Recent Reads – Post-Holiday Edition

Before and during the Holidays I had some time to read, surprisingly, even considering all the travel we did (driving down to South Carolina to visit my in-laws, including meeting my one year-old nephew for the first time, and over to Chicago to visit my family, including meeting my seven-week-old niece for the first time). It was great and despite all the time in the car, no one was left at the side of road…though my wife and I were tempted at times. I didn’t have any time to write until now. So here goes.

All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling Down House by David Giffels. This Akron, OH journalist and his ever-patient wife Gina buy a decrepit old mansion that is not just in a state of neglect but they find out shortly after taking ownership that it is about to be condemned by the city. Why do they buy it? So they can fix it up and live in their Dream Home. “Fixing it up” entails far more than almost anyone can possibly conceive. More than simply rehabbing it. There’s a raccoon that lives in the attic, plumbing that doesn’t work at all, a garage that is collapsing, old money stashed away, a $1300 natural-gas heating bill for one month, a carpenter ant problem, and so much more. It’s a wonder neither David nor his wife went crazy and had to be medicated or carted off to an institution specializing in mental rehabilitation.

This is the DIY Home Improvement Tale to end all DIY Home Improvement Tales. Recommended for Anyone Who Has Ever Had an Inkling to Restore an Old House.

The Lesson of the Master by Henry James. This novella by James is far less well-known and unfortunately I can see why. All the elements are there: intrigue, European locations, relationships depicted with subtlety, and a hard twist at the end. But this story of a young writer who is in awe of an older writer feels not quite lifeless. It just that it doesn’t simmer the way a good James story does, like say The Turn of the Screw or The Aspern Papers. Recommended only for Fans of Henry James.

The Duel by Giocomo Casanova. Yes, that Casanova. This novella details similar events in Casanova’s life in which the narrator finds himself forced to duel a Polish aristocrat. There is plenty of tension amid the court intrigues and plot twists. The e-book edition from Melville House is loaded with great extras, including commentary on Casanova and short bios of famous duelists. Recommended for Those Who Follow an Anachronistic Style of Honor.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The Sony Reader store had a deal for this best-selling Young Adult trilogy ($18) and I took the plunge partly out of curiosity to see what all the press was about. This high-stakes fast-paced adventure is set in a very grim future where young people battle to the death in a high-tech coliseum (there are MANY parallels to the Roman Empire) at a competition called the “Hunger Games.” Revolution is spawned almost by accident thanks to the actions of 16-year-old expert archer Katniss Everdeen who volunteers in place of her sister to participate in the Hunger Games. Katniss is a serious ass-kicker, tough-minded and honorable despite the moral quandaries she finds herself stuck in. I liked this series. I didn’t love it. The plot is far more compelling than the characters, who are too often flat and perfunctory. But I understand the appeal of Katniss. Warning: she passes out due to injury or some other calamity at key points and then comes to in a hospital gown so frequently it becomes repetitive. Recommended for Young People Who Feel Put Upon.

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