I might've read more Non-Fiction this year than Fiction, which is definitely a first. I've learned to appreciate more genres of literature this year. On to the list:
Twisted Tales from Shakespeare by Richard Armour: Recommended. Richard Armour succinctly and humorously retells Shakespeare’s life and some of his plays. If you aren’t familiar with Shakespeare, this probably isn’t the book you want to read to get to know him or his plays. There are a lot of puns, sarcasm, and other humorous elements.
Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart: Recommended. One of the reasons I love to read Mary Stewart is that she writes “on location” if you will. This particular tale takes place on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Her descriptions of the surroundings will make you feel like you can see the place, or wish you were there. At the same time she spins an intriguing tale of murder and mystery that makes you wonder Who is to blame?
The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart: Recommended. Mostly a love story, but also a story of treachery and mystery. Personally I enjoy Stewart’s murder mysteries better, but this is also a very interesting tale.
The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus: Neutral. I think this book is based off of experiences the two authors experienced as nannies in New York City, but I could be mistaken. It’s a pretty good story, but mostly it leaves you feeling sorry for everyone. It was fun to read at times, but other times just made me frustrated. Take it or leave it.
Atonement by Ian McEwan: Recommended. I enjoyed this book a lot, as it told an interesting but very sad love story and also a story about a foolish little girl. It also shows a vivid look at the retreating of troops in France during World War Two. Be aware, however, there is a brief sex scene and, as I said, a rather vivid description of the war. Also, the end was rather disappointing. Overall, I’d recommend it to mature readers.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad: Neutral. Conrad painted a descriptive and (I assume) accurate depiction of colonial Africa. However, at times it was difficult to understand the plot, especially at the end. It made a good discussion of humanity, but it was difficult to understand what exactly was happening at the end with that one guy (Kurtz?), at least for me, maybe because I was bored with Conrad’s style of prose. Anyway, it was interesting, but I wouldn’t read it again.
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse: Neutral. This story was definitely not what I was expecting to read. It was about a man named Siddhartha, but it was not Siddhartha Gautama, whom the modern world knows as the man who became enlightened and recognized as Buddha. This particular Siddhartha started off on a righteous path but veered off just as he was about to reach enlightenment and spent his time with a famous whore instead, and made lots of money, only to retire as a ferryman. It is, however, an interesting story of the phases of a man’s life, as well as an interesting look into the India of the day. I think I read somewhere that since Hesse was German, he didn’t approve of the Hindu ways and used this book as a way to show what he thought of it. But I could be totally wrong and probably am. (Note: my roommate says that this is one of her favorite books because it helped her put perspective on life during a time when she felt lost. Take that into consideration when you read my recommendation.)
Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya: Neutral. Another story set in India, this time an India in an industrializing time. I found it an interesting but depressing story of a woman and her struggle to keep her family together and alive through droughts and famines, as well as times of plenty. She deals with persecution at times and nearly always struggles, but love keeps her together and alive. The reason I don’t strongly recommend it is because it is rather a depressing story all around, rarely allowing time for happy moments. But if you like that sort of thing, be my guest.
This Side of Paradise by F Scott Fitzgerald: Neutral. The story of a boy who grows up to be a man. He almost always gets what he wants and is, in my opinion, rather spoiled, although I blame his mother for that. He deals with love and loss and somehow in the end starts to go crazy and then thinks about being a socialist. Why? That’s why I don’t recommend it. If you want to read something by Fitzgerald, read The Great Gatsby. Although I did remark a while ago in my blog that I thought it fun and interesting that the opinions of ghosts under your bed and how to deal with them were the same in the twenties as they are now.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: Recommended. This is the most humorous Science Fiction book I’ve ever read. There are so many random and hilarious parts to it! I remember the first time I read it I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. Read it.
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams: Recommended. The second installment in this random and funny series. Incidentally, my favorite part of this book isn’t funny at all—the description of prehistoric Earth, because it sounds so serene and beautiful and untouched.
Life, the Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams: Recommended. The sort of last book in the trilogy (there are actually two more books after it, but it’s still a trilogy for some reason). It has probably a more thrilling plot than the second book. My favorite part is probably when Marvin is stuck in the mattress swamp.
Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf: Neutral. I think probably this should not have been my first Virginia Woolf book. It all takes place on one summer afternoon while a community play is being put on. The writing is indeed clever, but a little difficult to understand, as I am told most of Woolf’s writing is. It was an interesting story, but a little too hard to follow.
Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart: Recommended. More supernatural than Stewart’s normal mysteries, but still interesting. Someone said it was weird because there was romantic interest between cousins, but remember that this is England and apparently that’s acceptable. Just don’t be weirded out too much and it’s a great book.
Charade by Peter Stone: Recommended. This is an excellent murder mystery, especially if you haven’t seen the movie starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. I saw the movie long before I read the book, and although it ruined the whodunit element, enough was different that I didn’t feel like I was reading a script from the movie. Especially if you like mysteries, read this book.
Beowulf Translated by Burton Raffel: Recommended. I happen to enjoy ancient myths and legends, so this was a fun book for me. It was also fun for me to compare elements of epic poetry in Norse and Latin/Greek style. If you’d like to read a bit of ancient history, pick this up and read it in a day or two (it’s short).
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury: Recommended. This is probably my favorite book written by Ray Bradbury, who is also one of my favorite authors. His prose cannot be matched. This particular Bradbury novel is a coming-of-age story of a young boy who deals with all sorts of realizations regarding life and death one particular summer through numerous events that happen in his little Illinois town. I love this book, but don’t recommend the sequel at all (Farewell Summer) because it seems redundant in Douglas’ coming-of-age, not to mention it was published about 50 years later, so the audience wasn’t right. And it’s definitely not in the caliber of Bradbury’s other novels. So read Dandelion Wine, but skip the sequel. (I don't include this in YA Fiction because, although the main character is a boy, I feel like the story is aimed more at adults who have lost themselves or grown up too quickly.)
The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde: Recommended. I recommend this book only if you’ve read the first two in the Thursday Next series. I jumped in on this, the third and final installment, and I’m sort of sorry I did. Parts of it were confusing and therefore boring because I didn’t have the necessary background, but once I got past that (it was over halfway into the book), it was fun to read. I enjoyed the quirkiness of the Book World and thought that parts of it were so hilarious I literally laughed aloud.
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen: Neutral. This book was enjoyable for the most part—a realistic tale of circus life during the Great Depression, love, and a bit of mystery (the reader is introduced to the memory of a murder in the prologue which is later revisited and it becomes clearer who the perpetrator was). I did have a few qualms with the book, however. The biggest, most bothersome thing was that there was a scene of crude sexuality, a brief description of a pornographic book the main character found, and another scene of sexuality (though less crude). I skipped over those parts, but read enough to be annoyed. If you can skip over them or handle them, then I recommend the book. If not, skip the novel, because it’s not like it’s the greatest book ever written or anything.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway: Recommended. Let’s just say that ever since I had to read The Old Man and the Sea in my eighth-grade Reading Lit class, Hemingway and I haven’t exactly gotten along. But after reading some of F Scott Fitzgerald’s work and coming to the realization that twenties “lost generation” literature isn’t really all that bad if you ignore all the drinking (what? You say there was a prohibition going on?) and revelry, I decided to give Hemingway another chance. And whaddya know, I actually rather enjoyed it. And it takes place in France and Spain (okay, so no prohibition here, but that doesn’t excuse America), two places I find exotic and exciting. In fact, it was a discussion in an English class about Hemingway’s books The Sun Also Rises and Death in the Afternoon that made me want to go to Pamplona in Spain to see the running of the bulls and experience that festival. It was a video I watched of the event that made me change my mind. But still, the book is a good one.