Happy New Year 2017

Every year, starting as early as November, I try and set out my reading goals for the coming year. My overall total is always 48 books, but that doesn’t stop me from setting out grand pyramid goals, which if I actually completed them, would require reading well over 100 books. And every year I choose some sort of unique “theme.” There was the year I read books related to Moby Dick in some way. The _____ Wife titles. And titles with birds in them. Last year it ended up being non-fictions books about the Plantagenets because that’s what I chose to present as part of a reader’s advisory panel at the Minnesota Library Association annual conference. I hadn’t planned to participate, but volunteers were short, so I came up with a topic and stepped in. Naturally these themes don’t go away after a year. New books keep coming out, and I keep adding to those lists. I’ll never read all the Wife titles on my To Be Read (TBR) shelf!

2017 might be the year I play catch up. Catch up on books I’ve started and stopped for whatever reasons, series I want to continue, books that have been on my TBR shelf the longest. And now, all the books on the Plantagenets that I wanted to read and didn’t get to. My overall goal was not even close for 2016. I managed 36 books, and 7 of those were rereads of Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy mysteries which I did not review here.

So here is my pyramid for 2017 – I do allow books to count in more than one column, so my overall goal is still only 48 books…

12 books: Started, never finished (these will all overlap)

11 books: Historical fiction (can overlap, but not including Walter Scott nominees, below)

10 books: Daytimer’s Book Club (this is a group I manage through the library and I pick all the titles we will read. We meet monthly, but I’ve already read two of the titles – that’s why it’s 10…)

9 books: Next in series to read (but not including Mrs. Murphy rereads)

8 books: Newest TBR (Library books currently checked out, and any that catch my eye this year and add…)

7 books: Oldest TBR

6 books: Mrs. Murphy rereads

5 books: Walter Scott nominees

4 books: Medieval non-fiction

3 books: Leftovers from previous themes

2 books: Black Lives Matter (this is sort of a mini-theme for the Daytimer’s Book Club this year, so this is expanding on that theme and not including Daytimer’s books)

1 book: Understanding Politics, or “How the Hell did Donald Trump get elected” (not something I want to read, but I feel I should)

Wish me luck! I’ve created a separate page, which I will try and remember to update as I finish my books.

Advertisements

Palace of Treason

Palace of Treason (Dominika Egorova & Nathaniel Nash, #2)Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book feels very much like a continuation of the first book, Red Sparrow. Even the recipes are continued at the end of each chapter. The title is a slang term for the Kremlin. It could possibly stand alone, but I would recommend reading in order. The first book was brilliant. This one feels not as tightly plotted. Some of the quirks of the characters, like Dominika’s synesthesia, are interesting, but this time around it seemed to have no bearing on the plot or her actions. Likewise, her ability to see the ghosts of dead friends. If there is a point to this, perhaps it will come out in the third book. Strong on characterization, insider knowledge, pacing, and humor. Warning for some readers – there is graphic sex and torture, and the action can be quite chilling at times.

Book description: Captain Dominika Egorova of the Russian Intelligence Service despises the oligarchs, crooks, and thugs of Putin’s Russia—but what no one knows is that she is also working for the CIA. Her “sparrow” training in the art of sexual espionage further complicates the mortal risks she must take, as does her love for her handler Nate Nash—a shared lust that is as dangerous as treason. As Dominika expertly dodges exposure, she deals with a murderously psychotic boss, survives an Iranian assassination attempt and attempts to rescue an arrested double agent—and thwart Putin’s threatening flirtations.

 

A Deadly Grind

A Deadly Grind (Vintage Kitchen Mystery, #1)A Deadly Grind by Victoria Hamilton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A decent start for a cozy mystery series. This one involves cooking and includes a recipe. I was drawn to it because of the historical (vintage) angle. In this case, I ended up looking for pictures of Hoosier cabinets online. I always enjoy learning something in the books I read. The setting is Queensville, Michigan – a made up town on the Canadian border – named for Queen Victoria. The action centers around an annual event – The Queen Victoria tea – where locals act the parts of Queen Victoria, Albert, and Princess Beatrice. The servers wear historical maids costumes. In addition to serving at the Tea, Jaymie also does odd jobs at the next door B&B and at the Queensville Inn, which gives her access to snoop on suspicious visitors. Jaymie is single and in her 30s, so there are a couple of potential love interests that may develop in the series. Lots of local characters that also promise to be recurring. I took a few notes at the beginning, but on the whole there were not so many characters that I risked losing track of them. The plot kept me guessing with a number of potential suspects to sort out, and the ending was satisfactory. I could have given it 4 stars, but I like to give a series room to grow….

Book description: When vintage cookware and cookbook collector Jaymie Leighton spies an original 1920s Hoosier brand kitchen cabinet at an estate auction, it’s love at first sight. Despite the protests of her sister that the 19th-century yellow-brick house they share in Michigan is already too cluttered with Jaymie’s “junk,” she successfully outbids the other buyers and triumphantly takes home her Hoosier. But that night on the summer porch where they’ve left the Hoosier to be cleaned up, a man is murdered, struck on the head with the steel meat grinder that is part of the cabinet. Who is this stranger—and what was he doing on their porch? Does his death have anything to do with the Hoosier? As the police struggle to determine the man’s identity, Jaymie can’t help doing a little digging on her own, accompanied by her three-legged Yorkie Poo, Hopalong. But in her bid to uncover the truth about the hidden secrets of the Hoosier, Jaymie may be the one who ends up going, going…gone.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Funny, moving, uplifting, with a bit of romance and mystery thrown in. This is a tribute to books, the people who write them, the people who sell them, and the people who read them. My book club (elderly women) loved it. We have read many of the titles that happen to be mentioned in the text. While A.J. and Maya and their relationship is certainly at the center of this book, the side-characters of A.J.’s sister-in-law, Ismay, and his cop friend, Lambiase, almost took on main-character status for me. Even more so with the twist at the end of the book, which I won’t give away. Yes, this borders on being a cozy sort-of chick lit novel rather than being literary fiction. Nothing wrong with that! There are readers of crime fiction (Lambiase), readers of romance and chick lit, and readers of prize winners and literary fiction. And maybe that ends up being the whole point of this book. We are all unique, but we are all connected by a love of books and reading.

Book description: From Booklist
In this sweet, uplifting homage to bookstores, Zevin perfectly captures the joy of connecting people and books. A. J. Fikry, the cantankerous owner of Island Books, is despondent after losing his beloved wife and witnessing the ever-declining number of sales at his small, quirky bookstore. In short order, he loses all patience with the new Knightly Press sales rep, his prized rare edition of Tamerlane is stolen, and someone leaves a baby at his store. That baby immediately steals A. J.’s heart and unleashes a dramatic transformation. Suddenly, the picture-book section is overflowing with new titles, and the bookstore becomes home to a burgeoning number of book clubs. With business on the uptick and love in his heart, A. J. finds himself becoming an essential new part of his longtime community, going so far as to woo the aforementioned sales rep (who loves drinking Queequeg cocktails at the Pequod Restaurant). Filled with interesting characters, a deep knowledge of bookselling, wonderful critiques of classic titles, and very funny depictions of book clubs and author events, this will prove irresistible to book lovers everywhere. –Joanne Wilkinson

Ivory Vikings

Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made ThemIvory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them by Nancy Marie Brown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A thoroughly enjoyable exploration of an archeological mystery, the history of chess, walrus ivory carving, Viking history, and the settlement of Iceland, interwoven with passages from the Norse sagas. Could Margret the Adroit of Iceland have made the Lewis chessmen? Certainly, but can it be proven? No. Still, Ms. Brown lays out the evidence, and I think the theory she presents can hold its own against those who insist on a Norwegian origin. The history of the pieces and their historical Scandinavian counterparts is fascinating! I listened to the audiobook, so I can’t speak about any accompanying maps and photos.

Book description: In the early 1800s, on a Hebridean beach in Scotland, the sea exposed an ancient treasure cache: 93 chessmen carved from walrus ivory. Norse netsuke, each face individual, each full of quirks, the Lewis Chessmen are probably the most famous chess pieces in the world. Housed at the British Museum, they are among its most visited and beloved objects. Questions abounded: Who carved them? Where? Nancy Marie Brown explores these mysteries by connecting medieval Icelandic sagas with modern archaeology, art history, forensics, and the history of board games. In the process, Ivory Vikings presents a vivid history of the 400 years when the Vikings ruled the North Atlantic, and the sea-road connected countries and islands we think of as far apart and culturally distinct: Norway and Scotland, Ireland and Iceland, and Greenland and North America.

View all my reviews

The Martian

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Robinson Crusoe in space. Set a few years into the future, when the U.S. is sending manned missions to Mars. Mark is a likeable character, and I found his ingenuity and inventiveness kept me interested – for about half of the book. Then it just got too predictable as it went from one event that should have killed him to another. It was very heavy on the science, which didn’t go over too well with my women’s bookclub. On the whole, it’s a decent story, and an uplifting one as nations work together to bring Mark home, and his story captures hearts the world over. The movie left out a lot, which is probably a good thing. It got very repetitive stretched out into a full-length novel.

Book description: After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark Watney finds himself stranded on Mars’ surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, Mark won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark’s not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills—and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.

The Plantagenets

The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made EnglandThe Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England by Dan Jones

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Very engaging! Covers 200 years of English history from Henry II through Richard II. Very much a book about the kings, their wars, and accomplishments told by a master story teller. Jones manages to deconstruct the myths and legends, while incorporating the latest research and insights into their lives and personalities. We get the good, the bad, and the ugly about these kings and yet Jones still manages to make them human beings. As bad as some of these kings were, they still managed to create a strong and powerful realm, an England that has endured to the present day.

Book description: The first Plantagenet kings inherited a blood-soaked realm from the Normans and transformed it into an empire that stretched at its peak from Scotland to Jerusalem. In this epic narrative history of courage, treachery, ambition, and deception, Dan Jones resurrects the unruly royal dynasty that preceded the Tudors. They produced England’s best and worst kings: Henry II and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, twice a queen and the most famous woman in Christendom; their son Richard the Lionheart, who fought Saladin in the Third Crusade; and his conniving brother King John, who was forced to grant his people new rights under the Magna Carta, the basis for our own bill of rights. Combining the latest academic research with a gift for storytelling, Jones vividly recreates the great battles of Bannockburn, Crécy, and Sluys and reveals how the maligned kings Edward II and Richard II met their downfalls. This is the era of chivalry and the Black Death, the Knights Templar, the founding of parliament, and the Hundred Years’ War, when England’s national identity was forged by the sword.