Sunday, December 31, 2017

Year-End Roundup, 2017

This post includes the books that I read in December, plus a few that I forgot to write about from earlier this fall. I just realized that the four non-fiction books that I read in December were all humorous. This is how I'm avoiding all the year-end news wrap-ups!

I really enjoyed this memoir by David Litt, one of President Obama's speechwriters. Litt writes about how he got involved in the Obama campaign and administration; I particularly enjoyed how he contributed to some of the funnier moments, such as  White House Correspondent's dinner jokes. For a fun perspective and insights on what it was like working in the Obama administration, I recommend this book.

This is a funny but incredibly raunchy memoir by Amy Schumer, comedian and actor (in Trainwreck and Snatched). I'd never watched any of her shows or other performances, so her comedy was unfamiliar to me. Entertaining and sometimes a little sad, raunchy and fairly gross at times. Definitely not for everyone!

Waiting for my flight from Pittsburgh to Albany earlier this month, I purchased this book (and the next) to read in the airport and on the short flight to Albany. Very funny!

As a follow-up to the previous book, this one also includes many gems by the author's father. These are both short (under 200 pages) and a great way to pass a few hours in the airport.

And now the fiction. The first three were our most recent book club picks:

I really liked this novel about a group of family and friends set in North Carolina. Ava's marriage is falling apart, and she's mourning the child that she can't seem to conceive. Ava's mother Sylvia is mourning the absence of her son, and has befriended a man in prison who dialed her phone number randomly just to talk to someone. JJ, a local boy who left the town and became a successful businessman, has returned home to see if he can rekindle his long-ago romance with Ava. This is an excellent first novel that I found completely engrossing.

I loved this novel set in in a remote village in Wales during WWII. Told from multiple characters' viewpoints, it's the story of a German prisoner, Karsten, placed in a POW camp in Wales. Esther is a local girl who befriends Karsten when he escapes temporarily from the camp. Jim is an evacuee who's housed on Esther's father's sheep farm. Rotheram is a German exile who's working with British intelligence. He interviews Rudolph Hess to determine whether he's fit for trial, and is sent to interview the POWs as well. This book is very well-written and tells a fascinating story about an aspect of WWII that is perhaps less well-known.

This is a mystery written by a local author (from Glens Falls, NY). Author Kate White worked in magazine publishing for years (including serving as editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan) before she turned to writing mysteries. This book is completely implausible, but fun.

It's been years since I've read a Sara Paretsky V.I. Warshawski mystery. I liked this more than I expected. In her earlier books I found V.I. so caustic that she was a little off-putting as a character. In this book she was much less obnoxious, but still assertive and persistent. I enjoyed the story and characters, and found the writing very good; it's a real page-turner.

It's pretty rare that I take a real dislike to a book, but here are two that I really didn't like:

This is a historical novel about a woman in Tennessee who took it upon herself to re-bury more than a thousand confederate soldiers after a neighbor decided to plow them under so that he could plant crops on the field where they were originally buried. It's told from multiple viewpoints, but it just dragged on and I had to literally force myself to finish it. I'm glad that I learned about the Battle of Franklin and this episode of the Civil War, but this is a rare case of historical fiction being less interesting or entertaining than reading the history itself.

I thought I'd like this book, an Oprah pick and one set in rural Pennsylvania by a local Pennsylvania author. But I just hated it. I forced myself to finish thinking it might have some redeeming qualities, but it just rubbed me the wrong way. I didn't like the characters and I didn't like the plot. I have a hard time understanding why it would have been an Oprah pick.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Latest books, December 3, 2017

 This is a fascinating look at the history of humans, from our origins in the distant past to today. Author Yuval Noah Harari, a historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, discusses what he describes as the cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution, the unification of humankind, and the scientific revolution. Well-written and impossible to put down.

Rising sea levels are just one side effect of global warming. This book explores how the rising sea levels will affect all of the coastal communities around the world. Author Jeff Goodell is a writer for Rolling Stone magazine who has written about global change before. He shares his extensive research and reporting in this book. This is a compelling read and presents a convincing argument to move inland!

W. Kamau Bell was the closing speaker at a recent ALA conference. I only caught part of his presentation, but found him funny, thoughtful, and authentic. A comedian who also has a CNN series, United Shades of America, he shares many of his experiences with readers in this thought-provoking and heartfelt book. I really enjoyed this book and am looking for more to come from Mr. Bell.

I've been a big fan of Al Franken since I read his book Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. I saw Mr. Franken on a stage with Bill O'Reilly at the 2003 BookExpoAmerica conference in Los Angeles, a panel that was moderated by Molly Ivins. I enjoyed reading about how he made the decision to run for the Senate, his experiences campaigning, and his perspectives on recent political events. I was dismayed when I heard about the groping allegations, which became public on the same day that I was reading about how much he enjoyed going on the USO tours. Regardless of the outcome of the senate ethics inquiry, this is an interesting and well-written memoir.

I loved this novel about ancient Rome and Cicero's rise from Senator to Consul. Robert Harris' writing is very good; it's a real page turner. He brings history to life in a way that no history book can.

This is the first in a series of fantasy novels that follow the story of Merry Gentry, a member of the faerie royal family in the U.S., and also a detective. This is very fun, fast-moving, escapist fiction; just what's needed right now!