what I read in January

Screenshot 2016-02-01 10.25.10

Fiction

Making Money, by Terry Pratchett. Former conman turned respectable pillar of the community Moist von Lipwig tries to run a bank. This is an old favorite of mine, and I never get tired reading about the exploits of Moist von Lipwig. (Related titles: Going Postal and Raising Steam by the same author.)

Dear Committee Members, by Julie Schumacher. This is an epistolary novel, in which the story is told through the countless letters of recommendation a professor is asked to write one year. If you work in academia, you’ll probably find it funny. It lagged a little in the middle, but the end more than made up for it and re-humanized the characters involved, which was sorely needed.

The Lure of the Moonflower, by Lauren Willig. My dad got me started on these female-centered historical spy novels/romances, set in Napoleon France, India under colonial rule, and Georgian England. There are twelve of them, and I’ve read them all. He dropped out halfway through the series (as much as I love them, the quality is a little uneven), but gave me this one for Christmas so I could finish the series. They’re fun, reasonably historically accurate, and this one made a nice wrap up of more than ten years of Pink Carnation history.

Gatefather, by Orson Scott Card. This is the third and last installment in Card’s Mithermages series. Danny North, an incredibly powerful Gatemage, has battled the Gate Thief, and won, but now faces another great danger. (It’s very epic, if you couldn’t tell.) I really enjoyed the worldbuilding in this series, I enjoyed the (semi-subtle) Mormon overtones visible in Card’s writing, I enjoyed (if also rolled my eyes) at the way the author weaves together theology and mythology. But for a book that had such an epic premise, the ending felt kind of flat for me. Not bad, just flat. Still worth reading if you like fantasy, though.

The Bands of Mourning, by Brandon Sanderson. Bands of Mourning is set in the same universe as Sanderson’s Mistborn series, just hundreds of years later (I think. A good chunk of time, in any case). It follows The Alloy of Law and Shadows of Self, and continues the story very neatly.

I’m being very circumspect about plot so I don’t spoil anything, but I’ll say this: Sanderson writes female characters pretty well, but falls into the same traps a lot of writers do (Warbreakers, as much as I liked it, inspired much ranting in that regard). It was nice to see Steris come into her own in this book, even if the same old ‘woman doesn’t know her value/worth until male tells her (and preferably marries her)’ trope came out to play.

Divergent, by Veronica Roth. Divergent has been made into a movie, and it’s a very well-known young adult book that I had resisted reading until now. Shame on me, because my snobbish rejection wasn’t actually warranted–it’s a pretty good book. In the Divergent world, people are separated into ‘factions’ that value different things: Abnegation values selflessness, Candor values honesty, Dauntless values courage, Erudite values learning and libraries, and Amity values peacefulness. The catch is that you grow up in one faction, and then you choose whether to stay, or to join another one, at sixteen. The story revolves around one girl, Beatrice Prior, and her surprising choice.

Also, as an aside, I would probably be an Erudite. I’m too non-confrontational to be Candor, too un-athletic to be Dauntless, too selfish to be Abnegation (although I’m also a people pleaser so who knows?), and too sarcastic and prone to doom-thinking to be Amity. (In the Harry Potter world, I’m a Ravenclaw. I’m pretty sure I like following the rules too much to be Gryffindor. Although Hermione made it, so again, who knows?)

Cozy Mysteries

Gluten for Punishment, by Nancy J Parra. You know the gluten-free thing has jumped the shark when there’s a cozy mystery about it. (I was relieved to read that the protagonist hadn’t read Wheat Belly but actually had celiac.) Fun and fast read.

On Borrowed Time, by Jenn McKinlay. Another installment of the Briar Creek crime-fighting librarian!

Suspendered Sentence, by Laura Bradford. I swear, until right this second, I read the title as Suspended Sentence, and I’m afraid I’m going to have to downgrade my ranking for this book because this pun is terrible.

Anyway, it’s a cozy mystery set in Amish country in Pennsylvania. I find these books fascinating bits of Americana, because they require the people in question (the Amish) to become two-dimensional characters upon which fully modernized and technologically connected people can project a longing for simplicity and grace. Although Bradford is better than most, and her Amish actually experience and express negative emotions, like anger and jealousy. (Not to mention a murder, since it’s a cozy mystery, after all.)

Non-fiction

The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, by Kathryn Joyce. Joyce (author of the book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement) takes on international adoption in this book, asking questions about good intentions gone awry, the potential and reality of human/child trafficking, and how to move forward and do good. It’s branded as an exposé, and although I’m skeptical of exposés, I picked it up and read it anyway. If you keep in mind that it’s not meant to be a fair-handed treatment of adoption, but rather an exploration of what happens when too many people feel the means justifies the ends, you’ll end up learning a lot.

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, by Gail Collins. The book opens with an anecdote of how a woman wasn’t allowed to pay her boss’ traffic fine because she was wearing pants. (Her husband had to go pay it so they could just go home, and was warned to keep her in line by the judge.) Collins takes us through years of change, chronicling how in just one generation, expectations of what women could or could not, should or should not do drastically changed. Collins weaves in historical research, oral histories, and popular culture in an interesting and eloquent way. It’s rather balanced (you can tell the author is mostly a fan of the changes, since she never would have got to her position as the New York Times’ first female editor of the Editorial Page without them, but she also writes about the unintended consequences along the way), and when the author criticizes the parties involved, she does so in an affirming way. I would have loved a chapter on the Internet and the way female participation online has changed public life, but I guess you can’t cover everything.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day. This is a memoir that chronicles Day’s upbringing (weird), university career (disciplined), acting career (quirky), and various interests (nerdy). I listened to the audiobook, which I would highly recommend, as it’s read by Day herself. I loved the peeks into Day’s weird and wonderful life. I’m not a gamer (all I play is Mario Kart and Yoshi), but I’ve watched The Guild and Dr Horrible (not to mention some Supernatural) and I know enough about the culture to be intrigued. Recommended for all the nerds out there who feel like they don’t belong.

3 thoughts on “what I read in January

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