Friday, September 26, 2014

New book recommendations

For this Book Nook post (click on the Book Nook label at the end of the post to see previous recommendations), I've divided the books I've read (since my last book post) into three categories: Books I Loved, Books I Liked, and Books I Didn't Like.

Feel free to add your thoughts and recommendations in the Comments section. 

Books I Loved

One Hundred Names by Cecilia Ahern. The moving story of a young, disgraced journalist's quest for redemption and her desire to pay tribute to her recently deceased mentor and editor by writing the story she (the editor) had wanted to write but didn't. The story? We don't exactly know (until the end of the book). All the editor left was a list of 100 names. It is up to Kitty Logan, the disgraced journalist, to track down the 100 people on the list and figure out what ties them together and to Constance, her beloved former editor and mentor.

I loved this book, and not just because I started my professional life as a fact checker and writer for a magazine (though it helped me to instantly connect with Kitty, her coworkers, and her subjects). I loved it because of the stories Kitty uncovers in her quest, the great writing, and how uplifted the book left me feeling when I finished reading it.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Another great read -- very funny. Reminded me of The Big Bang Theory, in a good way, as the main character in The Rosie Project, Don, like Sheldon, is a scientist, who is "socially challenged" (i.e., has Asperger Syndrome or similar). Though in this case it is the Sheldon character, who is good looking and into cooking not comic books, who falls for the Penny character, Rosie, who is a sexy bartender (similar to Penny), though also very intelligent. Got it?

Okay, for those who have no idea what I'm talking about, The Rosie Project is a romantic comedy about a health-obsessed Australian geneticist with Asperger's who creates a compatibility test for finding the perfect mate and winds up falling for a sexy bartender who smokes. (Just trust me and pick it up. You won't be sorry.)

Books I Liked (Some More, or Less, Than Others)

The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin. Goodwin's subject matter and style harkens back to Edith Wharton and Henry James. So if you are a fan of either writer, or that genre, you will probably enjoy The Fortune Hunter (and Goodwin's previous novel, The American Heiress, which I also read and liked). The story takes place in late nineteenth-century England and involves young, orphaned heiress Charlotte Baird and her love interest, Bay Middleton, a dashing, and philandering, British rider and huntsman who is the pilot (a hunting term) for and we suspect paramour of Empress Elizabeth of Austria, who wants Middleton all to herself. A work of historical fiction, though filled with real characters and events -- well written, but I wished Goodwin had not distorted or changed so many facts.

The White Magic Five and Dime (A Tarot Mystery) by Steve Hockensmith with Lisa Falco. Reminiscent of The Spellman Files mystery series, which I greatly enjoyed. (Main character as well as the tone is very similar.) Cynical thirty-something woman, who works as a telemarketer in Chicago, gets a call that her estranged mother, a con artist, has died and left her her occult shop in a small tourist town in Arizona. She goes to claim her inheritance and winds up investigating her mother's murder and nearly getting killed herself. An often humorous mystery from the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

One Plus One by JoJo Moyes. Hard-working, nearly broke single mum Jess, struggling to take care of her estranged ex's sensitive, artistic, Goth teenage son and come up with the tuition money to send her (and her husband's) daughter, a petite math prodigy to a good private school, winds up falling for a nerdy software developer -- who's been indicted for insider trading and who's life is falling apart, and whose vacation home she cleans -- who agrees to drive the family, along with their big, lazy, farting dog, on a crazy road trip to Northern Scotland so the little girl can participate, and hopefully win, a big math contest. Got it? British chick lit. Not my usual cup of tea. But endearing and charming. (I must be getting soft in my old age.)

Redshirts by John Scalzi. A witty/funny sci-fi/mystery that pays homage to the original Star Trek.

The Four Graces by D. E. Stevenson. Described as "Little Women meets World War II," which sounds about right. Set in 1940s England, The Four Graces introduces readers to the four lovely Grace sisters and their father, the local vicar, who live in a quiet, and quaint, English country parish -- and whose lives are changed by the war and the arrival of two new men and a meddling auntie. Originally published in 1946 and re-issued this summer. Read with a cuppa.

The Accidental Apprentice by Vikas Swarup, the author of Slumdog Millionaire. Twenty-something Delhi electronics sales girl Sapna Sinha is approached by a mysterious stranger in a temple who offers to make her the CEO of his billion-dollar company if she passes seven "leadership" tests. While Sapna is tempted by the money, she turns down the offer, repeatedly, yet circumstances force her to change her mind -- and launch Sapna on a series of adventures around Delhi, which lead her to question what it is she truly wants out of life. A fascinating, well-written Indian thriller.

The French House, a memoir by Don Wallace. I kept wanting to really like this book, and I sort of liked it, or the idea of it. I just didn't like or care for most of the people (who almost all came off as self-centered or self-absorbed or un-self aware, especially the narrator) -- and thought it could have used a bit more editing to smooth out the often jarring chronological jumping around. That said, I think anyone who has ever dreamed of buying a fixer-upper in a beautiful foreign country where they don't really speak the language will appreciate, and probably enjoy, Wallace's tale of his and wife's adventures in home ownership on the tiny French island of Belle Île, off the coast of Brittany, especially you Francophiles.

(Coincidentally, this weekend the House Hunting in... column in the The New York Times features a charming manse located in... Brittany -- a steal at only $1.03 million!)

Books I Didn't Like

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. A well-written horror story, couched as a mystery. A definite page turner, but I hated the characters, all of them, and the ending. Wish I'd never read it.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. I was completely beside myself with disgust reading this book -- and detested it so much I couldn't finish it. Cannot believe it was short-listed for the Man Booker. (Actually, I can believe it as I rarely have liked the books that make the cut.)

The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go. Another well-written book, in terms of the prose style, though overly long and drawn out in parts (i.e., rambling and boring, at least to me) and the ending pissed off not only me but seemingly every person on GoodReads.

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