Year-end Roundup 2014

Meatloaf sandwich, fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Mmmmm. Comfort food. As I look back at 2014, I realize that I indulge in comfort books. So many books I want to read but dang it, Perry Mason is so entertaining. And comforting.

And so I overindulge in Mr. Mason.

I decided to do something at the end of this year that I’ve not done before, to list every book that I read over the past 12 months and to analyze my reading trends for the year. So prepare for the post that was one year in the making: Year-End Roundup 2014!

Mysteries, mysteries, mysteries
I read many mysteries. Surprisingly many. Almost exclusively.

Serious Series
Most books I read were part of larger series.

Ring in the old
Typically I try to read recently-written stuff, but this year found many pre-1960 books on my virtual nightstand.

May I have pulp with that?
I’ve long enjoyed pulp fiction, but this year I discovered heroes of old that I’d not heard of before.

Here are some of the titles I enjoyed.

Perry MasonPerry, Perry, Perry
The Case of the
Velvet Claws (1933) (#1), Sulky Girl (1933) (#2), Curious Bride (1935) (#5), Caretakers Cat (1935) (#7), Half-Wakened Wife (1945) (#27), Vagabond Virgin (1948) (#32), Cautious Coquette (1949) (#34), Fiery Fingers (1951) (#37), Moth-Eaten Mink (1952) (#39), Fugitive Nurse (1954) (#43), Long-Legged Models (1958) (#56) all by Erle Stanley Gardner

As an interesting side note, I’ve enjoyed all the Mason books tremendously except for The Case of the Fugitive Nurse. It is very poorly written, not at all the quality of the others. This leads me to wonder if Gardner farmed it out to a hack writer.

Spicy MysteryI’d like some pulp with that
These titles were previously obscure but are now being reissued as ebooks, mostly not available at the EPL yet, but we can hope…

Fast One (1933) by Paul Cain
Junkie (1952) by Jonathan Craig
Super-Detective Jim Anthony: Dealer in Death (1941) by Victor Rousseau
The Quick Red Fox (1964), and The Scarlet Ruse (1973) by John D. MacDonald
The Uncomplaining Corpses (1940) by Brett Halliday
The Dream Girl (The Hilarious Adventures of Toffee #1) (late 1940s) by Charles F. Myers
The Best of Spicy Mystery Vol. 1 (1930s) edited by Alfred Jan
Satan’s Daughter (1936) by E. Hoffman Price

Black CountryVarious mysteries
Love them mysteries. All of the titles listed are part of a series. My great author discovery of the year was Alex Grecian. Check out his books about the birth of Scotland Yard.

The Secret Adversary (1922) by Agatha Christie
Antiques Roadkill (2007), Antiques Slay Ride (2013) and Antiques Con (2014) by Barbara Allan
The Yard (2012) and The Black Country (2013) by Alex Grecian
Murder with Peacocks (1999) by Donna Andrews
The Spellman Files (2007) by Lisa Lutz
The White Magic Five and Dime (2014) by Steve Hockensmith
The Invisible Code (2013) by Christopher Fowler

One SummerNon-fiction
I’m never a big non-fiction reader, but this year was exceedingly sparse. However, One Summer was one of the best books I read this year, focusing on a few months in 1927, the important events that occurred during those months, and showing how seemingly unrelated happenings influenced each other.

American Pickers Guide to Picking (2011) by Libby Callaway
One Summer: America 1927 (2013) by Bill Bryson

RogueYA
It was a slow year for me in the YA category as well, but I predict a comeback in 2015. And Rogue was a highly satisfying conclusion to Damico’s trilogy on grim reapers.

Rogue (2013) by Gina Damico
Waistcoats and Weaponry (2014) by Gail Carriger

Garden on SunsetOther Stuff
Not too much read outside of the mystery/pulp genre this year, but The Garden on Sunset, a presumably self-published ebook, was one of my favorites. While the writing is not absolutely top-notch, the subject matter of regular folk living in early Hollywood and rubbing noses with stars of the golden age is intriguing.

Shada: The Lost Adventures of Douglas Adams (2012) by Gareth Roberts
Bombshell (2012) by Max Alan Collins
The Garden on Sunset (Hollywood’s Garden of Allah novels Book 1) (2014) by Martin Turnbull

And there you have it, my reading year in a nutshell. Help! I’m in a nutshell! How did I get into this nutshell? Look at the size of this bloody great big nutshell! What sort of shell has a nut like this? This is crazy!

New Year, New TBR

I am waving a white flag of surrender, admitting defeat, giving up. I had an uber-ambitious list of reading resolutions in 2014 and I did not complete it. However, I did manage to cross off 8 of the 12, meaning it’s by far my most successful set of resolutions I’ve ever attempted. Here’s a last look back at what I wanted to read last year:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular 
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel 
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

Not bad, right? Granted, I could have done more. But by the time the leaves started changing colors I realized I was left with the most challenging selections. I was running short on both time and desire to actually put in the work required to complete my list. And it definitely felt like work. As someone who was once forced to read a bunch of books against my will (aka required summer reading in school) I didn’t want to resent reading, and that’s what it started to feel like: resentment.

With that in mind I’d like to tell you what my plan will be this year: nothing. Don’t get me wrong. I will be reading. I’m not a monster! I just won’t be planning it out ahead of time. Instead of a list of reading resolutions, I want to show you some of the books I missed out on last year that I hope to read this year. But I’m not going to lose any sleep if I don’t read them all!

Carol’s 2015 TBR (To Be Read):

textsTexts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg
Synopsis: Hilariously imagined text conversations–the passive aggressive, the clever, and the strange–from classic and modern literary figures, from Scarlett O’Hara to Jessica Wakefield
Why I want to read it: A book that fictionalizes electronic communication between some of my most beloved literary characters, from Sherlock Holmes to Nancy Drew. How could I skip this one?


steampunkThe Steampunk User’s Manual
by Jeff VanderMeer and Desirina Boskovich
Synopsis: A conceptual how-to guide that motivates and awes both the armchair enthusiast and the committed creator.
Why I want to read it: Steampunk! I just started getting into reading steampunk fiction in 2014, and I’d like to learn more about the subculture before I attend Emerald City Comic Con (ECCC) in March.

 

jackabyJackaby by William Ritter
Synopsis: Newly arrived in 1892 New England, Abigail Rook becomes assistant to R.F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with the ability to see supernatural beings, and she helps him delve into a case of serial murder which, Jackaby is convinced, is due to a nonhuman creature.
Why I want to read it: While I hope hope hope (!) the sequel to Libba Bray’s The Diviners will be out in 2015, I’d like to read Jackaby to tide me over, since it sounds like it might be a literary kindred spirit.

 

batmanBatman ’66 Vol. 1 by Jeff Parker
Synopsis: DC Comics re-imagines the classic Batman TV series in comics form for the first time! These all-new stories portray The Caped Crusader, The Boy Wonder and their fiendish rogues gallery just the way viewers remember them.
Why I want to read it: My favorite Batman was always Adam West, and I am obsessed with that campy portrayal of the Dark Knight in all forms, including this new comic series. It’ll also help get me in the mood for ECCC, where I’m sure to encounter at least a few amateur caped crusaders from the Pacific Northwest.

dont touchDon’t Touch by Rachel M. Wilson
Synopsis: 16-year-old Caddie struggles with OCD, anxiety, and a powerful fear of touching another person’s skin, which threatens her dreams of being an actress–until the boy playing Hamlet opposite her Ophelia gives her a reason to overcome her fears.
Why I want to read it: Um, did you read that synopsis? Swoon!

Regardless of whether or not I read all or any of these appealing books in 2015 the fact remains there are some great books out there. What’s in your TBR?

Heartwood 5:1 – Tristram Shandy

celibacyTristram Shandy
by Laurence Sterne  (1713-1768)
749 pgs.  Everyman’s Library, 1991.
Originally published, 1759-1767

Many a reader and literary critic has commented on Laurence Sterne’s 18th Century novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. So, I’ll defer to these many others, saying only that I had good fun reading this, especially the first two parts, in which the reader shares time with Tristram’s father and uncle Toby and their various hobby-horses.

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OK, it hardly seems fair to such a delightful and unconventional book to leave it at that. Unlike Tristram, I wanted to make short work of this, but I guess I should at least outline the story and highlight some of the book’s most noted traits.

The main characters are Tristram’s father (Walter) and his uncle Toby, accompanied by an assortment of characters at Shandy hall. The main events in the story surround Tristram’s conception, his physician-bungled delivery, botched Christening, and further botched circumcision – all relayed with comic brio. Walter expounds with great flair on various and sundry subjects, and battle-wounded uncle Toby, along with his sidekick Corporal Trim, reenact the sieges they read about in the newspaper. The latter part of the book includes Tristram’s Grand Tour through Europe and ends with uncle Toby wooing his neighbor, the widow Wadman.

But these bare plot details in no way prepare you for the what awaits in Tristram’s telling of the story. So, let me say a little about that.

The story unfolds as a mashup of narrative styles, told out of chronological sequence, and filled with digressions and interruptions along with various appeals to the reader and other acts of authorial self-consciousness. The influence of Cervantes is notable as are Locke’s notions about the irrational association of ideas. Sterne leaves a variety of gaps in the text: using asterisks to replace words, blank spaces and even blank pages, and in one place he’s actually excised a chapter along with its associated page numbering. There are occasional drawings, and at one point Tristram diagrams the digressive paths taken in earlier parts of his book and promises (falsely) to be a more linear storyteller henceforward. The author’s Preface appears toward the end of volume I, and the Dedication to volume III comes mysteriously after Chapter XIX. It should be mentioned that Sterne’s narrative style was important to the development of psychological fiction, modernism, and even postmodernism.

storytelling graphic

Now you must be thinking this sounds like a book mostly interested in showboating and trickery, but it’s much more than that – this is deeply enjoyable reading, with warm and eccentric characters, interesting ideas and situations, and short chapters that most often propel the reader humorously along. Readers who have enjoyed Don Quixote should have fun with this as well. You could surely do worse than to while away some time in the company of Tristram and the brothers Shandy.

2014: My Year in Short Stories

Vampires in the Lemon Grove cover imageEvery year I like to set some reading goals for myself; it’s about the closest thing I come to making New Year’s resolutions. This year I set out to read 75 books (I just barely made it!), start reading graphic novels, and start reading short story collections. I managed to do all three, and have compiled a list of my favorite short reads (graphic novel or otherwise).

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell. This haunting collection of short stories was probably my favorite surprise of 2014. I picked up the audio book because I was drawn to the cover. The stories in this collection range from science fiction to supernatural storytelling, almost always with a bittersweet, romantic undertone. I think fans of Neil Gaiman’s brand of writing would enjoy this book.

The Buddha in the Attic cover imageThe Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka. It might be a stretch to call this book a collection of short stories – it doesn’t unfold in the same way you’d expect such a collection to. Instead, it’s more of a mosaic of ‘micro stories,’ with each chapter piecing together the rapid-fire memories of countless women to create a picture of what it was like for Japanese mail-order brides to arrive in America, try to fit in, and live their lives. It was a wonderful listen as an audio book, but I’m sure it would be just as powerful if you were reading it on your own.

Saga, volume 1 cover image

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Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples. This was one of the first graphic novels I’d ever read, and I took to it very quickly. Staples’s artistic style was lush and dramatic. It added a lot of visual interest to an already action-packed story of escape and forbidden love. The plot is a satisfying mix of fantasy and science fiction for readers whose tastes happen to straddle that line, as mine tend to.

 

Did You Know? (Ivory Edition)

elkThat elk have two ivory teeth? The two well-defined upper canine teeth (also called buglers, bugle teeth, whistlers or tusks) of elk are rounded, extremely hard and ivory-like. I found this information in the book Elk by Erwin A Bauer on page 35. A lot of this book was researched and photographed in Yellowstone Park. I found it very interesting with beautiful pictures.

Technically, ivory is the term for any animal tusk used as material for art or manufacturing. Elk ivories are indeed tusks, of the same material and chemical composition as those sported by walruses, wild boars and elephants.

ivorysghostsElephants by Sally Morgan tells us how ivory has been collected from elephant tusks until the animals were nearly extinct. There are now laws to stop the import of ivory. She also gives other facts about the largest land mammals on earth. Ivory’s Ghosts by John Frederick Walker gives an in-depth history of the hunting/poaching of elephant tusks and discusses the controversial issue of the ivory ban, and what to do with the stockpiles of tusks from elephants that have died from natural causes.

worldofthewalrusWalruses have also been severely hunted for their ivory tusks. Peter Knudtson tells us that their tusks are primarily used for pulling themselves out of the water and onto the ice in the book The World of the Walrus.

blackivorysoulCarved ivory can hold “special” properties, as in the Nancy Drew book The Mystery of the Ivory Charm by Carolyn Keene. Ivory is also used in the album title and the title of song #5 on the music CD Black Ivory Soul. It is a wonderful CD by Angélique Kidjo who is one of the world’s best-loved African singers.

itsallaboutthedressAnd lastly, ivory also refers to color; there are so many different shades of white! Many brides choose ivory, champagne, diamond white, ecru, vanilla or candlelight for their wedding dresses instead of just plain white. Look at some beautiful choices in the book It’s All About The Dress by Randy Fenoli.

The Library and Family Holiday Traditions

Do you celebrate the holidays? My family celebrates Christmas and this year I turned to the library for help with all of the decorating, events, and family gatherings. Here’s what I found!

index (3)We cut down a tree at the Happy Valley Tree Farm every year and while it might sound like a wonderful time, in truth it was cold and the babies cried and all of the trees were Charlie Brown ones. So I checked out Country Living Merry and Bright to help decorate our pathetic tree. It is filled with hundreds of ideas for creating Christmas beauty everywhere and there’s also help for entertaining and crafts and baking. Bingo.

index (6)I have sent what one friend called ‘the best Christmas card ever’ but the photo shoot was pure hell: the same babies didn’t want to be photographed and fought over the props. Awkward Family Holiday Photos will help you to feel better about your own holiday card. Or check out one of our many books on making your own cards, if you have time.

 

index (1)This year our grand-daughter went to the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker which is a big holiday tradition. It’s the Nutcracker designed by Maurice Sendak with brilliant sets and costumes. If you can’t make it this year, which is the last, check out  Nutcracker from the library. The long text is broken up by small cameos and full-page art and many of Sendak’s pictures are highly dramatic.

 

index (2)Some families read The Polar Express by Van Allsburg on Christmas Eve. The story we read over and over again is Santa Calls by William Joyce.  Art, Spaulding, and Esther are summoned to the North Pole on Christmas Eve, 1908. They have a grand adventure, including battling dark elves and an evil queen. Along the way Art learns how to get along with his sister.

index (4)index (5)Music is always part of our celebration and a favorite is this instrumental CD Christmas Spirit. Other times, it’s great to sing along with Tony Bennett. Come and browse the Holiday Music section of the Library’s CD collection to find tunes to your liking.

indexMy own personal holiday tradition is to wrap gifts while ‘watching’, actually listening to, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey, a desperate and suicidal man, is visited by a guardian angel who shows him how important he has been to those around him in his life. Clarence the angel says: “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

Perhaps you get together with your wonderful and/or neurotic family to celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas or the New Year and you need a little comic relief. If so, you will surely enjoy these two humorous treasures from the library:

index (4)Holidays On Ice by David Sedaris is a collection of hilarious short stories perfect for those dreading the holiday season. Bestseller Sedaris (When You Are Engulfed In Flames) makes life a little easier with this re-release of his uproarious essay collection. Sedaris gets the most mileage out of Christmas, from his stint as a Macy’s elf in “Santa Land Diaries,” to comparing American and Dutch holiday traditions in “Six to Eight Black Men.” Read it and laugh and better yet, listen to the author read it on CD.

index (5)You Better Not Cry: Stories for Christmas by Augusten Burroughs is a similar collection of funny yule-tide tales from a childhood complete with a mentally ill mother and an alcoholic father. “As a young child I had Santa and Jesus all mixed up. I could identify Coke or Pepsi with just one sip, but I could not tell you for sure why they strapped Santa to a cross. Had he missed a house? Had a good little girl somewhere in the world not received the doll he’d promised her, making the father angry?”

pausfamilyportraitnfb-18645If all of that family togetherness makes you want to know more about the origins and history of your family, mark your calendars for Saturday, January 24th at 2 PM at the Main Library. Jeremiah Karpowicz of the Chronos Society and eHeritages.com will introduce essential digital tools for genealogical work today. Software, digital media formats, and the file types you will need to preserve your work for posterity will be discussed.

Good luck with your family gatherings this season.  Happy Holidays!

The Book of Bad Things by Dan Poblocki

bookofbadthingsI should keep a notebook of bad things so I’ll always be able to look out for them. I should have started it 30 years ago but better late than never.

BAD THING # 1

Never eat anything out of the staff room vending machines. The trail mix expired two years ago and the grape juice has gone back to grapes.

BAD THING #87 (you know there’s a lot of  bad things in-between  #1 and #87 but I’m trying to catch up on 30 years of bad things)

Run from anyone who says “Hey. Pull my finger.”

BAD THING # 192

Never get in the car with your grandpa who stops at stop lights and says “Is the light green or red? Tell me when it’s green.”

In The Book of Bad Things, Cassidy Bean lives in New York City in a one bedroom apartment with a mom who doesn’t take much of an interest in her daughter’s life. Most single moms would give up that room so their kid could feel like they had space to be alone in. Cassidy doesn’t get the bedroom.  She sleeps on the couch. She keeps a notebook of every bad thing she can think of. It’s her way of meeting her fears head on. When you recognize the scary thing in the dark you’re still scared, but you can come up with a plan. Some of her Bad Things are about zombies, ghosts, hauntings, sleep walking and nightmares.

For the last three summers she’s been a part of a program that pairs up city kids with families in a more rural setting, as in, a house and a lawn and neighbors who don’t scream at all hours of the night. This is her last year with her host family because the cut off age is 13. She’s fallen in love with the Tremont family over the years because they were so welcoming and treated her like one of their own. She’s best friends with Joey Tremont.

But this year is different. Usually she gets a phone call or a letter in advance telling her to pack her stuff up because she’ll be spending the summer with the Tremonts. She finally hears from them but she and Joey haven’t spoken. Something is wrong with him. Her first big clue that something if off is when she gets off the bus and Mrs. Tremont isn’t there to pick her up. Maybe they changed their minds. Maybe they don’t want her there. Cassidy begins to have  a panic attack and decides to go into a grocery store to use their phone.

Mrs. Tremont forgot to pick her up because weird things are beginning to happen in the neighborhood. Ursula Chambers, the hermit/hoarder who lived in an old house down the street, has died under mysterious circumstances. There are bins upon bins of hoarded items in the driveway and people have been stopping by to root through the dead lady’s things and take them home.

That’s a bad thing. A very bad thing.

Ursula’s body goes missing. There are people who have seen her walking around town. They’ve reluctantly shared that they’ve also seen her in their houses. People who went through her things are being haunted. Or, as Cassidy starts to wonder, are they being warned? Does crazy Ursula Chambers want her precious things back? Or is it something else altogether? A few people who took Ursula’s things die in mysterious ways and their bodies disappear from the morgue. Last year Joey’s beloved dog died. And now he’s seen the dog and Ursula walking around.

The Tremonts live in a subdivision (I immediately thought of the movie Poltergeist and how all those houses looked exactly alike, except for, you know, the corpses popping up in the newly dug swimming pool and the fact that there was a portal to the other side in the little girl’s closet) and Ursula Chambers house was a hundred years old. Plenty of dark things in her basement bumping into things. Cassidy, Joey and a new friend know that the answers about the dead bodies disappearing, ghosts wandering by, and some nasty zombie-esque stuff are within Ursula’s old house and decide to sneak inside the ancient farmhouse to find out what’s going on. Bless children under the age of 13 that still have that streak of fearlessness in them. I would have stood on the lawn with a gas can and matches and yelled “Let it burn!” but I’m not very adventurous any more when it comes to finding zombies in basements.  Well….maybe I still have a bit of the old me around here somewhere, the one that says “Hold my beer. I’m going to do something really stupid.”

Don’t let the J Fiction spine label fool you. There were a couple of times that I was positive The Book of Bad Things wasn’t a kid’s book. And it’s not. It’s a book for everyone who likes to be so scared they have to leave a light on all night. That’s not me. Of course not.

Yeah, it was me.