is the theater where all the characters in all the plays, yet there’s no audience, until our protagonist Bertie stages a  revival of Hamlet, then there’s an audience. Bertie can randomly call for scenes to be set on the stage, yet this has no effect on the world at large. The characters aren’t allowed to leave the theater, yet some do, and it has no effect upon the plays they’re supposed to be in? It would have made more sense to me it were like BookWorld in Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series.  It didn’t work for me and I couldn’t get past it.

I also didn’t particularly care for Nate, Bertie’s would be paramour. Ariel of The Tempest, her foil was far more interesting. It’s not a bad read, and for those who aren’t quite so preoccupied with the premise, it’s probably quite enjoyable.

The Grade: B+

Why I Picked It: I read A Discovery of Witches, and wanted to read the second in Harkness’ trilogy

Reading Challenge2012 Witches & Witchcraft I reread ADOW prior to Shadow of Night, so I’ve read two of my 5 books for the Initiate level of this challenge!

Book One or Book Two: Definitely Book Two

My Thoughts: I definitely preferred Shadow of Night to A Discovery of Witches. For one, while Matthew and Diana are still my least favorite part of the world, they didn’t annoy me as much in this chapter of the trilogy. The first book is mostly about the two of them falling in love. In Shadow of Night, they time travel—excuse me, time walk–back to Elizabethan England in search of the mysterious alchemy manuscript Ashmole 782, and to find some witches to train Diana.

I was concerned when I finished ADOW that Book Two would be all Diana and Matthew in Elizabethan England. They were my least favorite part of ADOW, and I wondered if Shadow of Night would hold my attention without their far more interesting friends and family members to fill out the narrative. Shadow of Night starts slow; I wasn’t really on board until they went to Matthew’s family’s home in France and we meet his vampire father, Philipe. We meet more of Matthew’s friends and family members in 1590′s Europe, and again, I found these vampires, daemons, and mortals more entertaining than our lovers. Though Matthew and Diana did grow on me.

Fans of ADOW shouldn’t be disappointed, and those who had a more temperate reaction to Book One may find themselves a little more compelled by the couple and their exploits. I’m now looking forward to Book Three.

This Month in Books: July

Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon

The Grade: B

Why I Picked It: The Good German is one of my favorite novels, and Istanbul

Quick Take: I loved the setting of post Wold War II Istanbul. Kanon’s newest novel furthers my resolve to read more book set in Istanbul, and learn more about the city itself. It’s hard to follow The Good German, and Istanbul Passage lacks the emotional heft and moral dilemmas of Kanon’s previous post war novel. He touches upon the same themes, but the characters, their conundrums and the plot in Istanbul cannot compare to Berlin. Still, though Istanbul Passage is not as meaty as The Good German, it’s still a pretty good yarn, and for me, well worth it to be in 1945 Istanbul for a few hours.

Juliet Gordon Low The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts by Stacy Cordery

The Grade: A-

Makes Me Want To: Get involved in Girl Scouting beyond simply buying cookies, and read Cordery’s biography of Alice Roosevelt Longworth

Quick Take: Although I was a girl scout (Daisy to Junior Girl Scouts) all I knew of the founder was that her nickname was Daisy, so the very youngest girls in Girl Scouting were in Daisy troops. Juliet Gordon Low was so much more, and Cordery has done a great service in chronicling her remarkable, inspiring life. Here are two of my favorite anecdotes. After she was diagnosed with breast cancer, those around her were understandably sad. Low said she was disappointed that no one had remembered her birthday. Her hosts through a grand party, and it wasn’t until the celebrations ended that they remembered it was not actually her birthday. She confessed to the subterfuge and said she wanted to cheer everyone up. On one of her crossings between England the U.S., her companions wouldn’t go with her to a costume ball. She wore old white sheets, tied a rope with empty liquor bottles around her waist and went as departed spirits.

Maman’s Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen by Donia Bijan

The Grade: A-

Why I Picked It: Recommended by the unabridged chick; my interest in Iran

Quick Take: Bijan is an Iranian American. While on vacation with her family, the Shah was toppled and the Bijan’s became exiles. Bijan become a chef and uses recipes and memories of food to tell the story of her life, and her memories of her parents. I love the language, and the idea of telling stories through recipes. I’m a vegetarian, so I won’t be sampling all of them, but I do intend to try some and adopt others. I loved the atmosphere of this book; I savored it and knew as I was reading it I would add Maman’s Homesick Pie to my personal library.

Favorite Quotes: “I cooked the way my father practiced medicine–with joy, precision, heart, and soul” (205). “The desire for food, security, and love is a shared thing” (243).

My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength, and What Makes a Family by Zach Wahls

The Grade: B+

Why I Picked It: Like the millions of other viewers, I was moved by Wahls’ testimony to the Iowa House Judiciary Committee in support of same-sex marriage

Quick Take: Operating by the maxim that we fear what we don’t know, Wahls, an Eagle Scout, lets us get to know his family. Wahls is an Eagle Scout and shapes his book by the principles and values of the Boy Scouts. Each chapter focuses on one of the values or character traits of an Eagle Scout, such as being brave, reverent, and helpful. Like his testimony, My Two Moms is forthright, honest, and relatable. I suspect many people will see their own families in Wahls’, which is the point.

ETA: One of my favorite quotes from the book:

Opponents will often talk about the struggles and challenges that children of gay couples have to go through. I will say only this: We have to go through those challenges because you put us through them. We only have to experience that pain because you insist on inflicting it. By trying to tell us that there is something wrong with gay marriage, that there is something wrong with families led by gay couples, you create something wrong—you become the source of our pan. Knowing the challenges that little boy will have to face and the things he will have to deal with–that’s we’re still not at a point when he can live a childhood untouched by fear and unsullied by hate–breaks my heart. This book is for him”(209).

The Grade: A-

Why I Picked It: Co-creator of The Daily Show and Planned Parenthood activist=my kind of humor

Quick Take: Comedian Lizz Winstead writes a series of “messays” about  her life, from growing up Catholic in Minnesota, to discovering comedy and making a living as a comedian.

My Thoughts: This is a great quick read. I hesitate to call it a beach read, as I would have likely received strange glances and possible medical attention from snorting with laughter as I read Winstead’s essays, or “messays” as she calls them. “Two Dogs and a Cup,” about adopting a dog from the local shelter, had me laughing so hard I couldn’t hold on to the book.

Winstead is the co-creator/founder of The Daily Show, and Air America Radio. Interesting trivia: while preparing to launch Air America, her friend Paul sent her a tape of a local in Western Mass he though Lizz should hire. Lizz did, and thus began the rise of Rachel Maddow. Awesome.

Winstead is also a strong supporter of Planned Parenthood. She did a series of shows in 2011, the “Planned Parenthood, I’m Here for You Tour,” to raise money, and after reading her book, I’m even more disappointed I didn’t see her when she was in New England.

Winstead is a smart, funny, feminist and political satirist. I love her; she’s my favorite. Check her out.

The Grade: B+

Why I Picked It: Jane Austen plus Latin America

Quick Take: English professor Amy Elizabeth Smith takes a sabbatical to spend the year traveling to six countries in Latin America, holding a book group (in Spanish) to discuss one of Jane Austen’s novels in each country.

Makes Me Want To: Take Spanish classes in Guatemala and go to Buenos Aires, learn more Latin American history, and read Latin American authors.

Favorite quote: Thank god for feisty women, rich or poor. Thank god for anyone who’ll fight for the right to sit down with a good book—and then, the right to sit down with some good friends and that good book (164).

My Thoughts: I read this in a couple of days, mostly while riding on the metro in D.C. during a business trip. It’s an interesting premise, though I would have appreciated a bit more depth from Smith and her book groups. In her preface, she says Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, a personal favorite of mine, inspired her to write this book. The discussions she chronicles lack the insight and meat of Nafisi’s work, and the reference increased my expectations. Smith, a self-described feminist, touches upon gender relations in some of her book groups, and I would have liked to have heard more of those discussions. For example, while discussing Pride and Prejudice in Ecuador, one of the participants says, “If you don’t fight for space in your life for art and conversation, so much will pass you by—for anybody, but especially for women, since we’re always taking care of others” (164). Smith noted that her couples in Mexico and women participants in Guatemala have stronger demands on their time, which makes it difficult to read and participate in a book group. I wanted to hear more.

In each country, Smith followed the same basic blueprint: settle in, get recommendations for books written by native authors, buy lots of books, provide a little history of country and chronicle major tourist excursions, hold book discussion. In short, if my Spanish were better, she’s living a dream of mine.

Smith further enhanced my desire to visit Buenos Aires. I’ve heard it called the Paris of Latin America, and I love the Argentine Tango. Buenos Aires is also a literary capital and one of the stereotypes about Argentineans is that they love to read. Clearly, I must visit.

One pet peeve and one delight I have to mention: Smith is fond of writing “I couldn’t help but wonder.” By Mexico (the second country), I was already tired of this phrase and wished she’d had an editor to remove it. I was literally wincing when it appeared again and again. Am I overly sensitive to this? Does anyone else find that wording as annoying as I do?

Each chapter opens with a beautiful illustration. I adored these! Smith references some of the Jane Austen merchandise now available, and I would love to have these drawings as bookplates. See the image for Guatemala below.


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