Year in Reading: Annus Not-So Horribilus

Someone tweeted that the problem with year-in-review posts is that you have to look back on 2016. Yeah. This was a hard year for me personally, and a hard and scary one in the world generally–which is usually true, of course, but closer to home now. It felt like a bad year for my reading, too, but when I looked back I was surprised by both how much I read, and how good it was. Sure, there were months where my listening time was all politics podcasts (how I wish I could get that time back), and months where I was too down to focus on a book, but bursts of reading and listening in other parts of the year made up for that. In the end, according to my rather sloppy records, I read 67 books and listened to 52.

For the first part of the year, I did well on my goal of reading diversely, but that fell apart in the last quarter, in part because my comfort reading tends to be white and British.

Here are the highlights, and some thoughts about 2017 goals: Continue reading

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Reading List: Everything Since I Last Posted

Except for the DNFs, of which there were many, because I couldn’t concentrate and/or didn’t know what mood I was in from one minute to the next.

With minimal commentary. But you have to start somewhere when you’re trying to get back into blogging!

October:

  • Graeme Macrae Burnet, His Bloody Project. (Man Booker shortlist–turns out the one book on the longlist I had already read,Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, was the winner. I still plan to get to a couple more off this list). The portrait of the way a bully terrorizes a small Scottish village was hard to read.
  • Elaine Showalter, The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe. This biography focuses on the way marriage and motherhood constrained Howe’s ambitions.
  • Patricia Wentworth, Miss Silver Comes to Stay. Classic mysteries have been this year’s comfort reading.
  • Nina Stibbe, Paradise Lodge. A follow-up to Man at the Helm, a coming-of-age story set in a nursing home. Rather dark humor but also sweet, with interesting relationships between the teenage protagonists and the elderly residents.
  • Patricia Wentworth, The Catherine-Wheel. More Miss Silver. Has a young lady who thinks this about her suitor: “Jeremy had all the makings of a trampling bully, and she had no intention of being his door-mat.” (Things work out fine).
  • Ruth Scurr, John Aubrey: My Own Life. DNF only because I ran out of time; eventually I’ll check it out again and finish it. A biography of a 17th century antiquarian and naturalist woven together from lightly-edited fragments of his own writings, so we learn about him in large part by seeing what interested him. He could seem like a failure: born into the landed gentry, he went bankrupt and in old age survived on the kindness and patronage of friends. But he won many friends, and was interested in many things. Made me think about what “success” really means. A strange and engaging book.
  • Agatha Christie, Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories (audio)

Continue reading

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All That Man Is, by David Szalay

Another Man Booker shortlist read. I may not get the whole longlist read, but I should be able to read the other half of the shortlist before the winner is announced. I need to start finishing books further ahead of the library deadline so that I can review them properly with quotes and everything! This is an improper review, then. Continue reading

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TBR Challenge: In Milady’s Chamber by Sheri Cobb South

I am really distinguishing myself for this month’s TBR Challenge. First I thought I wouldn’t make it at all, what with piles of library books to stay on top of. But I accidentally backed into reading an Insomnia Relief Aid (the theme was open this month) and then remembered at the last minute to write it up, so here we go.

“Insomnia Relief Aid” sounds much meaner than my assessment of Sheri Cobb South’s In Milady’s Chamber actually is. I don’t mean it bored me to sleep. One night recently I had that kind of insomnia where my mind wouldn’t get off a hamster wheel of anxiety and overwrought feelings. Finally I gave up and got out of bed, and I was looking for a book that would engage me enough to distract me from my troubles but not grip me so much that I resisted going back to sleep once I felt better. And this book was perfect for that. It helped me calm down and after an hour or so of reading I successfully went to sleep. Eventually I picked it up again to finish but I didn’t feel compelled to do so.  Continue reading

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The Hating Game, by Sally Thorne

Needing a break from my struggles with the Man Booker longlist–profitable and sometimes pleasurable struggles, yes, but struggles nonetheless–I picked up the much buzzed about romance début by Sally Thorne, The Hating Game. (The publisher labels it a “workplace comedy” but it’s 100% trope-tastic enemies-to-lovers workplace romance, as the blurbers on their site confirm).

The plot is really simple: Lucy and Josh are the assistants for the duelling co-CEOs of Bexley and Gamin, a publisher that resulted from the merger of two very different firms. Lucy and Josh hate each other, until they don’t. But they’re up for the same promotion, so how can they fall in love? It’s all quite predictable, but who cares, because the familiar story is told with verve and great charm.

I enjoyed Lucy’s chick-lit inflected first-person narration and though the humor stayed on the right side of the line of heroine (or hero) humiliation, something that’s often a problem for me with this kind of book. Lucy gives Josh as good as she gets, and that equality is part of why they fall for each other. There’s great sexual tension (and eventually some pretty hot sex). Aside from that last bit, The Hating Game reminded me, in tone and sensibility, or some of my favorite Harlequin authors like Jessica Hart and Mira Lyn Kelly. I think part of the reason books like this get so much buzz is that people want more humor and charm; there’s not a lot like this in single-title, in my experience, but there are plenty of category romances along these lines.

But (it’s me, you knew there was a but, didn’t you?). I did have some quibbles. And since the book has gotten so much love, that’s what I’m going to focus on. Keep in mind, though, that I mostly found this delightful and if this sounds like the kind of thing you like, I recommend it. With reservations: Continue reading

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