What Jennie’s Been Reading
Since last I wrote, I read and reviewed Patricia Gaffney’s Crooked Hearts. Here’s what else I’ve been reading:
The Great Famine: Ireland’s Agony 1845-1852 by Ciarán Ó Murchadha: Because apparently one book about innocent people starving to death just wasn’t enough for me. Actually, it wasn’t until I started this book that I realized I had inadvertently grabbed it just after finishing the book on the Siege of Leningrad. This is a well-written book, but too dry and scholarly for me. There are some human moments and personal anecdotes, but they are a bit too few and far between. At the same time some of the details are powerful enough that as a reader I was appalled at the neglect and cruelty forced upon the victims of the famine. The logic of the powers in England is a thing to behold, as when reports that potato crops would fail for a second year in a row prompted closure of relief measures, to avoid the poor becoming too “dependent” on aid. (Not a problem once they are dead of starvation or disease!) I saw some disturbing parallels between the callous attitudes shown by the privileged class in 19th century Britain and similar attitudes found in some quarters in the United States today.
At Your Pleasure by Meredith Duran: I have really liked every Duran book I’ve read, and this was no exception. At the same time I think maybe it was…slightly forgettable? I don’t know; somehow I just feel like it hasn’t stayed with me the way a really good book should. But sometimes that has more to do with my mood or what’s going on in my life at the time I read a book. Anyway, I should be doing a review of this; maybe I’ll resolve my feelings about it through that.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: I wasn’t sure I would be interested in this book, Pulitzer Prize or no. It looked like it might be either too women’s fiction-y for me or too literary fiction-y for me. But my sister read it and liked it, and so I gave it a try. Set in small-town Maine, it’s not so much a novel as a collection of stories. Olive Kitteridge appears either as the main character or a minor character in all of them. Olive, a retired school teacher who is large, terse and often unlikeable, anchors the stories and serves as a sort of anchor in the community as well. Over the course of the book, I came to find her strangely loveable even when she wasn’t likeable. The other characters are interesting as well, usually in a quiet way – Strout’s strength is in insightful characterization, not flashy prose or plotting. I ended up liking this quite a bit.
Grave Mercy by R.L. LaFevers: I grabbed this one on a whim; the elements that aren’t my usual cup of tea were made up for by elements that intrigued me. This is an alternate-history/fantasy hybrid featuring a heroine who is a sort of handmaiden/assassin for the saint of death (!). I’m about two-thirds of the way through, and it’s pretty good, though there’s a slight lack of sophistication to the writing that may be due to the fact that it’s at least nominally a YA book. Also, I would like to see the heroine become a bit more kickass. I plan to review this.
Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte: I believe this was recommended to me in the comments after my review of the clusterfuck of insanity that was Wuthering Heights. Agnes Grey could not be more different. I’m about halfway through it, and so far it’s a very quiet tale about a young woman who leaves her family to work as a governess, which turns out to be a largely thankless task, at least in the case of the two families she ends up working for. Agnes has some interesting observations about human nature, though she’s occasionally a bit superior and even martryish in her detailing of how very mean everyone is to her. But she’s the classic sensible 19th century heroine: kind, down to earth, humble and devout. So far not a lot has happened, though the much-telegraphed romance between Agnes and a country pastor seems like it’s just about to get off the ground, if the two of them would stop acting like 7th graders at their first dance and actually talk to each other. So far, so good.
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell: It was the miniseries of this book that got me started as an Elizabeth Gaskell fan; I went on to watch and enjoy the miniseries of her Cranford and eventually the book version of that story. I’m finally getting around the reading this one, and I’m glad I started it. North and South is a more serious and complex than Cranford, but I’m enjoying it so far, and especially like the ambiguity of the characterizations (I’ve mentioned it before but somehow I’m always surprised when pre-modern novels have characters that aren’t black-and-white).
A Tryst with Trouble by Alyssa Everett: I have a review of this that should run closer to the release date. I’ll just say this: meh.
Her Husband’s Harlot by Grace Callaway: I actually bought this after reading Dabney’s review. It had its moments (the sex scenes were quite hot) but overall I thought it was pretty mediocre.
About that Night by Julie James: I’m not a big reader of contemps, and this is only the second book I’ve read from this author (the other was the related Something About You). I kind of just fell into reading this; I opened it up and then couldn’t quite put it down. That sounds like a strong recommendation, but it’s probably just a reflection of the fact that I find contemporaries the most readable of romances; it’s pretty easy for me to fall into reading one. It’s a decent enough read but I’m not sure I understand the fuss about this author. But again, not a big reader of contemporaries, and I find that what makes them readable also makes them a bit forgettable and interchangeable, at least for me.
Wow, that was a lot of books! I should do these more often.
Until next time,