Tuesday, January 7, 2014

What I was reading: December 2013

And so another year's challenge wraps up.  It was an odd year, challenge-wise.  My self-set reading challenge for 2013, if you remember, was 75 titles and 35,000 pages.  Well, perhaps my math was off, but that comes out to be 75 books of about 450 pages each.  That, my readers, did not happen.  But I certainly hit the title bench-mark, and then some.  Shall we see how I rounded out the year?

The Humans, by Matt Haig.  I adored Matt Haig's The Radleys, so I was willing to step outside of my comfort zone and try his new book, The Humans, which happens to be in the realm of science fiction.  If you're not a fan of dark comedy, this might not be for you.  However, if you are a fan of either dark comedies or science fiction, this might just be up your alley.  An extraterrestrial has been sent to Earth on a mission, and takes the form of a university professor, Andrew Martin.  Initially, he is eager to have his mission finished and get back to his home world, where everyone enjoys immortality and infinite knowledge.  He is disgusted by humans--what they eat, how they look, their capacity for violence.  He also in puzzled by concepts of family and personal attachments.  And yet, slowly he finds himself appreciating certain things (wine, peanut butter, rock music) and begins to question the mission that brought him here in the first place.  Truly original, insightful and laugh-out-loud funny.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  282 pages

The Death of Santini, by Pat Conroy.  I have often spoken of my love for the lyrical, perceptive prose of Pat Conroy.  It is perhaps most evident here, in the story of his relationship with his father, the man who inspired his novel, The Great Santini.  Following Pat from his early years stepping between his mother and his violent father, through the fallout following the success of The Great Santini (first in print and then on film), and concluding with his eulogy for his father, this is a story of love and forgiveness, and how those things can conquer even the meanest of men.  Absolutely gorgeous.  338 pages

Bellman and Black: a ghost story, by Diane Setterfield.  Setterfield's first novel, The Thirteenth Tale, is a favorite of mine--gothic, darkly atmospheric, and riveting.  Here in her second novel, she proves that she was not a one-trick-pony.  When Will Bellman was a boy, he shot and killed a rook with his slingshot.  A youthful error in judgement, quickly forgotten.  But rooks are patient, and they never forget.  Years later, Will encounters his own tragedy, and finds himself entering into a macabre bargain with a stranger in black.  I simply don't have enough suitably positive adjectives for this one--I really thought it was phenomenal.  328 pages

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford.  This was my book club's pick for our January meeting, and now I finally see why so many book clubs have read this over the last five years.  There is going to be so much to talk about!  Set in Seattle during World War II and the Japanese internment camps of the era, this story follows widower Henry Lee, both as a boy and as an older man, as he dissects his relationships with his father, his son, and his first love, Keiko Okabe.  There is so much hope and sweetness in this novel, among the sorrow and disappointments, it was a joy to read and a story I will carry with me for years to come.  290 pages

The Maid's Version, by Daniel Woodrell.  For such a slim volume, this is one complex tale.  Alma DeGreer Dunahew is an old woman recounting to her grandson the events surround the long-ago death of her scandalous but much-beloved younger sister in a dance-hall explosion--her sister Ruby was one of 42 killed in the blast.  But at the time of the catastrophe, Alma was a mostly-single mother of three boys, and worked as a maid for a prominent citizen and his family in Missouri.  Who was to blame for the explosion?  The preacher who railed against the sin of the dancing couples?  The St. Louis mob?  Was it just an accident?  Alma thinks she knows, and that it had roots in a dangerous love affair.  Pay close attention to the telling--you won't want to miss a thing.  164 pages

The Tao of Martha, by Jen Lancaster. If you haven't read Jen Lancaster before, you are missing out on a lot of laughs.  To give you some insight, the extended title of this latest book is "My year of LIVING, or why I'm never getting all that glitter off the dog."  Inspired by Martha Stewart and year-long projects like The Happiness Project, Lancaster spent a year trying to channel Martha in all things, with (in most cases) laughably disastrous results.  Jen Lancaster is funny, charming, goofy and heartwarming in this latest offering--from establishing some semblance of peace among her menagerie of pets to trying to pull off the perfect party, all a la Martha, this is guaranteed to not only make you laugh, but also to be a bit more realistic--no one but Martha lives in the halls of LIVING, after all, and she has staff.  Jen Lancaster is the bff I always wanted. 335 pages

Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe, by Jenny Colgan.  Everyone needs a bit of fluff, and this bit is sweet, British, and full of cupcakes.  Yes, please!  Issy Randall loses her desk job and finds her true calling when she picks up the work of her grandfather and opens a bakery.  Specifically, a cupcake shop/cafe in a little courtyard, in a shopfront she'd spent many a morning looking at longingly from her bus-stop.  It will take more than cake to manage her new enterprise, though, and disaster looms on the horizon.  Feel-good chick-lit with some delicious-sounding recipes as a bonus.  Just the thing to warm your heart on one of this bitter-cold nights.  410 pages

December's totals come to:

7 titles
2,147 pages

2013's final totals come to:
87 titles (passed my goal of 75 titles in October)
31,003 pages = 88% of my challenge goal, which was 35,000 pages

So, what am I doing differently in 2014?  My goal is very simple and easy to track.  I'm aiming for 100 books read in 2014.  That's 13 more titles than I read in 2013, and while that's a bit of a reach, it's not THAT much more.  Just one more book a month, for the year, plus one extra.

Can I do it?  Check in with me during the year to find out!

What about you?  Any resolutions or goals you're setting for yourselves this year?  I'd love to hear about them!

No comments: