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Reading List by Jennie through March 2013

Well, as usual it’s been a dog’s age since I’ve done one of these, and a lot of what I’ve read I’ve already reviewed: The Typewriter Girl by Alison Atlee, Unforgivable by Joanna Chambers, Daniel Deronda by George Eliot, When Maidens Mourn by C.S. Harris, Children of Liberty by Paullina Simons, That Scandalous Summer by Meredith Duran and The Gilded Lily by Deborah Swift. Here are a few things that I haven’t:

Some Assembly Required by Anne LamottSome Assembly Required by Anne Lamott

Years ago Anne Lamott wrote Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year. Well, time flies, and Lamott’s son Sam becomes, unexpectedly, a 19-year-old dad. Reading Anne Lamott is an interesting experience for me; I think she’s painfully honest, meaning there are times when I can totally relate to her and times when she comes off as obnoxiously self-absorbed and judgmental (to be fair, she seems to be aware of this). The book suffers a bit for Sam Lamott’s “co-authoring”, which consists of Anne transcribing phone interviews with him, except I think she cleans them up so much that his voice comes off as stilted and unconvincing (particularly given his age). This is worth reading if you like Lamott (and I mostly do), but probably should be skipped if you’ve found yourself bugged by her in the past (I think Janine has), because she really does come off like an ass sometimes.


A Clash of Kings by George RR MartinA Clash of Kings by George RR Martin

I liked this second book in the Game of Thrones series more than the first, which I didn’t really expect. The first book was a bit of a slog; I attributed that in part to knowing what was going to happen, since I’d already seen season one of the HBO series. But somehow, even though A Clash of Kings covers the same material (with a few minor changes) as season two of the series, the book was a lot more compelling to me than the first one was. Maybe I was just more invested in the characters at that point (when I read book one I was invested in the show characters, but it didn’t necessarily translate to the book characters, even when they were the same character, if that makes any sense). I finished this very enthusiastic about reading the rest of the series.


War and Peace by Leo TolstoyWar and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

My new year’s resolution, such as it was, was to tackle this book. I’m just about three-fourths of the way through it now, and it’s kind of a mixed bag for me. I have been joking that I like the peace parts but not the war parts, but it’s not as simple as that. There are stretches, yes, that deal with war that by and large bore me. There are also stretches of philosophical musing  (which sometimes but d0 not always intersect with the war parts), and those definitely bore me. Then there are the romantic and personal interaction parts; those are the only parts that actually interest me. Pierre is more or less bamboozled into marrying Helene (being nobility everyone speaks French and a lot of them go by the French forms of their names in the book), and is predictably unhappy. Prince Andrew loses his wife in childbirth but eventually finds love with Natasha Rostova, a love that goes south due to her youth and his neglect. Princess Mary is plain and dutiful and for her trouble gets horribly verbally abused at every turn by her vindictive father. These were the stories I cared about, but I’m not sure what that says about me. I feel kind of like the important, big novel themes and ideas go over my head and instead I’m captured by the soap opera parts. Which I’m okay with, mostly, but I wish I got more from the really brilliant parts of the book, as I know other readers have.


The Greater Journey by David McCulloughThe Greater Journey by David McCullough

I love David McCullough, both as a writer (John Adams is the shit) and for his soothing voice-over narration on such iconic documentary projects as Ken Burns’ The Civil War and PBS’s American Experience series. Seriously, he could read the phone book to me and I’d listen. His latest book details the experiences of Americans in Paris throughout the 19th century, focusing on writers, artists, doctors and diplomats. It’s not a juicy read, but it’s quietly entertaining and informative about some well-known (and some not-so-well-known) 19th century Americans, while addressing the timeless pull of Paris on the American psyche.


A Storm of Swords by George RR MartinA Storm of Swords by George RR Martin

This was the best book in the series for me so far; I get the feeling that it’s a favorite with those who’ve read the whole series, as well. It helped, certainly, that it’s the first book in the series where “new to me” stuff happens, since book one and book two have already played out on television. But it’s also just the most thrilling in terms of action and big (and unexpected) moves being made. Which is to say, several people that I wasn’t expecting to see killed were killed. While this makes me nervous for some of the characters I love, I have to say that it raises the stakes in an interesting way.


A Feast for Crows by George RR MartinA Feast for Crows by George RR Martin

Reading this now. I was unaware (since I try to avoid spoilers) that this book takes place concurrently with the fifth GoT book and doesn’t feature all of the usual characters. The first couple of chapters were from the perspectives of new or minor characters and that was disappointing, as I had high expectations after the excitement of A Storm of Swords. I’ll persevere and hope it gets more compelling.


Live by Night by Dennis LehaneLive by Night by Dennis Lehane

I read, and loved, Lehane’s earlier book The Given Day, set in Boston around 1918. Live by Night starts in 1926 and features the younger brother of the protagonist from the earlier book.

Joe Coughlin is 20 years old and a minor criminal; he’s always been drawn to the dark life, in spite of (or because of) the fact that his father is a Boston police sergeant. The book opens with Joe and two accomplices robbing a poker game that unexpectedly includes some fairly well-connected mobsters. There he meets Emma Gould, who becomes an obsession for him and leads him on a dangerous path.

 Live by Night is an intense and riveting book featuring  gangsters, KKK members and Cuban nationalists, as well as other colorful characters. At times the intensity and violence were a bit much for me, but I was never less than totally involved in the story. Joe is a compelling protagonist; in spite of his irresistible attraction to the dark side, he has a  core of decency and fundamental lack of ruthlessness that many of the other characters note and remark on; even among Joe’s friends and partners there’s always the concern that he’s somehow too “soft” for the life he’s chosen. The ending was a bit more downbeat that I would’ve liked, but I knew going in that this was not a romance with a guaranteed HEA, so I can’t complain too much.


Everything is Going to be Great by Rachel ShukertEverything is Going to be Great by Rachel Shukert

This was an impulse buy that I happened to see listed in DA’s Daily Deals; I’m glad I took a chance on it. The memoir is subtitled “An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour”, but that’s a little misleading; it mostly takes place in Amsterdam, where Shukert, an actress by training, lands after taking part in a play touring Europe (unfortunately for her, in a non-paying and non-speaking role). Shukert stays with friends, a Dutch couple who believe they can get a government grant to put on a play that Shukert will have a part in. While waiting for the seemingly endless paperwork to wend its way through Dutch government channels, Shukert takes a crappy job promoting an American-style comedy club and gets involved with a fellow American who has a live-in girlfriend and turns out to be a raging asshole (the two facts, not surprisingly, are related).

I have to steal a bit from a reviewer at Goodreads, who rather accurately compares Everything is Going to be Great to Eat, Pray, Love if it had been written by David Sedaris. Or maybe the Sedaris comparison only feels apt to me because Shukert details the Christmas traditions of the Dutch featured in my favorite Sedaris story, Six to Eight Black Men.

Readers who prefer their heroines to be more sympathetic (i.e. less inclined to excessive drinking, drug taking and sleeping with other women’s boyfriends) probably won’t find Shukert as amusing or as lovable as I did. But if you like memoirs featuring funny, flawed women, this is the book for you. I’ll be seeking out Shukert’s other books.


has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.


  1. Jorrie Spencer
    Apr 14, 2013 @ 11:39:15

    I really enjoyed reading through your list! Such an interesting mix. I read War and Peace a long, long time ago, and the only things I even vaguely remember are the personal interactions.

  2. Darlynne
    Apr 14, 2013 @ 12:37:47

    My favorite aspect of Anne Lamott is that she does crazy so I don’t have to; also, she inspires me when I need it. She is all the things you mentioned and then some, and, yes, I think she knows.

  3. Jennie
    Apr 14, 2013 @ 17:07:52

    @Jorrie Spencer: Thanks!

    I’m a bit surprised by how accessible I find parts of War & Peace to be. On the whole I find it more accessible than Anna Karenina, and I didn’t expect that. It’s always mentioned as such an intimidating book; maybe because it’s so long?

  4. Erin Satie
    Apr 14, 2013 @ 17:10:01

    War & Peace is one of the only classics I’ve seriously attempted & failed to finish. I think I made it about halfway through and I don’t remember a word of it. As penance, I read Anna Karenina. That was much easier to read, and I had no trouble finishing it, but I didn’t like it. Tolstoy just isn’t for me; I kind of hate him, really. But classics are like anything else. You can’t love them all.

    Also, I’ve just started reading the Song of Ice & Fire books, also because I really love the HBO series. I really appreciated these brief, non-spoilery teasers about the books to come.

  5. Jennie
    Apr 14, 2013 @ 17:12:47

    @Darlynne: I’ve only read Lamott’s non-fiction; I do plan to get to her fiction at some points. Like I said, I think she’s painfully honest which does allow for those moments of “I’m glad she said it because I never could.”

    I think more than some of the (acknowledged) self-involvement in this book, I was annoyed by the rather typical Bay Area liberal* hippie reactions during her trip to India. There’s a tendency to sort of patronizingly exalt other cultures, particularly Eastern ones.

    * I’m allowed to say this ’cause I’m a Bay Area liberal myself.

  6. Janine
    Apr 14, 2013 @ 17:16:27

    This is worth reading if you like Lamott (and I mostly do), but probably should be skipped if you’ve found yourself bugged by her in the past (I think Janine has), because she really does come off like an ass sometimes.

    Hmm. The only thing I’ve read by Lamott, besides some of her old columns at Salon, is her classic book on writing, Bird by Bird. There was definitely some worthwhile wisdom in that book; I would not discourage any writer from reading it.

    Still, if memory serves, I did occasionally find it annoying. Partly it was Lamott’s tone, and partly it was her insistence that every writer must start out with a shitty first draft. (I think she may have coined “shitty first draft.”)

    I do agree with her that the shitty first draft is the way to go, if you can at all make yourself write one, but not every writer can write through to the end of a shitty draft without going back to revise before reaching the end. I envy those writers who can, but thus far, I have not been one.

    And in general, I have no issue whatsoever with writers sharing their processes (in fact I love to read about how other writers work), but when they start insisting that their process is the right or only way to do it, I get annoyed.

  7. ducky
    Apr 14, 2013 @ 19:55:04

    GRRM’s ASOS was such an amazing reading experience to me. In it a character I had previously thought of as a villain became my favorite.

  8. Jennie
    Apr 14, 2013 @ 23:10:50

    @Erin Satie: War & Peace is my fourth Russian classic, and I’d rank them thusly (with the caveat that I haven’t finished W&P): 1) The Brothers Karamazov/Dostoyevsky, 2) War & Peace/Tolstoy, 3) Anna Karenina/Tolstoy, 4) Crime and Punishment/Dostoyevsky. C&P was the hardest for me to connect with because in addition to the usual difficulties of reading something that’s over 100 years old and translated from another language, the protagonist’s actions were so fundamentally hard to relate to (maybe they were meant to be). It was just pretty impenetrable to me.

  9. Jules
    Apr 15, 2013 @ 01:36:34

    I too am reading through Song of Ice and Fire. I tried to finish the series before watching the HBO show, but I just couldn’t wait… especially after attempting for months now to slog through Feast for Crows. Storm of Swords was my favorite as well… and I will say that Feast for Crows does get a little more interesting, but I miss my favorite characters. I am about 700 pages in right now, so hopefully the end is near and I can move onto book five and see Tyrion again :)

  10. cleo
    Apr 15, 2013 @ 09:52:54

    I had a similar reaction to Some Assembly Required. I’m a big fan of her non-fiction, but this one didn’t resonate with me as much as some of her earlier books. I’ve noticed that as she’s aged and mellowed, I resonate less with her writing – I prefer Traveling Mercies and Plan B because they’re harder hitting and deal with bigger issues – sobriety, bulimia, her mother’s Alzheimer’s, being a single mom, etc, and how all of those things impacted her life and faith. I’m glad that she’s healthier and dealing with smaller problems now, but they’re less interesting to me to read about (not sure what that says about me).

  11. Sirius
    Apr 15, 2013 @ 19:50:07

    I adore War and Peace – more than Anna Karenina but i always rush through philosophical interludes when I reread. I had been eyeing Denis Lehaine’s book for some time – will probably get it now. Thanks.

  12. Jennie
    Apr 15, 2013 @ 23:30:04

    @Janine: Yeah, I’ve never read Bird by Bird, but I can definitely see how that sort of absolutist attitude would be aggravating.

  13. Jennie
    Apr 15, 2013 @ 23:45:23

    @ducky: Ooh, which one? There were a couple of characters that I started to like better in SoS.

  14. Jennie
    Apr 16, 2013 @ 17:59:15

    @Jules: And Daenyrs! I miss Dany.

  15. Jennie
    Apr 16, 2013 @ 18:00:16

    @cleo: Traveling Mercies and Plan B are my favorites by Lamott, too.

  16. Jennie
    Apr 16, 2013 @ 23:32:24

    @Sirius: Let us know what you think if you do pick it up! He’s really a very compelling writer.

  17. Susy
    Apr 17, 2013 @ 01:12:03

    Wow, color me impressed! Who tackles War and Peace AND ASoIaF in the same month, manages to read a McCullough history, review romances and still throw in some odds and end releases??? I almost took your list as an Onion-like spoof, but since you didn’t end your list with the O.E.D., I guess you try are a reading marathoner. BTW–try to be patient with Feast. It was much derided when released (and still is by the old guard) but I found the redemption story of a certain golden-haired knight and the wandering quest of his faithful Brienne to be my favorite re-read passages over the years. Not watching HBO mangle the series though (shudder).

  18. Jennie
    Apr 17, 2013 @ 15:17:39

    @Susy: I’ve come to really ship (as the kids say) Jaime and Brienne. (Also Sansa and the Hound. Don’t judge me.) It’s easier knowing ahead of time that I won’t see certain characters in this book (and I suppose other characters in the next one). I mean, I want to hear about everyone (or most of the characters, anyway), but I recognize that the story is huge and complex and the cast is huge at this point and something had to give.

    You’d be less impressed with my reading habits if you knew how long it took me to read some of these tomes. I’ve been reading W&P for 3 and a 1/2 months now. There is an end in sight, finally. I think I may miss it, by the time I’m done!

  19. Susy
    Apr 17, 2013 @ 23:09:04

    Nah, I’m still impressed. That’s a heavy load, no matter how it is spread out.

    I “ship” Jaime/Brienne and Sansa/Sandor too! I am the world’s biggest sucker for a redemption arc. Even if everyone dies in the end, I will be satisfied if the KS regains his honor and the Hound becomes the “knight” he truly is (I don’t mean the title).
    Maybe not happy, but satisfied. I think GRRM’s early novel, Dying of the Light may shine a light on the type of sacrificial nobility with which we may see ASoIaF end. If we ever see it end. :-/

  20. Michele G.
    Apr 19, 2013 @ 11:21:06

    Thanks for compiling this list of book reviews! I am only halfway through a Clash of Kings but I am so looking forward to reading the whole series :) These other books look extremely interesting as well. I am mostly a reader of historical fiction and historical romance novels and I thought I would recommend a very new release, “Shanghai Love” by author Layne Wong ( The main character, Peilin, is a woman of honor and tradition. She is betrothed to marry a man but he is killed before her wedding. Bound by duty she takes his name and adopts his family as her own. A young, vibrant character, married to a ghost and stuck in what seems to be a hopeless situation. The story takes place in World War 2 and brings Peilin to Shanghai to look after her deceased husband’s family herbal medicine shop. She is introduced to a new world and new people. Shanghai is also Henri’s destination as he has graduated from medical school as Hitler is rising to power. The young Jewish refugee soon meets Peilin and you can guess what happens from there! It’s beautifully written and allows some time for their relationship to grow and develop. You really want these two to end up together and be happy :) I hope you check it out, would love to hear your review for it! Thanks again for sharing with your readers!

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