Tuesday, December 28, 2010

December Book Report

It was a slow finish to the year, so I've got only a couple of titles to report for December. First up was Mr. Toppit by Charles Elton, which I received from the Amazon Vine program. The novel has an interesting premise: "Mr. Toppit" is a character in a series of children's books written by Arthur Hayman. The books didn't become popular until after Arthur's sudden death -- after which, through a series of odd coincidences, they became a sensation in the UK and USA. The book is written from the perspective of Hayman's son Luke, for whom the protagonist in the books was named. Luke has an uneasy relationship with his father's fame and legacy. The book explores how the success and fame that ensue after Arthur's death affect his widow and two children -- as well as other people more or less tangential in Arthur's life. Elton also addresses issues like the LA celebrity scene, the publishing world, family secrets & dysfunction, substance abuse and more. But the tone is darkly comic and there are all sorts of quirky characters to keep the reader amused. I have since read that Elton was inspired to write the book when he represented the A.A. Milne estate:

Fifteen years ago I began writing Mr. Toppit when I was a literary agent representing the estate of A.A. Milne, author of Winnie-the-Pooh. I learned the story of Milne’s son, Christopher Robin Milne, who grew to hate the fame his father's books brought him. To reshape that idea in a modern context was the single idea that was the genesis of my novel.

During the years I spent writing, another phenomenon occurred in the world of children's book publishing that made Winnie-the-Pooh's fame seem parochial: Harry Potter. Suddenly, my idea of a modern series of children's stories that take over the world did not seem so far-fetched. What had originally been conceived as a small story about my boy hero, Luke Hayman, suddenly made famous by his dead father's books widened into both an examination of the mechanics of fame and a strange journey towards a literary tipping point that has devastating consequences for the characters in my book.

(from Amazon.com's website)

The second book I read was graciously lent to me by Ms. Kathy M.: The Truth-Teller's Lie, by Sophie Hannah. This was a combination of psychological suspense (think Ruth Rendell) combined with a police procedural. The chapters alternate between the first-person account of a woman who is a rape victim, and reports her married lover missing when he breaks all contact with her and disappears; and the third-person account of the police detectives investigating her missing-persons report. It's hard to review this one without giving too much away, but I thought the first-person chapters didn't work as well as the third-person ones, although it was a suspenseful and creepy tale.

Last was Gone to Ground by John Harvey, in which a Cambridge lecturer is found murdered in his house. At the time of his death, he was working on a biography of a 50s movie star, but it isn't at all clear that this has anything to do with his murder. This was a decent mystery, but not as well-done as some other John Harvey books I've read.

Since it's been a bit crazy here, with the end of the holidays, the kids home on break and some knitting deadlines approaching, I'm unlikely to read much more before the New Year, but I'll do a year-end summary soon, along with some reading resolutions for 2011. As always, please leave your suggestions or comments -- I try to respond to them in the comments section.

Check out the WEBS podcast, Ready Set Knit, this weekend, as I join Kathy and Steve to opine about 2010: The Knitting (and Crochet) Year That Was....

1 comment:

rosesmama said...

Finally, a month in which I don't feel dwarfed by your booklist.

I recently had Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin from the library, and since I didn't finish it, I got it for myself for Christmas. It is a series of intersecting stories about the day that Phillipe Petit walked a tightrope between the twin towers.

And if you love children's book illustrations, Mordecai Gerstein's The Man Who Walked Between The Towers will fill you with awe.

Happy New Year!