Thursday, 15 January 2015

Quick Lit: December & January

For the first time since embarking on my brain-saving reading endeavour, I missed a link-up with Modern Mrs. Darcy. I did plenty of reading, but not enough checking of the calendar to catch December 15 before it flew by. I suspect Christmas prep was to blame. Now I'm into January catch-up mode, so I've got two months worth of book reviews to share.

December's link-up was also the inaugural month of Twitterature's new name: Quick Lit. It turns out that too few of the contributors (including the host) were sticking to tweet-length reviews and everybody liked it better that way. The new name reflects that: still short, but not that short. As a writer who has trouble keeping posts under 140 words, let alone 140 characters, the change suits me fine.

Here's what I've been reading:

Farewell to the East End, by Jennifer Worth
Worth's last instalment of her memoirs returned to the short story format from her first volume, with a mixture of personal details of the various nuns and midwives, examples of bureaucratic insanity in the face of the East End's massive post-war rehousing project, and a collection of birth stories that more than prove the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction. I enjoyed it just as much as the other two. Next up will be the TV version, just as soon as I'm done with Downton.

Essentialism, by Greg McKeown
I covered my thoughts of this typical self-help book back in November. I won't repeat my rant. Loved the idea, hated the execution. If you're interested in learning how to pare down to the essentials, I suggest you skim.

Wanting Sheila Dead, by Jane Haddam
Once again, Haddam lets a reader have a ridiculous amount of fun with murder, this time on the set of reality TV show - with a host that makes Simon Cowell look like an old softy - and a bonus mystery in the detective's backyard. I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite the ever-growing sense that I really need to get to the bottom of Demarkian's love story. If you happen to know in which of Haddam's first ten novels Gregor met Bennis, please drop me a line. Her website is little help.

Kaleidoscope, by Gail Bowen
Bowen's Joanne Kilbourn is a very different sort of protagonist from your average crime thriller. Sometimes she's sleuthing, other times she's just picking up the pieces. This novel was of the latter category (I can't say much more without spoiling it). As usual, Bowen packed her page-turner with a thought-provoking social commentary. As fun as it is to get caught up in the gritty underbellies of New York or Los Angeles, it's easy to forget they exist closer to home. By setting her crimes in Regina, Saskatchewan, Bowen doesn't let a Canadian reader off that easy.

Anne of Windy Poplars, by L. M. Montgomery
I had originally meant to re-read the Anne books in order of publication this time around, but my daughter had other ideas. The spine says book four, therefore it comes after book three. Never mind the 1936 copyright. I was able to apply my acquired trivia all the same: knowing Montgomery wrote about Anne's three-year engagement nearly twenty years after she wrote Anne's House of Dreams (1917) explains a lot about the change in tone. Anne is still a young Anne, but the adventures she witnesses don't all tie up quite so neatly, and knowing these characters can't be revisited in the next volume gives the ending a bittersweet edge. I remember the twinge from past read-throughs, but couldn't put my finger on why a book full of relatively happy endings left me feeling sad. I think I know now.

Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog, by Boris Akunin
A friend lent me this book thinking my husband and I might like it. Boy was she right! Sister Pelagia is an observant, though clumsy, young nun with a weakness for riddles who lives in the backwater of nineteenth century Russia. Her first case reads like Agatha Christy crossed with Fyodor Dostoevsky with enough sharp jabs at the prevailing culture to counter My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I still found it tough to navigate through all the Russian diminutives and patronymics, but Akunin added enough memorable quirks to his lesser-used characters to help me figure out who was who even if I'd forgotten which four names went with each person. It's a great read for any mystery fan with a special dose of cackle for anyone familiar with Russian Orthodoxy. I'm so glad her next few adventures have also been translated into English.

What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty
This novel has been on my to-read list for months; I finally made it to the top of my library's holds list right before Christmas. It was a lovely escapist holiday read: chick-lit ease with lots of musing space for what-might-have-beens and what-if-it-had-been-mes. Moriarty weaves several layers of loss through Alice's week of amnesia from dealing with death to infertility to relationships withered by busyness. It's the first of her books I've read, but it won't be the last.

Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures, by Amber Dusick
After Christmas came the flu that left me huddled on my parents' couch rather than catching up with family and friends. This humorous collection of parenting foibles was an excellent companion. I've enjoyed Dusick's blog for years, so it was neat to see her take her ideas to print form. And I'll never think of diapers the same way again. So, so funny.

Whew. All caught up. We'll see how long it takes to say the same about the housework ;)

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for more well written reviews. I'm motivated to read these titles, too. I also very much enjoyed Sister Pelagia and the White Bull Dog and look forward to reading the next book you gave me for Christmas. Love,Mom

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    1. Awe, thanks Mom. Glad to hear you liked Sister Pelagia too :)

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  2. You always amaze me with the number of books you read, and the interesting array of topics and genres. :-) I just finished a biography of a Polish couple in Warsaw during WWII who rescued many, many Jews and other hunted people from the Nazi's by hiding them in their zoo. Fascinating story. :-)

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    1. I took a break from Facebook over advent, so that always helps free up reading time for book-books ;) That biography sounds amazing! What's it called?

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