The Mysterious Affair at Styles

One of my goals in 2019 is to read more. See other books I've read or listened to here.

When I went on my first audio book buying binge, I was certain to get a novel by mystery great, Agatha Christie. The Mysterious Affair at Style is the first novel in the famous Poirot series and was read by James Langton.

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Poirot is another classic and famous detective that I have watched for many years, but I’ve never actually read any of his novels.

Hastings, freshly back to from the war is resting and recouperating but edging to boredom until he runs into his old friend John Cavendish who invites him to stay at Styles Manor for a while. Relaxation soon turns to tragedy when John’s step mother is poisoned and the household is sent in to disarray. Although Hastings earns to be a detective, this case might prove to be too much for an ameture. Hasting speculates that if only the odd, meticulous, but brilliant Inspector Poirot were available the case would be solved in no time. And whom should he meet unexpectedly in the village… Why Poirot himself!

This is another first mystery novel that betrays the newness of the author. Long and meadandering, with a lot of contasting clues and misdirections, The Affair at Styles can drag a little. Although not the most dynamic novel, it still has all the great elements that Agatha Christie is known for. Not the least of which is Poirot himself. Fastidious, exacting, Belgian, Poirot demands as much from his suspects and friends as he does for himself. This mystery kept me guessing until the end, and I would recommend it to those who enjoy murder mysteries, famous detectives, or novels about British aristocracy.

Do you have a favorite first novel? First work, first in a series?

Saga: Book 1 - 4

One of my goals in 2016 is to read more. See other books I've read here
I added a new addition to this goal in June, which is to read at least one comic book trade paper back per month. 

Saga by Brian K Vaughn and Fiona Staples is probably my favorite comic to come out in recent years.  

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Landfall and Wreath have been at war for what seems like forever. But they and the worlds they've out sourced the fighting to have forgotten what the war's about. Some fight blindly, but some are starting to see that war might not be the answer. When a feisty Landfall guard falls in love with a pacifist Wreath defector, all hell breaks loose.  

I had read the first two or three books of Saga back when they first came out. I've been wanting to pick the story up ever since. When I decided I wanted to be reading more comics this year, these were the first books I went for. I read more than my months worth and I'm glad I did. This isn't a beginner's comic, as it jumps in time and is narrated by a character that is only a baby. But the love story in the midst of struggle and strife is compelling, and the characters are really interesting, both good guys and bad guys. Sometimes you're not sure who you're rooting for. Plus there's a giant talking cat. Can't go wrong there. 
If you're a comic book fan, particularly a indie or super hero parody fan, you should be reading Saga. I would also recommend these books to people who like sci-fi love stories, wartime stories, and space adventures. If you're new to comics, it might take a little effort to get the hang of this book, but stick with it, the simple, colorful artwork, and heartfelt story are worth it!  

Asbury Park Reborn

One of my goals in 2016 is to read more. See other books I've read here.

My mother gifted me Asbury Park Reborn: Lost to Time and Restored to Glory by Joseph G Bilby and Harry Zielger bc she knows I have a deep nerdy love of the history of my surroundings. 

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Asbury Park, NJ, has a rich and varied history that i s clear to anyone who walks through the city. By looking at the architecture, one wonders how the city developed over time and wonders at the stories and significance of many buildings. Asbury Park Reborn... has the answers. 

One of the reasons we moved to Asbury Park was it's distinct, infamous, and controversial history and the mark the city has made on the world. So, it was a great pleasure to read more on this history, and especially of buildings we pass every day. Concisely written with a small chapter on each building, some demolished, most still standing, Asbury Park Reborn... is packed with information. The histories are more than just of the buildings, but also of the city as a whole and how each piece fits together. This book also illuminates how Asbury Park looks today and sheds some light on the future of the city. 

Asbury Park Reborn... is a fascinating, brief and enjoyable read! the authors were thorough and clearly love the city they were researching which makes this book even better in my opinion. I highly recommend this book to anyone who's interested in US history, shore towns, small towns, gay rights, racial rights in America, or New Jersey. 

Bangkok 8

One of my goals in 2016 is to read more. See other books I've read here.

Another book from my unread book pile, I think I originally picked Bangkok 8 by John Burddett up off a stoop or at a cheap book sale but it may also have been given to me by a fellow mystery lover purging his collection.

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I did not pay $2 for this book, that I do remember. I'm pretty sure it was totally free. 

Thai Police Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep is trying to stay on the path to enlightenment with the Buddha, but it doesn't come as naturally to him as it does to his partner and best friend.  When Sonchai's partner is killed as a result of a mysterious and snake filled murder, he must solve the case and put aside his spiritual ascension to seek revenge. Although a gifted detective, the case proves difficult not the least bc of a sexy and forward FBI agent also on the trail. Sonchai's learning a lot about about Western vs Thai culture, life in general and himself. Will he be able to avenge his brother when the time comes? 

I really enjoyed this book, it has an interesting pacing and inner monolog of it's main character, both of which switched back and forth from a seemingly Western pace and mentality, to a more Eastern slow and spiritual approach.. The details of life in Thailand make it clear that the Author spent a lot of time there but I still felt that the reader was getting the information translated through a Western white male perspective. I felt that took away from the book a bit bc I felt dubious about some of the feelings and reactions in the book. This might have just been my take on it, tho. I really enjoyed the fact that I wasn't sure what the resolution would be, right up to the last chapter. I would recommend this book to those who like foreign thrillers, books set in exotic locals, and people who enjoy reading about Buddhist mentality.  

Have you read this novel? Can you suggest other books set in Thailand?

Neither Here Nor There

One of my goals in 2016 is to read more. See other books I've read here.

Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson was a book that I had in my "not yet read" pile of books. 

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My "not yet read" pile of books is actually about 20 wine boxes of not yet read books now housed in our basement. It's my goal to get thru at least some of them this year. Last year, I read A Walk in the Woods and really enjoyed it, so now when I see a Bill Bryson book, on a stoop, or thrift shop, I usually pick it up and add it to the pile. I can't recall where I picked this copy up, but I was pleased to note it too had traveled to Europe:

Neither Here Nor There sees Bryson retracing the steps of travels he took nearly 20 years before in Europe. Now a seasoned traveler, he wanders with relative ease and confidence, but the trip reminds him of a time when he was new to traveling and new to Europe. He remineces about his past trip, his memorable travel partner (the infamous Kats), and how times have changed as he explores a "new" Europe.   

Bill Bryson makes you want to be a better writer. His style is so easy, effortless and approachable, you start to think "Well, if he can do it, so can I!". For this I think I will enjoy all his books. In this book, he makes apt and interesting observations as he wanders rather aimlessly thru various countries. Even though this book was written some 30 years ago, and many things have changed, the pleasures, annoyances, victories and defeats of travel never do, and Bryson makes you feel as if you are right there with him. 
I would recommend this book to everyone who enjoys travelogs, people who have traveled in Europe and those who wish to. 

Have you read this book? Have you traveled in Europe?

Out Stealing Horses

One of my goals in 2016 is to read more. See other books I've read here

Out Stealing Horses is the second book I've read from Per Petterson. I found this copy quite luckily in a little used book shop in Brooklyn. 

When I read Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes last year, I really enjoyed the pacing and textured nature of Petterson's writing. It's hard to tell if that's all his style, or aided by the translation to English. 

Trond is an old man. Three years after his wife's death, he's moved out to a remote island to live out the rest of his days in a purposeful, slow and quiet way.  But living on the river reminds him of his childhood, his father's abandonment, and events of a certain Summer that changed his life forever. When storms strike, family visits, and the past resurfaces, Trond starts to realize he might need to rethink the quiet life. 

I loved the atmosphere and emotional tone that Petterson sets with Out Stealing Horses. It's a little bit lonely, a little bit bleak, but reminiscent, nostalgic  and calm. The flashbacks to a Summer when the old man was a boy, in addition to the trials of his current cold winter, add a sort of double coming of age tale. I recommend this book to anyone one who likes coming of age stories, Scadinavian lifestyles, or tales of man and man's best friend. 

 

Ready Player One

One of my goals in 2016 is to read more. This kinda counts. See other books I've read here.   

I technically didn't read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, I listened to Wil Wheaton read it. My dad read this book a few years ago and really liked it, so he got me the book-on-tape.

I have a complex relationship with Wil Wheaton. I hated the actor back when he played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation but since have pretty much fallen in love with his later work. His you tube show, Table Top, and his guest appearances on The Guild, are recent favorites. Now Wheaton has a specific way of talking and reading so one really has to want to hear him if they listen to this book. a few years ago, I listened to every podcasts he did from 2005 to 2013 over a couple of months, and even I had trouble listening to this book for super long periods of time. But that reminds me, I need to catch up on Radio Free Burrito.   

Wade Watts lives in a dystopian future in a trailer park, so cramped that the vehicles are stacked on top of each other and under the thumb of his abusive aunt. His life sucks and his only respite is the MMO "game", The OASIS, that the world relies on for escape. In The OASIS, Wade can have a virtual life where he learns, makes friends, goes to school, and avoids the harsh reality of an impoverished, oil barren, dangerous "real world".  When the creator of The OASIS dies, he tells the world that he has hidden history's greatest easter egg in the game, and whoever finds it first will not only inherit his staggering wealth, but control of The OASIS, as well. From that moment on, Wade dedicates his life to finding The Egg. His search sends him in new, sometimes terrifying directions... And he isn't the only person looking for The Egg. 

In Ready Player One, the creator of The OASIS grew up in the 1980s, so just about every clue to find The Egg has to do with that time period. Everything 80s pop culture is the constant theme of the book. And everything geeky: video games, tv, movies, etc...

I had some troubles with this book. The writing style is stilted. Every action is painfully over described, making the book drag on and feel endless. I also felt that the constant over-detailed nostalgia bogged down the story in many areas, acted as needless filler, and/or talked down to anyone who had lived thru that era or knew well the source materials. The constant injection of 80s trivia seemed strangely calculated, as if it was included only for the film adaptation. And the movie has already been green-lighted. My last gripe was that the story was immensely straight forward with no unforeseen twists. Although the universe constructed is an interesting one, the tale proceeds exactly as one imagines. 

All that being said, I enjoyed this book OK. There's a sequel but I don't think I'd bother reading it. I will see the movie, which will be directed by Steven Spielberg. (My choice would have been McG or Edger Wright). Even though I didn't love this book, I would recommend this book to nerds and geeks, young adults and people who like video games. 

Right after I was given the audio tape of Ready Player One, I was lucky enough to find a paperback copy on a stoop (my favorite way to acquire books). I kept it bc I wasn't sure if I'd rather listen to the book, or read it. Now that I have listened to the book, I don't think I need the paper copy. So, I've decided to give it away on my instagram! Head there for all the details!

 

Deeply Nourished

One of my goals for 2016 is to read more. It was a goal in 2015, as well. 

The last book I read in 2015 was a little different than the others I've recorded. It's a cookbook! I came across it an event at The New School of Monmouth County. Deeply Nourished is by Rebeckah Allocco and Judith Alfano

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Deeply Nourished is a cookbook with 21 simple and healthy recipes many of which are vegetarian or vegan. It also contains short essays from each author on how food and health relate to their religious and spiritual beliefs. The subtitle of this cookbook is "Stories of Food, Faith, and Life at the Table". These essays discuss subjects ranging from the connection between food and faith, sustainability and localness, seasonal eating and beliefs, favorite meals or techniques, and more. Each essay somehow relates to the authors spiritual journey and connection to cooking and food. Each essay has a quote at the beginning from the bible, the Buddha, religions, cooks, or philosophers. The recipes that follow are either directly connected to the writings, or are connected more loosely though season, memory, or emotion.  

Now, I'm not religious at all and although I am interested in all religion, I wouldn't necessarily pick up a non-reference book that had religious overtones. I do hold a belief system rooted in community, family, sustainability, simplicity, nourishment, pleasure and kindness. Since the profits went to The New School of Monmouth County and the recipes and essays looks interesting, I was intrigued to read this book even though it was not in my usual wheelhouse.
I thoroughly enjoyed Deeply Nourished
The essays were not overwhelmingly religious, but more spiritual in nature. The themes discussed could fall under many religions or belief systems including my own, having to do with family, community, nourishment of the body and soul, as well as Faith. What I enjoyed most were the glimpses of the daily life that the authors provided. It was interesting to read the connections to food these women have and how they felt that connection to be deeply spiritual.  
I really liked that authors chose recipes that are dear to their hearts, simple to execute, and largely vegetarian. Having a mostly land-meat-free diet (I eat fish and so would not call myself a vegetarian), I have found it surprisingly difficult to find recipes that I am inspired by. There are many recipes in this book that I'm eager to try! The one recipe that I have tried, Oven Roasted Salmon with Tomatoes and Capers, I've already made multiple times. Since these meals are seasonal some will have to wait until the ingredients are available. While others, like a kale and Brussels sprouts salad, I can't wait to test out. 

I would recommend this book to people looking for some new meals to try, especially if they eat vegetarian, or for those who enjoy reading about the spiritual journey. Anyone who regularly reads cook books will enjoy this one, i'm sure!     

The New School of Monmouth County is an alternative-education school that I attended for about 5 years growing up. It's also where one of the authors, Rebeckah Allocco went to school and now teaches. Judith Alfano is a writer and food educator. Visit their website, nourishingpaths.com and buy the book on Amazon or itunes

Women in the Dark

One of my goals for 2015 is to read more.  Check out the other books I've read this year hereherehere, & here

The fifth book I've read so far is Woman in the Dark by Dashielll Hammett. I borrowed this one from the BPL, one more for the road, as they say!

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I'm a fan of mysteries and noir stories, and Hammett is one of the greatest of the genres. 

Luise Fischer is on the run in the cold dark night. When she stumbles in to the home of a taciturn and handsome stranger, her luck might be changing. 

This is a quick and to the point, classic feeling, noir novella. Perfect in its sparsity.  This is a great introduction to this genre if you've never read it. Woman in the Dark is also a perfect read for current fans or fans of short books. 

Do any readers enjoy noir novels? Do you prefer short quick paced books, or long involved stories?

 

Ash in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes

One of my goals for 2015 is to read more.  Check out the other books I've read this year herehere, and here

The fourth book I've read this year is Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes by Per Petterson. I borrowed this book from the Brooklyn Public Library.  

I found this Ashes in My Mouth... using my favorite book finding method in the library (or book stores)  which is just wondering around the stacks until I see something that looks interesting. The little format and color scheme of this book cover got my attention. Per Petterson is a Norwegian novelist and this short book of ten stories that all string together was his first work. 

Arvid Jansen is a boy who moved out of the city and he's not sure he likes it. He is disillusioned with his father's new job, his own nightmares, and the idea of growing old. Although only seven, he feels he knows as much as adults and should be treated as such. But death and sex are still a mystery to him. 

This book reads like someone remembering what they think childhood was like. Arvid's thoughts are too complex for a seven year old, but exactly how we remember being seven was. Although these stories read as if a memoir, Petterson uses this character in several of his later novels, so it is unclear how autobiographical it is. I liked this book, it was moody and disjointed in an appealing way. I would be interested in trying some of Petterson's longer novels. I would recommend this book to people who like coming of age stories, have daddy issues, or like short books.  

Have you read anything by Per Petterson?

 

Famous Potatoes

One of my goals for 2015 is to read more.  Check out the first book I read this year here and the second here

The third book I've read this year is Famous Potatoes by Joe Cottonwood. I picked this book up off a stoop, a lovely and common occurrence in Brooklyn.  

 I had Famous Potatoes for a while before I actually started reading it. As well as trying to read more this year, I'm also trying to read books that I already have in the house. Since I get books from stoops and book sales pretty often, I now have a large collection at home to choose from! Everyone loves a good book stash. When I saw this book on a stoop in South Slope, I was immediately drawn to it's clearly 1970s jacket design. And when I saw it had an author's recommendation from Tom Robbins, I was hooked. 

Follow Willy Carusoe's (nee Middlebrook) misadventures around our sometimes glorious, sometimes sad and dangerous, sometimes downright sexy, wide open country as he mingles with the locals, gets in with gangs and gamblers, and tries to do right by the love of his life. Famous Potatoes is a love story at heart, but you're not sure if the love interest is Willy's wife, women in general, or America it's self.

This novel has a great seventies vibe, and a meandering style, part prose, part stream of consciousness. I really enjoyed being transported back in time, but also seeing the themes and issues that are still common today. Willy is s bumbling but endearing character and you find yourself wishing him the best (but not sure that's what he'll end up getting). 
I'd recommend this book to fans of 70s authors, beat culture, road trip or hitch-hiking stories, and good sexy fun. 

Have you read this book? Or can you recommend other 1970s novels? Found anything good on a stoop or at a Little Free Library? Leave a comment below!

 

Saturn's Return to New York

One of my goals for 2015 is to read more.  Check out the first book I read this year here

The second book I've read this year is Sara Gran's Saturn's Return to New York. I picked this one up bc I read two of her books last year and wanted to try her first novel. 

I liked the other novels that I have read by Gran, both of which were mysteries from her Claire Dewitt series. And I enjoyed her first novel as well. Saturn's Return to New York was not a mystery, but a slice-of-life about a thirty something New Yorker dealing with her bubbling emotions concerning her family and friends as she navigates the drug addled and angst drenched city. Gran's writing is comfortable and quick for all her dark topics. She whisks you along like a well informed but apathetic tour guide in your favorite city. And you want to see where the tour will lead you. 

Mary's an underachieving book lover writing reviews for an online seller and living comfortably, ambiguously but a little annoyedly under her mother's cold literary shadow. But when her mother falls ill, Mary must face her true feelings about their relationship, as well as the one with her long dead father. Soon all Mary's relationships come under scrutiny and it seems the planets are malaligned over her New York. 

I'd recommend Saturn's Return to New York to anyone who likes books about New York City, especially mildly gritty, angry ones. Or who like female authors who write about sex and drugs and rock & roll. Gran's writing reminds me of a more cynical, less mystical, old person version of the Weetzie Bat series by Francesca Lia Block. Even dealing with serious themes of loss and death, this is a pretty light an easy read. It would make a great plane book, I'm sure! You could bring it to the beach, but all the New York talk will make you feel like you should be dressed in chic head to toe black.

Have you read this book? Leave a comment!

2015 Goal - Reading

In January, I wrote down some goals I have for the year. I only marked down my general goals. I didn't want to get overwhelmed! I think it would be good to expand on each of the main topics. There are very specific things I want to accomplish within each goal section. 
I'll be breaking down what I want to get done for each goal over the year and posting updates. See the first goal I tackled here.

The second goal I want to address is Reading. 

Here's what I originally wrote:
Read More - I can only remember reading three books last year. Pitiful. 

The three books I remember finishing are Sara Gran's Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead and Claire Dewitt and the Bohemian Highway, and Mark Mills' House of the Hunted.  It's possible I read one or maaaaybe two more, but these are the only ones I remember reading. 

I love to read, I should be reading more. Reading should be a priority. So that's my goal this year. 

And I'm off to a good start. Or a start at least! Because I finished my first book in 2015:
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

I started this book way back in September 2014. My mom was reading when we went on vacation to Cape May. She was almost done, but she forgot her copy at home. She decided to buy another bc she was eager to finish. I encouraged her to, so that I could have it when she was done. Two of my good friends had been recommending Bryson's books to me for a while so I was happy for the opportunity. As my mom was finishing it, reading at night or before a leisurely vacation nap, I would here her laughing to her self and I became even more interested. It's true that this book is funny, but it's also very informational, and somber in parts, too. 

A Walk in the Woods tells the real life tale of Bryson's attempts to hike the Appalachian Trail from beginning to end. Through the series of his misadventures, he skillfully weaves the interesting and sometimes bizarre history of one of America's longest and oldest trails, with the relevance it still holds today. He imparts facts and knowledge about the trail and about hiking in America as seen through his own, at times pessimistic, world view and humor.  

More and more as I grow older, I love books with facts. I love histories, especially about the American East Coast where I'm from. A Walk in the Woods was exactly the kind of book I've come to love. It's engaging and interesting, chock full of facts about the Appalachian Trail, it's history and geography, but moves along in an easy narrative. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in American history, nature and hiking, or buddy stories. 

Have you read this book? Leave a comment!