Because I cannot fully control my inner gold-star-seeking preening child, and because this is a book blog, I’m going to start posting a monthly roundup, with capsule reviews, of what I’ve been reading. And because I have a lot more reading time on my hands now, and can’t really resist bragging about it.
In September I read:
The Fever by Megan Abbot – The highest praise I can offer for this book is that it isn’t really my thing … and I still couldn’t put it down. High school girls mysteriously get sick, around the same time they are discovering their sexuality and getting vaccinated for HPV. While high school remains, for me, a mostly dreaded land where I have no wish to return even in fiction, I was fascinated by this book. And I didn’t see the end coming, which is always a plus.
Lost by S.J. Bolton – Since the Key West Literary Seminar focused on crime fiction, last January (see Megan Abbot, above), I have been slowly expanding my reading of contemporary crime which had before then been mostly limited to P.D. James and Kate Atkinson. S.J. Bolton is harder-edged than either of those and not as good a writer. But I’m enjoying her Lacey Flint series … and I’ll keep going if only to find out if she’s EVER going to finally jump Mark Joesbury’s bones like they’ve both been wanting for several books now.
The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory – I reviewed this one for the Miami Herald. It’s the final entry in Gregory’s Cousins’ War series about the Wars of the Roses, and brings us up to Henry VIII. This time our narrator is Margaret Pole, a York cousin who has a front row seat for Henry’s increasingly desperate search for an heir, growing tyranny and the turmoil England experiences as it breaks away from Rome. I haven’t loved every entry in this series (I liked The White Queen and the Lady of the Rivers, the others not so much) but this is one of the good ones.
The Commodore by Patrick O’Brian – When I had a job where I traveled a lot, circa 2001-2004, I started reading the Aubrey-Maturin series as my traveling books. I haven’t traveled a lot since but have kept working away at it. This was yet another great entry and I’m not sorry that I’ve slowed down since the series is nearing the end. Then again, it’s been so long that I can just start at the beginning again. And I would read them again. They’re that good.
The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau – I picked this one up at the FKCC Library because Tudor fiction! Can’t get enough! I don’t think I realized entirely from the jacket copy that this is, essentially, a work of historical crime fiction. But I’m totally down with that and was glad to see that there are more books in the series. The heroine is Joanna Stafford, a high-born woman in her 20s (her mother was one of Katherine of Aragon’s Spanish ladies in waiting) who has entered a convent just as religious houses are being dissolved in England (see The King’s Curse, above). A rash act makes her vulnerable to a highly placed courtier who is looking for ammunition to use against Thomas Cromwell. I was increasingly absorbed in this as I read.
True Story by Michael Finkel – I got hold of this book after reading Finkel’s excellent story in GQ about a hermit who lived in the Maine woods for almost 30 years years. The story in this book is almost more incredible and it is, as the title indicates, true. Finkel was a rising star who was writing for the New York Times Magazine when he blew it by fudging facts on a story about alleged child slavery in Mali. And he got caught. So, disgraced journalist. And at practically the same moment, he learned that an accused murderer from Oregon had been impersonating him – ie. Telling people he was Michael Finkel of the New York Times – while on the lam in Mexico. So Finkel contacts the guy and they start a correspondence and, in some way, a friendship. Finkel tells the story of that relationship, while also reporting what he can about the accused murderer’s story, right up through the trial. The whole thing is quease-inducing in the extreme, especially if you’ve been a journalist. I am both fascinated and repelled by stories of Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair – Finkel’s was in a way almost more horrifying because it was so easy for me to see why he’d done what he did (there are few lousier feelings than facing an editor who wants something you don’t have – much less after an expensive trip overseas). And of course the crime is fascinating in that horrifying way. Word is this book is being made into a movie with James Franco as the accused murderer. It reminded me, in a good way, of Fatal Vision as well as Janet Malcolm’s book about that book, The Journalist and the Murderer.
Birdmen by Lawrence Goldstone – The early days of flight, as seen through the rivalry between the Wright brothers and Glenn Curtiss. Before I moved to South Florida, I never heard of Glenn Curtiss. Then the only thing I knew about Glenn Curtiss is he built some weird-looking buildings around Miami (one of my first beats was Miami Springs, the town he developed in adobe style). Turns out he was a South Florida developer because first he made a fortune building engines, motorcycles and eventually airplanes. And that he and the Wrights had a long-running dispute over credit for wing design that basically consumed the last decade of Wilbur Wright’s life – which is a real tragedy since he was the innovator of the brothers. Goldstone lost me on the physics a few times, I’ll admit (it’s not that hard to do; I don’t really understand the mechanics of flight or air at all which is why I neither pilot planes nor sail). But the human story behind the guys who figured out how to get us up in the air is superbly told.
Wonder Woman: Love and Murder by Jodi Picoult – Wonder Woman is having a Moment. She’s finally going to be in a movie, even if it’s a movie called Batman vs. Superman. Jill Lepore has written a whole book about her. And I keep trying to be the kind of person who reads more graphic novels. I would also like to be the kind of person who reads more superhero comics. But I have to admit, most of them just leave me feeling “meh.” Maybe I didn’t get hooked at an early enough age. Or maybe I’m just one of those people who prefers their superheroes on screen. Either way, this was an OK story but I never really cared about anybody in it.
I have vowed to come out of the closet as a reader of romance novels. So here are a few quick words on the ones I read this month:
Highlander in Disguise, Highlander Unbound and Highlander in Love by Julia London – I picked up the first of these as a free paperback from the library (I have an embarrassingly large stash of those). It was pretty good – a Scotsman in aristocratic London. Good enough that I looked up the other two in the series and read those, too.
The Duke of Dark Desires by Miranda Neville – I got an advanced copy of this through an electronic review service (another habit I picked up at the library). Definitely in the top tier of historic romance writers.
Keep Me Safe by Maya Banks – Another electronic review copy, which I requested because I’ve read and liked some others by this author. This one, not so much. It’s like she decided to go paranormal because that’s what people are doing (the heroine is psychic). But the characters had no depth whatsoever.
The Bookseller’s Daughter by Pam Rosenthal – Miranda Neville referred to this at the end of her book and I’m a sucker for anything to do with books and bookselling. It’s billed as “erotic” – I guess it’s a little dirtier than your average romance but nothing too shocking. Good story, love between working class heroine (the bookseller’s daughter) and aristocrat in France on the cusp of the Revolution.