Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Now where was I? End of the summer Book Report

It's been a good long while since I told you what I was reading, so I guess it's time to play catch-up. Here is what I read at the end of the summer, for July, August and September:

The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn, was another entry in the lightweight Lady Julia Grey series. In this installment, Lady Julia is a newlywed, and she and her new husband Brisbane have just returned to London. Lady Julia's brother seeks out Brisbane's help but swears him to secrecy about the nature of his problem, which only serves to whet Lady Julia's curiosity. She ends up following Brisbane to a gentlemen's club -- not the kind featuring pole dancers, but the kind where seances are held. Good escapist fun set in Victorian England.

I next went on a veritable binge of Inspector Montalbano mysteries, beginning with Voice of the Violin and continuing through the series to August Heat.  (Remember, this is over three months, including two beach vacations!)  I really enjoyed this series, featuring a world-weary Sicilian police inspector who has to figure out tricky ways to work within the corrupt and complex Italian justice system. If you like mysteries, I'd highly recommend these -- they are suspenseful and well-written, and Camilleri does a wonderful job evoking the atmosphere of the imaginary village he has created. I was lucky my local library had so many of the books in this series, as I plowed through a bunch of them while on vacation.

I moved back to the cold, forbidding world of Scandinavian crime with Karin Fossum's Bad Intentions.  The book begins with the death of a troubled teen named Jon Moreno.  He jumps into a lake while on a weekend trip and drowns, before his two friends have time to save him.  Over the course of the book, we learn a lot more about all three young men, in more of a psychological study than a police procedural. Creepy and heavy on the psychological tension.

Then it was back to WWI-era England with A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd.  I am a fan of Todd's Ian Rutledge series; this is a second, more recent mystery series set in the same WWI-era time period, but featuring an army nurse named Bess Crawford. This is the third book in the series and I think the series is getting better each time out.  While on leave from duty, Bess returns to her London flat, only to find a woman huddled in the doorway. She invites her in and gets sucked into the woman's life. The woman claims she was beaten by her husband, but wants to returm home -- if Bess will go with her. Once you get past the unlikeliness of a WWI nurse giving up precious leave to accompany a virtual stranger to her country home, the mystery gets interesting.

GKIYH fan Mary Kay has been recommending the Armand Gamache series of mysteries, set in Quebec, and I am glad I took her up on the recommendation.  This summer I read two Gamache mysteries, first Bury Your Dead, in which Gamache spends some time in Montreal recovering from the violent gunfight that ended a recent investigation. This book was really moving in the way it travels back and forth from the past to the present, slowly revealing the events that changed Gamache's life.  The most recent book in the series, A Trick of the Light, didn't affect me as deeply, but was still very good, centering around the death of a thoroughly unpleasant art critic in the garden of a rural village.

I did take some time out from the mysteries to read a few good non-fiction books.  I really enjoyed In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson. Larson seeks to answer the very compelling question of why the U.S. and other countries either didn't realize what Hitler's intentions were earlier in time.  Thus Larson's book begins in 1933, when William Dodd, a Chicago professor, is named ambassador to Berlin.  Dodd moved his family to Berlin (even shipping his car overseas so he wouldn't have to buy a new one while there) and we see how reports of German atrocities and aggression are tempered by the German government's assurances that Hitler means no harm.  Especially striking is the way in which Dodd, an outsider to the diplomatic corps, has misgivings that keep getting bigger even as folks back in the US don't seem to be paying much attention to what he has to say.

I also read an interesting biography of Mary Boleyn, the infamous Queen Anne Boleyn's sister, called (of course) Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings by noted historian Alison Weir.  Mary Boleyn was the subject in recent years of a lot of historical fiction, and Weir takes a no-nonsense look at what is known about Boleyn (not much) and what has been invented about her (most of what people think they know about her). It's a good book, although the big problem is that when you're writing about a woman who lived so long ago and didn't leave much of a written record about herself, there's only so much to say. Weir ends up with more to say about what Mary Boleyn was not, than what she was, which makes the topic a bit unsatisfying (but is not the fault of the author).

Last non-fiction offering was grim but fascinating.  A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown by Julia Scheeres is a history of the Jonestown massacre.  Scheeres herself was raised by a fundamentalist Christian family and as a teen, she and her brother were sent to a Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic.  Her perspective gives her, I think, a special empathy for the victims of Jim Jones, and inspired some of the survivors to speak to her for the first time on the record.  She pored over thousands of pages of newly-released government documents, too, for a thorough look at what happened and why.

I continued to read some good young adult books.  In July, I read Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly. I'd read good reviews of this book and I thought I'd give it a try, perhaps then recommending it to my 13 yr old. I really liked the book, which is set both in the present time and during the French Revolution.   I have since learned that the author is a fellow graduate of the University of Rochester (we probably overlapped by 2 years) which made me like her even more.  When I had the chance to  scored a free copy of a book called The Wild Rose by the same author, I jumped.  While I enjoyed The Wild Rose, it was more of a sprawling family saga (intended for adults) and was the third in a series (I hadn't read any of the earlier ones).  It took place in the years around World War I, and the story stretched from the mountains of Asia and Africa to London to Turkey.

Little Miss spent much of the summer rereading the Harry Potter series, and so in solidarity with her, I reread the first 2 books of the Harry Potter series.  I'd read them when they first came out, but it was great fun to enjoy them again, especially given my daughter's enthusiasm for them.

Somewhere along the way, I picked up a copy of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, for some absolutely ridiculous price like three bucks on a remainder table.  I enjoyed the book, which tells the story of a grad student cleaning out her grandmother's house, only to find there is a family connection to one of the witches involved in the Salem witch trials.  I felt like I'd read something similar to this before, but it was a good beach book and went fast.

Phew, I read a lot this summer, didn't I?  I found The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino at the library, and I'd read some good reviews of it. (It won the Japanese equivalent of the Booker Prize.)  This was one of those books that grabbed me right from the beginning, and I read it in a really short period of time because it was so suspenseful.  The book is about a Japanese woman who accidentally kills her nasty ex-husband, then disposes of the body with the help of her next-door neighbor (who she doesn't really know very well until this point).  The plot is twisting and intricate and I guess you'd describe it as a psychological thriller as much as a police procedural.

The Sixth Lamentation by William Brodrick, is a thriller that begins when an old man asks a monk what to do when the world turns against you. The monk tells him to seek sanctuary. The old man turns out to be a Nazi war criminal and he does seek sanctuary (in the historic sense of the word) in the monk's priory. The monk -- who is a former barrister -- is ordered by his chapter to investigate the old man's case. This was a good thriller which flips back and forth between WWII and the present day.  A quick, suspenseful read.

Last on my list was a book nominated for the Gold Dagger Award (given to the best mystery novel by a crime writers' association),  The Cypress House by Michael Koryta. This novel deserves the word "gripping":  as it begins, we see a Depression-era drifter is on a train to find work at a Civilian Conservation Corps site in Florida.  The drifter, named Arlen Wagner, has a strange gift -- he can see in advance when someone is going to die. (When someone is not long for this world and Wagner looks at him, he sees smoke in their eyes and a skeleton instead of a body.) Wagner looks around the train he's on and sees smoke in the eyes of everyone around him, which can only mean that something horrific is going to happen to the train. He gets off at the next station, taking his young friend with him. They end up at Cypress House, a kind of deserted inn on the Gulf Coast. Wagner and his friend get sucked into the world of Cypress House's owner, the lonely Rebecca Cady and have to face the fury of a Gulf Coast tropical storm along with the twisted and corrupt small town sheriff and his cronies. A really good read (I can just imagine the movie).

So that's what I read this summer. I'll catch up with my fall reading list and give you book reports for October and November next week.

In the meantime, happy Thanksgiving to all those celebrating it. I am grateful for so many things in my life: health, family, dear friends, knitting, bunnies, and of course books.  Thanks for being a part of it.


laura said...

very interesting carol.

I'm interested in the todd mysteries.
i do believe my mom read the ones set in italy and absolutely loved them

currently reading the larsen book. can't say i'm *enjoying* it but i find it an interesting read, certainly.

the donnelly books have been on my queue for a while.


Marcia said...

Always appreciate your reviews. Thanks for taking the time to do this. I always check out your recommendations.

Anonymous said...

I really love your book reviews, Carol. We share much the same taste in books, and I check out many of your recommendations!