Monday, December 31, 2007

December Reading Round Up

As 2007 draws to its close, I find myself at approximately 115 books read for the year. I say approximately because I know I've read more books in December than I can remember and all the books are starting to run together on me. There was way too much going into my brain, and I'm grateful that in 2008, I'll have some time to not read. I'm also pissed off at myself for not finishing the 2 books I'm halfway through right now, one of which I started in freakin' Florida for crying out loud, and the other I started 2 days ago.

But I wanted to do a year-end round up, so here's what I know I read in December, with of course the by now familiar spoiler warning (particularly with the Superman book and the Water for Elephants book).

1. The Clothes They Stood Up In and The Lady In the Van by Alan Bennett. Two short stories turned into a book. The first details the travails of an upper middle class, childless British middle aged couple who return home from the opera one night to discover that their entire apartment has been cleaned out, right down to the toilet paper roller. While the husband is dealing with the insurance companies and police, Missus finds she likes the simplicity of this new spartan existence. But when their material goods are unexpectedly found, how will they react?

The second short story is I guess a bit of a memoir about when Bennett had some crazy old lady park her van in his yard and refuse to move it. Social services tries to help the lady, neighbors attempt to help, but at the end of the day, she dies in her van, surrounded by piles of junk and it turns out she has money in the bank and could have done quite well for herself. The narrator (or author) tracks down the woman's brother who tells her tragic story.

I honestly expected more from both stories--I thought perhaps the storyline with the wife realizing that "stuff" doesn't make you happy could have gone somewhere, but that was over all too soon when tragedy strikes a second time. As for the crazy old lady in the van, the story just made me sad. Maybe I've been working with sickly old people too long. Not one of my favorites this year.

2. Happiness Sold Separately by Lolly Winston. Eleanor and Ted's marriage is pushed to a straining point when Eleanor finds out that Ted has been having an affair with his personal assistant Gina. The feelings between the characters are complicated. Eleanor and Ted have been struggling with infertility for years. Gina is a single mother whose son Toby has just come to live with her and who hates her guts. Although Ted breaks off his affair with Gina when Eleanor finally becomes pregnant, he can't turn his back on the boy, and when Eleanor miscarries and Ted is involved in a serious accident, things resolve themselves for the betterment of all involved.

I thought this was a really great chick lit type book. I felt for all the characters, even though they each had moments when they were wholly unlikeable. In spite of not usually being in favor of things ending the way they did in this book, I was happy with the way the story resolved itself, and I am now looking forward to reading my second Lolly Winston, Good Grief, which I have on my "to be read" pile.

3. Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen. The new book club is reading this as its second selection, a story of life beneath the big top among the crazies on the circus.

Jacob Jankowski is a 90-something resident of a nursing home, who is pulled into his memories of life on the road with a circus after a circus sets up stakes outside his home window one day. Jacob recalls with startling clarity how is parents were tragically killed in a car accident one day while he was finishing his final year as a veterinary student at Cornell. He runs away from school, torn by the shock of his grief, and hops aboard a circus train. He is finally hired on to be the show's veterinarian by Uncle Al, the shady man who owns the circus and meets the beautiful Marlena, who is married to complete headcase August.

The book spares no delicate feelings in describing the hard knock life of circus performers, both animal and human. If you're a horse fan, you might not love what happens to many of the horses, but there are times the animals triumph and you cheer for them.

I enjoyed the book, and I didn't think I would. I read it very quickly, trying to get it finished so that my sister would be able to get it and read it, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I found to be a gripping story, good writing, and satisfying finish. I'm squeamish around books when animals get injured or killed, but even that in this book didn't keep me from finishing. Good choice. I look forward to discussing it with the ladies.

4. Superman: Secret Identity by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen. Clark Kent is a teenage boy who is bothered by his name. He gets gifts from family and friends that are always related to Superman somehow, and he gets teased at school because of his name.

But then, suddenly, he discovers it's all true. He has Superman's powers, and he must come to grips with the fact that he can do everything Superman can do. How he chooses to use his powers, and how this discovery affects his life and everything he does, including having children of his own, makes for one great graphic novel read.

I'm not ashamed to say, at the end, I even got misty eyed. I really like Superman, and I like these kind of off-beat re-imaginings of his story. I'm not a graphic novel person, but Joe keeps giving them to me and I keep finding the ones I like more and more, and this is one of them. A quick but good one.

5. Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah. Ok, this book took me for-freaking-ever to read, but it was an addicting fluffy bit of a novel with a cast of characters that you wanted to root for the whole way around.

Dr. Julia Cates's reputation as a brilliant child psychiatrist is blown when one of her former clients shoots and kills a bunch of classmates and commits suicide. Her practice crumbles and then she receives a call: her sister, Ellie, chief of police in their Pacific Northwest hometown has got a situation on her hands that only Julia can solve: a little girl has emerged from nowhere, wild, uncontrollable, fierce, with a wolf pup in her arms. She is non-verbal, and Ellie is at her wits' end trying to figure out how to help this girl. Julia comes in to save the day, but is beleaguered by scientists, social workers, and the courts as she tries to help "Alice" unlock the secrets of her past, while Julia and Ellie try to sort out their complicated lives as well.

This was a great mystery, romance, psych book, and I enjoyed every last minute of reading it. All the relationships in the book rang true, from the complicated relationship between the sisters, between Ellie and her deputy, between Julia and the hunky doctor, and between Alice and the whole town. It was a little saccharine the way the entire town came together to keep the outsiders away from The Wolf Girl, but otherwise, I thought it was well done and gripping.

So that's it. I wind down 2007 with 112 books officially read (though I think it's more!) and 34889 pages read.

To sum up December:

Great: Water for Elephants, Superman: Secret Identity, Magic Hour, Happiness Sold Separately

OK: The Clothes They Stood Up In...

Total pages in December: 1534.

Though I did read The Last Days of Summer outloud to Michael, so can I count that twice? :-D

I'll be posting a full out 2007 review of the year later on today when I wake up.

Happy 2008 and Happy Reading! If you try something like this in the new year, I'd love to hear about it!

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