Finishing Up the 60 Book Challenge of 2013

Book 71: Seems I forgot to log my fourth book in the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge:A Christmas Visitor, by Anne Perry

Three brothers plan to return to the (relatively new) family estate for the holiday.  The brother who lives on the property has died while the others are in transit.  The mystery is pursued by the widow’s godfather.

Everyone in the family is likable enough, and while I can’t say the ending is happy, it is satisfying.

Book 72: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Another really disturbing mystery by Gillian Flynn.  Wife disappears on the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary.  One of the endorsements said it was like Scenes from a Marriage written by Alfred Hitchcock.  Yeah.  And I understand Ben Affleck is going to play the husband in the film.  I will not be seeing this film.

To go into any detail at all about the plot would be to spoil it for serious.  Having said all that, I could not put this book down.

Book 73:  The Book of Daniel, by E.L. Doctorow

Fictional account of the Rosenberg saga from the point of view of their son, who was 11 or so at the time of the trials.

I had remembered that the trial was very controversial and there was some doubt as to whether the Rosenbergs were guilty of passing the secrets of the bomb to the Soviets.  This book, written in 1971 was extremely sympathetic to the family.  So I had to go back and read a bit of history.  There have been several recent developments in the last decade that suggest the wife was completely innocent and the husband was guilty of something.  Perhaps even the charge for which they were convicted which was Conspiracy, as opposed to straight up Treason.  But the theory is there was no way Dude knew enough to actually pass on atomic secrets to the Soviets.

So besides a really well told story, (although I really could have done without Daniel’s abuse of his young wife) I also had the benefit of historical perspective.  Glad I read this.

Book 74: Hitch 22, by Christopher Hitchens

So my count didn’t match what GoodReads says I read this year and I had to go hunt for the book I hadn’t counted yet.  I read this memoir by Christopher Hitchens over the summer.

Hitchens died a year or two ago, but he finished this before he knew he was sick.  I don’t agree with everything he says, but he tells a good story.  He will be remembered, I think, for two things – his outspoken atheism and his defense of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses (which is on my shelf and I really need to read).  He talked about both of those things.

I miss Hitchens’ column in Vanity Fair magazines.  In fact, I just realized that after Hitchens and Dominick Dunne died, I haven’t really been reading it.  Happily, there are a few books left in the repertoire that I haven’t read yet.

I am Half-Sick of Shadows, by Alan Bradley

Book 70 of 60 Book Challenge, Book 5 of Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge

This was the fourth book in the Flavia de Luce series – the 11-year-old British girl solving mysteries in a small town in the 1950s.  And for once I have read the earlier books in the series.

There have been money problems building in the family.  Giant estate, mom is long dead and dad sort of lives in a fog.  But he snaps out of it long enough to rent out the house for the holiday season to a production company making a film with a rather well-known actress.  Big Actress also agrees to a small charity performance at the house and the whole town shows up only to be snowed in on Christmas Eve.  And can you see where this is going?

I guess you can call this a SPOILER but, you’d have to be completely new here not to pick it up:

When our heroine – a budding chemist – goes up on the roof to set a trap for Santa.. she will really end up catching the killer.  But the point is that Dude wrote a character that I totally believe at age 11 would:

  1. Not be entirely sure whether there is or is not a Santa Claus (blame her rotten sisters)
  2. Decide she needs scientific evidence one way or another
  3. Figure out how to obtain scientific evidence using chemicals in her laboratory

Shut up.  It was charming.

Some progress was made in the ongoing meta drama of the sisters and the family finances.  And can I just tell you that Dogger, the war hero/family retainer  (he’s like the literary love child of Alfred the Butler and Boo Radley) is the best thing ever and now I am going to sit here for a minute and decide who is going to play him when the film rights are sold.  I’m thinking Gary Oldman, but I’m always thinking Gary Oldman.

Deck the Halls, by Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark

Book 69 – 60 Book Challenge 2013, Book 3 of The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge

The mother and daughter mystery writers took two of their sleuths and wrote them into a story together.  It was a Christmas kidnapping.  The director of a chain of funeral homes is held for ransom, along with one of his staff, by two of the dumbest criminals of all time.

The criminals were so dumb that there was little doubt as to the outcome of the story.  Wait – I suppose there was a bit of tension in the idea that the criminals were so dumb that they’d get our heroes killed by accident.  But the set up was interesting and the red herring was quite charming.

P.S.  Unless the book is a memoir, I am not sure that authors should be the audiobook readers.

The Christmas Cookie Club, by Ann Pearlman

Book 68 – 60 Book Challenge 2013, Book 2 – The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge

This was chick lit, but decent chick lit.  A dozen women gather each year for a Christmas Cookie exchange and the founder of the tradition is our narrator.    For each character, we get a backstory and a cookie recipe and then our narrator sketches out a short history of one of the ingredients (vanilla, sugar, etc.)

I finished the book a few days ago, but the interweaved histories are already fading from memory.  It was a lot of people to follow, so there wasn’t much depth.  The interpersonal tensions were not so tense that there was any doubt as to the outcome.

But there was a bunch of Christmas Spirit.

The Mischief of the Mistletoe, by Lauren Willig

  Book 67 of 60 Book Challenge, Book 1 of The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge

A Very Special Christmas Novel in the middle of a series about His Majesty’s Spies or something in Regency England.  Jane Austen herself makes an appearance (for no good reason that I can see).  Secret messages were hidden in pudding and a noc list of some sort has disappeared.  The baddies seem to think our heroine, a new young schoolteacher, has it.

This was heavier on the romance and lighter on the mystery than I had hoped, but our hero was the most charming thing.  And I really dig the idea of a full twelve days of Christmas holiday in the countryside.


Books 61 – 66 2013

Books 61 – 63 – The Glamourist Histories, by Mary Robinette Kowal

The idea is “Jane Austen in a world where Magic exists”.  So I’m in.  The magic is called “Glamour” and is primarily used for art.  But there are other uses and I expect they will develop with the world of the novels as they progress.  Our heroine Jane is , of course, a rather plain near-spinster who is a very talented glamourist.  Enter the curmudgeon who is equally as talented.  Stir and bake.  After the first book, I wrote on Goodreads that the homage to Jane Austen was a bit thick.  But the hero and heroine marry and then there is a sequel!  And another!  They even get a bit dark with some mystery and intrigue.  So the narrative grows past Jane Austen.  Unfortunately, the publisher has decided to make each book cover more bodice-ripping than the last.  I was embarrassed to be walking around with that third one and the fourth looks like the trend shall continue.  A fabulous series nonetheless and the first time since I started seriously using the library again that I thought, “Damn.  I sorta want a copy of that”.

Books 64-65 – Two Hercule Poirot Novels, by Agatha Christie

I do love Poirot.  However, Murder in Mesopotamia was narrated by an incredibly annoying character and it took away from the charm.  The mystery was pretty decent, though.  I guessed the solution to Death on the Nile although to be fair, that’s probably because it has been rehashed about a hundred times in random TV shows.  But the actor that does Poirot with the BBC did the reading and that made it even more charming.



Book 66 – First Family: Abigail and John Adams, by Joseph Ellis

So.  Dude who did the fantastic Founding Brothers, and a biography of Jefferson (haven’t read it yet) writes about the partnership of John and Abigail.  It was gratifying to know that Ellis also seems to think that Jefferson was a two-faced..nevermind.  But otherwise, I found this rather less thrilling than I imagined.  I gave it three stars on Goodreads and wrote: “There wasn’t a whole lot here that I hadn’t heard before, but the angle was interesting. It spent much more text on the time the Adamses spent apart than the later years (like in the White House) that they spent together – because the primary source was the letters they wrote to each other.

Books 54 – 60 2013

Now where was I?  Ah.  New York.

Book 54 – New York, by Edward Rutherfurd

A fictionalized history of the city of New York, following several families from the time of the Dutch settlement through 9/11.  It was epic.  There were several historical events of which I was not entirely aware – like how absolutely hideous the riots of 1864 were.  (Then I saw it again on Copper.)  It tended to breeze through some parts and  go into great detail in others, but I was ok with that.  I am going to read every single thing this guy has done.  But it will be very slow going.

Book 55 – We Never Make Mistakes: Two Short Novels, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The “we never make mistakes” is the end of a story of a guy on duty at a train station calling in for backup because he thinks that a man claiming to be a lost soldier might actually be a baddie.  By the time the backup arrives to take the soldier away, our hero isn’t so sure.  And I just gave away the entire story.  Sorry about that.  It was a short story!  But Solzhenitsyn was very good at finding the hearts of the honest among his countrymen and while I can’t say I actually enjoy this stuff, I really appreciate it.

Book 56 – A Theft, by Saul Bellow

A rather convoluted short novel about a woman, her necklace, her nanny and their lovers. And insurance fraud.  It wasn’t fabulous, but I needed somewhere to start with Bellow and this was easy.


Book 57 – William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, by Ian Doescher

This is the most charming thing ever and why isn’t is already on stage?  If there is a Kickstarter, I am so in.



Book 58 – Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates

OK, fine.  I hadn’t heard of it until Kate and Leo did the film.  At least I read it before seeing the Kate and Leo film.  Seriously.  Because I don’t want to see Kate and Leo do this shit.  This story was alarming and depressing at the same time.



Book 59 – Another Deborah Knott book, by Margaret Maron

You know the author has run out of ideas when she brings international espionage to the small town mysteries.  And yet I keep reading.



Book 60 – The Widows of Eastwick, by John Updike

This sequel didn’t suck.  Besides reuniting our heroines, it was a tale of consequences and redemption.  Not exactly a page turner, but the theme played out well.



OK, almost there.