November Reads in the 50-books-in-52-weeks challenge

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I love this sign that I saw on a library entrance on the weekend-

At the end of November I had read 56 books in the 50 book challenge.

A Bewitching Smile – Christopher G. Moore.  This is the 2nd book in the Land of Smiles Trilogy and I think it is the best of the three.   I think you need to read the first in the trilogy  (A Killing Smile) first to explain the Thailand scene but this could almost be read as a stand-alone book.   Some of the characters from the first book embark on a journey to Northern Thailand to rescue a friend and a sub plot emerges as they travel.   There is much examining of beliefs and values, myths and magic in this book.     I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it for one of these long cold winter weekends.

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A Haunting Smile by Christopher G. Moore   – the 3rd book in the Land of Smiles Trilogy.    Set amongst the 1992 political upheaval in Thailand*, this book switches back and forth between short stories of the characters,  a documentary film,  radio reports of the violence on the streets and ghosts and  dreams.  It is an insiders’ look at what was happening during those violent few days.  I found it interesting but it was very hard to finish as I did not like the ghost and dream sequences at all.

*   17-2o May 1992 is commonly called “Black May” when a protest in Bangkok against the government  turned bloody.  There were 52 officially confirmed deaths and many, many disappearances.   More than 3,500 arrests were made and many of those were tortured.

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The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson   This book was originally published in 1952.    It is a dark and edgy book written from the perspective of Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford as he struggles against the “illness” inside him – his need to kill.    I really enjoyed this book though perhaps “enjoyed” is not the right word to associate with a book on serial killings!   There are no gratuitous, bloody descriptions  – all of those are in the reader’s own mind,  but it is  gory in its warped psychopathic evil.

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The Forest of Hands & Teeth by Carrie Ryan.   This is a “young adult”  book which was recommended by a couple of my old Vox neighbours.   It was a fast read and perfect for my metro rides.

Mary lives in a fenced-in village run by the Sisterhood. She dreams of what might lie beyond the fence – a world that her mother has told her about; a world full of oceans.   Outside the fence is the Forest of Hands and Teeth and where the Unconsecrated zombie-like people live.  The unrelentingly persistent Unconsecrated press against the fence daily until the day they get in…….    and then a little band of survivors head off in search of Mary’s ocean.    This book sucked me in from the first page and had me writing to Jane/Cat at the end to ask  “what do you think happened to…”

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Dixie City Jam by James Lee Burke.  This is the 7th book in the Robicheaux series.  This one was published in 1995  and the 17th book was published in 2010 so I have a way to go yet in this series!     This book has drug dealers, the mob and Nazism. Oh, and Dave Robicheaux!   A good fast paced book.

50-Books-in-52-weeks challenge – October reads

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I miss the Amazon link thing that Vox had for posting book covers!

By the end of October I’d finished 51 books this year  – this despite not finishing one single book in the month of September!!  You’d think with all that time in airports and planes I would have, but nope, not one.  I did start one though and it was the first one I finished in October:

***   A Killing Smile:  Christopher G. Moore
First book in the Land of Smiles Trilogy

This book is VERY heavy on detail. Published in 1991 Moore gives his characters many, many textures, layers and secrets. The story is set in Patpong, in the underworld of Bangkok and most of the action occurs in a nightclub where businessmen, gangsters, corrupt police and politicians, pimps and tourists interact with each other and the women who sell themselves.

Lawrence Baring is an LA Attorney who finds papers after his wife’s death suggesting that she never stopped loving another man, Tuttle.  Baring is invited to Bangkok by Tuttle, who intends setting him up to lose something valuable just as he, Tuttle, had lost the girl to Baring many years ago. Set amongst the turmoil of this strange Thai society the story is about the conflict between these two characters and the change in their perceptions of each other.

The novel has a lot of descriptive atmosphere, the characters are introspective and philosophical (the book seemed longer than 270 pages!).  There are many twists and turns and quite frankly when I got to the end I wasn’t really sure what the ending was.

This was not really a metro train book as it required more concentration than I like to give while commuting.  I have since finished the second book in the trilogy (November) and found it much easier going but you need the background of this book first.

*** Private:  James Patterson & Maxine Paetro.            A good commuting book – short chapters; short attention span required. Patterson/Paetro (I wonder how much Patterson actually writes himself)  introduces a new character, Jack Morgan.

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***  Still Missing:   Debut novel by Chevy Stevens.  This is written as a series of psychiatric sessions of a woman who is kidnapped, held captive and forced into routines we’d rather not think about.  It took me a while to get into and then it drifted occasionally but it made a good commuting book.  Interesting plot twist near the end.

*** Bitterroot:  A Novel –   James Lee Burke.                   Billy Bob Holland is an ex Texas Ranger who accidentally killed his best friend in Mexico.  Now Billy Bob, full of guilt, sees L.Q. Navarro’s ghost and has conversations with him which affects his ability to form relationships with the living.   Billy Bob visits old friend Doc Voss in Bitterroot, Montana and gets caught up in Doc’s war with local militia bikers and a mining company.  Billy Bob Holland is the type of character who believes in justice but not necessarily within the law.   This book was 480 pages long but it was a quick read.

**** Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson.   Keilson is a German Jew who survived WWII hiding in Holland.   This book is one of two novels Keilson began writing during the war – the other is Death of the Adversary which is on my to-read pile.  After the war Keilson became a psychiatrist and published the first systemic study of the trauma children experienced under Nazi persecution.

This book is about a Dutch couple agreeing to hide a Jewish man who dies whilst they are sheltering him. It is only from the couple’s point of view; we never find out anything about the man, what he is thinking or feeling.  There is really nothing humorous about the story but there is plenty of irony and black absurdest comedy.  It is a short book (144 pages), it’s lean, engaging and well worth reading.

50 book challenge – August Reads

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In all the kerfuffle with vox closing I forgot to post my August contribution to 50 books in 52 weeks challenge;

Rage
Sergio Bizzio

Rage was a really strange book about a man who hides out in the house where his girlfriend works and lives without her knowledge.   He spies on her and the family she works for and he gradually deteriorates physically and mentally.

The Risk of Infidelity Index is the second Vincent Calvino one I’ve read.  Calvino is a private investigator in Thailand.  I enjoyed this enough to explore more Christopher Moore books.

I really enjoyed The Lovers.  It is the second Charlie Parker I’ve read –  I read the first one in the series and then skipped a few.

Then I got back to the Dave Robicheaux series by James Lee Burke.  I started at the beginning of the series a couple of months ago and this month I got through the following.  I am reading them in sequence:

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July input towards the 50 in 52 weeks book challenge

1. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest  by Stieg Larsson –

very good – wrapped up any previously unanswered questions one might have had during the first two books.  I think each book was better than the last in this trilogy. (we recenctly watched The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on netflix – if you are going to watch it,  read the book first.  You won't know you have gaps but you do as there are things in the book not in the movie which I think are fairly integral.

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2.   Blood Spilt

  -  2nd book by Asa Larrson which starts where the 1st one (Sun Storm) left off with character Rebecka Martinsson.  Rebecka finds herself caught up in another murder mystery involving religion.  There is a sort of sub-story involving a wolf which I didn't feel added anything to the story.  This was a good fast metro train read.   

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3.  The Secret Speech by Tom Robb Smith.  

This is the second book in a trilogy featuring Leo Demidov an MGB Officer in the first book, Child 44, but now a homicide detective.  This book is about paranoia and the instability of Soviet Union in 1956…. The "secret speech" referred to is the speech made by Khrushchev in February 1956 in which he attacked the crimes committed by Stalin and associates. There's a lot going on in this book.  It was a fast paced book  but more concentration was required than my usual metro books -  a lot of names and locations to remember and a lot of distractions on the train!    I'd read that Smith hadn't intended to write a trilogy – he was somewhat surprised that the first book was so successful.   I'm looking forward to the third one being published.

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4.  The Black Path -  3rd book by Asa Larrson 

– continuing on with the development of Rebecka Martinson who has now become a part-time prosecutor as she continues to recover from injury & trauma she suffered in the first & second books.  This was really hard to put down!   

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5.  Jack Wakes Up – a novel  by Seth Harwood  

  I'm not sure how this book got onto my to-read list. Going by the reviews on Amazon (of a total 84 – 68 gave it 5 stars and 6 gave it 4 stars), I think I got a different book to those reviewers.  It started off ok but then the writing got pretty dreadful and I felt no connection to any of the characters. I got bored; I cheated; I went to the last chapter to see if anyone survived.   I'm not interested at all in seeing what Jack does next.

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6.  Fresh Kills  by Bill Loehfelm.   Fresh Kills refers to the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island.  I'm not sure whether I liked this book or not but I certainly got emotionally involved in it (think many tissues) and it gave me a lot to think about.  The theme of the book is domestic violence and the reach it still has on the main characters even after the execution-style murder of their father.  

 

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A few missing things….

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The – 6-Y-H-N line of letters is not working on my laptop.  Neither soft touch nor tough love will get them to "print" on the screen.  I'm at the mercy of the manservant's generosity to share his computer until I get this problem fixed.  So, excuse me if my time limit runs out before I complete the rounds of my neighbourhood!

The left lens of my reading glasses fell out the other day when I was washing them.  I have it sort of  back in but the frame has cracked and stretched and the lens wobbles around inside it depending on the angle of my head!   This can make writing appear to wobble too!  I hope I don't lose it totally before I have a chance to get to Target or CVS to buy a new pair.  

I missed posting my June reads at the end of the month. At the end of June I'd read 32 books towards the 50 book challenge (read 50 books in 52 weeks).  I think I'm on target to meet the challenge unless I suffer some type of injury which prevents me from reading!  (damaged limbs have not succeeded).

These are the books I read in June:

The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver  - 

I got really emotionally involved in this book.  It is fictional but at times I really wondered.   It is set first in Mexico and then in Asheville, North Carolina in the period 1929 to 1951.  It is a story told through a series of journals and it touches on the political upheavals of those years from Trotskyism, Stalinism to McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. It also delves into mass hysteria and the media's intrusion into personal lives.  It also has some fabulous paragraphs describing food!!  

 

Every Man Dies Alone -  Hans Fallada  -  

A big heavy book that I did not attempt to cart to work.  Considering the length of the book (543 pages)  I was surprised at how quickly I finished it. It was really gripping as I developed a real need to know the outcomes of the central characters.  It is also worth reading the history behind the book and the author.  The book was published in 1947 (Germany) but not translated until 2009.   It is the story of a working class Berlin couple who took on the Third Reich with a postcard rebellion in 1941.   The book was written in 24 days by Rudolf Ditzen who'd spent a lot of his life in prison and asylums.   Ditzen wrote more than 20 books under the pen name Hans Fallada which he took from Grimm's Fairy Tales – Fallada from "The Goose Girl"  and Hans from "Hans in Luck".

 

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Rough Country – John Sandford  – a great metro read.  A couple of times I almost missed my stop!!  

The 3rd book in the Virgil Flowers series  – murder, jealousy, blackmail, greed and good old fashioned anger.

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A couple of months ago I mentioned reading my first James Lee Burke book 

and a few people recommended I try his series featuring New Orleans homicide detective Dave Robichaux.  The first book in that series is Neon Rain published in 1987.    I immediately liked the character and whizzed through this book which involved Robichaux taking on the mob, the Feds and other cops.

I followed up that book with the second one in the series  – Heaven's Prisoners   – a much more intense book involving a story of Robichaux's personal revenge.  Published in 1988 -  I thought the writing was better than the first.  I'm looking forward to finding the 3rd – 18th books so far in this series 

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Broken by Karin Slaughter -  another fast paced metro book. Featuring previous characters Sara Linton and Lena Adams.  Murder, assumptions and crooked cops.  

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May Reads…..

More contributions to my 50 Book Challenge (read 50 books in 52 weeks)……   these are my May reads:

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The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu:  The story of an exiled Ethiopian in DC along with a couple of his friends, Congo Joe and Ken the Kenyan, and a white woman, all unfulfilled in their search for peace and acceptance.  I bought this primarily because it is set in a neighbourhood of DC very close to where I live.  I found it to be a very thought provoking book and highly recommend it -  I think the premise can be summed up in a passage from the book itself:  

"What was it my father used to say? A bird stuck between two branches gets bitten on both wings.  I would like to add my own saying to the list now,  Father; a man stuck between two worlds lives and dies alone.

"We walk away and try not to turn back, or we stand just outside the gates, terrified to find what's waiting for us now that we've returned.  In between, we stumble blindly from one place and life to the next. We try to do the best we can.  There are moments like this, however, when we are neither coming nor going, and all we have to do is sit and look back on the life we have made."   

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     The Sun Storm – Asa Larsson.  My continued venture into Swedish authors took me this month to the first book by Asa Larsson. 

Sun Storm
Asa Larsson

A murder mystery with a good plot;  strong personalities and a bit of a statement on religion in society.  This was one of those books easy to read when in the middle of a lot of distractions (eg: commuting on a train).  I have another of hers to read this month. 

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The Fault Line – Barry Eisler
  introduces his new character, Ben Treven – a black ops soldier who comes to the aid of a

Fault Line: A Novel
Barry Eisler

brother he has not spoken to in years.  The story involves murder and conspiracy but I never really warmed up to any of the characters -  their development was very shallow. I loved Eisler's assassin John Rain so maybe I was bound to be disappointed by this one.  Not nearly as good as any of the five Rain books.

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Caught Stealing – Charlie Huston. I didn't like this book very much.  It started off well but then it became what I

Caught Stealing: A Novel
Charlie Huston

would describe as a "man's" book – liberally sprinkled with violence, baseball and some car action.  There is a very disturbing chapter involving torture of a cat which was the final turn-off for me.  I did finish the book just to see what happened to the main character who was really just some poor guy in the wrong place at the wrong time trying to do the right thing – but I couldn't get the image of the poor cat out of my mind.   

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Expiration Date – Duane Swierczynski….  "In this neighborhood, make a wrong turn – and you're history" .  This story was sort of loony but I it was really, really hard to put it down.  This is a pulp book -  a combination of dark fantasy,

Expiration Date
Duane Swierczynski

mystery and humor. The main character is believable but he takes some pills and wakes up in the past…. and then goes back and forth interacting with  dark characters as he attempts to solve a mystery.  I thought the ending was a bit wishy washy but I loved the trip getting there and intend to look for more of his books.  

Swierczynski also writes for Marvel Comics and there are great comic illustrations throughout the book.  He also has  his own blog called Secret Dead Blog which is fun to look at.   

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April Books

Wow – what a slack reading month I had.  Only 3 books.  But it was 1,376 pages …..   that's about 45 pages a day – some days I didn't read at all.   

Still,  I'm going to have to up the ante if I'm going to achieve the 50 book challenge.  (the reading of 50 books in 52 weeks)  

The first two books were by Lisa Jackson – these were easy reading – though both of them were way longer than they should've been.  

                                                                                                           Deep Freeze (480 pages): 

  One by one, women are kidnapped by a serial killer who attempts to mould them into the likeness of his favourite actress – think mannequins – and his ultimate victim is going to be the actress.  There is a side line romance which lacked sizzle and didn't really add anything to the story. 

Fatal Burn (512 pages): features 2 of the secondary characters from Deep Freeze.  A teenage girl is kidnapped and her father goes in search of her and comes across some old unsolved murders which are linked to the kidnapping.   Lots of dread and drama of the melodramatic type and repetitive descriptions.  There were also superfluous characters thrown in -  perhaps they are going to appear in later books (though I don't think I will read any more of her books).

The third book was The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (384 pages):   I got this book in Australia and it has this cover which is different to the cover here in the US: 

  This is a brilliant book but it is one of those books, where from the very beginning, you think that nothing good is going to happen for the characters.   It is set in the 1980's in India where the Himalayan states Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal and Tibet meet.  The historical backdrop is the Nepalese movement for an independent state.

It is full of guilt, regret and humility amongst the chaos of the time. The main characters have been stunted by their encounters with the West and the book is full of despair as the characters struggle with their cultural identity. 

The book is full of great narratives and powerful prose and is tempered by humour.  It's one of those books you find yourself thinking about afterwards – wondering about the characters and how they might have had different lives if one small thing had been different.    One of the paragraphs that gave me thought:     

This was how history moved, the slow build, the quick burn, and in an incoherence, the leaping both backward and forward, swallowing the young into old hate.  The space between life and death, in the end, too small to measure.

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March books….

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You would think that with a broken arm, and a limit on activities, I would have read more books this month – but the first week was spent in a drug induced slumber-state and the next 3 were spent riding to & from work in cars.  It made me realize how much of my reading is done on the trains.

So in March my contribution towards the 50-books-in-52-weeks challenge was 5.  
 
Blood Ties  -   this book had a reasonable plot;  runaway teenage mother, prostitution, kidnapped baby, a clairvoyant and one pretty wimpy main male character – but it was not very well written (no challenging words) and I started to just want to know the ending without reading.  It does however, have one of the best and most intense descriptions of giving birth I’ve ever read.

Blood Ties
Sam Hayes


 
The Glass Devil  – Helene Tursten’s third Detective Inspector Irene Huss story.  Not as gritty or gripping as the second one (The Torso) which I read last month but still an enjoyable crime novel .  

The Glass Devil
Helene Tursten


Child 44 -  set in Stalin’s Russia and supposedly "inspired" by the real-life serial killer Andrei Chikatilo,  a disgraced MGB agent investigates a series of horrendous child murders.  I really enjoyed the historical aspects of this era which were interwoven into the background of the story.  This is the first book in a trilogy and I’m looking forward to reading the second part (The Secret Speech). 

Child 44
Tom Rob Smith


Rain Gods – first book I've read by James Lee Burke.  This is the second story of small town sheriff Hackberry Holland.  Set in Texas it is a great read and I don't think it's necessary to have read the first book (though I think I will go back and read it now).  It is full of credible characters,  atmospheric prose (a la McCarthy),  brutality and some realistic morality.  I was enjoying this book so much I was sorry when it finished. 

Rain Gods: A Novel
James Lee Burke


Unkempt.  This is a collection of short stories where the title is very apt -  this is a wander through the disordered minds of her characters.  I struggled with a few of the stories as they were a little too rambling for me and I found myself skipping pages.

Unkempt: Stories
Courtney Eldridge

 

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Update & February Books

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Thank you all so very much for the well wishes!   They must be working as I am starting to feel much better.

Friday was my "accident"

Saturday I thought I would be going to work on Monday. I have no idea what that thought was based on.  Probably the drugs.

Sunday I decided to get out of the top and bra I'd been wearing since 6am Friday.  I had refused to let anyone cut them off!

Sometime during the process I had one of those pathetic meltdowns that involves tears.  Of course I was at an irreversible stage of the undressing process which involved a tangle.

Feeling very overwhelmed, nauseous and on the point of passing out, I was forced to lie down, topless, for 20 minutes while I recovered enough to attempt the redressing.

During the redressing I realized I was not going to be going to work on Monday…. 

So yesterday instead of going to work a friend came over and washed my hair.  

All weekend people came by to help me do things as simple as undoing lids and getting my chocolate out of a ridiculously high cupboard where I'd hidden it from myself.   I couldn't even have a cup of coffee until someone came and undid the super strong vacuum sealed lid!

When I was a teenager I learnt to touch-type at the Alison Bradley Saturday morning typing school.  A place where young ladies were forced to put sheets of paper over the keys of our old fashioned portable type writers and practise, practise, practise (the Australian verb)  until we could type perfectly without having to look at where letters were.  My left hand knows its portion of the keyboard perfectly but I am actually quite surprised to find how disabled and dyslexic  it is when it comes to the side normally associated with the right hand.  I have to really search and peck on that side!

And trying to operate the mouse with the left hand!  Who would think that would be so difficult.   

The pain is getting less every day, my right hand now moves around without causing any issues further up the arm and my left hand is getting stronger and more efficient.    The manservant was in Chile when the earthquake happened (a long way from where he is) and he was unable to get back early….  actually he is still not back.  His original return flight is this Thursday  -  it's uncertain if that will happen yet.    By the time he gets back I am going to be amazingly dexterous with one hand!

In the meantime I have to post my books read for February (in the 50-book challenge)…………………….

L.A. Rex
Will Beall

Death with Interruptions
Jose Saramago

 

The Torso
Helene Tursten

The Cold Spot
Tom Piccirilli

 

  L.A. Rex = very gritty – written by an LA cop.  Probably will not appeal to most of my vox neighbours as it's a little on the dark side but I really liked it.

Gone Tomorrow (Jack Reacher) – better than the one I read in January.  As noted then I think Jack is getting to the end of his run with me as a reader.  I don't have anymore on my "to-read" pile.  

The Idiot Girl ….  this book was so funny I actually did giggle out loud quite often.  A series of essays – many I could identify with.

Death with Interruptions  -  I really liked this great story with an interesting premise.  I did find the lack of punctuation and really long paragraphs a bit tiring at times though.

The Torso  – loved this great crime novel with Inspector Huss as the central character -  much better than the first book which I read in  January.   I'm looking forward to starting the 3rd book.  

The Cold Spot -  I thought this was the second book in the series but having now read it I think it's probably the first one.  In that case I liked the second book (which I read in January) much better.

Food Rules -  took about 20 minutes to read.  Not sure why I bought it…….. 

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January Reads…

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Along with the photo-a-day-for-365-days project this year, I am also doing the 50 book challenge (reading 50 books in 52 weeks).

I have never before counted the books I've read – and a lot of the time I don't remember which books I've read until I've started reading them again!   This year I have set up an excel spreadsheet recording the title and author of the book, the date I started each book, and the date I finish. 

I have finished 7 books this month and during the week I started Death Without Interruptions ( by Jose Saramago) which I am not going to finish before the end of the month (tomorrow).

I tend to have two books going at the same time. I keep a book in my commuter bag to read on my train rides home. (I sleep in the mornings).  I like books that allow me to listen in to any conversations around me that attract my attention without having to re-read large chunks.  

At bedtime I might read 5 pages of a different book before I'm dozing off and then I have to re-read sections the next night!   Sometimes I transpose characters between my books especially if they are similar genres – this can be amusing.

Here are January's books:   I thought "The Girl Who Played with Fire"  was better than "The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo"  which I had found a bit slow.    I really enjoyed The Coldest Mile and have the next one The Cold Spot to start on Monday.   The Nymphos of Rocky Flats I thought was even sillier than the name suggests and I will not get the 2nd book in the series (perhaps I am just tired of vampires – remember I did read 15 books in the  Anita Blake series last year!).  Jack Reacher (the character) is starting to get tired,  I think Karin Slaughter is getting better, Michael Connelly is consistent and  I really, really liked Tim Winton's Breath.   
  

The Coldest Mile
Tom Piccirilli

The Girl Who Played with Fire [DECKLE EDGE] (Hardcover)
Stieg Larsson (Author) Reg Keeland (Translator)

 

  

The Scarecrow
Michael Connelly

Undone (Grant County)
Karin Slaughter

Breath
Tim Winton

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