Saturday, August 09, 2008

Catch-up Book Report

I spent the last week reviewing page proofs for Knitting Socks with Handpainted Yarn and it's very exciting to see it so close to final form! However, as you can see, my blogging has dropped off a little, so today I'm starting to play catch-up. I noticed that I hadn't done a book report since March or April or something, so here goes. (Remember, I'm a freakishly fast reader, and this report covers over three months. . .)

When You Are Engulfed in Flames, by David Sedaris. I love David Sedaris, and there were many moments in his latest book where I laughed uproariously. I took this on vacation with me, and Tom kept asking me what was so funny, and I ended up reading passages of the book out loud to him, causing us both to crack up. My only quibble is that the last quarter of the book is written as a kind of impressionistic journal chronicling Sedaris' battle to quit smoking. While I appreciate how difficult that is, this portion of the book didn't seem to fit with the rest of it, and, quite honestly, wasn't as funny. But I still wouldn't miss a David Sedaris book for anything in the world.

You know how I love my murder mysteries, so there were quite a few of those, including Not in the Flesh, Ruth Rendell's latest Inspector Wexford mystery. This wasn't her best novel, or even her best Wexford novel, but even an okay Ruth Rendell is better than most of the crap out there.

I discovered Tana French when I found In the Woods in the library's new books section. Set in Dublin, this is a story within a story, told by a police detective investigating the death of a young girl. However, the detective has his own personal agenda, as he, along with two friends, were kidnapped at the age of twelve in the same woods in which the young girl's body was found. He's got to fight his own demons as well as try to solve the present-day mystery. This one doesn't have an ending that neatly ties everything up in a bow, but I found that to suit the book's theme of the frailty and mutability of memory. I followed it up with French's follow-up, The Likeness, which features the In The Woods detective's former partner, as she gets involved in a murder case. It seems the murder victim looks exactly like her, and so the police pretend the victim lived, and send the lookalike detective "undercover" to impersonate the victim to try to figure out who the murderer might be. Once you get past how ridiculously improbable this kind of identity-switching is, the book is filled with tension and emotional intrigue, and I enjoyed it very much.

Also on the new books shelf (we've got a good library! and I swear they read the NY Times Magazine Book Review section when they add new books) were I Shall Not Want, by Julia Spencer-Fleming, and Where Memories Lie, by Deborah Crombie, the latest mysteries in two series that I have been reading. The Spencer-Fleming was much more vivid and suspenseful than the Crombie, which disappointed me a bit. Also in the new mystery section was Black Seconds, another dark, spare Scandinavian mystery by Karin Fossum. I liked this one and it was a fairly quick, suspenseful read.

In the political realm, I read The Real McCain: Why Conservatives Don't Trust Him and Why Independents Shouldn't and I urge anyone who thinks they might vote for McCain, or who still believes that he is a "maverick" who thinks for himself and is full of refreshing candor (i.e., "straight talk") to read this book -- it's short -- or if you prefer, to take a good hard look at McCain's political positions over the years. McCain has flipflopped a staggering number of times on a spectrum of issues that are important to me: military intervention in other countries, abortion, ethics legislation, gay rights, campaign reform, and on and on. The Real McCain is written by someone who once donated to McCain's 2000 presidential campaign but became disillusioned by seeing his political opportunism. If you feel this book is too partisan, then do some objective research yourself. You just might be surprised at what you find.

I balked for a long time before trying the Outlander novels by Diana Gabaldon. After numerous people recommended them, I tried Outlander and the first sequel (which are huge!) and enjoyed them way more than I ever thought I would. I don't read much science fiction, and I mistakenly thought this series was more science fiction-y than it is (it really isn't at all, except for the time travel thing); instead, it is a weird blend of time travel and historical fiction, with a bit of romance novel thrown in. Since I'd been reading a lot of historical fiction, I gave these books a go and found them oddly compelling.

Let's see, what else did I read?

I'm about to finish My Cousin Rachel by Daphne DuMaurier, which is quite an excellent Gothic-style mystery. DuMaurier is best known for Rebecca which is a great book if you've never read it. My Cousin Rachel is about a man whose beloved uncle meets and marries a distant cousin while abroad. The uncle dies abruptly in Italy, and his widow comes to visit the nephew. The story is told from the point of view of the nephew, who is attracted to the widow in a kind of Mrs. Robinson way, yet he grapples with his ongoing suspicions about her motives -- is she a fortune-hunter? did she cheat on his uncle? did she murder his uncle? Very well done and if it hasn't been made into a movie already, it should be.

So there you have it: my summer reading list. And with another couple of weeks left in August, I'm sure I'll add a few more to it. If you've read anything good lately, leave a comment -- I'm always looking for new authors to try.


Anonymous said...

You might want to try Peter May, who's written three mysteries centered in China. I'm in the middle of the second one, The Fourth Sacrifice, and am thoroughly engrossed. More on the thriller end is the John Rain series, by John Eisler (?). Start with the first one, Rain Falls. A special book, not a mystery and published a few years ago, is Kate Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Museum. It's avery compelling, complex family history (gross oversimplification). Hope these lead you in a good direction.

M-H said...

Google is your friend: "My cousin Rachel" has been both filmed and made into a TV series - although neither is recent. You might also enjoy reading Barry Maitland, who has been writing crime for over ten years. His novel are set in the UK, and usually involve some kind of connection with architecture - he was a professor of architecture before his retirement.

Anonymous said...

Have you read "The King's General" by Daphne DuMaurier? I read it many years ago, and did like it better than "Rebecca" but my opinion might be different if I reread them now. Will look for My Cousin Rachel.

How about any John Irving? ("The World According to Garp", "Cider House Rules") I just read "A Prayer for Owen Meany"- loved it- had my heart broken a couple of times. I have no idea how to summarize it for a comment post, though. It's quite different than what I'm reading- working my way through the Stephanie Plum series again (Janet Evanovich). Where I am right now, I really prefer "happy" reading.

Anonymous said...

Ha-Ha! Once you have been sucked into the Outlander world there is no escape!

Seriously, I'm an SF reader but I really enjoy the series. I think it's down to the sheer quality of both the writing and the research. Diana Gabaldon has created a very vivid world that is very easy to get lost in. I also find it very thought provoking as I think about people must have once lived.

A book that I always find extremely compelling during election times is Interface by Stephen Bury. Stephen Bury is a pseudonym for Neal Stephenson and his uncle (IIRC). It is SF but is set in a very near future, just one step away from where we are now.

Anonymous said...

The new Minette Walters was my beach reading, The Chameleon's Shadow. If you don't know her, she's a bit like Ruth Rendell, though both more grisly and more accessible. I'm now closing in on library fines for The Age of Shiva, Manil Suri's second in his Indian trilogy. It's great but slow going for the early to bed set. Enjoy the rest of summer, and it's reading.

Anonymous said...

I've been sucked into the Outlander series as well. I don't think the writing is superb - Gabladon is no Tolstoy or Fielding - but it's compelling and the world she's created is eminently readable. Plus, it gives me an excuse to research plaids and say "och!" or "wee."
Next up in the Summer of Tika's Trash is probably the Twilight series, so you can see where I stand on capital-L Literature at the moment.

I'm a huge fan of DuMaurier. Rebecca is probably one of my all-time favorite books. Oddly, she runs together with Thomas Hardy in my mind; perhaps I read Rebecca and Far from the Madding Crowd back-to-back. Have you read Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George? I enjoyed it immensely.

Anonymous said...

I liked Elizabeth George a lot. (Haven't read anything of hers recently, though.)
Donna Andrews is light and funny.
Jan Burke is excellent.
I'm currently on a Charles De Lint binge - fantasy that's very very good.
As a matter of fact, I'm off to the library this morning. I'll be taking a list of some of your recommendations!

Kathy said...

You are amazing. I love to read but there's never enough time! I read 100 pages last week at the beach and was pretty darned impressed with myself. Maybe I need a time management seminar or something. . . .

Kris said...

If you like murder mystery and historical fiction, then "Mistress of the Art of Death" by Ariana Franklin is a great combination of the two. At least for a quick summer read -- for what's left of the summer...

Anonymous said...

Whoa, Caro, you know I already love you.
My last reads: In the Woods, The Likeness (finishing tonight), When You Are Engulfed In Flames, Black Seconds.
And Denise Mina, awesome author of very noir Glasgow crime fiction.

Are you stalking me?

Laura Sue said...

...anything by Neil Gaiman, anything by Terry Pratchett or Guy Gavriel Kay. None are science fiction. More like fantasy--but so much more. Not like the bad fantasy that pervades the bookstores. These are the real deal. I.e., they can write like nobody's business.

Carol said...

Wow, you guys are good. I've read Kate Atkinson's Behind the Museum; a bunch of John Irving; I've read a bunch of Minette Walters; I love Thomas Hardy, although it's been a while since I reread any of his stuff; I've read the Henry the 8th book by Margaret George but not Cleopatra; everything by Eliz. George (except "What came before..."); and everything I could find by Denise Mina.

Yes, Kathy M., I'm totally stalking you. Either that, or it's that minx of a Selma who recommends the same books to us. . .

I'm off to add a bunch of these to my Amazon wish list, which I also print out and use at the library.

Anonymous said...

Selma's not the boss of me.