31 January 2012

What I am Reading: January 2012

It's probably going to be a light month, as I gear up to edit another news letter for our club and also have an apa mailing to finish. But I will forge ahead in my effort to read through the books I need to return, those I want to donate/give away, and those I really ought to read so that my brain doesn't atrophy. One of my goals will definitely be to ensure that I manage at least one of those every month!
  1. Dipped, Stripped, and Dead (2009) by Elise Hyatt: Or is this really Sarah Hoyt, who copyrighted it? The first "A Daring Finds Mystery", I quite enjoyed this.--- Yes, this is Sarah Hoyt, whose science fiction I have also enjoyed. This explains the professionalism of the writing, which has been missing in the other cozy mystery debut novels that I read in the last few months. Funny, interesting characters, well-set up background. Protagonist Dyce Dare is a divorced mom of a stubborn toddler, with an ex who doesn't pay his child-support (and who she is afraid to pursue for fear that he will go for full-custody, rather than shared, because of her low-income). She strips and re-finishes furniture (therefore the title), has parents who are older booksellers and readers, a best friend who is gay and hunky, and a developing romantic interest started with the investigating officer when she finds a body while dumpster diving for salvageable furniture. A fun book and I see there was a second last year.
  2. Too Pretty to Die (2008) by Susan McBride: The 5th "Debutante Dropout Mystery", but the first I've read. It's ehh. That is, I don't find the protagonist, Andy Kendricks, a southern belle rebelling against her heritage (therefore she "ran" from her debut) and her disrespectful attitude toward her mom (who seems smarter than she is) very interesting. Late 20's, attends a "botox party" for a friend who is a reporter, lots of focus on aging (for the early 30's crowd!), when a prep schoolmate burst in, creates a scene (both by waving the standard southern issue pistol and through showing the terrible result of "bad" botox), drops the gun, is taken home by Andy and put to bed (she's wasted) and found a "suicide" in the morning (although the gun had been left at the party. With better editing and a more interesting protagonist, I would have tried the next. Maybe I'll check in again in a few more years, if McBride either writes another series or her protagonist grows up. Amazing that she got a blurb from Charlaine Harris.
  3. The Sense of an Ending (2011)by Julian Barnes: A very different Man Booker Prize winner. I have read in reviews that the prize was actually given not for this novel but for his body of work and that may be true: this is a very light novel, almost a novella (clocking in at 150 pages). Here's an NPR review. I found this a very interesting first Barnes to read: the language was beautiful— just beautiful, in the same way that I find AS Byatt's writing gorgeous. I also found the writing wry and funny and I enjoyed the book very much. I did so even though I thought the plot was poor and the ending disconnected and over the top. In a mild way. I found the looking back, the exploration of differences in how we remember things and the reality that we can't ever truly know as those who were part of our shared reality fall away, intriguing. At the end of my book club, all the members state whether they would recommend the book to others. In this case, I said that I would, but only to those over 40 (who are old enough to begin to feel what the novel is saying) and those who love English as a language. This is a particularly English novel, rife with the class distinctions and anguish of class that those of us from outside the sceptered isle can never truly, in our blood, understand (or, perhaps, care about). But it's always fascinating to see how a people that we (Americans) feel are so like ourselves can care so deeply about such a shallow distinction as inherited class structures.
I recently saw that there had been a "Mary Stewart Modern Classic" re-issue edition of her books in the UK and , while the spouse is working with a UK group, ordered them over so they were hand-carried to the office. I've been spending my time, in between dealing with household issues and a newsletter and a club mailing, reading and reveling in Mary Stewart: I'm pretty sure that I did not appreciate them enough when I read them in my early teens. In particular, I am finding it interesting reading these in chronological order, seeing the changes in societal expectations of women and looking at Europe, now as opposed to then, as someone who has lived here and visited several of these areas. These books are even better than I remembered and I think Mary Stewart really invented this type of suspense: real mysteries with relationships, with strong female leads, literate and with wonderful research and description.
  1. Madame Will You Talk?(1955/2011): As I read my way through the re-issues of Mary Stewart, I wonder how much I understood when I first read her books in my early teens. This is one of her very best. Published ten years after the end of the war, the protagonist, Charity Selborne is a widow, having lost her flyer husband during the war. On vacation in Provence with a friend from her teaching days, she meets a boy who appeals to her and who appears to be in trouble. There are echoes of the war, of atrocities, of justice for the murdered, that I think I feel more deeply now than I did. What I absolutely recognize is some of the description that made me, when I finally did travel to Provence, head towards Avignon and feel the sense of familiarity that I did: her descriptions of landscape are amazing and I only wish that her novels would be- or could be- made into movies or TV dramas that could evoke the sense of time and place that her writing does. (I also remember looking Gilbert White up and reading his history after this book- all of Stewart's books benefit through literary knowledge and I wonder whether those who do not know and love Shakespeare can really see all the allusions?)
  2. Wildfire at Midnight (1956/2011): This was particularly interesting as it dealt with topics of infidelity and forgiveness that went straight over my head as an innocent 11 year old. Gorgeous descriptions of scenery on the Isle of Skye and an intriguing look at the beginning of female emancipation. Gianetta Drury is taking a break from her job as a London model at a quiet hotel on the Isle of Skye, only to discover her former husband is also staying there. Her parents have never really accepted the concept of divorce and she herself has been wearing her ring and using her married name- until she sees Nicholas and quickly changes them both. If this emotion upheaval were not enough, she discovers that there has been a "ritual" murder of a local girl, that most of those staying in the hotel and area were also present at that time, and there are more suspicious deaths. A more classic murder mystery than the others, complete with an Inspector.
  3. The Moon Spinners (1962/2011): Set on Crete, Nicola Ferris, a junior assistant at the British Consulate is taking a vacation when she runs across a Greek "bearing not gifts but a knife" (Really, how can I top the back blurb?) Wonderful scenery descriptions, great sibling and friendship relationships across nationality (as many of her books include). An Englishman has been shot and his younger brother kidnapped after they stumble upon a murder scene. Is Colin still alive and who can be involved in this? This has been made into a movie and I need to get a copy of it (although from what I see, the plot has little in common with that of the book. At least it's Hayley Mills and all the reviews say the scenery is stunning.).
  4. This Rough Magic (1964/2011): Set on Corfu (and dedicated to John Attenborough), this made me so want to watch Grace Kelley, Elizabeth Taylor, David Niven, Carey Grant movies. Lucy is an actress"resting" while deciding if her career actually has legs. She's visiting her sister, who is pregnant and awaiting the rest of the family at the ancestral new home (who will come after school- notice how ordinary the concept of leaving the kids behind is) while the old is being let to, she discovers, a famous icon of the stage. Strange pot shots at dolphins, reluctant attraction, drives with unsavory neighbors and, throughout, the love and quotation of Shakespeare, beginning, with, of course, the title quote from The Tempest. There is a wonderful semi-quote from Much Ado about Nothing and I wonder: was this the reason I read that (now my favorite Shakespearean comedy) in the first place? I could say this is one of my favorites, but I am enjoying each re-read so much I am being repetitious.
  5. Airs Above the Ground (1965/2011): Once again, I see that there are divorces, a father living with a "fiancee", and all sorts of adult implications I had not understood. I well remember this book: I was horse-mad when I read it and the sub-story of the stolen Lipizzaner had me doing lots of other research on Lipizzans. Reading it now makes me want to make a reservation for a performance at the Spanish Riding Academy in Vienna- when I backpacked Europe (in my early 30's) they were on summer break and I have still not seen them. Vanessa March has had an argument with her husband over broken plans for a vacation- he had a pressing work engagement- when an acquaintance sees Lewis is a film of a circus fire in Austria- countries away from his engagement in Copenhagen. When a card arrives from Copenhagen, signed by her husband, she becomes suspicious and agrees to accompany a young man to his father in Vienna (planning to continue onward to find her husband). But things become more confusing and Vanessa (a licensed vet) and Timothy wind up becoming associated with the circus and its performers. Once again. lovely descriptions of landscape that really resonate, now that I have visited both Vienna and the area.
Eight books in total and a few more Mary Stewarts to come next next month. Better than I thought considering how busy this month has been.

1 comment:

Joyce said...

Goodness, you're too young to remember seeing Hayley Mills in The Moonspinners on Wonderful World of Disney! I think you'll enjoy it if you can find it. Me at 10 years old certainly did.