10 July 2018

Book Report for April, May, and June 2018

Before July gets much more underway, I wanted to share what I have read in the past few months.  As usual, it's kind of a mish-mash of things, and some times I read more than other times, so it's always unpredictable to me what I can expect to get done.  I decided not to participate in Summer Book Bingo this year, because to be frank, I didn't really enjoy it that much last year.  I do like reading others' posts about it, and finding how they made things work for the bingo squares - it just wasn't fun for me.

Anyway, moving on, here's what I read, and what I thought about it.

The Crossing Places, by Elly Griffiths.  This was a new series for me, and it was pretty interesting. Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist who is asked to assist when some bones are discovered near the salt marshes where she lives.  Though they turn out to be from the Iron Age, Ruth remains involved in the investigation to locate a missing young girl.  This turns out to throw a lot of her beliefs in friends and colleagues out of kilter, as well as making her think about her own life.

This was an interesting read.  I think I'll read another in the series to see if it really grabs me.

An Affair to Dismember, by Elise Sax.  This was a Friday cheapo book for my Nook - for 99 cents, I decided to try it.

This is hands down one of the most stupid books I have ever read in my life.  First of all, the main character is learning to be a matchmaker from her Jewish grandmother who is ready to retire.  OK, I suspend my disbelief for a lot of stuff I read.  But it was just terrible and stupid.  The only reason I read until the end was because I was actually interested in who the murderer turned out to be, and even that was stupid.

I don't care if you want a quick and easy summer read that requires no concentration - this ain't it, let me assure you.

The Thoughtful Dresser, by Linda Grant.  I really enjoyed this book.  The author writes it in a chatty and engaging style, so that you don't feel she is preaching at you to make you feel like you are a loser, style-wise.  She discusses fashion, style, shopping, and what clothes do mean and can mean to the wearer.

Besides her own observations, she focuses on a few individuals and tells their stories.  In some ways, this book feels more like a series of essays, but they it all works put together this way. 

If nothing else, borrow this book for the library so that you can read the beginning of one of the later chapters her commentary on seeing the designer Alexander McQueen and the discussion of some of the well-known high-end designers.  Her comment about Karl Lagerfeld made me laugh out loud!

I wish I had read her blog when it was current, I think she would have been a happy, interesting spot in the world of style blogs.

If you enjoy hearing about fashion, style, and some history, you will probably like this book.  I borrowed my copy from the library, and am seriously considering purchasing one for myself, so I can dip into it every once in a while.

Lilli de Jong, by Janet Benton.  Here's what I really liked about this book:  it takes place in 1880s Philadelphia, and so has references to actual locations in the city.  It's also a good depiction of society and what is and is not accepted at that time. 

Here's what I didn't like about the book:  there were about 50 pages towards the end that a good editor could have cut, without losing the heart of the story. 

Lilli de Jong is a young Quaker woman who finds herself pregnant after a night of passion with her betrothed, before he leaves to find work in Pittsburgh.  She fully expects him to send for her quickly, and for them to be married and have a life together.  When that does not happen, and her stepmother learns she is pregnant, she is thrown out of the house because of the shame it brings to her family.

She finds herself at a home for unwed mothers, where life is not perfect, but it is bearable.  The expectation is that she will surrender her baby for adoption, but once her daughter is born, she cannot bear the thought of doing so.  Her decision means that her life will be a struggle, as single women with children are not accepted in a respectable society.  For a while, she finds a position at a wet nurse for a well-to-do couple, but her continued worry about her daughter, who is in care, keep her from being able to behave in the way her employers expect.   When a specific incident leads to her being fired, her options become much more limited, and possibly dangerous.

I liked this book well enough, but especially towards the end, it became somewhat predictable.

Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay.  This book was excellent.  Granted, some of the topics discussed were dated because it was written a few years ago, but nonetheless Gay's writing is true, articulate, and often very funny.  Whether she is discussing the presence of "magical Negroes" in movies, the whole set of issues around Tyler Perry and his work, or the meaning of "feminist" and how the label can have an effect on the way others treat you, she is spot on and approachable in each essay.

I don't read a lot of essay collections, but every single on in this volume was worth my time.

The New Garconne : How to Be a Modern Gentlewoman, by Navaz Batliwalla.  Meh. 

I guess I didn't pay enough attention to the summaries of this book before I decided to request it from the library.  It's a series of interviews with women who were fortunate enough to be born into, or marry into families with resources, and often with one or more creative parent.  After about the third interview with someone who grew up with wealthy parents who often owned artistic companies, I just skimmed the rest.  They interviews were mainly snippets asking how they got started, how they decided on their styles, etc. and then at the end of the book there were resources for the reader indicating where some of the things included could be purchased (if you are someone who can afford Hermes bags and such).

Next time, I'll pay better attention - this was probably fine for what it was supposed to be, I was just going into it with completely different expectations.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, by Balli Kaur Jaswal.  I really wanted to like this book.  But for whatever reason, I just couldn't get into it or care about the characters.  I read about 75-100 pages, and it just wasn't working for me. 

Your mileage of course may vary.

Craeft : An Inquiry Into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts, by Alexander Langlands.  I've been wanting to read this since it was published. 

I found it interesting, but really sloggy in parts.  The author does a good job of relaying the information, but occasionally details are overdone.   Which is probably done on purpose, but I was expecting something much more readable.

The All of It, by Jeannette Haien.  This is a small but very intense book, taking place in a small Irish village.

Father Declan de Loughry is salmon fishing on the last day of the season, in the pouring rain, against everyone's suggestion.  But he uses the time to muse over something one of his parishioners told him as he lay dying, and that he learned more about afterwards.  Though shocking, it is presented as something that "just happened" and that no one else really needed to know about. 

Father Declan cannot let go of the feeling that on the one hand, he failed in his duty as God's representative on earth when he learned the news.  Then again, those involved were both dedicated to each other and though they never confessed to anyone else, it was largely because "no one ever asked." 

As he recalls the conversations with the deceased's wife, he is reminded that some see his life as one of futility and sadness, since he is unable to have a family and feel their constant support and love.  This realization leads him to consider a course of action never expected at the beginning of the book.

The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman.  This book took so long for me to finish because I don't keep up with audiobooks as well as I do with books I actually read on paper or on my Nook.  In any case, I wanted to finish this book because I have read and enjoyed the previous two in this series.

Once again, Pullman has made a complex story with fantastical happenings both interesting and enjoyable.  Lyra and Will's journey throughout the series is so interesting to me, and in some ways feels very personal.  In this book, Will manages to rescue Lyra from her mother, who has kidnapped her and kept her hidden from her father and his men.  The two then try their best to get home, and in the course of the story, visit the Land of the Dead, lose their daemons briefly, and move into young adulthood with the usual strong feelings and hopes we have all experienced at one time or another.

Some found the ending to be upsetting, but to be perfectly honest, I found it to be very hopeful. 

I'm not usually a reader of fantasy/otherworld type of stories, but this series is excellent.

You Can't Spell America Without Me : The Really Tremendous Inside Story of My Fantastic First Year As President Donald J. Trump, by Alec Baldwin.  I listened to this "book" as filler between other reads.  It is silly, with Alec Baldwin narrating it as Donald Trump, and contains all of the expressions and poor uses of language that Trump uses on a regular basis.  I listened to it and finished it before the current horrors started (as opposed to the "regular" horrors we have experienced since Inauguration Day), so I could laugh exhaustedly at the stupidity of this man.  While of course, still hoping and working for his downfall.

A Bed of Scorpions, by Judith Flanders.  This is the second book in this series, and I enjoyed it just as much as the first one.

Sam Clair works in publishing, and is dating a police detective.  At the start of this book, one of Sam's exes who is now part owner in an art gallery finds his partner dead.  Was it suicide?  That seems to be the prevailing opinion, but the police are still investigating.   Then Sam has an "accident" on her bicycle, and weird things start to happen.  It seems like someone is out to get Sam, but she (and the reader) don't know why.

This was an enjoyable read, and I will admit that I had about four different theories about what happened, and who the murderer was.  (None were correct, for what it's worth.)  The story moves along at a good pace, and there are some entertaining parts and commentary along the way.  Sam is a heroine in her 40s, and that's a nice change.  Her relationship with her boyfriend and her mother are realistic and though they are part of the story, they don't interfere.

Needles and Pearls, by Gil McNeil.  This was an enjoyable read when I couldn't decide what I wanted to read.

Part of what I enjoyed about the first book in this series is that it wasn't a story about a woman whose husband had died, and her goal in life was to find love again.  It wasn't sappy, and the main character was not perfect and lovely.

That continues in this book, when the main character, Jo, finds herself in a situation she never imagined, while life in the small town where she has moved with her young sons goes on.  This book could have jumped the shark and become really sweet and sappy, but instead it just continued the story in the way a life continues.

It's not the best series out there, but it's a nice break from a lot of the other types of books that would be in the same kind of category.

The Sweet Dove Died, by Barbara Pym.  Humphrey and his nephew James, who run an antiques store, meet a woman named Leonora at an auction when she buys a valuable book.  As time goes on, they befriend her, and she is attracted to each of them for different reasons - James in a romantic sense, and Humphrey as an elegant companion and friend.  When James goes away for an extended period, and returns with a close male friend, his and Leonora's relationship changes quite a bit, and she becomes more reliant on Humphrey.

This book is typical Barbara Pym - observant, funny, and often poignant.  Loved it, as I do all of her books.


I hope you are reading something enjoyable, and managing to keep cool!  Let me know if you have any suggestions for really good books to read - or even ones to avoid!


Judy S. said...

I recently read Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann which provides insight into the oil industry in OK and its effect on the Osage Indian tribe.

Vera said...

I've read all of the Elly Griffiths novels in the Ruth Galloway series and love them. They are quick, easy reads, but I find them enjoyable. If you do decide to read more, make sure you read them in order. Always enjoy your reviews Bridget - thanks!

Kym said...

I always love your thoughtful and very honest book reviews! (And I'll certainly avoid that stupid book. . . ) I read The Thoughtful Dresser several years ago (when it first came out) and remember really liking it. I also loved The All of It (a lot of story packed into a small book). I hope you have many more great reads before the summer is over! :-)

Tired Teacher said...

Thanks for the titles and your impressions. I'm always looking for books to read.

Araignee said...

I liked the Dark Materials books too. It's a shame they didn't make a better movie out of the first one.