Saturday, November 07, 2009

October Book Report

Another month flies by; here's what I read. Don't forget to comment if you've read anything good lately that you think I might like -- I get lots of great recommendations that way... and I'm still looking for some of the ones you recommended last time.

A Darker Domain by Val McDermid. McDermid's Tony Hill books are among the most creepy ever (and I enjoyed the British teevee series based on McDermid's characters, available on Netflix) -- but this one seemed a bit anemic by comparison. Karen Pirie is a Scottish police inspector assigned to the Cold Case team. One day, a woman walks in to report her father missing -- the clincher is that he disappeared twenty years ago. Although not technically her kind of cold case, Pirie decides to look into the man's disappearance. At the same time, new evidence is discovered relating to a twenty-year-old unsolved kidnapping case. I saw where this one was headed pretty early on, and I found the constant shifts between time and point-of-view to be jarring. So I'd rate this one okay but not McDermid's best, not by a long shot.

My Soul to Take: A Novel of Iceland, by Yrsa Sigurdadottir, was the sequel to Last Rituals, which I read earlier this summer. I didn't like this quite as much, but it was overall a good mystery with the interesting backdrop of Icelandic culture. The main character is a lawyer (the same one as in Last Rituals) who is called out to help a new-age client who has just built a spa/hotel in a rural beach area; while the lawyer is there, the hotel's architect is brutally murdered.

Manic: A Memoir by Terry Cheney, was recommended by a blog-reader (Hyphenated Carol, maybe?) and I found it to be a quick and fascinating read. The author is a former entertainment lawyer who is bipolar, and she has written a memoir discussing her life and how being bipolar has affected it. What I found especially compelling were Cheney's vivid descriptions of what it is like to be manic (well, as she experiences it; apparently, different people experience different flavors of mania) and the crippling depressions that followed her manic episodes. She also describes the toll that her disease has taken on her personal life -- her job, relationships, friendships. If you're bipolar or know someone who is, you might want to take a look.

Sun and Shadow: An Erik Winter Novel by Ake Edwardson. This was another (all together now) brooding Scandinavian mystery -- although a new series for me. The protagonist is Erik Winter, Sweden's youngest chief inspector, mulling over the impending birth of his first child. He's called in to solve a creepy double murder in which an extremely violence-laden form of heavy metal music plays a role. The book seemed a bit slow and a bit long to me, although it wasn't a bad read by any means. This was one of those books that may have suffered simply because I read it stretched out over a longer-than-usual period of time (and I went to Rhinebeck in the middle of it, which totally discombobulated me).

From Doon with Death by Ruth Rendell. Rendell's debut novel isn't as complex or as polished as her later ones are, but it's still damn good. A classic English mystery, set in the countryside, in which a limited number of suspects are winnowed down until the climatic scene, in which the clever inspector (in this case, Reg Wexford) reveals how it was done, as the suspect confesses. I suspect the twist in the ending was a bit more unexpected and controversial when this book was first published (1964ish) but still a good read.

Casting Off by Nicole Dickson. I received a review copy of this book which falls into the category I think of as "knit lit" -- works of fiction intended to appeal to knitters, or at least female knitters of a certain age, in which knitting plays a role in plot or character development. I tend not to read these books, partly because I find myself irritated whenever the books get something wrong about knitting but mostly because I tend to look for books that take me out of my daily life rather than remind me of it.

I gave Casting Off a go, but my heart wasn't in it. I suspect that if you liked The Shop on Blossom Street (which I also haven't read), you might find this book enjoyable. The main character is Rebecca Moray (couldn't stop thinking of Rebecca DeMornay on Seinfeld -- "the homeless don't want your muffin stumps"), a textile scholar who goes to an island off the coast of Ireland to study fisherman's sweaters. Rebecca has a six-year-old daughter named Rowan (ha! now there's a knitting detail I like) and is still recovering from the death of Rowan's father shortly after Rowan's birth. It won't spoil the plot to tell you that Rebecca's relationship with the late Dennis was abusive and she still bears the emotional scars of her experiences. So she comes to the island seeking more than just to study sweaters; she's also looking for healing, closure, putting paid to the past.

Alas, I found myself too obsessed with knitting to be able to take the book at face value. This is clearly my problem, being an obsessive compulsive anal-retentive control freak a passionate knitter. I should be able to overlook the lovely but inaccurate book cover (how you gonna finish the bottom edging on that otherwise-finished, apparently knit in the round sweater, with those two straight needles, Rebecca?). I shouldn't have been irritated by the invented book on gansey knitting, quotes from which preface each chapter (what? there weren't enough REAL books on knitting to quote from?). I should have been able to overlook the fact that the textile scholar accepts at face value the sweet but historically-questionable theory that gansey patterns were knit so that family members could identify the bodies of dead fisherman that washed up on shore, too battered by the rocks to be recognized (a textile knitter who wants to write a scholarly treatise on ganseys didn't bother to research this?). See how irritating my internal monologue was?

So while Casting Off seems like a sweet and likeable book in the chick-lit and knit-lit genre, it just wasn't for me. I'd be happy to pass the copy on to someone else -- just leave a comment and I'll give it to the first one who asks.


Barb said...

Me! Me! I'l take Casting Off.

(Ha ha. Pysch. I felt the same irritation as I read your description. Really, someone else can have it.)

Ali P said...

I also dislike the knit lit books. I am always disappointed in the story. Even Friday Night Knitting Club got a "meh" from me.
Yet, I'm not a big mystery lover or obsessed with Scandinavian culture. I did take your recommendation on The Lace Reader awhile back and it was interesting.
Thanks for being here, babe.

StephCat said...

I'm with you. Inaccuracies like those you've mentioned would drive me crazy. It's sloppy research.

Carrie said...

Don't know if you"ll like it, but I really enjoyed "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." Good fun, and written with tongue firmly in cheek.

Anonymous said...

Okay, if nobody else wants "Casting Off", I'll take it. (By the time it makes its way to the top of my TBR stack, I'll probably have forgotten where it came from...)

BTW, you haven't missed anything by not having read Debbie Macomber's "Blossom Street" knitting books. She's a sweet lady, and a knitter, but her prose is so predictable and treacly that it makes my blood sugar soar to dangerous heights...

--Lynda in Oregon

Betty said...

Based on an NPR review, I picked up Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner. It raises "chick lit" to a new level, just exactly as the reviewer promised.

Carol said...

Lynda in OR -- PM me with your address, please?

Betty -- I LOVE Jennifer Weiner. She used to write for the Philly Inquirer and I was a big fan then, just sort of forgot that she was due to have another book out soon. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

See my private email to you please, Carol. I'm such a technodork that I don't know how to IM....

--Lynda in Oregon

Becky said...

Manic: A Memoir looks like a great one. I am reading a great memoir about bipolar disorder right now titled, "bipolar bare: my life’s journey with mental disorder- a memoir" by Carlton Davis. The complex interweaving of stories, viewpoints, images, and diagnoses makes “bipolar bare” was really eye opening. I can't wait to check out "Manic: A Memoir" to compare the two books.