Saturday, April 4, 2015

March Reading

Here's what I read in March:

1.  Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay.   I read this book of essays over the last few months while I was getting my hair colored or getting a pedicure or sitting in waiting rooms.  Many good topics, some good thoughts, but I found myself mostly unsatisfied with the essays.  And I can't explain why.

2.  My Dear I wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young.

Riley Purefoy is a young, working class boy, who becomes friends with Nadine Waveney and her upper middle class family who live near Kensington Gardens.  The Waveneys are friends with an artistic set and Riley meets and begins to study with an artist friend-of-the-family.  As he grows older, he and Nadine form a close friendship and begin to fall in love, but her family disapproves because of the difference in their classes.  Feeling rejected young Riley joins the army to go to France where the new war has started.  It is summer of 1914, everyone expects it will be over by Christmas.  Up until this point (which is fairly early in the novel) this is fairly conventional novel.  But more than almost any other novel about World War I that I've read, Young really captures the slow mental and physical disintegration that happened to men who survived the war, as well as the women who spent the war nursing the hundreds of thousands of casualties and also the women who stayed behind where life changed at a different pace than for those on the battlefield.  The mental states of Riley and his Commanding Officer, Peter Locke, are reflected while they attempt to appear "normal" on the outside.  Unlike other novels where the main characters make it through the war, these men don't come through undamaged either physically or mentally.  I very much enjoyed the last two thirds of this novel (although some the long descriptions of the medical procedures might have been a bit shorter for my taste).  I understand there is a sequel and I'm sure I will read it.

3.  Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley.
 
This is the next installment in the Flavia de Luce mystery series.  I only have one more to go before I'm caught up and I'm not looking forward to the day that I don't have a Flavia de Luce novel to read.  Flavia and her sisters are getting along much better.  Feely (Ophelia) is engaged and Flavia spends some time trying to figure out which of Feely's beaus is the lucky winner.  Could it be the American, Carl, from St. Louis, Missouri?   "Carl's going to take me to watch Stan Musial knock one out of the park."  I had forgotten that Carl was from St. Louis and I wonder why Bradley decided to choose St. Louis out of all the obscure (to the British) cities in America.   The actual mystery revolves around the exhumation of the bones of the local saint from his vault in the village church.  Flavia is surprised that some of the history of the saint seems to have been forgotten and Bradley has a great line:  "History is like the kitchen sink ... Everything goes round and round until eventually, sooner or later, most of it goes down the waste pipe.  Things are forgotten.  Things are mislaid.  Things are covered up.  Sometimes, it's simply a matter of neglect."   How true. The ending has a twist that I've suspected was coming for some time but I did not expect it at the time it happened and the way it happened.  Can't wait to read the next book.

4.  Murder on the Champ de Mars by Cara Black.

The next in the Aimee Leduc mystery series, Aimee is now a single mother with a six month old baby named Chloe.  But she has a great child-minder and is able to spend all the hours she needs solving crimes, still dressed in her chic second hand designer clothes, albeit with a little baby spit-up on her shoulder, and wearing her red Chanel lipstick.  This mystery is a little more personal to Aimee because it might lead to clues as to who is responsible for the death of Aimee's father many years before.  I can't say I was completely surprised by the ending, I've seen it coming.  But I still liked it and it makes me want the next novel to come sooner.

5.  Hush Hush by Laura Lippman.  The long awaited next installment of the Tess Monaghan series, it picks up a few years after the last one.  I almost had forgotten where we were in Tess' life story, that's how long it has been.  In the meantime, Lippman has been writing stand-alone crime novels with a strong psychological bent and that comes through in this novel.  In some ways she seems more interested in all the characters other than Tess.  But I enjoyed it.  

6.  A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear.   Another long awaited next volume, this time in the Maisie Dobbs series (not as long as wait as from Lippman, but long enough).  One of the weaknesses in the last few Maisie Dobbs mysteries has been Winspear's reluctance to break off Maisie's relationship with James or to have Maisie commit to James.  She solves that in this novel.  I won't say how but you will know very early on in the novel.  And it works.  This novel takes place in Gibralter in the late 1930's with the Spanish Civil War raging just across the border.  Moving Maisie out of England works too - although I'll be content to have her return home eventually.  The mystery is serviceable but the picture of Maisie at this point in her life is very good.  Well done.

7.  Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill.  The narrator explains to us, her readers, how her world was so normal but then it came apart.  She speaks to us directly in short little bursts, very much like a character in a play.  In fact I was very much reminded of those plays from the 1980’s that explored women’s “consciousness”.  The Vagina Monologues maybe. Except this was a lot about being obsessed with a child.  But then suddenly it becomes a third person novel, the narrator no longer, apparently, even able to speak directly about what happened in her life.  Finally it reverts back to the first person.  This is an odd little book.  Most of the time,  I just felt sorry for the narrator’s husband.   Which I’m thinking was not what the author was going for.


8.  The House Girl by Tara Conklin.  This was a book chosen by my book group and no one, including me, liked it.  Perhaps because we are mostly lawyers and roll our eyes at unrealistic depictions of first year associates in Big Law Firms.  Perhaps because some of us (me) have done a lot of genealogical research and it is NEVER this easy (this novel makes those people on the PBS genealogy show look like they are really working, and I never think that about them).  The novel is divided into two parts, one of which takes place on a plantation in the mid 1800s.  That part is fine and Conklin should have stuck to it.  She did create a compelling character and set up a good, tense storyline.  The other, modern, part?  Not so much.


Friday, March 20, 2015

TV

I've been watching quite a bit of good TV lately:

1.  Vikings.

2.  Broadchurch, Season 2.

3.  Outlander, Season 1.

4.  Game of Thrones, Season 4.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

My February Reading

This is a little late, but here's what I read in February.

1.  Song of the Vikings:  Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths by Nancy Marie Brown.  

Snorri Sturluson was an Icelander who lived in the middle ages (13th century) and wrote down many of the Norse myth stories that are the basis of what we know today about Scandinavian mythology, including the stories on which Wagner's Ring Cycle is based as well as "The Lord of the Rings".  This is a biography, in a general sense of the word, of Snorri that also gives a lot of information about what Iceland in the medieval times was like.  The biography of the author says she keeps an Icelandic sheepdog, which I had to Google. I'm a bit of a geek when it comes to these things so I enjoyed reading this book, but even I had a hard time keeping track of the tangled family tree of Snorri.  A chart would have helped. This book took me a while to get through so I didn't read as much this month as I might normally.

2.  The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne.

Yes, that A.A. Milne, of Winnie the Pooh fame.  The amateur detective in this mystery at times reminded me of Christopher Robin, all grown up and surrounded by bears of very little intellect.  The mystery was pretty standard British country house fare of the type published in the 1920's.  I happen to like that genre of mystery so I enjoyed it.

3.   I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley ( a  Flavia de Luce Mystery).  In this volume, Bradley opens up the home of the somewhat reclusive de Luce family to a film company.  Of course, murder ensues and Flavia is helpful in solving it, to the amusement and chagrin of Detective Inspector Hewitt.  Although time moves on in these mysteries, it moves very slowly so Flavia hasn't aged much and she is still at war with her two older sisters (although perhaps there is hope of a truce).

4.  Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I loved this novel.  Adichie is a Nigerian author who spent much time in the United States and her main character, Ifemelu, experiences being a black person in the United States who is not African American. Ifemelu is born in Nigeria and spends her formative years there where she meets and falls in love with Obinze.  Ifemelu leaves to attend college in the United States, where her Aunt and cousin live.  Obinze cannot get a visa and ends up an undocumented alien in London.  Eventually both return to Nigeria.  The ending was a little too "love story" for me but the rest of the novel was a knock out.  Ifemelu says: "I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America."   Adichie is also capable of writing beautiful description:  "In London, night came too soon, it hung in the morning air like a threat, and then in the afternoon a blue-gray dusk descended, and the Victorian buildings all wore a mournful air."  Parts of the novel required the suspension of disbelief (specifically that she could be so financially successful as a blogger) but the story hung together and I couldn't put it down.