sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

May 11, 2007

into the stacks 10
posted by soe 7:25 pm

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’ll probably have noticed that my monthly book summaries ceased when the calendar switched years. It wasn’t done on purpose. I wanted to hold off in January because I was behind in mailing out Christmas packages. And I just never quite got my act together to get it out in any of the subsequent months.

And, yes, I realize this is a particularly paltry sum of books to have read since the start of the year. I started many more books than this, but either I was really on a run of sub-par books that just didn’t merit finishing or the depression really bit into my desire to read.

Earlier this week, Grey Kitten pointed out that I’ve not posted about books in forever and that he missed seeing what I was reading. That encouraged me to take out this post and dust off the moth balls that had lingered on it for some time.

The good news is that I’m currently working on several books that I do enjoy and that I will resume regular summaries at the end of the month. In the meantime, I offer you the books I finished between January and April, in no particular order:

King Lear, by William Shakespeare

From the jacket My one-sentence summary: The story of an elderly king, his three daughters, and how pride, corruption, and power can wreak havoc on lives and a kingdom.

Why this book? How is it possible that this second-generation English major could not have read King Lear? Who let me graduate with that gap in my education?

My take: I liked it quite a bit. I admit that my expectations were colored by having read A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley’s feminist retelling of story, but I still was surprised by how it turned out. Isn’t it great that you can reach the last few pages of a book and still not quite have the details figured out? Can we get this Shakespeare fellow to write tv scripts for us? I am encouraged that my English major training has not totally deserted me since the theme of clear-sightedness practically slaps you across the face every few pages. High school students take note: This would be an easy 5-10-page paper topic.

Pages: 181

The Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale

From the jacket: “Miri knew lowlanders would never allow a crown to sit on a mountain girl’s head. But what if she were chosen? She could have a better life for herself and her family in the rich, green valleys of the lowlands. That would be any girl’s wish — wouldn’t it?”

Why this book? Hale won a Newberry last year and her books just seem like they’re told from an interesting slant. Plus, I started popping in at her blog periodically and she seems like someone you could totally have a conversation with.

My take: Sweet story and a kick-ass tale for anyone with a young person in their life. It just won the Beehive Award, for the best book of the year in the opinion of schoolkids, and it is a well-deserved honor. Miri is just the sort of heroine you want your kids to model themselves after and kids will sympathize with behavior that seems (and sometimes is) unfair.

Pages: 314

The Tale of Cuckoo Brow Wood, by Susan Wittig Albert

From the jacket: “When Beatrix [Potter] returns to hill Top Farm from her parents’ home in London, she finds the attic overrun with rats. Rosabelle, resident rat and generous hostess, has offered her family a place to stay. But when word gets out, she soon has dozens of rat families on her tiny hands. To get rid of them, Beatrix invites some cats over — deeply offending Felicia Frummety, resident cat. The town vicar shares Beatrix’s problem — some pesky visitors have all but refused to leave the vicarage. Even worse, a mysterious, moneyed outsider plans to ruin the pristine shoreline of Lake Windermere by building a sprawl of villas. And trouble has beset three village children, favorites of Beatrix, who are counting on the help of the fairies of Cuckoo Brow Wood. Now, with her signature tact, Beatrix must work with her friends — human and animal — to set things right…”

Why this book? Every once in a while you need a good, mindless mystery. This one was probably sitting out on a counter somewhere at the library calling attention to itself.

My take: Fun and easy-going. Definitely comfortable within the cozy sub-genre of mysteries, but that’s really all I ask for. I’d definitely read more in the series. If you intend to watch Miss Potter when it comes out on dvd, I’d hold off on reading the book because the historical fiction aspect of the book does contain spoilers for the movie.

Pages: 333

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

From the jacket: “’My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself. What succor, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney? What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie.’ — Vida Winter … The Thirteenth Tale is a love letter to reading, a book for the feral reader in all of us, a return to that rich vein of storytelling that our parents loved and that we loved as children. Diane Setterfield will keep you guessing, make you wonder, move you to tears and laughter and, in the end, deposit you breathless yet satisfied back upon the shore of your everyday life.”

Why this book? It got great reviews on blogs last year and I picked it up as a gift for several people without reading it, something I never do. So obviously I needed to read it after-the-fact to make sure I hadn’t given people a rotten book.

My take: Not even remotely a rotten book. It totally lived up to my expectations and has embedded itself as the best book of the new year to date. Granted, there will be new books from Fforde, Rowling, Riordan, and Kingsolver to compete with it, but still… This has set the standard even if it is knocked from atop the list. If you are a fan of classic British literature, read the book. (Plus, did you read that quote and the teaser? How could you not read it now?)

Pages: 406

Crazy ’08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History, by Cait Murphy

From the jacket: “Remember when ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ was the most popular song in the United States? Cait Murphy does. It was in 1908, when the Chicago Cubs survived a three-way dogfight to win the National League pennant. Over in the American League, Ty Cobb — a baseball misanthrope and baseball genius — helped the Detroit Tigers survive their own savage test. For a second year in a row, the Cubs and the Tigers met in the World Series. And the Cubs prevailed again — for their last championship (so far). In addition, Pittsburgh had Honus Wagner; Cleveland the wonderful Napoleon Lajoie; Boston a middle-aged Cy Young. And New York? Think Christy Mathewwon, John McGraw, and a teenaged rookie named Merkle. Crazy ’08 takes readers back to a time when baseball ruled America. Heroes, villains, crooked politicians, prostitutes, psychopaths, and a lot of ordinary Americans make up the cast of the hilarious, disturbing, and exciting year that seems both a part of long ago and as immediate as yesterday.”

Why this book? I’m an advance reader for HarperCollins and this was a selection back in January. They like my mini essay about why they should send me the book. (I’m a huge baseball fan and needed something to do while I waited for pitchers and catchers to report.) Too bad I did not, in return, send them a review of the book itself.

My take: I’m pleased to say that I loved this book. Murphy stands in admirably for a broadcasting team for the history of the game providing both play-by-play and color commentary. She is precisely the sort of person you’d love to talk baseball with over a cold one at a dull party. A keen observer of the game, she offers this bon mot in the fifth chapter: “New Yorkers love a winner, and can be oddly affectionate to losers — but they cannot stand mediocrity.”

I loved the trivia and the background and the snarky comments from the author. I loved reading about players whose names are part of lore. I loved learning how the American League evolved, the varying sizes and shapes of yesteryear’s parks, what workhorses turn-of-the-century pitchers were, and about how teams ended up with their names (and nicknames). I loved seeing how much baseball has evolved (it had gotten pretty far by 1908 and Murphy gives historical context for the time) and how much it has remained the same (being mired in controversy is nothing new for the sport). This book will offer a fascinating look at the history of America’s favorite pastime. A word to the wise, however: Murphy assumes you, the reader, are as word-wise and as sport-savvy as she is. She uses an extensive vocabulary and tosses around the baseball jargon like she’s at the ballpark. If you’re interested in the subject, don’t let either deter you, but do be prepared to use either a dictionary — either a normal one or one of baseball terminology.

Pages: 360

The Fourth Bear, by Jasper Fforde

From the jacket: “Detective Jack Spratt and Sergeant Mary Mary are back on the case in The Fourth Bear, the second book in the inspired and always surprising Nursery Crime series. The Gingerbreadman — psychopath, sadist, genius, convicted murderer and cookie — is loose in the streets of Reading… But all is not as it seems.”

Why this book? Fforde is a favorite (I resisted being cute and adding an extra “f” to it. You’re welcome.) and this was the only book of his I’d not yet read. A gift from Rudi and a novel I’d put aside for a rainy day when I wanted to curl up with a book I knew I’d enjoy.

My take: The Eyre Affair was definitely the best of the books he’s written thus far, and the Nursery Crimes series is not as much of a favorite as the Thursday Next books. But those caveats notwithstanding, this was still an enjoyable romp in a slightly alternative reality where nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters live amongst us. And, really, who can’t enjoy a book where the central question revolves around whether gingerbread is a cake or a cookie?

Pages: 378

Category: books. There is/are 4 Comments.

I’ve added The Princess Academy to my list! 🙂

Isn’t Thirteenth Tale just awesome? 🙂

Riordan has a new book out this year?? Ohhhh!!

Comment by Jenn 05.11.07 @ 10:13 pm

I think the Eyre Affair is the best one too.

Comment by emily 05.12.07 @ 6:20 am

Oh my favortes were the Cuckoo Brow Wood and the 13th Tale. They awesome stories!
I really can’t wait for Mrs. Potter to come out on DVD. Because I missed it at the theatre here.
It came here for one and only one day at the artsy film theatre. Ugh! It is times like this I miss the big city!

Comment by paula 05.13.07 @ 4:35 pm

I’m currently enjoying Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman’s sequal to American Gods, even though the god Anansi is also known as a terrifying monsterous creature that shall not be named. There are a few moments, so far, of laugh out loud lines, but I haven’t gotten far enough to know whether I would recommend it.

I recently devoured the three books in the Septimus Heap series, Magyk, Flyte, and Physik. Sage’s writing is not up to the standards I hold myself to, but is nonetheless enjoyable.

Before that I read the two books so far in the Ranger’s Apprentice series, by John Flanagan, and enjoyed them both. Looking forward to the next installment.

On my list are Chris D’lacey’s books with pretty dragons on the cover. I understand at least one is more about squirrels, but that’s okay with me.

Also on order from Amazon are Percy Jackson series book 3, Jane Lindskold’s Wolf’s Blood, Terry Goodkind’s Phantom, Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl, Jonathon Stroud’s The Last Stand and The Leap, and Francis Hardinge’s Verdigris Deep.

I doubt I will get through all that before Harry Potter shows up, though, and that will put all else aside.

Comment by Grey Kitten 05.14.07 @ 5:10 pm