Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Books Read: December and January 2014

December 2nd: Commodore Hornblower, C.S. Forester. Entertaining addition to the Hornblower series. The series suffers a bit as Hornblower becomes more successful though, I preferred it when he was less established. Grade: B+.
December 3rd: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, Anne Fadiman. Really interesting exploration of a previously unknown culture to me (Hmong culture), the immigrant experience, medical anthropology, and how cultural expectations affect medical care. Grade: A.
December 6th: The Wine-Dark Sea, Patrick O'Brian. An excellent entry in the Aubrey-Maturin series, this one featuring volcanic eruptions, treks across the high Andes, iceberg dangers and much more. Grade: A-.
December 12th: The Commodore, Patrick O'Brian. Aubrey and Maturin finally make it home, only to deal with personal dramas of the most painful kind; they are soon off again, this time to Africa to suppress the slave trade. Another excellent book. Grade: A.
December 14th: Akhenaten: Dweller in Truth, Naguib Mahfouz. A truth-obsessed man investigates the life of the "heretic Pharaoh" Akhenaten, who founded the world's first monotheistic religion. Was he a genuine visionary, a cynical charlatan, or something else? Good concept, interesting topic and yet a little disappointing. Grade: B-.
December 17th: The Lady in the Lake, Raymond Chandler. Entertaining noir fiction with a complicated and somewhat convoluted plot. Grade: A-
December 18th: Deep Ancestry: Inside the Genographic Project, Spencer Wells. Book about how DNA evidence can be used to shed light on prehistorical and historical quandaries, such as the origins of peoples and human migration over time. Kind of a dry read, despite the fascinating topic. Grade: B.
December 18th: The Yellow Admiral, Patrick O'Brian. A less action-packed entry than usual, Aubrey worries about his career while Maturin continues his anti-Napoleon schemes. Still excellent. Grade: A-
December 24th: The Hundred Days, Patrick O'Brian. Yet another O'Brian entry, this one with Aubrey and Maturin trying to stop a shipment of gold ingots from North Africa. Great scenes in the Atlas Mountains. Grade: A.
December 27th: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach. Funny, quirky and enlightening about the things that happen to human bodies after death. A quick and entertaining read, but the best kind, where you learn as you laugh. Grade: A.

January 6th: In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, Erik Larson. An American diplomat and his family react to late 1930s Berlin, full of Nazis and ominous forebodings. Interesting but overly hagiographic to the subjects (for instance, the fact that the main character seems to be an extreme racist is never discussed, despite the book's Nazi setting). Grade: B-.
January 10th: Connected Parenting: Transform Your Challenging Child and Build Loving Bonds for Life, Jennifer Kolari. Despite the subtitle, a parenting book for everyone. Really excellent. Grade: A+.
January 11th: The Odyssey of Ibn Battuta: Uncommon Tales of a Medieval Adventurer, David Waines. Fascinating topic, about the great world traveler Ibn Battuta, whose wanderings took him from sub-Saharan Africa to China, but very dull book. I would love to read Ibn Battuta's book though! Grade: C-.
January 13th: Allskin: And Other Tales by Contemporary Czech Women, Alexandra Buchler. Short stories varying in quality by Czech writers. Most are not very good, though there are a few happy exceptions. Grade: D+.
January 15th: Blue at the Mizzen, Patrick O'Brian. Last in the Aubrey-Maturin series, and one of the weakest. Not much happens and the book (and author, perhaps?) feels a bit tired. Still entertaining. Grade: B.
January 19th: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler. Book about a girl co-raised with a chimpanzee: things in the end go south, and the story details her response to that. Funny, well-written and thought provoking, though the end is a bit weak. Grade: A-.
January 20th: Snow Country, Yasunari Kawabata. Haunting and atmospheric book about a hot springs geisha infatuated with a rather worthless dilettante. It's also a bit dull and portentous. Grade: B.
January 21st: Your Four-Year-Old: Wild and Wonderful, Louise Bates Ames. There are a whole series of these books describing the "typical" child at a set age. They are all the same: forthright, no-nonsense, a bit dated, but still useful. Grade: B+.
January 22nd: Sea of Poppies, Amitav Ghosh. Sweeping story of interconnected lives in British-dominated India, representing a wide variety of colors, classes, castes and ethnicities, but all connected by the opium trade. Fascinating stuff, and I enjoyed the quirky Anglo-Indian vocabulary used. Grade: A.
January 27th: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, Laura Hillenbrand. Raved-about book that I found hard to get through. Reminiscent of a movie-of-the-week (OMG this was SO INSPIRING!!) and with overly cliched characters, even though it's nonfiction. My favorite section was the penultimate one, describing some of the struggles the characters faced in reintegrating into civilian/"normal" life. Grade: B-

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