Recent Reading: Who’s Counting?

Light blue notebook with elastic strap closure, pink fountain pen

Pen: Sailor Clear Candy

I am, kind of. When I ditched Goodreads, I still wanted to keep track of my reading. I tried using Evernote, but found it too cumbersome for making a note if I’m reading a paper book. So I got a notebook (this one in periwinkle, for my stationery fetishizing friends). I love notebooks, I love a chance to use my fountain pens, it’s a good system for me. It’s not social like Goodreads, but that’s what the blog is for, right?

So I know that I read 4 1/2 books in January, and listened to 6. Normally, I would hope to read more, but I read some longer books this month. Also, I really loved some of my recent audio choices, and sometimes chose to listen when I might have been reading. Here are the January/early February books I haven’t already written about:

Read:

Tina Whittle, The Dangerous Edge of Things. This was a kind of quirky mystery that reminded me a bit of P.J. Tracy’s Monkeewrench. The heroine, Tai, is drawn into a

Open notebook with red and blue handwriting, green fountain pen

Pen: LAMY Safari
The ink colors just depend on what pen was close at hand.

murder mystery involving her brother and the secretive Atlanta security company he works for when she discovers a body outside her brother’s house. There’s a romance thread involving an ex-cop named Trey who has had a traumatic brain injury (some parts of this seemed realistic to me, others not so much, but I’m no expert). I can’t say I remember a lot of the twisty-turny plot, but it was fun and I’ll probably check out the next in the series.

Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: The Ordinary Lives of North Koreans. I think this would interest readers who, like me, were impressed by Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son. Some of the details from that book I was sure Johnson had made up appear in the real lives Demick chronicles. There’s some general background, but the main focus is on telling the stories of a handful of people–how they survived the economic breakdown and famine of the 1990s, how and why they eventually defected (that’s no spoiler; Demick could never have interviewed ordinary North Koreans still in the country, so I knew they’d all eventually get out). There’s a lot of tragedy in these stories, but also resilience and hope. Demick, who reported on Korea for the LA Times, has a clear reportorial style and sympathy for her subjects. Defection isn’t an entirely happy ending for most of them, as they struggle to adjust to life in South Korea and miss things about the North, especially loved ones they had to leave behind (some of whom, as a result of their family members’ defection, died in labor camps). I’d like to read a book by a defector now.

Heard:

Daphne du Maurier, Jamaica Inn (read by Tony Britton). I got this because of Rohan’s interesting post, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. Britton’s female voices were a bit falsetto, but I forgave that because his accents and expression were wonderful. This is classic atmospheric Gothic, and the suspense and melodrama make gripping listening. Mary Yellan is young, impetuous, and somewhat naive, as a Gothic heroine must be, but she’s tough and not stupid. I liked that the characters were common people–no crumbling castles or mysterious nobles, just the scarily villainous landlord of Jamaica Inn, Joss Merlyn. And like Rohan, I was intrigued by Mary’s frankness about desire and its discontents: one theme of the book could be “desire is a pain in the ass.” Rohan read it for the Slaves of Golconda reading group, and there are more good posts there.

Kerry Greenwood, Heavenly Pleasures (Corinna Chapman #2, read by Louise Siversen). I am loving this series. Basically, these are cozy mysteries: the heroine runs a bakery, there’s an eccentric cast of characters including a witch, and this book revolves around someone sabotaging a chocolate shop. But the books are not sweet or twee. Part of this is the realistically urban (Melbourne) setting–Corinna’s apprentice is a teenage recovering heroin addict, for instance–and part is Corinna’s acerbic, ironic voice. Corinna is a woman of appetites, for good food, sex, bubble baths, sensual fabrics, and I enjoy the way the books celebrate that. Definitely listening to the rest after two successes.

Allllllmost Done With:

M. K. Hobson, The Native Star (read by Suehyla El-Attar). I’ve had this in my electronic TBR forever, so I felt a bit guilty about picking it up in a 3-for-2 Audible sale. On the other hand, now I’m getting to it! I remembered almost nothing about it except that it is set in an alternate Old West with magic, and I’m enjoying not knowing where it’s going. It’s not a great book. The characters read like types to me (although well-drawn): feisty witch Emily, from a small California frontier town; mysterious, supercilious, upper-crust warlock Dreadnought Stanton; a Native American holy woman, etc. But I really like the magical world-building: Stanton, for instance, is a credomancer, and his power depends in large part on the faith people put in him. There are various factions of magical and anti-magic people fighting over the mysterious stone that’s become embedded in Emily’s hand. Two hours from the end, I still don’t know which one I trust and want to win (maybe none of them). I think this is working better for me in audio than it probably would have in print–the fast-paced action carries me along, and I don’t mind as much about the parts that seem predictable or under-developed (yes, there’s a romance between Emily and Stanton, but only because they are the hero and heroine–it doesn’t seem very well motivated, nor is its development really depicted on-page).

Stella Gibbons, The Matchmaker. I think I will give this one a post of its own, partly because I don’t feel I have a handle on it and want to think about it more. It reminds me of Austen’s Emma in that Alda is a bad matchmaker, choosing wrong for those around her–or if she chooses right, she goes about directing them in a way that messes things up. But she never learns from her mistakes or even sees them. The setting–post-war rural England–is interesting and there are very funny moments, particularly in the omniscient narrator’s commentary on her characters, but parts felt meandering and I found myself skimming some.

Up Next: 

No idea. I have to return Katherine Angel’s Unmastered to the library Saturday but haven’t gotten to it yet, so I’m going to browse through it and decide if I want to request it again/buy it myself. Then perhaps a dip into my TBR. Oh wait! I have downloaded James Salter’s All That Is from the library. But before that I’m likely to choose a Friday Night Book.

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13 Responses to Recent Reading: Who’s Counting?

  1. Oooh. Periwinkle…..

  2. SonomaLass says:

    Several things here that look interesting. Thanks, I think — I am discontent with my TBR, so I’m buying and reading new things instead.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I’ve had TBR discontent too. I’ve got a lot of romance in there, and I’m just not in the mood for straight genre romance lately.

      I have enjoyed picking things up from random library browsing or different recommendation sources from my usual–my reading has felt less predictable lately (in terms of the storylines and what I’m choosing to read) and that’s refreshing.

      If you do try any of these, let me know what you think! If you haven’t read Native Star, I think you might enjoy that one.

  3. Sunita says:

    Oh, Jamaica Inn! I loved that book when I was a teenager. I had an intense Du Maurier phrase where I read all her novels several times. But I haven’t read her in forever. I have some Audible credits to burn, too. Hmmm. I tried to read the sequel to Native Star and it just bugged me. But then my tolerance for stereotypes in westerns (and western-derivative settings) has plummeted, so that might have been it; it was a while ago so I don’t really remember.

    Speaking of cozy mysteries, did you ever read Joan Hess’s Maggody series? It’s about a woman who goes back to her small hick (Appalachian?) town and becomes the sheriff. I read quite a few of them before they all ran together for me. Very stereotyped characterizations, but they were affectionately done.

    I don’t keep track of my reading. I occasionally look in Calibre and try to figure out what I’ve read recently, and I have my DA reviews but that’s not everything, obviously. I can only remember one year when I counted, and that was because I decided to read 50 litfic books. I don’t think I made it to 50, and I know I kept reading genre during that year. But that’s all I remember. I’m so impressed by readers who keep track.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I think I read one of those Joan Hess books years ago. Maybe I should try again. I found I had burned out on dour Scandinavian crime.

      Jamaica Inn was a blast, because it did everything such a book should do, but so well it never felt formulaic. I read and enjouyed Rebecca in high school, but that’s it. Now I think I’ll try another du Maurier.

      I never used to track my reading, but I found after Goodreads that I enjoyed being able to look back and see what I had read in a month or year, what stood out for me. I’m not rating in my notes, but I’m recording dates I read and a quick note on my response. (It helps for blog posts, too). The one thing I’m worried about is that it will start to feel like measuring. The minute I find myself thinking “I didn’t read enough,” I’ll probably stop.

  4. Barb in Maryland says:

    Oooo, pretty! and fountain pens, too. I’m in awe.

    That Tina Whittle mystery sounds interesting–I’m always on the prowl for new (to me) stuff and I do enjoy the PJ Tracy books. Now to hope that my library has it.
    And while on the subject of cozy mysteries–Charlaine Harris has a 5 book series, set in small town Arkansas, (not overly cozy, as the heroine has some serious baggage) “Shakespeare’s Landlord” is the first.

    @Sunita–I can’t imagine not keeping track of what I read. I’m practically anal about it. I have a metal box of 3×5 index cards. These cards are my reading log, organized by year, with minimal info–date read, title, author. I will admit that some years I was better at record keeping than others. Not very satisfactory in some ways, as there are just too many titles where I say to myself –what was this one about? This set of cards only goes back to my sophomore year in college (I will NOT say how long ago that was, but dinosaurs still roamed the earth…). I do know I kept a log from 4th grade on through high school, but I have no idea what happened to it. Sigh…

    .

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Oh, so many people recommend that Harris series. I will look for it.

      I’m impressed by your record-keeping. I don’t think I could be that organized! I’ll be lucky if I’m still using my notebook in 6 months.

    • willaful says:

      I’ve kept track, in various forms, since I was 12 years old. This came in incredibly handy recently, when I was dying to remember a book I read as a teenager. I found a list from around the right time, and though I didn’t come across the actual book, I came across another I remembered as being by the same author. Thanks to the internet, it was easy from there.

    • JenniferH says:

      The Shakespeare series were the first Harris books I read, and I recommend them. Small town mysteries but not all that cosy.
      I read all the DuMaurier books as a teenager and haven’t revisited them. I might have to look for them in the library.

  5. I know I liked The Native Star a lot when I read it, but I don’t remember it all that clearly. I didn’t follow up on the sequel (although I do that a lot, not sure it means that much).

    I also read Jamaica Inn, and recall a vivid sense of place, but not the rest of it. The du Maurier I read twice is Frenchman’s Creek (Charles II’s time), though The King’s General (Civil War) also made an impression. There’s lots of hers I haven’t read. Definitely not romance!

    I like to keep track of my reading, mostly because it bothers me if I don’t know what I read and when. I jot down the date, a grade (that I don’t have to take very seriously) and a very short note.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      THERE’S A JAMAICA INN SPOILER IN THIS COMMENT TECHNICALLY I GUESS, IF ANYONE CARES.

      du Maurier audiobooks have a lot of great narrators. I just downloaded the much-praised My Cousin Rachel, read by Jonathan Pryce. And I see The King’s General is read by Juliet Stevenson, one of my favorites.

      Yes, not romance! Even though Jamaica Inn has Mary falling in love and choosing to go off with the man at the end, I would not say it is really a “romance” plot. There is no guarantee that she (or they) will be happy–in fact she might even expect otherwise–but more a kind of compulsion. Going home to farm by herself might well have been a better, happier choice. I found that very interesting.

  6. A few years ago my husband and I tried to read The Native Star but only made it about a hundred pages in. I felt the characters weren’t engaging; I didn’t think of them as stereotypes but I remember feeling that they were all surface, without showing much growth or depth in the pages I read. It was a shame because I really liked the worldbuilding and language, but at some point, I realized I didn’t care about Emily or Dreadnought’s fates, and that’s the kiss of death for a book with me. My husband felt similarly.

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