Saturday, January 30, 2010

Wishing for Tomorrow, by Hilary McKay

Very sweet and well done sequel to A Little Princess. This was lovely, and I was so glad that even Lavinia and Miss Minchin were somehow redeemed.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In The Woods, by Tana French

Wonderful, twisted and atmospheric mystery/thriller. This was so good, it made my hair curl. Fantastic use of language, a haunting premise, an unreliable narrator, and a depth to characterizations made this a total winner. Outside of Dublin, a local child's body is found on an ancient altar in part of an archaeological site, and Detectives Rob Ryan and his partner Cassie have to find out who-done-it. Beyond that, though, is Detective Ryan's own complicated and horrific relationship with the town, and the woods themselves, which are soon to be plowed under to make room for a motorway, infuriating archaeologists who haven't had enough time to fully research the ancient site of Knocknaree.
Fantastic, and can't wait to read The Likeness, her next book. Reminded me of Ruth Rendell, that level of fine writing and psychological suspense.

Handmade Home, by Amanda Blake Soule

Pretty bad craft book. Lots of ideas here, but none that I, at least, would want to make. Many things involved felting old sweaters. People, can we leave the fucking sweaters alone.
I had what turned into just about a 19th nervy b yesterday looking at a craft/home decorating book yesterday, Mary Emmerling's Smart Decorating: Inexpensive Projects for Every Room of the House. It was lying on top of a pile of books in a cart, and it caught my eye. It caught my eye because of the cover-

Yup, one of the "Inexpensive Projects" quite literally involved using pennies to support flower stems. People in the world could live for a week on those pennies. People in the world could use those sweaters that overprivileged and bored Americans happily and eagerly felt to chop up into hideous and useless 'crafts'. I feel sick again. Not going to think about anything anymore.

Mary Mary, by James Patterson

Well, after the unbelievable NYT article about James Patterson last week, I felt that the time had come to read one of his books. After ordering approximately 18 of them over the past year, it was time, it was well past time to find out what has made him so popular. From the NYT article - "Last year, an estimated 14 million copies of his books in 38 different languages found their way onto beach blankets, airplanes and nightstands around the world." and "According to Nielsen BookScan, Grisham’s, King’s and Brown’s combined U.S. sales in recent years still don’t match Patterson’s." and "Since 2006, one out of every 17 novels bought in the United States was written by James Patterson."

Clearly, this needed looking into.

I read Mary Mary, pretty much at random. It was not terrible. It was not great. By page 32, there were 4 murders and one sex scene. The final body count ended up at about 12. Alex Cross, the hero of this particular Patterson series, was likable and obviously has some sort of labored back-story, and lots of hot sex with beautiful doctors and prosecutors. He loves his kids. He chases serial killers. It had the oddly unsatisfying feel of fast food- quick, over processed, predictable, a little nauseating, and mass appeal. Well done, Patterson, you've perfected the McBook. Wish I could do it.
Link to absolutely fascinating NYT article

Dear Neighbor Drop Dead, by Saralee Rosenberg

Pretty funny, if a bit convoluted, story about 2 neighbors, opposites, who grow through a farcical series of events to become friends. Way too much going on in this book, including a main narrative arc about a greeting card company that just trailed off into nothing, but still the characters were well (if stereotypically) defined.

Crossing Washington Square, bu Joanne Rendell

Fun, interesting kind of chick-lit book. Rachel, the newest tenure track professor in "Manhattan University"s English department, specializes in recent popular women's fiction, and on pop-culture analysis, and is met with great resentment by Diana, a serious Plath scholar who feels that Harlequin romances don't deserve a place in academic discussion. Of course, there is learning and growth all around, but this book did raise some interesting discussion points on that hoary question, and side stories involving priviliged undergraduates, sleazy male professors, and a trip to London filled it all in nicely. I am experiencing a certain amount of distress about Helen Fielding and Bridget Jones (shall explain in later post) and it's kind of funny that Bridget Jones/Pride and Prejudice was such an arguing point for Rachel and Diana- neither of them mentioned what I suddenly see as a much bigger problem regarding Helen Fielding.
Also, I wonder if Joanne Rendell is related to Ruth Rendell? Must find out.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Alice I Have Been, by Melanie Benjamin

Wonderful historical fiction based on the life of Alice Liddel, the real-life basis for Alice in Wonderland. Benjamin explores the strange relationship Alice had with Charles Dodgeson, a respected mathematician at Oxford (where Alice's father was the Dean of Christ Church).

Dodgeson, better known as Lewis Carrol, had an odd quirk even for the exceedingly strange Victorians, a passion for taking photographs of little girls. Alice, his muse and most often photographed subject, is the narrator of this book, and offers an unsettling look at what children sometimes know, and how much they don't understand. Her life, as she grows older, is a fascinating look at high Victorian society- as the family of the Dean of Christ Church,the Liddels entertained the Queen, dined with the greatest minds and names of the era, and enjoyed social prestige far beyond what most academics now are awareded.

Through WW1, and on, aside from the curious life of the real-life Alice, the novel offered a great sweeping look at social change in England. A meeeting between Alice and Peter Llwelyn-Davies, the real-life model for Peter Pan, based on a real encounter in New York, gave such a poignant look at what it may mean to be caught in an artist's gaze, and kept forever young. So glad I read this- worth all the buzz.

Death of a Valentine, by M.C. Beaton

Yay! A new Hamish MacBeth mystery! I do love these, and read it in one great gulp. Lochdubh's regulars are some of the best supporting casts in any of the cozies, right up there with Joan Hess's Maggody residents, and so funny. God, that would be so great if Maggody and Lochdubh could collide in some fictional world, I would love that.

The House of Lost Souls, by F. G. Cottram

Dark paranormal horror/thriller- compulsively readable. Seaton's life falls apart when, to help his girlfriend with her unfinished thesis, he begins to try to research her obscure topic, forgotten 1920s photographer Pandora Gibbons-Hoare. As he finds more and more about her life, he becomes obsessed with the dark forces that led to her death. After a terrifying encounter at Fischer House, a place she had mentioned in her journals, he loses everything in his life, and drifts alone, until he is approached by Mason, who needs Seaton, as a survivor, to help him save his sister from the same evil that killed Pandora. Some gory chills in this one.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, by Kate Summerscale

Interesting if over-thorough history of a murder case in Victiorian England that gripped national attention, and was solved by one of the first official police detectives, Mr. Whicher. Interesting look at Victorian mores, and an almost overwhelming amount of information about the history of police in England. Also, a bit or real-estate porn (the murder took place at Road Hill House, a smashing classic country house), and some great insight into how the fascination with true crime led to, essentially, the birth of modern day mystery and thriller writing. Good, but strange, read.

Impact, by Douglas Preston

Wildly entertaining and improbable thriller, bringing together a teenage Maine stoner Princeton dropout and a shady CIA type to solve the mystery of what, exactly, was that thing that hit the earth. Was it a meteoroid? Or, was it... something else?
This was the kind of thriller that makes me feel like a magic 8 ball or maybe D+D dice were involved in making the characters, but for all the ludicrous-ness of character and plot, I couldn't put it down and read it in like, 2 hours. Great popcorn thriller. Also, strangely, second book in a row involving pirate treasure and climactic chase scenes in boats during New England hurricanes. What are the odds of that?

Plum Island, by Nelson DeMIlle

Long but fast-paced thriller. When two scientists from notorious Plum Island, the location of the infamous biological research facility Lab 257 (long rumoured to be a biowarfare reasearch facility, and the possible source of Lyme disease), are found murdered, NY detective John Corey is brought in to help local officials, the CIA and other shadowy groups to discover whether the scientists deaths will lead to a release of some plague. Corey is the sort of strong cliche cop who doesn't care much for the rules, sleeps with every witness and suspect, drinks all the time, and of course, saves the day. Interesting twists with pirates and vineyards didn't stop ths from disappointing me, though, because I really was hoping for a biothriller, not a pirate-treasure thriller.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Sopranos, by Alan Warner

Wonderful. Written in thick Scottich dialect, this whirlwind of a novel covers a day's worth of adventures for 6 girls, members of a Catholic school choir competing in a national competition. The girls, Fionnula (The Cooler), (Ra)Chell, (A)Manda, Orla, Kylah, and Kay go off into the city to chase varied dreams and plans, and get incandescantly lit, lost, and found. Incredible use of language- read like a girly Trainspotting- and sorrow mixed with joy - this was wonderful. Want to read Morvern Callar soon.

Death of a Romance Writer and Other Stories, by Joan Hess

Well, I am so eager for Joan Hess's 2010 Maggody book that I came across all sorts of things in the catalogue that I hadn't read by her, including this oddly imbalanced book, which, as it's redeeming grace, had short stories in it that introduced Arly Hanks, Ruby Bee and Estelle. It also had the bizarre novella The Night Blooming Cereus, with an introduction that was a bit of a relief, in which she talks about how in 1985, at least to her, Israeli/Palestinian relations seemed like a good topic for a light-hearted humourous mystery, and about how that no longer seems like a ha-ha situation, so that was nice.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Priviliges, by Jonathan Dee

Wonderfully written kind of American Icarus story. Adam and Cynthia meet, marry, and have children. Along the way, Adam thinks he sees how much Cynthia wants Things, and becomes morally compromised, while Cynthia falls into being a non-person. Their children, April and Jonas, for all the priviliges that Adam and Cynthia have been able to offer them, drift.
This got really great reviews, and it was good, but I feel like I've read the same story over and over.

City of Refuge, by Tom Piazza

Wonderful, angry and empassioned novel about the impact of Hurricane Katrina on 2 families in New Orleans. Race, opportunity, and the extraordinary failure of government all play part in this sweeping story, following evacuees and escapees to Illinois and Houston. It had a bit of a slow start, but by page 100 it was impossible to put down, and by page 400 had tears rolling down my face. It was funny, it was almost like Titanic- you almost wonder if it's worth seeing/reading because, well, you know how it ended- but Piazza wrote a wonderful novel along with a wonderful indictment of the failures. The characters were well developed, and not entirely sympathetic, which made them so much more real. Wonderful.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Snapped, by Pamela Klaffe

Interesting and well written book- I really expected this to be kind of standard-chick-lit magazine editor has a bad day kind of fluff, but it wasn't at all. Sara B., who I initially took to be based on Jane Pratt (of Sassy and Jane fame), has lost her taste for being a cool-hunter, trend-finder, Faith Popcorn-y character. At 39, she has a kind of breakdown/epiphany, and feels that she has to repent for the nonsense and sometimes cruelty of what she has spent her whole life doing, and it makes for a great, interesting read about a kind of female character that I don't see a lot of. Setting it in Montreal took away lots of possibilities for chick--lit NYC cliche, but there was way more meat to this book than it looks.

Death at the Alma Mater, by G. M. Malliet

Another neatly done classic mystery by G.M. Malliet. This one didn't impress me as much as the startlingly good Death of a Cosy Writer, but I'm starting to feel like I can rely on Malliet for a smooth and polished fair-play mystery, and that is wonderful! Great sense of place, at Cambridge.

Getting Stoned With Savages, by J. Maartin Troost

Fantastic narrative non-fiction travel writing. Well, almost travel writing- Troost and his wife lived in Fiji and Vanuatu for a year and a half, and Troost took the time to write about living on Kiribati, in The Sex Lives of Cannibals. He also took the time to travel to outlying islands, and to develop quite a kava habit, a drinkable drug that sounds revolting, but interesting! Funny and insightful- I love the way he writes.

Filthy Rich, by Dorothy Samuels

Really cheesy chick-lit bath book. Marcy is the Lifeline when her fiance competes on a trivia game show, and when she gets the answer to the final question wrong, they break up very publicly. This was pretty awful.

The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures,Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details by Stan Williams

Very stylish but not very helpful house decorating book. Beautiful ideas, but who has the time or money to find these things and have them re-upholstered etc? Not moi.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Disquiet, by Julia Leigh

Odd, disturbing little book that felt a little overwritten and overwrought to me. A woman fleeing an abusive relationship/marriage with her two small children returns to the family estate, where her imposing mother is waiting for her brother and his wife to come home from the hospital with their new baby. Unfortunately, the baby dies during birthing, yet they are allowed to bring it's little corpse home with them, which they do. (!) startling.
It only got less cheery from there.

Thank You, Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse

As usual, laugh-out-loud farcical antics from hapless Bertie Wooster and his impossibly suave gentleman's gentleman, Jeeves. Some unfortunate dated language made parts of this startling, but still, Wodehouse has to be one of the all time funniest writers, and I somehow hadn't read this one before. (maybe the unfortunate dated language helped get it weeded out of the libraries?)

Hate List, by Jennifer Brown

Manipulative and improbable YA about a school shooting. Valerie, the shooter's girlfriend, survives the massacre that left many of her classmates and her boyfriend dead, and returns to the school the next year.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Blow Out The Moon, by Libby Koponen

Charming children's memoir/novel of being an American child sent, at 8, to a very traditional English boarding school for a year. Funny, because the narrator talks about finding, reading, and loving a set of English boarding school novels that I am almost sure are the Enid Blyton Mallory Towers books, which I adore, and continue to hunt down copies of. I have no idea why they were so absorbing to me, but I love love love them, Darrell and Zerelda and Mavis and Bill and the midnight feasts and torches and all that. I honestly don't remember what brought this title to my attention, but it arrived in the delivery for me and I read it in one go, greedily sucking down the stories about paddocks and Matrons and eating peas on the back of a fork. It was a lovely little read, and had great photos and drawings.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Overnight Socialite, by Bridie Clark

Fun, frothy and fast retelling of Pygmalion, set in modern day Manhattan. Lucy Jo, fresh out of Minnesota, wants to sell flowers, oh, no, it's clothes. Wealthy anthropologist Wyatt has just broken up with yet another celebutante, when he makes a bet with his friend Tripp that he can turn just about anyone into NYC's latest it girl. You can see where it went from there.

It was fun, though, and I have an odd (and personally sappy and embarrassing) fondness for Bridie Clark, and as Pygmalion-retellings go, this was quite good! (Better than that awful movie She's All That, anyway!) One actually funny bit - instead of the rain in Spain thing and the extremely unlikely hurricanes in Hartford, Hereford, and Hampshire, she says "The snow in Aspen puts Gstaad's to shame" and "Didn't we meet in Capri last July?"

Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguru

Interesting, sad book that has, really, one of the most misleading covers I have ever seen, but I suppose that's not the point.
A near-future England has raised clones to supply 'donated' organs (is this like Nini Holmqvist's The Unit?) and the clones, as they grow up, begin to understand and dread their futures.
Heartbreaking, beautifully written, and, again, with the damnedest cover. Really no clues as to topic, there, that I see. Maybe the forget-me-nots?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Night Blooming Cereus, by Joan Hadley

Pretty terrible mystery by the usually fantastic Joan Hess (but published under the name Joan Hadley- good call to distance herself from this mess). Awkward mix of her comedic mystery style and (not kidding at all) Palestinian/Israeli warfare really didn't work.
Had to read it because I had no idea she had written under another name, but really glad she stopped.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Too Much Money, by Dominick Dunne

Dominick Dunne's last book, and it was as enjoyable as all his others. I love trying to sort out who is supposed to be who in his books- this one seemed to be about Gary Condit, and the Safra murder/fire whatever the heck happened there. His books always leave me wishing I had 17 coats of persimmon colored paint on at least one wall in my house. And flowers, lots of flowers.

Mating Rituals of the North American Wasp, by Lauren Lipton

Fun (if very silly) quick read. Lots of real-estate Litchfield County porn- village greens and colonial houses etc.

Sewing Green, by Betz White

Some neat ideas in this but mostly the projects involved felting old wool and chopping it up.

The Debs, by Susan McBride

Formulaic YA. Pretty awful.