Monday, May 20, 2013

Reading Roundup

Yep, I do still read (even without Michael to prompt me:) but anyone would be hard pressed to know it these days. 2012 was a weird year for me, 2013 has encompassed the big move and I haven't felt overly expressive for quite a while but maybe I'm ready to get back to it. Or maybe not... we'll see how it goes and start it off with a little roundup...

Currently reading s l o w l y:

Title: The Count of Monte Cristo
Author: Alexandre Dumas
Publisher: Century eBooks (2012); this is a 0.99 Kindle book that includes three of Dumas' works. The Count of Monte Cristo was originally published serially in the 1800s. I haven't bothered to look at which translation this is.

I read this title over a decade ago and was inspired to pick it up again after reading The Black Count (which I highly recommend) and I'm enjoying the re-read. I skip over parts of it but most of it can still keep my attention. What I find myself doing quite a lot is trying to figure out which modern day book is the equivalent of this. Might it be Twilight? I haven't read Twilight but it's a hugely successful bestseller which is panned as often as it's praised. I've heard the dialogue is terrible, some of the writing excerpts I've seen would certainly get skipped by a reader like me and the characters are, I'm told, melodramatic and tend to not want to go on living without certain life partners... Many of these attributes are to be found in The Count of Monte Cristo....

Title: Cricket Explained
Author: Robert Eastaway
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (1993)

The New Zealand cricket team keeps getting described to me as rubbish but I'm still prepared to become a fan of the sport and watch some local games (matches? tests? I'm still not clear on the lingo) when the season comes round again. This book is a great introduction to the sport and pretty funny to read besides. The author has a sense of humor that I quite enjoy.

Recently read:

Title: A Conspiracy of Kings
Author: Megan Whalen Turner
Publisher: Greenwillow (2010)

I've often said "any Kinsale is better than no Kinsale (and quite often better than almost all the other books:)" and I feel the same for Megan Whalen Turner. Turner has published fewer books so her A/B/C teams would be smaller but now she does have at least one on each team. This is my third read of ACoK and I haven't changed my opinion from the first read. That's an unusual thing with a MWT book as they are treasures for those who like to re-read (it's why I so often think of her and Kinsale together because they both write the kind of books that get better with more reading; that and my passionate obsession enthusiasm for their books). My opinion the first, second, and third time around on this one is, "Huh, it doesn't have the zing of the others. What a shame." It's still a solid read. It adds some interesting information to the canon but it's not one that made me want to immediately turn back to page one. So here's how I would outline the teams:

The A Team: The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia
The B Team: The Thief, Instead of Three Wishes (short stories)
The C Team: A Conspiracy of Kings

But, don't forget, any Turner is better than no Turner so you should read all of these!

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Title: The Archivist's Story
Author: Travis Holland
Publisher: The Dial Press (2007)

This story is set in 1939 Moscow and covers about a year in the life of a man who was forced out of his University position and now works as an "archivist" for Fourth Section at the Lubyanka (this is from memory so please forgive misspellings/misnomers if they exist). Being the Russophile that I am, I gobbled up the atmosphere and history but I kept being nagged by the fact that it was so perfectly what I, an American who does not excel at history, thought it would be like to live in Soviet Russia. Is it unfair of me to think negatively of the book because of that? I just felt so much of my own American sentiments in the book that it started to make me critical of the authenticity of the experiences of the characters. I'm sure it's unfair of me but I couldn't lose that nagging feeling while reading. My doubts aside, it's still worth a read for its portrayal of professional and family dynamics in a constrained atmosphere.

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Title: Greywalker
Author: Kat Richardson
Publisher: Roc (2009)

Urban paranormal with a Seattle PI as its protag. Nothing to dislike in the characters, though nothing to particularly recommend either, but it's heavy heavy heavy on the world instruction which becomes tedious. I would say world building but it was just straight up tell tell tell and that's not much building to me. Bleh, give this one a pass.

rating: 2 of 5 stars

I think we all remember Dead Spy Running...

Title: Surfacing
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publisher: Anchor (1998)

Hard to know what to say on this one.... A woman with a complicated family past takes her boyfriend and a couple on a weekend trip to her home town. Her dad is missing (possibly deceased) and she wants to check things out. After reading about half of the book this is still all I know about the book. I was mildly curious as to what was going to happen with the protag but it was so easy to put down, and I eventually moved, so I had to give it back to the library. So, um, not recommended?

rating: dnf

Title: Kingdom of Strangers
Author: Zoe Ferraris
Publisher: Little, Brown and Co. (2012)

This is, I think, the third book in a crime series set in Saudi Arabia. It has a few of the series' traits that drive me nuts (repetitious relationship arcs, too much character review, etc) but I keep getting sucked in by the intriguing setting and characters. Katya works at the police station and is constantly required to navigate the strict gender roles imposed by the state and by custom to realize her ambitions and to solve cases. Nayir is a desert guide for, for lack of a better word, the gentry but also a sometimes investigator who is constantly challenged by Katya to re-analyze his notions of gender essentialism and faith. This book opens with the discovery of 19 corpses, all undocumented women, buried in the desert. Strip away the setting and these are all solid crime fiction books but they are written in such a way that the setting can't be stripped away and that is what keeps me coming back even though I have some complaints about the series.

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Title: Don't Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America
Author: David M. Kennedy
Publisher: Bloomsbury (2011)

This book went immediately to my must-read list and I can't recommend it highly enough. If you have any interest in the cycle of violence that plagues many city neighborhoods and, more importantly, how it can be stopped then this is a book you can't miss. Kennedy describes a decades long struggle to implement a proven system to decrease gun violence in neighborhoods. That's my emphasis on proven because self-auditing and stats back up the system and results are seen. It's a frustrating and encouraging look at a problem that can be solved as long as people are willing to put aside their differences and their preconceived notions and work in reality. Malcolm Gladwell and the Freakonomics authors probably love this book as it has no time to waste on conventional wisdom and is only interested in what works. The writing style takes a bit of getting used to (grammarians beware!) but it doesn't get in the way of the message.

rating: 4 of 5 stars


  1. I have The Black Count in my audiobook stack! Great to see you back reviewing books, Rachel.

  2. Thanks, Michael! And I hope you enjoy The Black Count as much as I did.

  3. Yeah, I think I have to give The Black Count a go.

    And I heard an interview with David Kennedy not long ago, and it made me want to dump a truckload of his books smack onto Chicago City Hall.

    Also, I lovelovelove that you're a fellow Kinsale fan of the obsessive order. I just think back to pre-internet, when I read and loved her and wanted to evangelize and wallow in it with other people, but as far as I knew, I was the only person who'd ever heard of her. Even now, I run across people who love one or two of her books - but it's rare to find someone like me, who is just "it's Kinsale so it's already more awesome than everything else, how can you even question that?!" We should have a secret hand shake or something.

  4. Hey Beth, let me know how you like The Black Count. I hope it ends up working out for you. One nice surprise for me was a lot of historical context that correlates well with the type of historical fiction I read. It was cool to see a more concentrated look at the time period when I usually get that kind of thing as background.

    I had the same response as you to Kennedy. I wanted to mail the book to every mayor in the US but especially the hotspots like Chicago, L.A., Oakland, Cincy, NY (even though they reject the strategy), etc.

    Yay, secret handshake! Let's do it! And I totally agree, I can find people who say "oh yeah I really liked a couple of hers" and I want to respond with "and??????" but there is no and. :( Nice to find a kindred spirit. (Isn't the internet awesome??)