Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Divergent" by Veronica Roth

This book wasn't even on my radar until I started hearing about the movie. That's not especially surprising, since I'm not one of those devours-everything-YA readers. I don't generally seek out YA novels, but when one comes after me I don't kick it out of bed.

We went to see the movie knowing nothing about it, though we had the vague idea that it was in the same vein as The Hunger Games (which, in my opinion, is a complimentary way of describing a book or movie). And it was exactly like The Hunger Games, except completely different. If you know what I mean.

I really enjoyed the movie--it was exciting and clever and engaging--which made me want to read the book. This was partly to savor bits of the movie without committing another two-hour block of time to it, and partly because I thought it might answer a few lingering questions. (Like, was there any significance to Tris's bird tattoo? Yes, there was!)

It also invites a fun new party game. Which faction would you choose? As the author notes in the interview found at the end of my copy of the book, there are actually two questions there: which faction do you have an aptitude for, and which faction would you like to be in? Well, as much as I like the idea of Dauntless (Four's version, not Eric's), I'm pretty sure I would be the girl to splat to my death before the end of the first day. I suppose, being a reader by choice and a science-y person by trade, I have an aptitude for Erudite. But which faction would I like to be in? NONE!! And by this I certainly don't mean I'd like to be factionless. I mean that, as flawed as the real world might be, I'm so glad I don't live in a dystopian novel instead.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"The Mathematics of Love" by Emma Darwin

I didn't expect much from this book. I'd never heard of it, or its author, but there must have been something that drew me beyond its bargain basement price at the Friends of the Library bookstore. Maybe it was the title . . . though it certainly couldn't have been the reference to mathematics. (Math? I hate math. They put me in a room with math once. It drove me crazy.) And love? You know how love stories can make me gag. But the two together? They have some kind of weird synergy.

I meandered languidly through this book over the past three weeks. It tells two stories which are barely more than tangentially related; one is the story of Anna Ware, a teenage English girl sent to live with her uncle at his failed school during the sweltering summer of 1976. (Yes, same summer as Instructions for a Heatwave . . . AND, I think, The Cement Garden which I read in February but haven't had a chance to blog about yet.) The other is the story of Stephen Fairhurst, owner of Kersey Hall and veteran of Waterloo, more than a century and a half earlier.

At first I found myself more interested in Anna's story than in Stephen's. And, though I was enjoying reading, I didn't find the book compelling. Until just a day or so ago. Suddenly, surprisingly, the book reached critical mass, and I realized that both stories (and their tenuous, mysterious links) had quietly and stealthily become fascinating. I finally had the time to finish the book this afternoon . . . but even after I finished reading, I didn't feel like I'd reached the end of the story. It's not that the plot felt unresolved, but I was left with so many unanswered questions.

As I mentally enumerated the remaining mysteries, I tried to convince myself that further elucidation didn't matter (because it would be so freeing if I could just let it go), but the longer I spent in this tally, the more I fretted and wondered, like a dog worrying a bone (or something less clichéd).

My biggest question: What was the deal with Cecil living in Anna's time and yet being seen in by Stephen? Was this just some sort of contrivance added after the book was mostly completed in hopes of making the link between Stephen and Anna seem slightly more substantial and/or interesting? (If so, mission accomplished.) If I knew this was all it was, I could let it go. But I am unable to know and unable to let it go and thus my mind won't stop digging for a deeper meaning.

Another, slightly less captivating question: Who was Anna's father? It is hinted that Idoia is an ancestor on her father's side (she would have been far too old to be Anna's grandmother, but perhaps add a few greats and it might have worked) but it's never made plain, and this is the closest we get to discovering Anna's father's identity. I can see, however, that the fact that Anna doesn't learn more about her father is the less artificial route.

There were many other unanswered questions that aren't quite as niggling, partly because the answers aren't even hinted at and partly because knowing the answers really wouldn't have much bearing on the story. (Consequently--thank goodness!--I feel more able to let these go.) Like: What happened to the school to make it close? Where had Belle been all those years? (I couldn't help but wonder if she'd been in prison for something. But if so, what for?) Who was Cecil's mother, and where was she?

Enigmas aside, I was drawn in to the relationships described in this book. There is something undefined that holds me back from naming this a Must Read, but I can definitely say my expectations were exceeded (and not just because they were low in the first place).

Saturday, March 29, 2014

"Mrs. Poe" by Lynn Cullen

Of the four books I added to my list during last November's lovely visit to The Book People in Austin, this is the first one I read. (The second was Maggie O'Farrell's Instructions for a Heatwave, which I've already blogged about; I have yet to read the other two.)

Edgar Allan Poe is, to me, an intriguing and mysterious figure. From the rumors that surrounded him (alcoholism, drug abuse, insanity) to the somewhat strange but true aspects of his biography (he married his 13-year-old cousin) to his body of work (Wilkie Collins could have learned a thing or two from him about the creepiness factor!), I don't think anyone could call Poe boring. And yet I've never sought out a biographical work about him. I guess I'm too busy preferring fiction. So here's a good compromise: historical fiction. 

But this book isn't that straightforward (as perhaps you might have guessed from the title). Like The Journal of Mrs Pepys or The Mists of Avalon, Mrs. Poe takes a well-known subject and gives it a fresh twist: it is narrated by the women involved. One great thing about this idea is the way it gives new life to an old story. And one way it gives new life to an old story is by embellishment. Where the information known about a topic is thin, an author is more free to invent her own details.

When I first picked this book up, for some reason I assumed that it held a great deal of embellishment. But (with the help of Wikipedia) I discovered that this book is weighted much more heavily in fact than fiction. Yes, Frances Sargent Osgood was a real poetess and she really knew Poe and they really did have a relationship (or at least that's what everyone said) and everyone who was anyone in mid-1800s New York literary society was being consumed by consumption. 

So, did Lynn Cullen do a brilliant job of telling this story? Well, here's where you'll realize that this is one of those crap blog posts I warned you about. I don't remember. I'm pretty sure I enjoyed reading the book, but I'm also pretty sure it wasn't one of my Most Favorite Books Ever. I'm certain I would have remembered if I'd loved it or hated it. I'm just going to have to assume it is worth re-reading and try it again someday.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Leonard Maltin's 151 Best Movies You've Never Seen

I first heard about this book back when I actually had time to watch movies. I liked the sound of it: first of all, I was intrigued. Could Maltin really come up with 151 great movies I'd never seen? Second of all, back then I was always looking for good movies to add to my bloated netflix queue.

Now, life is different. I've even canceled my disk subscription to netflix (though I kept the streaming subscription, worthless as it is, mainly because my kids like to watch the handful of crappy little shows they can find there. Oh, and netflix has the first two seasons of Sherlock.)

So why didn't I read this book years ago, if I'm not really looking for movies to add to my list anymore? The main reason is that it just recently arrived from The secondary reason is that it seemed like a good book to bring on a busy vacation. A book of one- or two-page synopses of movies is something I can dip into briefly and occasionally without losing momentum or getting too involved.

Surprise 1: Maltin really did come up with (almost) 151 movies I've never seen. There were only about a dozen movies in this book that I'd even heard of! Though there were a handful more I thought I'd heard of, but that turned out to be merely due to a titular similarity to other films or books. So, obviously, I've seen even fewer of them (Brick, 15 Minutes, Bubba Ho-Tep, CasanovaOne Fine Day, and Zathura . . . some of which make me doubt the "Best" mentioned in the title somewhat).

Surprise 2: There weren't many films that Maltin convinced me I'd want to watch. I wonder if I would have felt differently in my gorging-myself-on-movies heyday? I suppose that's possible, except there was a lot of "this movie was great except for [huge flaw/series of shortcomings that turned most people off]", or "this is a movie that no one else liked except for me, but since it was perfect for me I'll write about it in this book." There was even one movie that Maltin admitted some people might find as entertaining as watching paint dry. (Oh, by the way, he's not afraid of cliché.)

But there were a few I think I'd like to see someday, even if  I'm not rushing out to buy the DVDs:

The Devil's Backbone, directed by Guillermo del Toro (as was Pan's Labyrinth). Why? Maltin describes it as "unrelentingly eerie--a thinking person's Halloween movie." And because of Pan's Labyrinth, of course.

Stone Reader (a documentary, no less). On the surface, it is director Mark Moskowitz's search for the author of a book he loved as a child; through this quest, he "decides to explore the very nature of reading, and why we feel so connected to certain books we encounter over the course of our lives." On one hand, that sounds like the sort of exploration I'd like to do. On the other hand, I'd kind of just rather read a book.

The Shadow of the Moon, another documentary (?!), this one about the Apollo space program--including interviews with ten of its surviving astronauts.

Metroland, based on the novel by Julian Barnes, because it's about love and Paris and what-ifs and "the truth of hopes, dreams and reality," though Maltin managed to make it sound less cheesy than I just did. And Christian Bale is in it. He's cool. (Oops, I forgot my 14-year-old son told me I can't use that word.)

The Dead Girl, not really due to Maltin's synopsis, but because it sounds intriguing.

The Tao of Steve. I almost didn't want to list this one here--for some reason, I'm embarrassed to admit I'd like to see it (it's about a lothario who is disarmed when he falls in love). But I also didn't want to forget about it.

Final analysis: this was an entertaining diversion, and a great book for a movie buff (though I imagine a true movie buff would have already seen far more of these movies than I have). My favorite thing about this book? It now has a bunch of sand from Cocoa Beach stuck between its pages.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

"Paper Towns" by John Green

I have no idea when I bought this book (although I do know it was before Tuesday, September 21, 2010). I do know why I bought this book: first, the author is John Green, and second, it was on sale for $2.97.

The spine of Paper Towns caught my eye on my bookshelf (not my Future Reads shelf, which is where I'm supposed to be finding my next selections, if only to make the choice less agonizing, but that's my own rule so I am welcome to break it) as I was putting my youngest to bed on Sunday night. I knew absolutely nothing about the story, but I felt sure it would be a good read and I was fairly certain I wouldn't get stuck on it for weeks.

I was right on both counts: I enjoyed the book and finished it last night. And because I would really, really like to pick up another book now (though I haven't even given a thought to which one will be next), and because the rule I made in my last post is too new to break even if it is my own, I am proud to be posting about this book within 24 hours of completing it!

John Green is so good at capturing the anguish of teenage love. And the voice of a teenager. Or . . . I don't know, it sure has been a long time since I was a teenager, so I could be wrong about that. There were times where the "witty repartee" seemed a bit too slick to be believable. But it can't be denied that he tells a good story!

I find it difficult to describe the book's plot without giving too much away, so I'll err on the side of saying too little: a slightly nerdy teenage boy is starry-eyed about the beautiful girl who lives next door to him. For the first half of this book I was thinking Paper Towns was merely a variation on Green's Looking for Alaska, right down to the dynamics between the main characters. But, happily, I was wrong, and this turned out to be its own unique story, full of its own secrets.

And what do you know? On the very first page I found out the story begins in Orlando. Can you believe it? (Did I mention I'm going there next week?) But I only had to turn one page to discover it's not about the Orlando I'm going to. (At least that's my hope.) This is definitely not a Disney story. But I liked it (probably more than I would have liked a Disney story) and was absorbed by Quentin's hunt for clues. Paper Towns won't join the ranks of my Most Favorite Books Ever, but it was fun without being fluffy.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Note to self on Blogging Theory

I am far, far behind on blogging. (Have I mentioned this before? Maybe about once a year? Which seems to be how often I'm posting these days?) When I look at this stack of books I've read but haven't written about, it makes me sad. I KNOW I thought things and ingested ideas as I read each of these books, but without a blog post to refresh my memory, that's all lost now.

Though there are many things I've enjoyed about book blogging in the past (especially pertaining to the community of book bloggers: sharing my thoughts on books I've read, and finding similar posts by others), the thing I love most about my book blog is that it is a record of my reading experiences. It is important to me as my own resource. Where did I first hear about a book? When did I read it? What about the book beckoned to me, calling me to pick it up? Was it skillfully written? What parallels did I draw: between this story and others, or between the characters and people I've met? Did any ideas or quotes stand out to me? Was it an enjoyable reading experience, and is the book worthy of a re-read?

I hate to give up on the idea of posting about all my currently un-blogged books, though I know a lot of those posts would be worthless--even to me. In the majority of cases, I won't be able to remember the answers to many of the questions that explain what stood out to me as I read. But as ineffective as those posts may be, I still want to make the attempt. So, at the moment, my plan is to slowly catch up. I am making it my goal to write about at least one book a week, no matter how insignificant the post.

 More importantly, I want to commit to writing about the books I read from here on. In an effort to avoid getting even further behind with blogging, I am imposing a new rule upon myself: I can't start reading a new book until I've posted about the last one. What I write may be minimal and unembellished, but at least I'll be maintaining a record.

Oh yeah . . . and my plan doesn't take effect until after Spring Break. Because I'm going to Disney World!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

"Instructions for a Heatwave" by Maggie O'Farrell

My sweet husband gave this book to me for my birthday. We were spending a lovely afternoon browsing at The Book People in Austin (if you have a chance to visit them, you should!) and he came to me holding this and The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton and asked me to pick one. I told him that was like Sophie's Choice and he bought me both. He's the best!

As usual I've become distracted from my purpose, which is to tell you how much I enjoyed this book. I started it Friday night. I'd just finished with a different book and wanted to read a few pages of something new before drifting off to sleep. So I plucked this beautiful, luscious-looking hardcover from my Future Reads shelf . . . and read 70 pages. And though it can take me weeks to finish a book these days, here it is Sunday afternoon and I've already turned the last page.

My husband and I had both previously read (and loved) O'Farrell's After You'd Gone, and ever since, I've been intending to read something else of hers. (As well as thoroughly intending to pick up AYG again at some point.) Tops on my list was The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, after reading about it here, but as I hadn't been proactive enough to procure a copy of that one yet, Heatwave squeezed its way in front.

I kind of love this book's dust jacket, and I must say I much prefer its look to this coverbut what's inside is even better. From a limited perspective the story might be viewed as your run-of-the-mill window on a slightly dysfunctional family--one of many books that may differ in details but is really just a re-telling of the same old story. The general premise, though interesting, is not in itself earth-shattering: three grown siblings, Irish by birth but raised in London, are brought back together when their father disappears. But this over-simplification does not do the book justice. It is borne above the crowd by the triumvirate of excellent writing, indelible characters with an invigorating synergy, and the draw of secrets. Because it's not just about the disappearance of the father. Within that larger mystery are wrapped countless smaller ones, each just as intriguing as the last.

If I had three thumbs, they would all be pointing up: one to say this book is a keeper, one to say I would re-read it, and one to say I can heartily recommend it to you--after two caveats: first, you may want to look up the pronunciation of the name Aoife before you start reading. Unless you're Irish, in which case you probably already know it. (The pronunciation is described in the book, but if you're as impatient as me, you may find it's not soon enough.) And second: be prepared for the disappointment of never knowing what Gabe wrote at the airport. Unless it's one of those things that's obvious to everyone but me, in which case you'll probably figure it out on your own. (And when you do, please tell me!)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Non-specific ramblings on The Best Books

I had a rare moment this afternoon to lie still and stare off into space for a bit and, surprisingly enough, I didn't fall asleep. Instead, I spent the moment contemplating the books I've read over the past two years--those I haven't blogged about, though I wish I had. (I can see a stack of 25 of them from where I sit, and I'm sure there are at least as many others stashed in various nooks and crannies throughout the house.) Usually this rekindles the Literary Amnesiac fire in me and I start mentally planning how I can catch up and get back into blogging regularly. But today's brief meditation had a unique effect. I began writing a new blog post in my mind, but instead of thinking of specific books that I've read, I considered the various attributes of books I've most enjoyed reading.

For me, there is a bottom line--a minimum requirement, if you will. Technically speaking, the writing must not have mistakes. I have recently been given reason to believe that I *don't* actually catch every grammatical and spelling error present in print, but I find it disruptive when glaring errors figuratively poke me in the eye.

Closely tied to this bottom line: the writing must flow, and must not suck. (For lack of a better term.) Not that I haven't managed to enjoy books with less-than-stellar writing, but I can't call to mind any true favorites that were poorly written. Wow, that sounds pompous . . . well, just keep in mind that I'm talking about my *opinion* of good or bad writing, and I do realize I don't have the last word on that. Also, my definition of "flow" is relatively relaxed and can encompass anything from Faulkner's unconventional stream-of-consciousness prose to Ishiguro's flawless writing. Above all, the writing must not distract me or keep me from losing myself in the story.

If the writing is decent and relatively mistake-free, my all-time favorite characteristic of a good book is the way I am propelled through it. I know I've written here before about my critical mass theory, but I don't mind mentioning it again: I LOVE reaching the point in a book where I am loath to lay it down, where if I have to stop reading I think of nothing but picking the book up again, and where I wish I could put life on hold, doing nothing but reading the book until I've reached the final page. This is kind of a vague trait and one that I'm sure is extremely subjective, but all of my favorite books reach critical mass at one point or another. (And the earlier, the better!)

It seems to me that everything else about a good book is minor compared to what I've already listed. Actually, that's probably the wrong perspective: everything else is the wasabi and pickled ginger to the sushi of good writing and critical mass. (A metaphor which only works if you like wasabi, pickled ginger and sushi. I do.) That doesn't mean the wasabi and pickled ginger aren't important, because they are. And here is what I see as the wasabi and pickled ginger of reading:

I enjoy interesting and unique characters (more so if they're believable), a twisting and engaging plot, and I would claim that the majority of books can only be improved by some suspense and a few secrets. Of course I don't mean that all books should be genre thrillers or murder mysteries; I just mean that I prefer books that raise questions for me to ponder as I read (whether smaller ones, merely about the plot of the book itself, or big ones about the Meaning of Life), especially if those questions aren't answered too quickly. I can even handle a few questions that are never answered . . . but not too many!

I like finding profound thoughts or wise quotes in my books, as long as those thoughts and quotes aren't just a bunch of crap. There may be nothing new under the sun, but it's always somehow fascinating to be shown an old idea in a new way.

And a throwback from my youth: I often found myself IN the book I was reading (not literally, of course). I was the main character. The events of the book were happening to me. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to happen to me as often anymore, but I loved it when I was young.

This list is nowhere near exhaustive, and I would certainly expect other readers to prize aspects of literature that didn't even cross my mind. What qualities do you find are common denominators in your favorite books?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

For the first time in who knows how long, I have actually finished my book club book before book club. (I used to be such an exemplary member! I always finished my book club books on time. Luckily, I also never gave the other members grief when they didn't finish--or didn't even start!--reading their book before our meeting, so everyone has karmically gone easy on me during these last few months . . . or, erm, possibly years? But that's not my point. My point is that this month I did it right. And anyway, I digress.)

Gaiman's new book is a fun and fast read, and quirky to say the least. I read the Kindle version, which I've always found difficult to equate to real books as far as determining length, but this book must be pretty short (as well as not boring) because I read it within 24 hours--actually less than that, if you subtract a full 8-hour shift at work and at least five hours of sleep (why oh why can I never go to bed early enough to get a good night's sleep? But I digress again).

This is the story of a friendless 7-year-old bookworm who meets an older neighbor girl. Lettie, at first, seems merely to be a teller of tall tales; she claims the pond on her property is an ocean. Though the narrator is skeptical of this (and rightly so), soon she opens his eyes to a reality that most people never see. Normal human events are interspersed with psychedelic weirdness.

Now, weirdness is good. I've told you that before. But it can be much more enjoyable when it has a purpose. Unfortunately, this story seemed loose and aimless (I wanted to describe it with the word "meandering" instead, but the plot had too much tension for that to fit--though in an episodic way rather than in a suspense-building way). As I neared the end I realized I was waiting to find a string that would pull everything taut, one mind-blowing puzzle piece that would click into place and shift everything into a new and dazzling perspective, but alas . . . there was no miracle thread, no revelatory missing piece. There was a pleasing symmetry in the way the fantastic was book-ended with reality, but it didn't make the mess in the middle seem any less pointless. I wanted the fanciful events the narrator experienced in his childhood to be linked to the realistic things he saw and didn't understand--things that frightened and confused him--but (call me stupid) I never found those links.

I get the feeling that, had this book not been written by Neil Gaiman, it would not have found a publisher. Or, best case scenario, a good editor could have taken the raw material (because the layered, textured fabric of good strong storytelling was there), snipped it to bits, and stitched it back together into something that would have raised my eyebrows, dropped my jaw, and altogether satisfied me in the way only a great story can. Instead, I found myself sitting there staring at Mr Incredible in disappointment.

My parting shot: Neil Gaiman used too many commas in this book. Surely he understands correct comma usage (and, barring that, surely his editor does). I was half irritated by this and half dissolving in self-doubt (maybe I'm the one who is wrong!). But so many of his sentences would flow much more nicely without all the pauses.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Doom of the Haunted Opera by John Bellairs

I remember John Bellairs from my childhood. I'm sure I've even tried to tell people about him since then. This was made more difficult by the fact that I just couldn't remember his name.

Yesterday on a trip to the library I stumbled across a couple of Bellairs' books while sniffing out recommendations for Bookworm Child. I would say that finding these books caused a wealth of memories to come flooding back, but that wouldn't be true. Instead, I only had the same memories I've held on to for the past few decades: first, that Uncle Jonathan caused a lunar eclipse by magic; second, that Lewis summoned Selenna Izard from the dead and was then terrorized by her thick glasses with their pesky glowing glare which obscured her eyes; and third, that at age 8 (just guessing at the age, by the way, because I can't remember how old I was), I finally decided I'd been so creeped out by Mr Bellairs' books that I needed to make and enforce a rule for myself. No more reading books by John Bellairs!

Well, I've finally broken that rule, and happily I have not suffered for it. I just finished reading The Doom of the Haunted Opera. Though there were some creepy passages (most notably when Lewis and Rose Rita were being chased by the stone cemetery statue which would only move when they weren't looking), I'm pretty sure the story is not going to induce nightmares. Though it is well-written, it is much more Goosebumps than Stephen King. It's a slightly more sinister (and American) Harry Potter with a smaller cast of characters who are, sadly, lacking a Hogwarts. I can't help but wonder if the not-too-creepy aspect has anything to do with the fact that this book wasn't written by Bellairs in its entirety? It says right on the cover that it was "completed by Brad Strickland." I'm sure Strickland tried to adhere as closely as possible to Bellairs' style and ideas, but I have no basis for comparison as to whether he succeeded.

The Haunted Opera story follows Lewis and his friend Rose Rita as they explore an old opera house in their hometown of New Zebedee, Michigan. The two discover the score for an opera hidden in an old piano, only to belatedly realize the music is actually an evil incantation that their town is making plans to perform, bringing on the opera's title: The Day of Doom. The overall effect of the story is 2% creepy and 98% spunky and adventuresome. It was a fun and fast read, and an enjoyable way to relive part of my younger days.

There are a few more memories that I've now managed to unearth: First, the characters' names I've mentioned (Jonathan, Lewis, Rose Rita, Mrs Izard--I never would have remembered their names if I hadn't read about them again). Second, the fact that Edward Gorey illustrated many of Bellairs' earlier editions. (I love Gorey's drawings. You should check them out . . . especially his alphabet.) And third, that I surely must have read Bellairs' The House with a Clock in Its Walls--not only because the title sounds familiar, but also because it contains the lunar eclipse and the raising of Old Mrs Izard.

I can't wait to hear what Bookworm Child thinks of Bellairs. It will be interesting to see whether she has to make and enforce a rule for herself . . .

More Gorey for you . . .
the book's back cover

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"Spoiled: Stories" by Caitlin Macy

Here's another one that has been on my List of Books to Blog About for months. I remember when I read it (last March); I remember where I bought it (the super-awesome Friends of the Library bookstore in Los Alamos); I remember how much I paid for it ($6, used) and why I felt like it was worth that price when most of the books there are $1 or less (it was already on my TBR list . . . plus it's a really nice hardcover book); but what I can't remember, and what I'd most like to remember, is how it ended up on my TBR list in the first place. Alas, that knowledge is gone forever, but aren't you lucky? I recorded a brief synopsis of each of the short stories in this collection as I read them. Posterity, rejoice.

"Christie": A study in jealousy. Who does it affect? Even if you rationalize or disguise it as a detached criticism of supposed pretensions, this perspective doesn't change the fact that it is truly envy at heart, nor does it change the fact that it eats away at you, not your target.

"Bait and Switch": This time the jealousy is mine. A rented beach house in Italy? One for me, please!

"The Secret Vote": Alice takes responsibility for a major decision on her own shoulders, avoiding input from everyone else. What she decides--in more than one matter--could be seen as slightly ambiguous. Would everyone read it the same way?

"Annabel's Mother": Like The Nanny Diaries condensed into a short story.

"Spoiled": Horse people at their best. Which is oddly similar to horse people at their worst.

"Eden's Gate": Something tells me Caitlin Macy had a spell as an initially-slightly-successful-but-ultimately-failed actress somewhere in her past. The pages of this book are far too populated with such characters for it to be otherwise. But that doesn't make it any less interesting to see that this actress's relationship is destined for failure well before either of the participants can see (or at least admit) it.

"The Red Coat": The awkward relationship between a Manhattanite and her unexpectedly iconoclastic cleaning lady.

"Bad Ghost": A woman at a funeral reflects on her adolescent stint as the worst babysitter ever.

"Taroudant": Rich Americans get the Authentic Experience in Morocco.

Anything else I might think of to say about this book (as I recorded nothing further when I read it) is a vague shadowy memory. I would venture to say that I found it intriguing even if I didn't necessarily identify strongly with any of her characters, and (having so many unread books on my shelves) I probably wouldn't choose to re-read it any time soon, but I can confirm that it was worth the $6 I paid for it.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Reading in Retrospect: "The Moonstone" by Wilkie Collins

Hear ye, hear ye! I am fighting my way out of this blogging slump that feels like it has lasted decades. Just thought I would officially announce that.

So, The Moonstone. I read it more than a year ago. Lucky for me and my literary amnesia, I jotted a few notes as I read. AND I was smart enough to keep those notes tucked in the front cover of the book where I would be sure to find them again, along with evidence of this copy's origins: it was sent to me by Trisha at eclectic/eccentric. Unfortunately I can't remember the circumstances (maybe she had a giveaway and I won it? Maybe she was being generous in getting rid of excess reading material?) but no matter the occasion, I'm always appreciative when I'm the recipient of a free book.

Especially when the free book doesn't suck! The Moonstone is a good solid read, even at the ripe old age of 144. There are many who would award it with the title of "First Detective Novel Written in English," and it ranked high on my Agatha Christie scale. It's got secretive servants, honorable heiresses, dying dowagers, discerning detectives, and genial gentlemen, all in search of a damned diamond--or so it seems. There are some who may be more concerned with hiding than with seeking, and all the fun is in discovering the truth of the matter.

So it was a good read. But wouldn't you love to hear my criticisms? (You knew I would have some, didn't you?) My main complaint is that the solution to the mystery seemed less clever than contrived, making it difficult for me to sufficiently suspend my disbelief. On a brighter note, at least the solution was a mystery to me. I couldn't guess what the answer might be until it was spelled out. Which would have been perfect, if the answer hadn't been a disappointment.

Shall I go on? Betteredge and Clack were really well-developed characters; the others, not so much. Even Clack was somewhat of a caricature--I don't think I would have found her believable, except that I know people just like her! People who would say (or at least think) things like this:
"The true Christian never yields . . . we go on with our work, irrespective of every human consideration which moves the world outside us. We are above reason; we are beyond ridicule; we see with nobody's eyes, we hear with nobody's ears, we feel with nobody's hearts, but our own . . . we are the only people who are always right."
Looks like my complaints list was brief, and not too harsh. And this is obviously not because I'm afraid Wilkie Collins will read my blog post and be offended by it. I may not be labeling this as a Must Read, and I may never re-read it, but I enjoyed the experience the first time around--probably even more than I enjoyed The Woman in White. As those two are generally considered Collins' two finest works, he and I may never meet again, but it was fun while it lasted.