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Lost in a Book

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Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Robin Sloan
The Raven Boys
Maggie Stiefvater
Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn For me Gone Girl was a dark, suspenseful, disturbing, compulsive, maddening read. Another GR reviewer commented that similarity to the Scott Peterson case ruined a major plot twist and I have to agree. Right off the bat, I had it in my head that Nick couldn’t be a murderer because that wouldn’t be much of a story, would it? But that actually ended up working for me because I was able to appreciate the intricacies of the way he was set up, even if some of the shock-value was missing. My real problem with the story is that both husband and wife are so darned repulsive. By the end of the book it’s clear that neither is redeemable - Amy is psychotic and Nick can’t walk away from her. Their sparring became exhausting and ultimately uninteresting to me. Whatever heinous future is in store for them, they deserve every bit of it. Even the final twist seemed gratuitous, a final "gotcha" thrown in to seal the whole mess.

2.5 stars, really. Could just as easily have rounded down as up.
Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon's Army & Other Diabolical Insects - Amy Stewart A quick survey of lots of truly creepy bugs, with great illustrations. I'm giving this 2 stars because I would have liked more depth and detail. Do not read if you are at all squeamish about this sort of thing.
A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1) - George R.R. Martin,  Roy Dotrice I'm not a huge fantasy fan, so I'm picky about what I'll read. But I love good storytelling and I enjoyed this book enough to continue on with the series. The audiobook narrated by Roy Dotrice is outstanding.
Doomsday Book - Connie Willis This is the first book I've read by Connie Willis and I understand now why my science-fiction-loving friends keep recommending her to me. I had several other books in process when I brought this one home, but once I read the opening chapters it was impossible to leave it alone. An utterly absorbing, heartbreaking tale of a young Oxford historian who travels back to medieval England and mistakenly ends up in 1348 during the outbreak of the Black Plague. It's a really good read and the kind of book you can't help thinking about long after you've finished it.
Anna Karenina - Amy Mandelker, Constance Garnett, Leo Tolstoy A wonderful classic. The character study is fascinating. Tolstoy shows us their thoughts in real time as they interact with each other, so we are able to experience their emotions and truly understand the motivations that drive their behaviors. It is a very long book and also full of discussion about agriculture and the politics of the time. I was reminded again of the difference between reading classics and contemporary books, as I accustomed myself to a more leisurely pace and concentrated on absorbing the story as it unfolded in all its detail and digression and troubled relationships.

I enjoyed the book and am eager to read more Tolstoy.
And Be a Villain - Maan Meyers, Rex Stout Another fun read from Rex Stout. It's not much of a mystery, but that's not really why one reads a Nero Wolfe book, is it? The cameo by Arnold Zeck was interesting. I've heard he appears in other books as a kind of nemesis for Wolfe.
Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut Read this last month and never got around to reviewing it. The book didn't really live up to its reputation, I think. But then I haven't read Vonnegut for a long time and maybe I wasn't in the mood for his particular type of satire. Decent read, not great, but I'm glad I finally read it.
The Mosquito Coast - Paul Theroux I didn’t enjoy this book at all.

On the face of it, it should have been fascinating. A cautionary tale of one man’s obsession and descent into madness as he tries to build a utopia in the middle of the Honduran jungle. A commentary on those who would re-fashion society based on idealism, whilst still subject to the human flaws of narcissism and hunger for power. But I found myself making constant excuses to put the book down. I read other things in between. It was like watching a train wreck, only I couldn’t force myself to care what happened to Allie Fox or his poor family. When I finally finished, I lost no time in returning the book to the library and moving on as quickly as possible.

I originally gave this 2 stars because it IS well-written, but on reflection I dropped my rating because I honestly didn’t like it.
The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen - Jacques Pépin A charming memoir told in a series of selected stories and humorous anecdotes, with recipes sprinkled in between. Chef Pepin is really likeable, down-to-earth, and unpretentious about food. I loved the stories about his family, growing up in France with his two brothers and cooking in his mother’s restaurant. I was amazed to learn that he was personal chef to President de Gaulle, and worked in the test kitchen for Howard Johnson’s when he came to the U.S. Most interesting were his observations on French vs. American palates, and how he came to appreciate the ease and flexibility of American manners and eating habits.
Defending Jacob - William Landay Excellent legal thriller, reminiscent of Presumed Innocent with elements of The Bad Seed. It’s compelling reading from the opening pages, through the trial, to the unexpected conclusion.

What do you do when your child is accused of murder? When you’re not sure he’s telling you the truth? When every new piece of information increases your suspicions and you live in dread of what you might uncover? "Suspicion, once it started to corkscrew into my thoughts, made me experience everything twice: as a questing prosecutor and anxious father, one after the truth, the other terrified of it." Jacob’s parents, Andy and Laurie, are forced to admit they know nothing at all about their son or what he might be capable of. And isn’t that every parent’s worst nightmare?

The only part I didn’t care for was the "murder gene" theory. While I don’t discount biological contributors to behavior, I tend to believe that it is choice in large part that drives a person's actions.
The Snow Child - Eowyn Ivey I was disappointed by this book. The writing was lovely and atmospheric. I was initially drawn in by the setting and the characters, eager to see what the author would do with this modern retelling of a Russian fairy tale. But it turned out that there was really nothing more to it. While I enjoyed the story as I was reading it, in the end I was left with one thought, "Well, that was certainly tragic. What’s the point?"

There were parts that I really liked, but I think the overall experience for me was just OK. The story ultimately failed to stir my emotions or leave me with any lasting impression.
The Kitchen House - Kathleen Grissom This book had a lot of promise. It had all the ingredients of a great story and started out well, but ultimately devolved into a huge soap opera. Good characters were too good. Evil characters were too evil. Lavinia was naive beyond belief and lost my sympathy more than once. Still, Grissom paints a wonderful portrait of the black family that made Lavinia one of their own. These are the best developed characters by far and made the story worth reading. I just wish the rest of the book had been as compelling as the opening.
Garden Spells - Sarah Addison Allen A sweet, uncomplicated story with romance and a touch of magic. I read it straight through last night and really enjoyed it.
The Name of the Star - Maureen Johnson This was a nice change from dystopian YA fiction. Paranormal, but no vampires... another plus!

The first part of the book is a reasonably enjoyable story about a girl from Louisiana, Rory Deveaux, who travels to England to attend a select London boarding school. As luck would have it, she arrives at the same time that a series of copycat Jack the Ripper murders breaks out in the area near the school. About halfway through the book, the plot takes an unexpected twist and the story gets a lot more interesting....

I’m tempted to give this book 3.5 stars and round up to 4*, just because it surprised me with it's mixture of humor and suspense. But I think I'll wait to see how the sequel turns out and whether Rory and her friends get developed more fully.

*I went ahead and raised my rating after reading the second in the series. Waiting impatiently for [b:The Shadow Cabinet|17412895|The Shadow Cabinet (Shades of London, #3)|Maureen Johnson|/assets/nocover/60x80.png|24258340].
Divergent  - Veronica Roth This book might have rated higher if I hadn’t read [b:Uglies|24770|Uglies (Uglies, #1)|Scott Westerfeld|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1358962036s/24770.jpg|2895388] just recently. Granted the stories aren’t the same, but they feel exactly alike. In each case there’s a dystopian society divided up based on some criteria, with an underlying plot to manipulate the citizenry to gain/maintain power.

In Divergent there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason for the different factions, which represent different attributes (wisdom, courage, honesty, selflessness, peacefulness). You are born and raised within a faction, given an aptitude evaluation at 16, but are still free to pick whichever one you want. And if you fail the initiation for your chosen faction, you get to be an outcast. Really? What’s the point of it all?

Beatrice (Tris), who was raised to be "selfless," has made the decision to leave her family and join the Dauntless. Nearly the entire book is taken up with her initiation, which consists mainly of lessons in facing down fear and beating your opponent to a pulp. Oh, and getting multiple tattoos. The main plot is only revealed at the very end of the book.

This is one more YA series where I’ll be stopping at Book 1.
From Doon With Death - Ruth Rendell I've read a few of Ruth Rendell's mysteries now and they're OK, not my favorites. Wexford is an interesting character, though.