March madness

No not that kind of March madness. But somehow, during this last month, I managed to read a lot. Not sure if I'll be able to keep this up but I've decided to take a more traditional book blogging approach and start posting reviews/opinions on my reading as I go. I'll use the grading system of my alma mater, the University of Massachusetts, where we did not mess around with plus and minus signs:. So here's a roundup of my March reading, starting with the most recent (technically finished April 1 but it was 3 a.m. and I read most of it in March so there): The Ghost by Robert Harris -- political thriller, which I checked out from the Key West Library. I started reading this on my lunch hour last Saturday, got half way through very quickly then realized that we planned to see the Roman Polanski movie based on the book, currently playing at The Tropic -- and that the point of movies like this is suspense. So I stopped reading and saw the movie, then returned to the book. I thought the movie was good, though not necessarily worth the rave reviews it received -- I think people are just thrilled to see a thriller that's not a shoot 'em up or that bears some resemblance to reality. In general, I preferred the book -- the characters were more nuanced, especially Adam Lang, and the big reveal felt more obvious and silly in the movie. I've read Pompeii by Harris and plan to read more of his historical fiction. AB

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins -- young adult fantasy/dystopia fiction that I checked out from the library. The second in her Hunger Games series, which I picked up because of a rave review on Citizen Reader and because I'm scouting dystopia lit for a future Literary Seminar -- and I think it would be particularly cool to get some YA writers in there, since fantasy including dystopian fantasy seems to be huge in that area now. Maybe it always has been (LeGuin, L'Engle, even Tolkein and Lewis and Pullman if you want to extend the boundaries). Anyway it was GREAT -- now I'm lining up with all the others waiting for the third installment in the trilogy, Mockingjay, which is to be published this summer. A

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins -- first in the series above, and also good especially at creating a believable world and a believable voice for its protagonist -- the book is first person from the perspective of a 16-year-old girl who has taken responsibility for her family after her father's death in a mine accident. I'll admit at first I had a little trouble warming to the story and was irritated by the misuse of "I" in the objective case a couple times, which is silly because people especially youngsters do it all the time now and hey this book is in the future so by then it could be the accepted usage. It's just a dumb grammar peeve of mine. But by the middle of the book I was there with Katniss as she attempts to navigate survival for herself and her family and deal with the weirdnesses of the world she's born into. AB

Unicorn's Blood by Patricia Finney -- historical fiction, Tudor thriller (Elizabeth again), sequel to Firedrake's Eye and even better -- perhaps because it has Elizabeth as what appears to be a real character -- and provides a sensible explanation for her vacillation and then reaction to the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. Finney's really good and I look forward to the last (so far) in this series, Gloriana's Torch, and hope she's writing more though she's got a couple other series going, too. I did give myself a start by looking her up on the Internet and seeing an online biography in which her politics are described as "right-wing." Huh? Conservative, sure, but right wing from my left wing perspective is Glenn Beck/Sarah Palin/teabagger territory. This upset me for a couple days until I decided 1) this website was far from definitive and 2) who cares since I'm reading her for entertainment and not political insight. Still, it did make me think about what baggage I'm bringing to my reading and my opinion of writers. AB

Chef by Jaspreet Singh -- literary adult fiction, picked up an ARC at the library, interested because we're doing food as our topic for the 2011 Literary Seminar. It's one of those nice, slim novels and I thought it was really good. A young man, son of a Sikh officer who is killed in the disputed Kashmir region between India and Pakistan, winds up there himself as an assistant chef to the commanding officer. Really well done and I love discovering a new writer. A

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore -- literary adult fiction, read an advanced review copy that I can't remember how I got hold of, was disappointed possibly because my expectations for Moore are impossibly high. Her previous work, the short story collection Birds of America, is one of my favorite books. This one seemed to walk the line between realism and satire, not always perfectly, and stretched plausibility in some of its events (no spoilers but one or two of the plot points, OK, but ALL of them? Really?). Still, Moore is a fantastic writer and it kept me going. I'm going to give it a B.

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher -- young adult fantasy fiction, got it from the public library, loved it. In an alternate future world, the haves live in a sort of Amish fantasy land while the have-nots are in a prison that, as far as they know, constitutes the entire world (Incarceron). A young woman, the daughter of the warden, catches on that Incarceron is not the paradise she has been told and makes contact with a young man inmate attempting to escape. First of a planned trilogy, natch. AB

Dissolution by C.J. Sansom -- historical fiction, Tudor thriller (Henry VIII), got from interlibrary loan via the public library, liked it very much. It may have suffered by comparison to my recent reading of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel -- I'm still thinking of Thomas Cromwell as a sympathetic or at least understandable character whose POV I was inhabiting there so having him as the remorseless puppetmaster seems a little simple. B

Firedrake's Eye by Patricia Finney -- historical fiction, Tudor thriller (Elizabeth I), got it from the public library, liked it very much. First in the series followed by Unicorn's Blood (see above). A little complex with sections narrated by a crazy person, but I enjoyed the challenge of figuring out what was going on. AB

My YA kick looks to continue -- I've gotten hold of the third installment in Linda Buckley Archer's Gideon trilogy, called The Time Quake, and also came across a book called Beautiful Creatures which Amazon called one of its best of 2009 -- that looks to be more paranormal than dystopian -- I'm looking forward to it because in one online review, the writer was castigating herself for reading the Twilight series before this because this was so much better. It justifies my procrastination in reading Twilight; I suspect the writing will irritate me too much. Also high on my current TBR pile is The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian -- in May the library's Book Bites Book Club will be viewing "The Great Gatsby" and reading Gatsby and this book, which features characters and settings from Fitzgerald's novel. On the nonfiction side, I've picked up The Possessed by Elif Batuman and so far like it very much.

Oh yeah, and that library school thing, too, including a final research paper.