Sunday, February 1, 2015

What I Read in January 2015

What I Read in January 2015

In an effort to expand my reading and become a better reader's adviser (and achieve my goal of 55 books in 2015), I am trying to read at least one author listed for each sub-genre on the ARRT Popular Fiction List*. I've placed library books on hold through out the year (ask at your library about suspending holds to get your books at later dates rather than all at once) to accomplish this and I'll be indicating those books by including their sub-genre in italics after the title and author. I'm hoping to have spread the books out so I have a nice mix the whole year, but we'll see how it pans out.

*What is the ARRT Popular Fiction List, you ask? ARRT stands for "Adult Reading Round Table" and is a Chicago-based professional group, focused on improving readers advisory. They put together this list of popular authors as a self-evaluation tool for librarians and other reader advisers. The list not only introduces representative authors for particular sub-genres, but also asks the user to identify their level of familiarity with each author and sub-genre, highlighting areas of relative strength and weakness. If your public library subscribes to NoveList, you can access the full list through their online database.

If you are a member of Kitsap Regional Library, we subscribe too! Email me at kberg@krl.org or call the Port Orchard branch at 360-876-2224 and I'll help you access the list.

Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling
Alternate History Science Fiction
After a sudden, inexplicable force wipes out all modern technology, several Oregon communities struggle to survive.

I am so disappointed that this was the first book I read in 2015. An interesting idea was bogged down by overwhelming, if well-researched, detail about halberds and trebuchets. Casual racism permeates the entire book, ranging from frustrating background characters that rely on stereotypes to criticizing the Nez Perce for assimilating to the one and only non-white main character apparently unable to speak with correct grammar (he's the only one with this affliction). I see reviews that suggest that the later books get better, but I will just have to take their word for it, because I will not be reading them.

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan
Literary Fiction
Red Lobster restaurant manager Manny Deleon attempts to rally his staff and balance his personal life despite blizzard conditions during the last night.

Timing really is everything. I really enjoyed this and though I'm sure I would have liked it whenever I read it, reading it right after finishing a distinctly disappointing novel made me relish it that much more. O'Nan's prose is elegant and complex, but doesn't require a lot of extra work on the part of the reader to decipher. I'm looking forward to reading more O'Nan in the future.

Rooms by Lauren Oliver
An unusual haunting forces both ghosts and the living to come to terms with their traumatic pasts and family secrets.

I have been craving ghost stories recently. Vengeful spirits, haunted houses, and tormented pasts come manifest have been especially enticing. This was a great doorway book into horror. It was eery and had characters with shrouded motivations that kept you interested, but wasn't terrifying. There were no sleepless nights because I was afraid of malicious architectural structures actively working towards my demise. Nothing in this book went too deep (those shrouded motivations may have been initially mysterious, but they were one-dimensional), but I'll be on the look out for other stories by Oliver.

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
Historical Mystery
Housemaid-turned-WWI-army-nurse-turned-private-investigator, Maisie Dobbs investigates a cult-like veterans' home even as the mental and emotional trauma from the war weigh heavily on Maisie and her community.

This is the book I wanted when I read The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King last year. The stories are very similar, but Maisie felt more real than Mary and I guess I'm not a big enough Sherlock Holmes fan to require his presence in all of my historical mysteries. Not only was the mystery intriguing, the characters well-developed, and the world fully imagined in Maisie Dobbs, it also satisfied my Downton Abbey itch. I'll definitely be reading the rest of the series.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
A boisterous new mental patient with ample disregard for rules invigorates the other patients, challenges the staff, and engages in a war of wills against the domineering head nurse.

I do not know anything about the current state of mental health facilities in America, but the one in Kesey's novel is terrifying and I never want to find out first hand whether they have improved.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Amateur Detective Mystery
An aspiring chemist and an amateur detective, 11-year-old Flavia de Luce typically spends her free time seeking revenge on her older sisters, but when she discovers a strange body in the garden, precocious Flavia is on the case.

My mother has been on me to read this book for ages and now I know why! Flavia de Luce is vivacious and refreshing and Bradley's quirky mystery brimming with even quirkier characters makes for an entertaining read.

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein
Trevor travels to his grandfather's dilapidated ancestral mansion in the Pacific Northwest during his parents' trial separation only to discover the ghosts may have different motives than the current residents.

This did not turn out to be the book I thought I was reading, but I loved it nevertheless. I was expecting a classic haunting, but what I got was a coming-of-age story wrapped in a family saga set in a decrepit mansion built from the family's long-gone logging fortune. And it was great.

Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox
Sheep frolic about the pages of Mem Fox's rhyming picture book, but the green sheep is nowhere to be seen! Can you find the green sheep?

Picture books do not typically fill my reading list, but when a patron asked me to grab this from the shelf for her, I was enchanted by the cover illustration. This book is absolutely darling. The clever rhymes feel natural and there is enough going on in the pictures to keep kids and adults alike entertained without becoming cluttered. Very cute!

Neuromancer by William Gibson
Cyberpunk Science Fiction
Employed by a mysterious businessman to hack into a super artificial intelligence with unknown motives, renegade cyber-thief Case teams up with a biologically enhanced samurai and a digitally preserved personality in the novel that launched the cyberpunk genre.

I listened to Neuromancer on audio and I wish I had read it. For me, Neuromancer is one of those books where you understand everything that is going on (and can even keep track of all the characters!) but nevertheless feel like you are missing something. I found myself re-listening to sections and even looking up plot summaries to make sure I hadn't missed something. I never had, but listening to it felt disjointed and I suspect that reading it would have solved that issue. Gibson uses slang and vernacular particular to his future world and does not define anything, leaving the reader to understand only through context. Especially if you are not well-versed in cyberpunk, be prepared to spend some time thinking about Gibson's concepts and ideas on reality, artificial intelligence, and human consciousness and existence, but don't worry about the story dragging -- all these big ideas are nestled into a fast-paced, action-packed story.

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