Reading Log: February 2019

Books acquired: none

Books read: “Train,” Tom Zoellner; “The Lost Art of Walking,” Geoff Nicholson; “Over the Hills,” David Lamb; “Beyond This Horizon,” Robert A. Heinlein

Hey, didn’t I just write one of these a couple of weeks ago? I did. Of course, February is a short month, and also, with me on my sickbed the first half of the month, writing January’s log was delayed. Anyway, here we are just four mornings into March.

February saw me complete four books, possibly assisted by my couch time, although the first one, “Train,” begun in late January, wasn’t wrapped up until Feb. 10, not the most promising start. Anyway, the three primary books all have a sort of theme, which is travel by means other than driving. The fourth, my first fiction of 2019, has a title that fit the theme.

Train (2014): Subtitle: “Riding the rails that created the modern world, from the Trans-Siberian to the Southwest Chief.” Zoellner rides the rails around the world and across the United States, returning with fare heartier than anything Amtrak serves, a stew of traveler stories, history and current events. (India’s goo and lack of automation are equally unbelievable.) He’ll make you understand how people were initially thunderstruck by and even frightened of a conveyance that traveled at an ungodly 20 mph.

Lost Art of Walking (2008): Subtitle: “The history, science, philosophy and literature of pedestrianism.” Like most rambles with friends, Nicholson’s book doesn’t stick to the path, takes a lot of digressions and lightly touches on various conversational subjects with humor and without getting too deep. I was expecting something more, say, a section on walking in literature. But as a collection of anecdotes and musings, it was an easy read and Nicholson is a witty, entertaining guide.

Over the Hills (1996): Subtitle: “A midlife escape across America by bicycle.” It was a pleasure reading about a middle-aged, unpretentious guy who ate plain American food, drank milkshakes and smoked as he biked solo across the country. (Although as he later died of esophageal cancer, perhaps he should’ve cut out the smokes.) Nothing bad happens to him on his journey besides flat tires and anxiety, so, Melville-like, he slips in chapters about the history of bicycling. Lamb’s writing is simple and graceful and he views non-coastal America with great affection.

Beyond This Horizon (1948): Subtitle: none, thankfully. There’s a little too much going on in this early Heinlein novel (duels! government finance! revolution! the meaning of life! football??), and the explanations of genetics bog things down. Still, it has its moments, and its confidence, ideas and good cheer point toward the fun, focused novels RAH would produce in the ’40s and ’50s.

“Over the Hills” was the winner this month, with “Train” a close second.

The three primary books came from Powell’s in Portland in 2016. I picked up the Heinlein in 2008, location forgotten.

How was your February, folks? Besides cold and wet, I mean.

Next month: edgy fare.

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  • Terri Shafer

    Well, so much for the short reviews last month!! These are a little longer, and, boy, David, you are right on top of things, getting this started by March 4th! Glad you’re feeling better 🙂

    Books of humor:
    Diary of a Nobody by George & Weedon Grossmith, 1892 – So funny!! I read it for a Bingo challenge on Good reads & needed a classic comedy/satire. This was suggested by someone and it certainly fit the bill. I was going to read one of Wodehouse’s “Jeeves & Wooster” because I love those. But I’m glad that I gave this one a try. Very entertaining 🙂

    Turbo Twenty-Three by Janet Evanovich, 2016 – This series is so crazy, but it is a blast to read! Even on Book #23, the characters are still so funny I often laugh out loud. When I get bogged down with other stuff that I’m reading and need something that is just a barrel full of fun, I always turn to Stephanie Plum. She never lets me down! 😉

    No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (Book #1) by Alexander McCall Smith, 1998 – This was a re-read for book club. But it was fun to read Book #1 again after 15 years. I’m up to Book #19 and still 2 books behind! This author writes faster than I can read 😉

    The Strange Case of the Moderate Extremists by Alexander McCall Smith, 2019 – (Yes, same author as above. I really like his writing, sense of humor, and his series. I have read more than 50 of his books!) This is a short story/precursor to Smith’s new Swedish Detective Varg series, the first full-length book is entitled The Department of Sensitive Crimes. AMS always includes a little tongue-in-cheek humor (as you can see by the title of this book). It is extremely humorous that the Moderate Extremists political party wants Detective Varg to begin an investigation because information is being leaked to the Extreme Moderates party 😉

    Common Sense by Thomas Paine, 1776, nonfiction – Wow! I had always heard of this one, but never expected to read it, and I’m so glad I did. It was for a Goodreads group read. It is very short. But it is so interesting to hear someone from the beginning/formation of our country talk about how things should be set up and why. I recommend this one!

    Daniel Deronda by George Eliot, 1876 – Well — this was a long one!! And unfortunately, it was not my favorite. I liked Silas Marner and Adam Bede much better. I’m not sure what Eliot was trying to do, but it was like two different books that were kind of “smooshed” together and didn’t seem to need each other much at all. I was kind of disappointed :/

    The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, 1764 – I’m not sure what to say about this one… It was one of the first gothic novels, it included some bizarre and supernatural happenings, lots of drama, and a little comedy. I’m not even sure why I read it, I think someone recommended it and now I can’t remember who or why! 😮

    Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather, 1931 – As always, Willa Cather satisfied! I had not read anything by her for a long time. I knew I had loved what I read by her before in college, but kind of forgot why — and now I remember! Her writing style and descriptions are somehow soothing. I just enjoy her so much.

    This one was set in about 1700 in Canada. It involved the French coming to “conquer” parts of Canada and North America. The main characters were the apothecary and his daughter who came to Canada with the Count who went to Canada to fight the Iroquois, and whomever else the King wanted him to fight! That didn’t sound very interesting to me at first, but Willa Cather’s descriptions of the father and the daughter, the priests, the explorers of the frontier, etc., etc. were so compelling that I fell in love with it.
    So, if you’re interested in Willa Cather at all, I highly recommend this one!

    • davidallen909

      Terri, you are probably the only person in the world to have read both Horace Walpole and Stephanie Evanovich last month, or for that matter No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and Common Sense. I love it. Also, your Castle of Otranto review was a crackup.

      • Terri Shafer

        You are always so good at keeping to some kind of theme! I’m kind of all over the place. Story of my life 😉

    • Hugh C. McBride

      Last month, you inspired me to keep my reviews brief. This month, you’ve inspired me to add “Common Sense” to my reading list. Thomas Paine’s writings are such an integral part of US history that it’s easy to think you’ve read them – but when I read your review, I realized that I haven’t. Will fix that soon – thanks for the motivation!

  • Richard_Pietrasz

    I am not last this month, I hope. 8 total, 4 non fiction.


    Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. Schulz, Kathryn. 2010.

    A Tippy Canoe and Canada Too (Forest Life Series #4). Campbell, Sam. 1946.

    Greenpeace Captain: My Adventures in Protecting the Future of Our Planet. Willcox, Peter. 2016.

    In the Land of Believers: An Outsider’s Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church. Welch, Gina.2010.


    Waldo & Magic, Inc. Heinlein, Robert A. 1950,1953.

    Obasan. Kogawa, Joy. 1981.

    Faceless Killers (Kurt Wallander, #1). Hankell, Henning. 1991.

    The Namesake. Lahiri, Jhumpa. 2003.

    I need to go soon, I’ll add comments later.

    • Terri Shafer

      Yay! for Jhumpa Lahiri! I love her books! 🙂

  • Hugh C. McBride

    February was another five-book month for me, which puts me at 20% of my goal for the year. Here’s my list:

    THE POET X (Elizabeth Acevedo) – A young girl who struggles under the control of an overbearing mother and distracted father discovers her voice through the power of slam poetry. This novel is written in verse, told in the first person from the perspective of the title character. The author is herself a renowned slam poet. A thoroughly enjoying & engaging YA novel.

    WONDER VALLEY (Ivy Pochada) – This novel tells a series of overlapping stories that eventually coalesce in downtown LA. I didn’t intentionally read this for comparison/contrast purposes with last month’s THE FERAL DETECTIVE, but couldn’t help noticing the similarities – such as the SoCal setting, a missing person, and some strange goings-on out in the desert. The narrative moves among multiple settings, & jumps back & forth in time, but Ivy Pochada does an excellent job of maintaining a sense of cohesion & momentum as she works toward a unified conclusion.

    MONDAY’S NOT COMING (Tiffany D. Jackson) – The second of two YA novels I read this week. In this novel, a poor black girl from a Washington, DC, housing project disappears, and no one except her best friend seems to notice or care. The way the narrative jumps among multiple time frames is a bit disconcerting, & I had some problems with the final fourth of the book. But this is a gripping novel with a powerful message & a main character that stayed with me long after I’d turned the final page.

    BEAUTIFUL LIES (Lisa Unger) – A split-second quirk of fate triggers a series of events that cause our main character to question who she really is, where she came from, & whether or not her entire life has been based on a lie. This novel contains a few coincidences that strain credulity, & a massive conspiracy that verges on the Bond-villain level, but Lisa Unger keeps the plot moving & the pages turning.

    THE LATE SHOW (Michael Connelly) – Solid start to a new series within the Harry Bosch universe. At the outset, I was worried that that the main character, Renee Ballard, was too close to Harry 2.0 (independent-minded LAPD detective, at odds with the department, committed to getting justice for those who often get ignored by the system), but over the course of the novel Connelly establishes her as a fully-formed character. I’m looking forward to the second book in this sub-series, DARK SACRED NIGHT, when Det. Ballard crosses paths with ol’ Hieronymus himself.

    • Terri Shafer

      I have not read any of yours this month, Hugh, but I’m glad to see from your list that other adults enjoy YA novels! I have read several and like them quite a bit. Have you read “The Hate U Give”? Pretty good. And right now I am reading “The Golden Compass” which is the first book in Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series. It’s really exciting and fun!
      Also, hope you enjoy “Common Sense.” Not exciting and fun, but educational 🙂

      • Hugh C. McBride

        I started adding some YA novels into the mix a few years back, & it was one of the best reading-related decisions I’ve made. Some fantastic authors addressing important topics in exciting & intriguing ways. Anyone who thinks YA = “kiddie lit” just hasn’t been paying attention. I haven’t read either of the ones you’ve mentioned – but they’re on my to-read list now – thank you!

  • Doug Evans

    I’m here! Richard wasn’t last!

    I read 8 (8!) last month, so let’s get to them:

    “Poison” by Galt Niederhoffer (2017). A woman marries the perfect man, gradually comes to suspect he’s trying to poison her, can’t get anyone to believe her, watches as her own parent testifies in court that she’s crazy, then writes a book about it, because EVERYTHING I JUST TYPED IS THE REAL-LIFE STORY BEHIND THIS BOOK. Niederhoffer, the author, became convinced that her husband was trying to poison her, took him to court, watched as her own father testified that she was crazy, settled, and (I guess) decided: what the heck, let’s write a fictionalized version of what just happened to me. I’m sure the real life story was plenty exciting to live through, but the fiction version was a bit of a drag. Glad you’re still here with us, though, Niederhoffer!

    “Twentynine Palms: A True Story of Murder, Marines, and the Mojave” by Deanne Stillman (2001). Bought this at a gift store while on vacation in Twentynine Palms. I though I was buying the history of the town (like, for example, what’s up with that name?), but this is a true crime account of one specific double murder committed by a marine against two local girls back in 1991. I’m not a devotee of true crime, but this was a really sad story of people who seem trapped in some pretty dismal circumstances, and the people who prey on them. For those who are devotees of true crime: there has been at least one more murder in Twentynine Palms with a book written about it since this one was published. Keep on keepin’ on, Twentynine Palms!

    “A Wanted Man (Jack Reacher #17)” by Lee Child (2012). Jack Reacher hitchhikes his way into a small town, gets into trouble, gets out of it by killing some people and then hitchhiking his way out of town. That is the summary of every Jack Reacher book ever, but you could argue that every James Bond book/movie has basically the same plot as all the others, and that hasn’t hurt that series any.

    “A Painted House” by John Grisham (2001). Grisham’s attempt at literary fiction… no lawyers or court cases in this one… and: he nailed it! I really liked this one! Great job (says I) capturing the voice of a seven-year-old boy growing up poor in Arkansas, in the same way that “To Kill a Mockingbird” captures the voice of a ten-year-old girl growing up in Alabama. This book also touches on issues of crime and race like “Mockingbird” does. I’m comparing this book favorably to “To Kill a Mockingbird”! Stick that in your Goodreads and smoke it! (Not sure what I mean by that.)

    “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Truman Capote (1958). A book I’ve meant to read for about thirty years and finally read it (though it was not, alas, one of my Giant Stack of Unread Books). I really enjoyed this one as well, but it helped having an image of Audrey Hepburn in my head as I was reading. Otherwise, girl-from-the-country-turned-high-class-society-um-date-maybe? Holly Golightly in the book might have come off as way too precious and irritating. But who can be irritated by Audrey Hepburn? Not me!

    “On Track” by David Allen (2018). Local columnist makes good! True story about this book: while David was laid up with pneumonia, I read this book nightly to make up for the lack of new column/blog material. Also true: I was reading two columns a night and, as I got closer to the end, purposefully changed to one column per night so as to make this book last longer. Also: Me! I’m on page 96 (in my first ever communication with David)! BEST BOOK EVER.

    “A Feast for Crows” by George R.R. Martin (2005)

    “A Dance with Dragons” by George R.R. Martin (2011) Completing my reread of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, but let’s just call it “Game of Thrones” like everybody else does. It took GRRM five years to publish “Feast,” the fourth book in the series, and another six to publish “Dance,” the fifth. It’s now been eight years since that and the sixth is nowhere in sight (and supposedly he’s writing a seventh after that). Um, George? You’re not getting any younger! As for my review: these books introduce new characters and plot lines that fans, especially after waiting so long for these books to come out, didn’t always take kindly too. But I like the way Martin writes and, thanks to a lot of internet surfing (there’s been plenty of time for fans to come up with theories and explanations for various things), I feel like I’m all caught up and ready for the next book. So, any time now, George!

    I don’t think I’ll hit eight books in March, but we’ll see. Happy reading, everyone, happy birthday, David, and see you all here next month!

    • davidallen909

      Better a few days late than never, Doug. Who knows, maybe John Clifford will make his long-anticipated comeback and be the last to contribute. Probably not, but I liked putting that out there.

      Of your eight books, I’ve written one of them. Ha ha. I’m flattered you liked On Track so much and touched that you used it as a way to keep reading me while I was out (rather than thank your lucky stars you got a break from my writing). What are you doing this week while I’m out? Well, I guess you’re on the blog, since I’ve contributed a couple of posts, as well as a few comments.

      Look for “‘BEST BOOK EVER’ — Doug Evans” on the back cover of my fourth book. (Just kidding. Although it would be funny.)

    • Hugh C. McBride

      Good to see you here, Mr. Evans. (Full disclosure – it’s good to see you anywhere – you’re a joy to be around!)

      I seem to think I read BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S long, long ago, but I don’t remember much about it. May have to check that one out again (or, given my possibly deficient memory, for the first time). I’ve not read any Jack Reacher novels, but I may have to add those to my list as well.

      I’m also a proud owner of the “BEST BOOK EVER,” but have not made it all the way through that one yet (though the initial pages are impressive – I’m thinking this Allen kid may have a future in the writing business … 🙂