08/2013

These are the books I read in August,  2013:

14 books,  4 crime,  3 classics,  3 non-fiction,   7 women authors,  6 non-US authors,  2 translated.

Note:   I rate crime and other “formula/genre”  novels on an A – F scale and everything else on 1-10.  Genre fiction has it’s own conventions and usually emphasize plotting.  The best of these should not be compared to “fine literature,”  but still should get their own reward.

CRIME:

** The Cuckoo’s Calling
by Robert  Galbraith  (Brit)
2013/464 pages
Read by Robert Glenister 15 h.  54m.
Rating:  A- /  Crime

Comment:   Author is  better known as J.K. Rowling and the book is quite good!   – an “A.”    If the super-model with the messy will and funky friends and weirdo relatives didn’t jump or fall accidentally,  who pushed her?

** Mr. Churchill’s Secretary
by Susan Elia MacNeal  (Brit)
2012/ 384 pages
read by Wanda McCadden 9 h. 48m.
Rating:  D / historical crime/spy

Comment:  Stupid – don’t go there – what kind of genre is this where a possible murder occurs in a WWII spy organization and the amateur detective falls in love?  Gads – I should have known better.   It’s a Harlequin spy/murder! (my term)

** The Bellini Card  (#3 in Yashim the Ottoman series)
by Jason Goodwin
2008 / 304 pages
read by Steven Hove 10h 24m
Rating B+/ historical crime – mid 19th century Istanbul and Venice – okay for fans –  a “B”

** The Shell Game
by Steve Alten
2009 / 488p.
Rating:  A- /dystopian

Comment – more of a political treatise or dystopian future fiction than an actual crime novel – If 9/11 is so messy politically – to the point of conspiracy paranoia – what’s going to happen the next time we need some oil or stats about oil?

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CLASSICS:

I find classics totally fun because I’m interested in the history and classics are like getting a real eyeball peek into the times.   These books generally get a 10 – sometimes a 9.5

** Villette
by Charlotte Bronte (England)
1853 / 432 pages
rating:  10 / classic

Strange 1st person character in a somewhat gothic setting.  Could be a fictionalized slice of Bronte’s biography.  The usual Victorian literary techniques with emphasis on weather as metaphor but only a bit of the old “Dear Reader” type intrusive narrator.

**  To the Lighthouse
by Virginia Woolf  (Brit)
1927/122 pages
Rating: 10 / classic

A reread –  early 20th century England – WWI,  the peace before,  war and clean-up.  There are many ways to read this novel – I tend toward the historical but others focus on the psychological.

** The Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (French)
1943/112 pages
rating 10/classic

Lovely, fantastical story –  more for adults than children,  imo,  although an adult reader should read as though through a child’s eyes.

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CONTEMPORARY FICTION

**   The Flamethrowers
by Rachel Kushner
2013/400 pages
Rating  10 /contemp fiction

Excellent!   One of the best fictions I’ve read this year.  It’s about the 1970s in New York art scene and Italy’s troubles in those years – themes like speed and art – reminds me of Delillo in some ways – Delillo meets Patty Smith (heh).   A 10 (one of two for contemporary fiction  this year so far – both by women.)

**

** The Blue Fox
by Sjon (Iceland)
2003/117 pages (Kindle)
Rating 9 /historical – magical realism

Takes place in 1890s in Iceland – magical realism of it’s own variety –  Sjon is very good  and I will read more.

**  Love Medicine
by Louise Erdrich
1984/4o0 pages  (rev. 1993, 2009)
Rating:  8.5  / contemp Native American fiction

Tales of contemporary North Dakota reservation Chippewa (back to about 1930).  I like Erdrich but she’s not everyone’s cuppa  – this is one of her best books.

** The Burgess Boys
by Elizabeth Strout
2013/ 320 pages
Rating 9 / contemp fiction

A page-turner – about racism and dysfunctional families and guilt and stuff like that,  but it’s interesting because the characters drive the plot drives the characters drive the plot.   Strout is so good.

** Telex From Cuba
by Rachel Kushner
2008/322 pages
rating 8.5 / historical fiction

The end of US based United Fruit Company operations in Cuba – 1952-1959.   The coming of  revolution.  Themes of identity,  race,  social status,  corruption (on all sides), ex-pat issues.  Much of it told through the eyes of a child.

******************

NON-FICTION

**  Homicidal
by Paul Alexander
2011/ 77 pages
read by Paul Christy 2h 47m
rating  8 / true crime

A contemporary True Crime – very short procedural – good stuff if you’re into it –  a freebie from Audible.

**  The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America
by George Packer
2013/437 pages  (Kindle)
Rating:  8.5   /contemp. US non-fiction

–  very,  very good look at today’s socio-economic mess as told by various folks from different sectors and situations.  Interview style,  not oral history but still the same feeling as Studs Terkel’s Hard Times.

**  Hetty: The Genius and Madness of America’s First Female Tycoon
by Charles Stack
2004/288 pages
Rating:  8 /  biography

Fun!   Hetty  was a much more complex woman than I ever imagined.  She seems to have been a lot of positive things as well as miserly.   The focus is on Hetty’s business acumen but there are lots of surprising things about the woman.

** The Richest Woman in America: Hetty Green in the Gilded Age
by Janet Wallach
2012/ 304 pages
Rating 7 /biography

Another Hetty Green biography, newer but not really better.  The secondary focus is on the Gilded Age without adding one whit to my knowledge of that.   There’s a better psychological treatment here – less on the court and business dealings.   Some interesting tid-bits which weren’t included in the Slack book.  Wallach is much more sympathetic toward her – she comes off almost as a sweetheart.

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