2014: 89. - 104. Everything Else I Read In 2014

So… I took a little break from blogging, and now it's 2015, and I thought I'd just throw up everything else I read up in one post.  And even that's not accurate because I probably forgot some, and there was that whole period at the beginning of the year when I wasn't blogging.  But at least you'll get the gist.  And my 2015 resolution is to be better about blogging, as unlikely as that seems.

89.  Thus Was Adonis Murdered, Sarah Cauldwell


"Scholarship asks, thank God, no recompense but Truth."

This is a mystery I have owned for literally twenty years, and never read.  I bought it when I was a kid - every Christmas my parents would take us to the New England Mobile Bookfair and let us pick out a stack of books for Christmas, and I picked this one because I like mysteries, and it had an Edward Gorey cover.  And I guess I started it and didn't like it, or something - all I know is that it's been kicking around my parent's house for ages.  But last time I was home I was desperate for something to read, and I grabbed this.  And darned if it wasn't pretty good! So you, never know, I guess.  

It's a little odd - the narrator is Hilary Tamar, a legal scholar of indeterminate gender, who is reporting upon a mystery that involves the members of a legal chambers s/he is remotely involved with.  One member, Julia, has gone to Venice on a vacation and has ended up being charged with murder, and Hilary et al. must come to her rescue.  The tone is pretty flippant and arch - if you think murder is SERIOUS BIZNESS, you won't like this.  But if you like British mysteries with a bit of humor woven in, you'll like this one.  I haven't rushed out to get the rest, but if I came across another Caudwell, I'd give it a go.

90.   Dr. Mutter's Marvels, Christin O'Keefe Aptowicz


"Thomas Dent Mutter is dead, and the world will forget him."

Non-fiction story of Thomas Dent Mutter, who was one of America's first surgeons who was actually properly trained and knew what he was doing.  He revolutionized surgery - particularly plastic surgery, advocated for the use of anesthesia, was the toast of Philadelphia, but is mostly remembered today for his collection of groteseque medical models and specimans that became the basis of the Mutter museum in Philly - where you can still go today to see all sorts of medical grossness.  I haven't the stomach, but people who've been says it's great.

The medical marvel stuff was reasonably interesting, but what made the book was learning about the history of medicine - particularly how surgery was done before anesthesia.  Fast and furious (and bloody) only gives you a little sense of what a wild west it was.  Pretty cool book on a subject I didn't know much about.  Recommend.

91.  American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell, Deborah Solomon

"I did not grow up with a Norman Rockwell poster hanging in my bedroom."

This, obviously, is a biography of Norman Rockwell.  It is well-written and thorough, and comes to the general conclusion that he was an artist of repute, even if people sometimes turn their noses up at him, and personally, he was kind of a dick.  Sort of weird about kids - but probably not a pervert, and not particularly nice to people, especially his first two wives.  The thing is, though, do we really need to read a biography of Norman Rockwell? This is something I run into when I read biographies - the why am I bothering factor.  Frankly, the most interesting part of it was when they either showed copies of his pictures or talked about his pictures.  I mean, I read it, and it held my interest enough, I guess, but as I read it I thought, why am I reading this (answer, I got it for free).  I'd rather have read a big coffee table book of his paintings with an article about the artist.  His art is appealing - but he's hardly important enough to warrant reading this book, unless you are some kind of Rockwell freak.  

92.  Blandings Castle, P.G. Wodehouse

"The morning sunshine descended like an amber shower-bath on Blandings Castle, lighting up with a heartening glow its ivied walls, its rolling parks, its gardens, outhouses, and messuages, and such of its inhabitants as chanced at the moment to be taking the air."

It's Wodehouse (pronounced Wood-house), so of course it's funny as heck and written with charm and verve and all that.  This isn't my favorite (that would be Jeeves, bien sur), but instead its a series of stories about Lord Blandings, who just wants to be left alone to raise his prize pig, Empress, but is, instead, constantly being bossed by his sister and troubled by his gad-about son. Small complications arise, and all is solved in the end.  I took this with me the first time I had chemo, feeling it would be the perfect undemanding re-read, and it absolutely hit the spot.  If you're new to Wodehouse, it's a nice easy entry (because it's all short stories) and if you aren't, you obviously like him, so you'll like this (if you've read him and don't like him, maybe this isn't the blog for you).

93.  A Fatal Inversion, Ruth Rendell (as Barbara Vine)

"The body lay on a small square of carpet in the middle of the gun room floor."

This is a re-read (probably a re-re-read) of a Rendell as Vine.  Not as great as my favorite Vines (that would be, The Chimney Sweeper's Boy, or Anna's Book) but a nice atmospheric Viney tale.  Which is to say, it's more of a whatdunnit than a whodunnit.  We know that a body has been found at Wyvis Hall, and we know that the members of a former commune that briefly spent the summer we involved.  But now it's ten years later, and we watch them fret, and cover up, and slowly remember the past, until we finally find out what happened, all those years ago.  As I said, it's not my favorite of her books - few of the characters are terribly likeable, and they all acted pretty horridly.  But it is interesting to watch her slowly unspool the past, until we learn what happened at the Hall.

Categories:  Ruth Rendell Project

94.  This is Where I Leave You, Jonathan Tropper

"Dad's dead," Wendy says offhandedly, like it's happened before, like it happens every day."

My friend Liz gave me this book to read.  She'd bought it at the airport, and had thought it was diverting enough.  And actually, my sister also bought this book at the airport, and had the same conclusion.  And I agree. This is a perfect book to read on an airplane, or when you're in the mood for something entertaining but not challenging.  It's the story of Judd Foxman, whose life is in the toilet - his father just died, he caught his wife sleeping with his boss (thus losing both his home and his job), and his mother wants him and his estranged siblings to come home and sit Shiva for their father for seven days.  They do it, and hijinks and heartfelted thoughts both ensue.  

You've read books like this - you may have seen this movie (though they say its wasn't very good, despite a great cast), and this one doesn't bring anything too new to the table.  But its reasonably entertaining, and it kept me interested until the end.  I'd definitely read another book by Tropper, though probably only if I saw it at the airport (or train station!)

95.  The Curse of the Bronze Lamp, Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr)

"In the drawing room of a suite at the Continental-Savoy Hotel, Cairo, a girl and a young man waited for the telephone to ring."

A golden age mystery (first published in 1945), and, even better, one that plays on a King Tut like pharaoh's curse.  You see, there is said to be a curse on whomever disturbed the pharoah's tomb, and Lady Helen Loring, feisty (bien sur!) young lady, is determined to show it is poppy-cock.  But when she disappears on the very day she was to return to Serven Hall (i.e. - she walks in the door and then is mysteriously gone!), are we to being that the curse of the mummy's tomb is to blame?  Not if Sir Henry Merrivale, that pompous (but effective) doyenned of crime is to have his say…

Look, it's by the books classic mystery fiction.  Not as good as Christie, or Sayers (OF COURSE), or even Marsh.  But did it divert me for the hour or so it took me to whip through it.  Sure did.  If you like that sort of thing, this is a fun basic example.

96. - 98.  The Magicians Triology, Lev Grossman

These books deserve a full blog post, but if I did that, I'd never get to 2015, so let's just move on.  I was super excited when the third and final Magicians novel came out, and decided to buy all three and re-read the first two before I got to the third.  Glad I did, because I'd basically forgotten everything beyond the "Harry Potter for adults" premise, and the fact that the protaganist, Quentin, is sort of a drip, particularly in the first book.  Loved them on re-read, and in, fact, reading all three in a row made me appreciate the first two more.  Which is to say Grossman does a great job tying up loose ends - both plot and characterwise.  There was once talk of a movie or tv series being made of these books, which I'd love to see (though I'm not sure they could make Fillory work).  Grossman does such a good job melding together Fantasy tropes - particularly Narnia and playing around with how'd they work in the real world.  I hope he writes something more soon, because I really, really enjoyed these novels.  

99.  My Own Two Feet, Beverly Cleary

"The three of us, Mother, Dad, and I, stood on the sidewalk outside the Greyhound bus station in Portland, Oregon, searching for words we could not find or holding back workds we could not speak."

The second volume of Beverly Cleary's autobiography, this one deals with her going off to college, and making her way in the world as an adult, through the publication of her first book.  Interesting if you like Cleary (and lord, who doesn't), but really interesting as a picture of what it was like to be a young girl in the 1930's and 1940's.  I haven't read too many books that describe what it was like to be in college in the 1940's - especially one that is as varied as community college, Berkeley, etc.  And what is was like to be young and single during the War - it's such an interest social snapshot and Cleary captures it so clearly and vividly.  Also, she is very honest about her troubled relationship with her mother - which I also appreciated.  It's written for young adult readers, but it captures adult emotion, and it's a very interesting dip into the past.  Not for everyone, but I enjoyed it. 

100.  Cultural Amnesia

Another one that deserves it's own post (though, to be fair to me - this is a re-read - so here is its own post).  This is one of my very favorite books.  It's a collection of essays about people who lived in the twentieth century, but really it's about totalitarianism and the twentieth century - and really its just about human history.  Seriously, it's so great - for dipping into, or for reading cover to cover.  James is a little bit of a contrarian in Europe in that he is as hard on Communism as Facism, but I have no fondness for Stalinism or Marxism, so it works for me.  This post doesn't really capture what a grand essay collection this is - but just believe me and go out and read it (at least read my original post, which does a much much better job at capturing the flavor!).

101 - 102.  Two by Kate Atkinson

Started Early, Took My Dog

 Behind the Scenes At the Museum

Atkinson is one of my favorites (I loved Life After Life, even if I didn't quite understand the ending), and I re-read a few of her books in December.  Started Early is one of the Jackson Brodie detective novels.  I like Brodie (though I think there is a little bit of diminishing returns with the series - I liked the first one the very best), and this a pretty good mystery, with a demented actress, a missing child, and Jackson trying to find out about someone's mysterious past.  It all tangles together, and, is Atkinson's won't, ends a bit ambiguously, and I enjoyed re-reading as much as I enjoyed it the first time, which is all you can ask of a mystery.

Museum isn't a mystery - it's the story of Ruby's life growing up in England - and of her ancestors.  It's a great story and Atkinson (as she did in Life After Life) does a lovely job of writing about the past - making the characters both accessible, and foreign enough to be the past.  There is an improbable twist in the book which did less for me on a re-read then it did the first time I read it, but all in all it's a great book in the "untangle family secrets" genre which is basically one of my top ten genres, particularly if it takes place in Britain (even better if the family is upper class and snobby, which this one isn't but it's still darn fun).  

103.  This Is The Story of A Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett

 "The tricky thing about being a writer, or about being any kind of artist, is that in addition to making art you also ahve to make a living."

I love Ann Patchett, so picking up her collection of non-fiction essays was a no-brainer (and honestly, I also love collections of non-fiction essays, if they are well written).  This did not let me know - written in the crisp, descriptive prose that Patchett is so well known for, she covers the gamut here, from her first failed marriage, to her second happy one, to her being boycotted by Clemson University over her non-fiction account of her friendship with Lucy Greeley (Truth and Beauty - hell of a book, recommend it highly), to her opening an independant bookstore in her hometown of Nashville.  Oh, and her friendship with nuns, and trying out for the LA Police Academy, and her dog.  Trust me, there is some topic in this collection that you will enjoy.

104. Take the Cannoli, Sarah Vowell

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"If you were passing by the house where I grew up during my teenage years and it happened to be before Election Day, you wouldn't have needed to come inside to see that it was a house divided."

 Another essay collection, from the fabulous Sarah Vowell.  Tell me, if you read Vowell, do you imagine the essays in her fabulous voice? I sure do.  Anyway, this is sort of a motley collection of essays, mostly pop-culture related, some about her past.  I didn't enjoy it as much as I enjoyed her books that have more focus - be it presidential assassinations (Assassination Vacation, my favorite, of course), the pilgrims (Wordy Shipmates) or the people who colonized Hawaii (Unfamiliar Fishes), but that's not to say that it isn't fun - its just that those books are great.  Plus, a few of these essays are adapted from This American Life stories I'd already heard, so it was repetitive.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed the essays, recommend it, etc.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017