Sunday, January 31, 2016

The January Book Round-Up

I realize that saying I'm going to make this a monthly institution is like saying that I'm going to get up at 5 AM every day-- in other words, a million little pieces of the universe will conspire against me to make sure it doesn't actually happen.  But for January at least, I'm going to try and recap what I read this month, what I'm still reading, and what I think of what I've read.  Have I said "read" enough now?  Yes? Good.

Read: Destination Unknown, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The Bronte Plot

Abandoned: Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse, All the Light We Cannot See 

Currently Reading: Wives and Daughters, Pioneer Girl, Beginning at Moses

2 out of 5 stars

Destination Unknown wasn't quite my least favorite Agatha Christie mystery-- that distinction would have to go to Postern of Fate, which was doubly disappointing because the plot was lackluster AND because it was about my two favorites of her characters, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford.  I expected better for T&T.  Destination Unknown is a standalone novel, and the detective (something Jessup) is forgettable at best, but the main character, Hilary, was actually quite likable.  (I should clarify that I listened to this as an audiobook on my way to and from work, and didn't actually read the printed text, so if I spell the names wrong, it's because I didn't bother to look them up.)  There wasn't actually a whole lot of mystery mystery though (i.e. no one was doing much detective work... just sort of following enigmatic people around and being taken to remote scary institutions and pretending to be other people's dead wives) and I like mysteries to challenge my little gray cells.  I definitely enjoyed this more as an audiobook than I would have as a regular old lump of text, however, because Emilia Fox (Georgiana Darcy!) narrated it, and she's very talented and fun to listen to.

4 out of 5 stars

Guernsey was actually a reread-- a third-time reread, in point of fact, but I definitely enjoyed it.  I can't give it the full five stars though, because unfortunately this is one of those books that doesn't live up to the hype I've given it myself in my head.  It's such a great premise, and it's told in one of my favorite (and rarely-seen) formats-- that is, it's all in letters.  Epistolary.  It's a book for bookworms, about bookworms, and it takes place in the English aftermath of WWII, a time period you don't hear as much about in historical fiction.  It's full of fun characters and a few good quotes, yet each time I read it I come away wishing it were a little... better, for lack of a more descriptive word.  (There are, obviously, more descriptive words out there.  But I'm not in an industrious mood tonight and have not bothered to go hunting them down.)  It has so much potential, and that's where a large part of those four stars come from, but it doesn't quiiiiiite live up to the potential.  For one thing, it's not terribly gripping.  For another, it's hard to keep track of all the characters, interesting though they may be.  I think some of this may have to do with the fact that Mary Ann Shaffer was unable to finish her manuscript, and her niece Annie Barrows took over and helped her to turn it into a final draft.  Maybe more character development and a clearer narrative was in the works, but couldn't come about for one reason or another.  Regardless, this is a fun novel (despite a few themes that I'm not thrilled with-- don't recommend for younger readers) but it's not as fun as I would like it to be.

And I saved the best for last!  Katherine Reay is quickly becoming one of my favorite contemporary writers-- Dear Mr. Knightley is still the best of her books, in my personal and not-so-private opinion, but The Bronte Plot held its own.  It made me think more than her other two did (DMK and Lizzy & Jane, and yes you should read both) and messed with the lines of ethics more than either of the others, while still managing to keep the heroine, Lucy, likable and sympathetic.  (I'm still more partial to Samantha from DMK.  But that's an aside.)  Reay's previous two novels focused primarily on Jane Austen, and so I was a tad disappointed that this book revolved mainly around the Bronte sisters-- Charlotte Bronte was notoriously contemptuous of the immortal JA, and Wuthering Heights is what I consider to be one of the most time-wasting claptrap-jumbles of high school required reading.  Therefore, I went into reading this with, shall we say, a slight Bias against the authors I assumed would be forefront in the story.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The Brontes figure in the tale, yes, but as themes rather than almost-a-character as Jane Austen did in DMK and L&J.  The idea of the Bronte sisters, women with courage to endure, was a larger part of the story than their actual works, and I liked that. (I should note that Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books of all time, and I would love the opportunity to visit Haworth-- just in case you think I have some sort of personal vendetta against the Brontes. I just happen to like Jane Austen better. I'm only human.)

The male main character, though, didn't really impress me.  He wasn't unlikable-- in fact there was nothing about him that was actually off-putting, but I just didn't think much of him simply because I didn't think about him much.  I was rooting for him and Lucy to get together, but more because I wanted Lucy to be happy than because I felt they belonged together.  Sid, the middle-aged owner of the antique shop, was far more interesting than James-- even if James did like Jane Eyre.  :D

All in all, definitely a good book.  And it made me want to visit a moor in Yorkshire as soon as possible.  Dare I say that I also kinda want to read Wuthering Heights again now, if only to see if it's as awful as I remember? ;P

Some quick notes about the other books on my list-- I enjoyed what I read of Pioneer Girl so far, but since it's still a new title at my library, I had to return it after 7 days and didn't get to finish it, so hopefully in February I'll get it out again and be able to move past the interminable foreword. :P  Wives and Daughters is as enchanting as ever-- Melody and I are reading it together and thoroughly enjoying ourselves.  Beginning at Moses isn't very well-written, but it's an interesting look at Jesus' role in the Old Testament.  I'm actually quite interested in All the Light We Cannot See, but stopped it after just a chapter because that, too, was an audiobook, and the guy who was reading it was annoying me no end.  Too... many... long... pauses.... between.... each... word....  Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse, like Guernsey, had good potential as an idea but jumped around too much in the (minimal) storyline for my taste, and the lack of moral structure in an early-1900's conservative Catholic setting was eyeroll-worthy.  I don't like abandoning books, but I got so fed up with this one that I just took it back to the library.  There are other ways to spend my time.

Looking forward in February to... Death Comes to Pemberley!  I actually own this, but haven't read it yet.  My sister and I just started the BBC miniseries and I'm loving it so far, so I'm anxious to read the book afterwards.  What are you reading these days?

P.S. Thank you one and all for your lovely responses to the reader survey!  I've closed the poll after receiving 52 responses (wow!) and will be compiling the results and blogging about those... soonish.


Hayden said...

I refuse to read Postern of Fate. I've heard enough about it to know I don't want this for my dear Tommy and I'm just going to blithely pretend that it does not exist.

I *do* like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, but I agree that it doesn't live up to hype I have in my own head, either.

Haha. Sid was my favorite character in the Bronte Plot, and I literally went through the exact same thought process with the Brontes' role in that book,too:) While I think Dear Mr. Knightly is still my favorite of Katherine Reay's books, I enjoyed The Bronte Plot MUCH more than Lizzy & Jane, which sadly just wasn't so much my type of book.

I enjoyed the miniseries version of Death Comes to Pemberley very much! This was surprising to me because I didn't care for the book a whole lot. I'm not a fan of how they portrayed Colonel Fitzwilliam, but it was still enjoyable. Amazingly, my favorite of the portrayals was of Lydia...but that might be just because I have a soft spot for Jenna Coleman due to Doctor Who. ;)

Anyway, that comment was waaay too long, so I'll stop now. :)

Ellie said...

I love this post idea! I've read Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice and Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, and I'm currently reading The Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan.

- Ellie

Melody said...

Honestly, I was kind of relieved to see that you didn't love Guernsey so much this time... the first time I read it it just didn't live up to all the hype that everyone had talked about, haha. I expected something much more my style. :P

Awdur said...

I really liked this! I personally like brief opinions better than typical "book reviews", because if I'm really interested I can look up summaries, but I won't be interested unless I hear why someone liked/disliked a book!
I love Agatha Christie, particularly our gray-cell working Belgian detective. ;) Seriously I've read so much Poirot lately that in two recent games, when teammates give "detective from books" as a clue to a word, I shout out Poirot without even thinking. (who needs Sherlock Holmes anyway)
I've heard Dear Mr Knightley recommended from multiple places now! I'm definitely going to check that out.
I'm actually planning to read Wuthering (auto-correct just changed that to withering TWICE) Heights in February, so that's too bad to hear it'll probably be a waste of time! I suppose it's one of those things a person should read though. ;P
I'm currently in the last chapters of Little Women, and it's even better than I thought it would be.

Isabelle Sprinkle said...

When does "Masked" start again?

Anonymous said...

I just bought some books yesterday - eight books, to be exact, and for a pretty good price, too. I'm currently reading Pat of Silver Bush by L. M. Montgomery, but I had to take it back to the library before I could finish it. I had it on interlibrary loan, so rather than interlibrary-loaning it again I just bought it online yesterday. I love what I have read of it so far (about two-thirds of the book). Have you read the Pat books?

Sarah A.

jessica prescott said...

I kind of like Postern on Fate . . . kind of. It's weird. But there's something about it that rather "suits me," and I can't put my finger on what it is . . . But no, definitely not Christie's best novel. (Have you ever tried "Death Comes As the End," by the way? Now THAT is one of her best, in my opinion. Really, really, really well-done.)

I like your idea of audiobooks that you can listen to in the car! I really should try that . . .

What am I reading? Let's see, I finished "Shadows on the Rock" last month and am VERY proud of myself for so doing. (Re-reading it has confirmed for me that it is, indeed, my favorite book.) I'm planning to read "Bert Breen's Barn" by Walter D. Edmonds this month, so we'll see how that goes. :-)

Elsabet said...

Ah, book reviews! I've been looking for people who have the same literary tastes as I do to recommend me some good books for the (more-or-lessly-still) new year. You like Austen, so I think I can probably trust your judgement.

These all sound ever so interesting, I absolutely cannot wait to get my hands on "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society." It sounds like something my mum would enjoy too, so that's always a plus. (I will try not to set my expectations *too* high, but with a title like that it will be dreadfully hard.)

How do you like Agatha Christie overall? I started a few of her books, but I wasn't entirely happy with them and never finished them. Perhaps I started the wrong ones?

The Gibson Girl said...

I have not yet read anything by Agatha Christie! Do you happen to have any suggestions for a book to start on? =)

Miss Dashwood said...

HAYYYYYYYDEN HELLOOOOOOO. It's been an age! (Well, an age since I responded to comments... cough.) Sid is a dear and I wish there had been a little more at the end of the book finishing out his story-- I would have liked to know more about what happened to him. I'm so annoyed at how poor Col. Fitzwilliam is being treated in DCTP too! I'm enjoying the rest of it though.

I haven't heard of any of those, actually-- I must look them up!

Mellow D.,
Haha, yeah, I hate it when everyone else seems to absolutely love a book and I just can't Get why. I feel like I'm missing something. :/

Me too! I love reading other people's thoughts and WHY they liked and disliked books-- simple ol' summaries are what Goodreads is for. (That was a poorly constructed sentence but you get my drift.) I love Poirot AND Sherlock, but for different reasons. :) Little Women is one of THE BEST books ever... now I want to reread it again!

Isabelle Sprinkle,
Sadly, Masked has ended (the videos, that is), but you can read more about the whys and wherefores right here!

Sarah A.,
Yay for book bargains! I do indeed like the Pat books-- I think I prefer Pat of Silver Bush to Mistress Pat, though. Have you read Jane of Lantern Hill? I like that one even better.

Jessica Prescott,
Oooh, I haven't read Death Comes As the End yet, but it's on my to-read list now!

I'm honored that you trust my literary judgment! But one who likes Jane Austen must surely be somewhat of the race that knows Joseph. :) I would definitely recommend Dear Mr. Knightley to any Janeite. Agatha Christie is definitely one of my favorites! I tend to prefer her books that focus on a recurring character like Poirot or Tommy and Tuppence, though, rather than her standalone novels which tend to be less personal and more about the mystery plot than the characters.

The Gibson Girl,
I would certainly recommend The Secret Adversary-- it's the first Tommy and Tuppence book, takes place right after WWI, and is SO sweet and adorable. Also funny and a well-paced mystery!

jessica prescott said...

You really SHOULD read "Death Comes As the End." (I think so, anyways.) It's not a Poirot or Miss Marple--so I guess maybe you wouldn't like it after all?--but it really does focus a lot on the characters as well as the mystery, and I personally feel it's brilliant. It's actually set in Ancient Egypt, which is exciting because you get to see how different the culture is--and yet, at the same time, how similar the people are to those we know in our own lives. Sort of a "common humanity" thing . . . Anyway. I think it's a great book. And I love, love, LOVE the heroine. She's amazing :-)

Anonymous said...

I haven't read Jane of Lantern Hill yet, but it's on my list! I'm in the process of reading a bunch of L. M. Montgomery novels and it's safe to say that she could quite possibly and most likely be my favourite author. :)

Sarah A.

Ruth said...

I watched Death Comes To Pemberley too! I kinda liked it, but it was maybe a little bit too scary for smaller kids(just saying). It was, however, very mysterious. I like mysterious movie where you're just sitting on the tip of your chair/bench waiting for how it will end. ;-)


Ruth said...

Death Comes to Pemberley is great. You should watch it. It's very mysterious and that's what I like. Maybe not suitable for little kids(just saying) ;)
You have a very nice blog, Miss Dashwood(can I call you Amy?It's a pretty name)