Books I read in September

October 5, 2018

I’m nearing the end of the PopSugar Reading Challenge for 2018. Not counting two books I’m in the middle of reading, I have one book left to read for the basic challenge, and three for the advanced challenge. Here are the books I read for the challenge this past month, plus others I read just because they were interesting.

I had a lot of trouble coming up with a good choice for “a book with an ugly cover.” There are books whose covers I don’t care for as much as others, but very few that I would consider ugly. And when I occasionally found one I did consider ugly, the cover was tied to content that I had no interest in reading. I finally settled on Some Trick by Helen DeWitt, because I thought the bright pink circles superimposed over an otherwise pleasing painting of a rabbit was quite unappealing. Unfortunately I did not find the stories all that appealing either, despite the descriptions of “witty” and “brilliant” on the cover. It may be true that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but if this prompt was supposed to get me to read a wonderful book that I might have avoided because of the ugly cover, it did not succeed with me. (Though I do have to acknowledge that one vivid line particularly struck me, regarding a piano player whose “fingers like cigars grabbed at chords like bunches of bananas.”)

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Books I read in August

September 1, 2018

Following the prompts of the PopSugar 2018 Reading Challenge has pushed me to read some very interesting books I would not have read otherwise – which is of course the point of the challenge. It has occasionally involved reading books that I did not enjoy as much, but so far none that I truly disliked.

The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington was my choice for “True crime.” This was a category I was not eager to read, as I don’t see entertainment value in reading about the awful things people have really done, and non-fiction provides less scope for some of the development of characters’ interests and concerns in areas not related to the crime (or at least not directly), which is part of what makes a really good mystery novel in my opinion. But then I came across this book, where the wrongdoing at the center of the account is not the murders for which two men are convicted and sent to prison, but the injustice of a system that resulted in their being convicted despite being innocent, while the real murderer was still out there somewhere. That the system could be misused the way it was did not surprise me, but that it had all taken place as recently as it did, with some unknown number of other people most likely still serving prison sentences for crimes they did not commit.

Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie was my pick for “A book about or set on Halloween.” My impression was the most books set on Halloween would be in the horror genre or psychological thrillers or other macabre stories that I really don’t enjoy reading. But I have read some of Christie’s books before and enjoyed them, so I expected to enjoy this one also. I was disappointed, however, and when I read reviews of the book later I saw that I was far from alone in thinking it wasn’t as good as Christie’s other works. One interesting aspect of it the number of references to aspects of the 1960’s (it was published in 1969), within my lifetime. I am used to Christie’s books being set in an earlier time, and those references felt somewhat discordant.

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Books I read in July

August 9, 2018

Having completed about two-thirds of the 2018 Reading Challenge, I’m having to do more searching to find books to fill the remaining categories, and more of my reading is books that just look interesting for one reason or another and can’t by any stretch fit in one of the challenge categories. But I have crossed three more off my list, and read some very interesting books in the process. And of course I kept reading other books as well.

Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening by Manal Al-Sharif – this was my choice for a book by an author of a different ethnicity than you. It was just after the news that women had finally been granted the legal right to drive in Saudi Arabia, so when I found this book in the library it was an obvious choice. I had not realized just how much not being able to drive would constrict women’s lives (since my only experiences of living outside the U.S. were in European cities with good public transportation), but that is just one of many restraints on women’s freedom in that country. It is eye-opening how modernity co-exists with such entrenched traditions, traditions which unfortunately have become closely identified with Islam in the eyes of many. Al-Sharif herself was, for a time during her teenage years, persuaded by the fundamentalist preaching that was all she heard in school. College broadened her horizons, and later an opportunity to spend time in the U.S. showed her very different ways of thinking and living. Back in her homeland, she became an activist, and even spent time in prison for “driving while female.”  

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak was a book I wanted to read anyway, because I had previously read I am the Messenger and found Zusak’s writing style refreshingly different. When I found it on a list of books about death or grief, I got a copy of the audiobook from the library. I had imagined a book about a “book thief” to have a lot more to do with books and stealing, maybe someone making a living off selling stolen books. The Book Thief does have books that play an important role, but the “thief” is a girl living in Nazi Germany, and it is words more than books per se that are keys. Words aren’t just spoken in Zusak’s novel – they are thrown, dropped, hurled, wrung out. Sometimes they lean up against people. And they motivate. To love, or hate, or fear, or hope. It seems even Death (the narrator) can be moved by them.

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell – I had read and enjoy some of Mankell’s novels, particular his Kurt Wallender series. So when I found out that his novels would fit the category of “Nordic noir” in the reading challenge, I decided to read the first Kurt Wallender novel (usually I try to read series in order, but sometimes, especially with audiobooks – where the library has only one or two by an author – it doesn’t happen that way). It was reasonably good, I guess, but I am glad I read some of the later novels first, as I’m not sure I would have been as impressed reading this one first. (One reason I try to read series in order is that not only does the storyline make more sense that way, but the writing generally improves over time, and reading a first novel after reading one written much later is often disappointing.) Read the rest of this entry »

Books I read in June

July 5, 2018

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan – I chose this audiobook because it sounded reasonably interesting, and only after listening for a while did I realize it could also count for the PopSugar 2018 Reading Challenge, as a book about feminism. Set in Britain during World War II, it describes life in a village where most of the men are gone due to the war, and women have to do all sorts of things they didn’t used to. The village choir has disbanded due to a lack of tenors and basses, and when someone suggests a ladies-only choir, some aren’t sure it’s proper. The choir turns out to be quite a success, not just as a singing group but as a way that the women can come together, support one another, and encourage not only each other but other people with a message of solidarity and hope.

The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 by David McCullough – this was my choice for a microhistory. I enjoy reading history, and as I remembered next to nothing of the little I had learned about the Panama Canal in some long-ago history class, it seemed a good choice, if a good deal longer than I might have liked. Parts of it are fairly interesting, but it was slow reading even on the most interesting parts, and other times I found myself nodding off over it (in the middle of my lunch hour). I learned a great deal from it, about not just the actual building of the canal but the financing, the politics, the struggle to control yellow fever and malaria, and the role egos play in making far-reaching decisions. Read the rest of this entry »

Books I read in May

June 2, 2018

The list is shorter this month. Partly it was because my car was in the shop for almost a month (first getting the problem figured out, then getting the transmission replaced under warranty), and the loaner car did not have a working CD player, so my library audiobooks sat and waited week after week (fortunately the library is closed for a move and nothing is due until it reopens). Partly it was because I had finished several books at the end of April and needed to catch up on doing other stuff.

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon – this was for the book club at the local library. I also thought it would count for a book set in the decade I was born, but about halfway through the book, the year 1970 rolled around, and toward the end of the book, decades were flying by. I could probably have justified saying it was set larger in the late 1960’s, but it turns out it could also count as a book from a celebrity book club. I had not heard of the Richard and Judy Book Club, probably in large part because I don’t live in England and I don’t care about celebrity book clubs. Perhaps this category is meant to get me to read a book because it is recommended by a celebrity book club, but I really don’t care what celebrities are reading. I joined the local book club, in part, to read books I would not have otherwise, and I think our librarian’s choice is at least as good a recommendation as that of some stranger who happens to be famous. It’s a really good book, giving insight into the lives of people who used to be considered less than human. One line from the book I particularly was struck by is “Sometimes you think you know what you want … until you see how much more you can have.”

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel – for years I had been meaning to read this book, but had not gotten around to it. Then my sister recently sent it to me in a package of books or other stuff. It’s not exactly a gift in the same was as a Christmas or birthday gift, but as far as I’m concerned it counts as a book I borrowed or that was given to me as a gift. And I did enjoy reading it, learning about history and invention as well as how politics and egos got involved and had such an effect on the course of scientific progress on this issue. Read the rest of this entry »

Books I read in March and April

May 7, 2018

April was a busy month, so by the time I realized I hadn’t yet done a post about the books I read in March, I figured I might as well wait until May and do both months together. I still found time to read several books, though, partly because it’s my favorite way to relax, and partly because I spend at least ten hours a week in the car, listening to audiobooks.

Books I read for the 2018 Reading Challenge


Dust Bowl Girls by Lydia Reeder – this was the book I chose for a book about or involving a sport. I don’t get much interested in sports, but the story of a girls basketball team during the Depression was pretty interesting, since it was mostly about the girls and their coach, rather than about basketball. I had not realized how big sports for girls were that long before Title IX, nor imagined that there had been professional women’s basketball teams back then. It was especially interesting to learn about the conflict between those who wanted to give girls a chance to play competitively, and those who thought competition was unhealthy for females.

Gods and Generals by Jeff Shaara – Finding a book made into a movie you’ve already seen was a difficult category because I read a lot of books but watch few movies. When there is a movie I want to see that has been made from a book, I try to read the book first. And in those cases where I have liked a movie and discover it was made from a book, I generally go ahead and read the book. Fortunately this blog has posts I have written about a number of movies I have watched over the past several years, and one turned out to have been made from a book I had not read. The book was very interesting reading, though I have to admit to finding it sometimes tedious with the details of the battles, especially as the diagrams provided were not enough to be able to visualize the maneuvers being described. Getting a looking into men’s attitudes and motivations, on both sides of the war, was the most interesting aspect.

The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard – this was my choice for a book with a weather element in the title. There were a lot of characters to keep track of, though after a while I managed to keep at least the main characters straight. It is a well-told mystery, bringing to life the problems and concerns of small-town life. Some readers indicate they knew early on who the killer was, but it was a surprise to me. Read the rest of this entry »

Books I read in February

March 4, 2018

Continuing the PopSugar 2018 Reading Challenge, I’ve made pretty good progress in February. Of course, some of these are books I had started but not finished in January.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare – this was my choice for “a book that is also a stage play or musical.” In high school we read some of Shakespeare’s tragedies (my favorite was Macbeth), but I had never read any of the comedies. From time to time over the years I have seen references to characters or scenes in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and had decided I ought to read it sometime. Perhaps if I studied it in a literature class I would appreciate it more, but I have to admit I didn’t find it as interesting as the tragedies. But it was interesting, of course, to come across famous quotes that I had heard but did not know their source, such as “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” and “The course of true love never did run smooth.”

The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton – one of the books I would not have heard of if it hadn’t been for the PopSugar reading challenge (which is of course its purpose, to get you to read books you would not otherwise), this was “a book involving a heist.” What makes it different is that the book is not really about the heists, it’s about the teenager who has discovered a talent for opening locks. He has not spoken since some tragedy killed his parents and nearly killed him, and he only expresses himself through art. Since he makes it clear from the start that he is in prison, I really did not look forward to finishing the book and finding out how he got there and how long he would be there, but the ending turned out to be more satisfying than I had expected.

Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor – having to read “a book about time travel” was a welcome assignment. The only challenge was finding one I had not read before that sounded good. The reviews for Jodi Taylor’s books were very good, and the book was also. I’m just disappointed that none of the libraries in the area have any more books in the series. But I already got the second one through eBay, and am looking forward to continuing the story. Read the rest of this entry »