Thursday, March 21, 2013

Spring reading

In the Spring a middle-aged woman's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of reading*.

So here, dear friends, are eight enchanting reads to pass a delightful (or dreary) spring day.

As per usual, I have separated the books into fiction and nonfiction and included a link to Amazon, to supplement my brief review/summary. 


Death in the Floating City by Tasha Alexander. I'm pretty much a sucker for anything set in Venice, or Italy, or France. And I love a good mystery. Death in the Floating City has both, a good mystery and a good locale, as well as a captivating Romeo and Juliet (or Nicolo and Besina) story within the story. Even if you have not read any of Alexander's previous Lady Emily Mysteries (as I have), if you enjoy mysteries, especially ones set in late nineteenth-century Venice with clever plot twists, you will enjoy this book. I thought it was Alexander's best in many ways.  

The Typewriter Girl by Alison Atlee. I loved this book... up until the last page. Indeed, I was all set to put it on my list of favorite books of all time (and still may), but the very end left me disappointed and a bit confused. That said, many of you may not feel the same way. What made me like this book so much? The main characters, Elisabeth "Betsey" Dobson, a young ambitious Englishwoman trying to get ahead in the world, who is constantly thwarted by the men, mores, and morals of late nineteenth century England, and John Jones (a Welshman born Iefen Rhys-Jones), a hard-working, ambitious young man who sees something in Betsey and gives her the chance she has been looking for. I think I enjoyed this book so much because I strongly identified with Betsey, as I think many women will. Also, the writing is beautiful.

The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen L. Carter. Reading this book, you almost forget that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865. That's how good a story teller and historian Stephen L. Carter is. I was mesmerized. In a nutshell, The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln imagines what would or could have happened to President Lincoln, the cabinet, Congress, and the country had Lincoln recovered from the assassination attempt -- only to face impeachment two years later. Carter makes things all the more interesting by telling the story (or most of it) from the perspective of a 21-year-old aspiring lawyer, who happens to be an African-American woman. Like the best historical fiction, Carter weaves fact with fiction, using real people and events but altering them slightly. A must read, especially if you have seen the movie Lincoln.

The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James. And what would one of my reading lists be without at least one romance novel? While I have more or less grown bored with the genre, The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James managed to hold my interest. An amusing take on The Ugly Ducking, The Ugly Duchess is really a story about brains over beauty -- and gives the reader some hope that there are men (this being a romance novel that would be dashing, good-looking, wealthy men) out there who are not just after a pretty face, and/or a nice pair of tits, and/or or legs that go on forever. A good fun read for a cold or rainy spring day.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. And speaking of romance... I loved this book. Loved. One of the most beautiful, moving books I have ever read. I was captivated -- and I don't care a fig about the Jacobites or Scottish history (though I love a man in a kilt -- if he has the legs to pull it off). In brief, The Winter Sea tells the story of best-selling historical fiction writer Carrie McClelland who, while researching her next book about the 1708 attempt to return James Stuart to the throne, comes across a story line she did not know existed. Compelled to pursue this new story line, she finds herself on the shores of Scotland at an ancient castle, where, though genetic memory and research, an ancient secret and love come to light. (Seriously, why am I not writing jacket copy for a living?)

Mistress of My Fate: Book One of the Confessions of Henrietta Lightfoot by Hallie Rubenhold. Hmm... there seems to be a theme here, though this novel (okay, romance novel, though it's not really) is set in late eighteenth-century England. It's a bit of a Cinderella story, though in this case the father doesn't die and Cinderella -- or Henrietta -- doesn't spend her days waiting on everyone hand and foot. But Cinderella/Henrietta doesn't exactly get her prince either. Now that I think about it, let us call Mistress of My Fate a rollicking adventure that exposes the underside (literally) of eighteenth-century British society. It is also a rollicking good read, for both men and women.


Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger. If you enjoyed The Tipping Point and Freakonomics, you will probably enjoy Contagious, which argues that anyone who constructs a winning message can make that message go viral -- or catch on, or contagious. While I do believe that the message matters, and admire Berger's ability to define what makes a good message that is likely to catch on, I disagree (vehemently) that the person who is communicating the message, i.e., the messenger, and luck have little or nothing to do with it. Indeed, I think -- and have proof -- that the messenger, specifically influencers, mavens, and connectors, the messengers Gladwell identifies or labels in The Tipping Point, and timing matter as much or more than the message, though Berger disagrees with me (and has evidence supporting his position). I know too many cases, as I am sure do many of you (just look at Facebook and Twitter), where the same message (article, video, product, etc.) communicated by two different people achieved very different results**. That said, I think Contagious is must reading for marketers -- and if Berger's advice is followed will lead to better messaging.

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman. It is books like Eighty Days and writers like Matthew Goodman that make me burn to write a nonfiction book myself. (What's stopping me? Haven't found the right topic, plus I have no patience.) And while this is yet another book about strong women that happens to take place in the late nineteenth-century, in this case in the United States, Europe, and Asia, it is all true -- though it reads like fiction (in a good way). In short, the book is the fascinating story of two very different women journalists, Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland, who attempted to circle the globe in less than 80 days back before the days of air travel, and telephones (or the widespread use of telephones), and mass communication. As someone who loves to travel and is a journalist by profession, I found Eighty Days particularly fascinating, but I think anyone would.

So what have you all been reading? Please let me know via a comment on the blog. (You don't have to have a Blogger profile or a website. Just leave a name or be Anonymous.)

*My apologies to Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

**True story: Alec Baldwin and I tweeted the exact same thing, at almost the exact same time, with the same link in it. Guess whose tweet got retweeted and clicked on hundreds of more times? And I have many other examples like this.


Sugar Daze said...

Some excellent suggestions here! I always love your reading lists. And I just happen to be on the market for a new book!

I just finished the Book Thief. Have you read it? It is amazing. One of the next books I have ever read.

Also for lighter reading, the 100 Year-Old Man who Climbed out the Window & Disappeared.

J. said...

Two excellent recommendations! (I just put a request in for The 100-Year-Old Man.) Thanks Sugar Daze!