Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The February Booklist

I have read a LOT of books this month. The is directly attributable to the fact I've been lying in the sun a lot this month. These were some CRACKING books, as well.

I've been debating the best way to do this book list. I'm not sure that just writing a list of books I've read is anything other than a bit brag-gy and useless. And this month the 'best' list would have been half the list. So we're going for a review of them all. I'm not sure if this will be a permanent thing or not, but we'll see, said in my best mum voice.

 Breasts: A natural and unnatural history- Florence Williams
This was fascinating, a bit depressing and totally worth the read. Williams explains that as breasts are made up of fatty tissue, they are a big ol'sponge for all the crap we put in our bodies. She talks about endocrine altering chemicals, breastfeeding, cosmetic surgery and breast cancer in a way a really good science teacher would, and the book leaves you with more questions than it answers, steering it away from feeling too preachy and hippy-ish. 

Brooklyn- Colm Tóibín
I cannot believe it took me til now to read this book, but I was blown away. It is not a high-octane, plot driven thriller, but rather a quiet, moving character study. I wasn't entirely sure I liked Eilis, the main character, but I was rooting for her, a testament to Toibin's skill as a writer. 

Bossypants- Tina Fey
Again, massively behind the times, but I LOVED Bossypants. I laughed out loud on multiple occassions, and finished it loving Fey all the more. Not just because she is funny and far from perfect, but also because she is a badass business professional, a side I hadn't really appreciated before. Reading it then getting to watch SNL: The 2000s on NBC last night was awesome. Husband and I felt we caught up the last ten years in American pop culture. Husband also read it, and really liked it. Surprising when he'd initially dismissed at as a 'girlie book'.

The Complete Works- Dorothy Parker
I really wanted to like this. Parker is a masterful writer, of that there is no doubt, but the short stories, well, fell short with me. I've never been a big fan of short stories before, but so many of these were bleak and grey and hopeless. It just wasn't for me. Sorry, Dorothy Parker.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone- Laini Taylor
So this is a Blook club pick. I think this was the month we moved over to the US so I bought the book but missed the discussion. I started to read it but never really got into it, so it lay abandoned (that sound is the collective horror of all the people who have LOVED this book.) I decided to try again and stuck with it this time. It was... ok. I liked it, but I didn't love it. After I finished it, I decided I will probably read the next one, but I was in the library today and didn't feel the need to rush to find it. Make of that what you will....

Death comes to Pemberley- PD James 
I know that the Blook Clubbers HATED this with a passion, but I loved it. I'm a big PD James fan, I have read all her Adam Dalgleish books, and thought that this mixed her slow, tension building mystery with the language and characters from Pride and Prejudice (one of my all time favourites) perfectly. It did frustrate me a little when she kept explaining plot points from P&P at the start, but by the end I was really sad that there wasn't more to read. That's the best possible sign of an awesome book for me...

Girlchild- Tupelo Hassman
This is the darkest book I read this month by miles, and it includes a month with a holocaust book... A clever young girl living with neglect, abuse and general disinterest. There is such hope that things will be different for her than her fellow trailer park residents. Rather than being a heartwarming tale of overcoming adversity, this is the sharp end of perpetual poverty. Brutal, challenging and funny in places.

The Last Girls- Lee Smith
Nope. Didn't care for this one. The story of a group of ladies who rafted down the Mississippi as college students, then meet up to do the same thing 40 years later. Too much old-lady angst. Not enough joy. Surely life has a little joy for someone somewhere. This book had none.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles- Agatha Christie (#heartswap)
With the news that David Suchet is filming the final series of Poirot, this book was the perfect way to remember why Christie's characters have such enduring appeal. It was marvellous. Thanks Katie!

Prep- Curtis Sittenfeld
If I had stopped this book three quarters of the way through, I would have adored it. The main character is squirmily uncomfortable in her own skin but Sittenfeld's development of her is just brilliant. Unfortunately, I hated the end so much it completely ruined it for me. I finished it disappointed. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by E. Lockhart and Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl handled the same subject matter better, I think. 

Sarah's Key- Tatiana De Rosnay  (AOW Bookswap)
This is probably the hardest one for me to review, since my feelings are mixed about it. The book starts out by telling two concurrent stories. One of a French-Jewish child during the  Vel d'Hiv- Jewish women and children rounded up by the French Police under orders of the Vichy regime for deportation to the camps at Auschwitz.  This story was beautifully written, compelling and utterly horrifying. The second story is of  an American living in Paris, in an unhappy marriage researching the life of the child from the first story. I felt like it was obvious, especially during her internal monologues, that the author was writing in her second language. It felt clunky at times. I also felt like there was too much going on in Julia, the American's story to really get a sense of anything other than the plot. The plots eventually merge under the umbrella of a family mystery, another layer to things that just made it all the more complicated.

I really enjoyed the story of Sarah, the young girl. I would have happily read a whole book written about her life. She was interesting, compelling and well written. I am so grateful to Charlotte, my Any Other Woman Bookswap partner for sending it to me, I never would have known anything about the atrocities in France during WWII without reading it, which is saying something because I spent YEARS studying the war through Higher and Advanced Higher History. 

So there you have it, a month's worth of reading. All the books are from the Los Angeles Public Library unless otherwise stated. I'm so thankful to have a brilliant library nearby. They are worth fighting for, tooth and nail. Off there now to start on next month's list...


  1. I like that you reviewed all of them, especially the ones you weren't sure about or didn't like. I don't think it's useless or "braggy" at all :) xx

  2. Oh good, thanks Lara. I'm so fortunate that I get to sit on my arse on a sun lounger and read books all the time, and I didn't read nearly so much when I was gainfully employed. But I always want to know what to read next, so I figure other people are the same!

  3. I agree about Sarah's Key. The current day story was less thoughtful and seemed more like a way for her to provide some historical info. But the scene where Sarah realizes they're not going back is just....shattering.

    I just read Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver. I thought it was really great, with a good message about global warming as well.

    1. I will add that to the list! So glad it wasn't just me with Sarah's Key, it had so much potential.

      I actually just got Gone with the Wind, after your blog post since I had never read it OR watched the movie. Excited to read it!

    2. Can't believe you've never seen / read gone with the wind! Think I've read it at least 10 times! I loved daughter of smoke and bone but the second one took me a long time to get into. Sometimes I think I should just wait until a whole series is written before reading them because I hate the wait between books. X

    3. Sorry! I will remedy it at the beach this weekend.

    4. Ohhh! Let me know what you think. It's one big soap opera.

  4. Oh to Brooklyn, isn't it wonderful. I think Anna K received it as her #bookswap. Did Curtis Sittenfield write The American Wife? If so I loved that, until the ending.

    1. I borrowed it after seeing Anna K's bookswap picture (I am a quiet literary leech- borrowing ideas from others silently and without credit...)I do LOVE a book where I don't much like the main character- Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow comes to mind. Nothing tests the skill of a writer more than a compelling, but somewhat un-personable, main character.

      I just checked and she did write The American Wife. Apparently it's based on Laura Bush. I don't know if it's the same, but I felt like she was trying so hard to drive home a point in the last few chapters that she forgot the amazing qualities of the characters she had spent 3/4 of the book developing. I just didn't get it.

      So fussy for someone who has never attempted to write a novel...

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    1. The Breasts book is SO interesting. She brilliantly argues both that we should breast feed longer and also breast feed far shorter than the recommendations because both are equally as bad for the baby. I love a good challenge!

      I only read a lot because I have the time. It's such a gift. I'm also a really fast reader. It's my only real skill!


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