January reading

by Sunita

I had fits and starts of reading last month, with book-filled plane flights on the one hand and meetings-filled days on the other. But I managed to read six books, which isn’t too bad. And they were mostly good! They were all challenge books, so there was a bit of randomness, but it’s a good feeling to dip into the TBR. Even if every book isn’t a winner, it’s one more for the Done pile.

offshore cover

I started strongly, with Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald. It was my first Fitzgerald and I loved it. I have at least two more in the print and ebook TBRs, and there are even more available from the library. Fitzgerald’s books are short, extremely well written, and mostly different from each other. It feels a bit like reading Muriel Spark, but gentler or at least kinder. My full review is here.

My second read was Jeannie Lin’s short story, The Taming of Mei Lin. I have all or almost all of Lin’s Harlequin releases in my collection, but a number of her early books are still in the TBR. This short story is a prequel to Butterfly Swords, which I finally read and really enjoyed last year. I picked this story because it fit the January prompt of Wendy’s TBR challenge (shorts). And it is indeed short, but fun and satisfying. My review is here.

My third read was one that has languished on my bookshelf for at least a decade; Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (or is it the other way around?) I have picked this up and put it down several times, because I find I have to be in the right mood for Pratchett’s brand of humor. But the Guardian Reading Group was tackling it in January, and while I don’t comment there I am a regular lurker. So I read along with them and found it to be a lot of fun. The book reflects both authors’ literary styles, and reading an upbeat novel about the end of the world seemed about right during the depths of winter in our current Age of Horribleness. The story references all kinds of books, movies, and fables, most notably The Omen, and it’s very very British. I don’t think I’ll become one of those superfans who rereads it every year, but it does make me want to read Pratchett again.

Book number four is The Minds of Winter. I wrote about this novel in my last post. I have been reading it off and on for over a year, and I finally buckled down and concentrated on it. Reading it during a winter visit to Alaska, surrounded by books on polar exploration, enhanced my reading experience a lot. There have been a number of novels and nonfiction books written about the discoveries of the Terror and the Erebus ships over the last few years, but this one will be hard to beat. It’s a big, baggy doorstop of a book, and I often wasn’t quite sure why I was reading what I was reading, but by the end it all made sense. Some day I’ll go back and reread it. But not until I tackle a couple of other partly read Big Books.

My fifth book was another off the Harlequin TBR, Butterfly by Rochelle Alers. I have a number of Alers’ romances in my e-library, but this was my first read. It’s a standalone unlike most of her categories, and it’s single-title length. It’s an odd book and not entirely successful, but it was an absorbing read all the same. Butterfly is a retired supermodel at the beginning, where a story frame of her interview with a photographer allows for flashbacks that describe her rise to fame and her romantic relationships. Since we know that she is married now, the mystery is who the hero is, and it’s not obvious for a good part of the book. I really enjoyed the sections on her modeling life and also her relationship with her father, but the character herself did nothing for me and there were some homophobic asides that were jarring. And the women were mostly horrible. I wound up grading down for all that (and also for the happy romance, which was too short and not well enough motivated), but I don’t regret the read at all and I’m looking forward to more by Alers. Full review here.

I ended the month with a novel off my library TBR, since I realized I hadn’t read anything yet for the Virtual TBR Challenge and I committed to the reading level of 24 over the year (mostly because of course I wanted to climb Mt. Crumpit). A lot of the stuff on my library wishlist is Literature, though and I wanted something shorter and less taxing. Somehow Patrick Modiano’s So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood came the closest, despite the author being a Nobel Prize winner and the book being about memory and childhood. But it was short, at 160 pages. Modiano packs a lot into that length, and I found it absorbing and rewarding; although the story has a lot of layers, it’s also a page-turner. Some reviews say this isn’t a great place to start with Modiano’s oeuvre, but it worked well for me. Full review here.