Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February 2018 in Books

Hey everyone!  Some really good books this month, several that were slower reads, but worth it.  Here's the recap:

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern - fiction - five stars - The story of a magical duel between two opponents who are actually the surrogates of 'masters' who trained them. This one took me a while to get into.  It was told from multiple viewpoints in multiple time periods so it was a bit circuitous and difficult to follow at times, but purposefully I think just as the circus was kind of a maze and a puzzle.  I loved the two protagonists and how they turned out despite how they were raised, and the supporting characters were also likable and interesting.  All in all a really good read, complex, rich read that kept me on my toes.

Give a Girl a Knife - Amy Thielen - memoir - four stars - Amy Thielen is a professional chef who has a television show - Heartland Table.  I had actually never heard of her or her show, but I actually really enjoy reading books about chefs/cooking/the food scene.  Anyway, I really liked this one, but it was a slow read.  Her writing is detailed, specific, plodding isn't quite the right word, but it's not a fast read.  It tended to read more as informational and less as story.  Still a really interesting book about how she got into the food business - from living off the grid in Minnesota to bouncing around restaurants in New York City, and then going back home.  If you are into this genre I think you'll like it, if not there are a lot of more readable foodie books that I'd suggest.

Spies in the Family: An American Spymaster, His Russian Crown Jewel, and the Friendship That Helped End the Cold War - Eva Dillon - non-fiction - four stars - The story of the author's father, a CIA agent during the Cold War and one of his assets Soviet general Dmitri Fedorovich Polyakov, code named TOPHAT.  Eva starts to research her father's life well after his death interviewing many of his co-workers as well as Polyakov's son. Fascinating look at the life of a handler, tradecraft and the development of those tools, and the repercussions of US spies Ames and Hanssen.

Spy School (Spy School #1) - Stuart Gibbs - juvenile fiction - four stars - I was actually a little surprised that I only had one kids book on the list this month.  Ellie passed this one onto me, and it was a cute book.  We both read Space Case by this author last year and enjoyed it. This one is about a boy recruited to a Spy School to help catch a mole in the organization.  It's kind of a fun premise with likable and irreverent characters.  I think this would be another great series for boys.

The Deep Dark Descending - Allen Eskens - fiction - five stars - This is the fourth book from Eskens about this particular group of characters.  I like that this series rotates the focus of each story from character to character although the overall cast tends to remain the same. In this edition, the focus is on Detective Max Rupert who finally tracks down his wife's killer and learns the full story behind her murder. Really well written using a series of flashbacks, it really kept me guessing as to what would happen in the end.

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir - Jennifer Ryan - historical fiction - five stars - This was my favorite book this month.  I actually almost didn't borrow it because I'm shallow and the cover art was kind of granny to me (as was the title of the book), but I read the inside cover and it sounded interesting, so I brought it home and I'm so glad I did.  This kind of reminded me of the Guernsey Library and Potato Peel Society as it's told through a series writings - letters to others, journal entries, etc.  The events in question take place during a relatively short time span at the beginning of the war.  Interestingly enough when I first started reading I found very little redeeming in any of the characters, but by the end of the book, I was rooting for them all.  That was the beauty of the story for me, the transformation and growth in the characters, how they become better people. This is a must read.

My Italian Bulldozer 
- Alexander McCall Smith - fiction - four stars - I'm a big fan of McCall Smith's Number One Detective Agency series.  I've read some of his other books as well and I always find his characters likable and his plots unexpected with a good dose of humor.  This is a cute little story about a food writer whose girlfriend breaks up with him just before his next book is due.  He's in a bit of a funk, so his editor sends him to Italy to get away and finish up his book. When he gets there, his car reservation does not actually have a reserved car (shades of Seinfeld) and he ends up with a rental bulldozer.  I loved the characters, the plot, just a quick, enjoyable feel good read.

The Woman Next Door - Yewande Omotoso - fiction - three stars - The story is about two women in post-apartheid South Africa. One is white and the other is black and they enemies.  Neither is remotely likable, I was not cheering for either woman at any point.  I did find it interesting from a race relations perspective.  Obviously this is a difficult problem in the US, and there are really interesting parallels in South Africa where they are even closer to the end of segregation/apartheid than we are.  It makes me want to read a little more about the current state of race relations there.

After the Fire - Mankell Henning - fiction - two stars - Basically don't read this book.  It's a bout a grumpy and pretty skeevy old man who lives on an island in Sweden. His house burns down and he eventually becomes the chief suspect.  There are no likable characters in this book, and is just a slog.  There were s many random tangents, descriptions of dreams that he had, long and rambling memories. I found out later that this was published posthumously.  It definitely needed more editing. 

The Confusion of Languages - Siobhan Fallon - fiction - four stars - Margaret Brickshaw is a recently married wife of an American soldier stationed in Jordan during the Arab spring. Cassie Hugo, another wife already in Jordan, is assigned to help her acclimate.  Cassie and her husband have been trying to have a baby without luck for many years, Margaret comes to town with an infant. Their friendship is complicated - needed and wanted, but there is jealousy.  Margaret goes missing and as Cassie waits with her son, she finds Margaret's journal and sees both their lives in a different light. I found both the women somewhat annoying and needy, but I really enjoyed the mystery of the book and how the story was revealed. 

What's next?  I'm currently reading Sisters First by the Bush daughters, and waiting in the wings are Lion,  Lenin, Hitler & Me, Beartown, and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

What did you read this month?  Would love to hear if there's a must read in there!

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