Thursday, November 01, 2012

It's November! (Reading Update post)

It's November again, and since I have been a blogging slacker for the last several months (if it weren't for Poetry Friday, I would hardly post anything at all), I decided to try NaBloPoMo again this year.  Apparently this isn't really a thing any more; it's become more of a year-round challenge, and the official website just says something about "the birthday of this project." Never mind!  I will go by the rules I've followed for the last couple of years, which are, simply, to post something, anything, every day of November.

Since my last Reading Update post, I have read sixteen books, so I'm going to split those up over several posts and put one up whenever I have a day when I have nothing else to post.  I have time to do that today because we have All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day off from school. 

So here goes:

I actually read book #28 at the beginning of the summer but had somehow missed it in my blog list.  Ashfall, by Mike Mullin, is the kind of book that gives you nightmares.  In most dystopic novels, there is enough improbability (and part of that is the futuristic setting) that the reader can maintain some distance.  This book, however, is unblinkingly realistic, and set in the present day.  Did you know there is a massive volcano under Yellowstone?  I didn't.  Did you know what kind of results there could be if it were to erupt?  I didn't, but now I do.  Alex is forced to call upon all of his resources to survive the journey to find his parents.  On the way he meets Darla, and their growing dependence on each other is portrayed in an incredibly unsentimental, yet touching way.  You can read the first two chapters for free here, at the author's website, and you can also find previews of the second book, which came out a couple of weeks ago, and which I haven't read yet.  Having experienced an earthquake myself, and being immersed right now, like everyone else, in coverage from Hurricane Sandy, I am very much aware that this world is full of huge forces that are completely beyond our control.  This book reinforced that awareness.  Even so, I do recommend it for the way it draws you in from the first page, its believable characters, and its picture of human beings surviving because they have to, and even with a bit of hope in the midst of all the bleakness.

Book #29 was A Guide to the Birds of East Africa, by Nicholas Drayson. Many reviews have compared this book to Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books. It was reminiscent of those books, and it also reminded me of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson.  Like Alexander McCall Smith's books, this one has an African setting that is not riddled with misery (though there are some glimpses of the problems of contemporary Nairobi), and like Helen Simonson's novel, there's a romance (or is there?) between non-youthful characters.  This was as light and amusing as the previous book was dark and terrifying.

Book #30 was another Alan Gregory book, Higher Authority, by Stephen White. Alan Gregory is a clinical psychologist who somehow is around a whole lot of murders. His girlfriend (wife in later books) is a DA, so that explains some of the mayhem that surrounds him, but seriously, he makes psychology seem like a very dangerous profession. Like most of the murder mysteries I read (mostly just Stephen White, P.D. James, and Elizabeth George), I like these books for the character development and relationships. I often forget the details of the murder plot immediately after reading them. This one had the additional interest of its exploration (mostly negative) of Mormonism.

The next bunch of books were assigned for a class I'm taking in Adolescent Literature.  One of the best things about taking a class or joining a book group is getting introduced to a stack of new authors and titles.  Some of these I wouldn't have chosen myself, but I'm glad I read all of them.  The professor chose many award-winners from the last couple of years.  Book #31 was especially excellent, and I recommend it highly.  It's called  Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science, by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos.  This is one of those books that made me see the world differently and made connections between disparate elements in my thinking.  There's a major Haiti component to the history of sugar, which explains part of my interest, but I was also fascinated to learn that the history of sugar is the history of slavery and industrialization and revolution.  Because human beings crave sweetness, the world changed.  I see abolitionism in a new light after reading this, as well; yes, abolitionists went without sugar in their tea to urge an end to slavery, but if a new way of producing sugar (from beets) hadn't been developed, would we still have the evils of plantation slavery?  Our craving for sweetness continues unabated.  This book reads like an action-packed novel.  You can see the authors' website here.

Coming soon: books #32 - #35!
This post is linked to the November 3rd Saturday Review of Books.


Linda B said...

Wow-Ruth, I didn't know about the blog a day thing. Have fun with it & nice to hear from you! FYI-I have Ashfall, still haven't gotten to it. Sounds good though. The one I imagine I'd most like is the one about sugar. I read those books out a few years ago-one called Salt & the other called Cod. They were great. I imagine this one is too. Thanks also for telling about the other book, the mystery. I like the McCall books, but just run out of time. Best to you, Ruth.

Anonymous said...

Glad you're doing NaBloPoMo this year! Great post to get started -- only I don't have time to read any of these interesting books until NaNoWriMo is over!! ;)