Monday, January 30, 2012

Books to consider: week of 1/30/12

"Wanted Women" (Non-fic) by Deborah Scroggins
"Behind the Beautiful Forever" (Non-fic) by Katherine Boo
"New York Diaries" (Non-fic)  by Theresa Carpenter

What I am reading now:   "Catherine the Great" by Paul Massie
                                          "Envious Moon" by Thomas Greene
                                           "Darkside"  by Belinda Bauer

Friday, January 27, 2012

SKIPPY DIES by Paul Murray (fic.)

"Skippy Dies" which was up for consideration for this years Mann-Booker Prize is a dark, somewhat satirical novel which takes place at a boys' school in Dublin named Seabrook College.  It is the story of 14 year old boys, a mixture of day and boarding at school run by the Paraclete fathers.  Having worked with and around 14 year old students at a day/boarding school, and liking Irish humor with its dark undertones, I was drawn to this novel.  It ran a bit too long, but these boys with their fantasies of drugs, sex, and rock and roll were spot on.  The Skippy at its center is Daniel Juster who, no surprise, given the title, dies as the book opens.  From thence, we go backwards to events leading up to the death.  Who can fathom the minds of 14 year old boys??  Bodily function humor, no idea of what girls are really like, it is all here, a bit of Irish history thrown in as well.  Parallel to Skippy's sad story is an equally sad history teacher named Howard, who cannot seem to break from the school and move on from his old-boy past.  One keeps hoping for Howard to develop some backbone, hoping for that happy ending.  The novel also accurately portrays the complicated relationship between boys and the priests who dominate them, along with the problem the clergy has had with pedophiles and sweeping the ugliness under the table.  The book is well written but a tad too long, nevertheless a good read.

PS  For those who enjoyed the book "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society," there is a movie in the works starring Kate Winslet (who else but...).

Monday, January 23, 2012

Books to consider this week: 1/23/12

"The Forgotten Garden" by Kate Morton
"The Quality of Mercy"  by Barry Unsworth
"The Flight of Gemma Hardy" by Margot Livesey

Friday, January 20, 2012

LOVE AGAIN by Doris Lessing (fiction)

Doris Lessing is one of the great writers, born in 1919.  She grew up in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe and now lives in London.  If you have never read any of her books, there are wonderful choices out there, fiction, non-fiction and short stories.  I was excited to find "Love Again" especially since the jacket cover told me it dealt with middle-aged love, young love, and old love.  The story revolves around a repertory acting group who are presenting a play in France and England about Julie Vallon, a Martinique quadroon. She was the daughter of a slave, living in the 19th century, who left home with her soldier lover to settle in France. There she writes music and lives the life of an artist. The story mirrors Julie's life and loves with the modern romances of the acting company.  The plot sounded interesting, but the novel proved not one of Lessing's best.  If you are not familiar with Doris Lessing's writing, but would like to read polished writing, choose one of her older novels.

WE HAD IT SO GOOD by Linda Grant (fiction)

I picked up Linda Grant's novel because the setting was Oxford and London in the late 1960s right up to the present time.  I was living in London during the same period of time and the main characters are my age.  I was not disappointed!  It was a delight to revisit those carefree idealistic, yet troubled times and measure my experiences against the characters of the novel.  The novel follows an American at Oxford who becomes entangled with a group of louche Brits and follows their lives, loves, friends, children, struggles and successes to our present time.  Grant's characters are realistic and the reader really cares about them.  Bill Clinton even makes an appearance as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford. Grant begins her chapters with the musings of the different characters and sometimes it takes a few paragraphs to determine who is talking to the reader.  I enjoyed the book immensely and highly recommend it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Books to check out/ 1/16/12

"To End All Wars"  by Adam Hochschild
"The London Train" by Tessa Hadley

What I am reading now:  "Catherine the Great"  by Robert Massie
                                         "Skippy Dies" by Paul MurraWy
                                         "We Had It So Good"  by Linda Grant

Thursday, January 12, 2012


If you are a fan of P.D. James and a fan of Jane Austin, you can't miss with this book.  James has the period prose down pat, and it is fun to meet up again with Elizabeth, Darcy, the Bennetts, and the odious Wickham.  Keeping in mind that James who was born in 1920, stylistically is still writing circles around younger mystery writers, sit back and enjoy these old friends again like familiar neighbors.  The actual mystery is not very challenging, and you will probably figure out the plot, but the enjoyment is in the bringing the characters back to life, and entering a romantic period of time where the reader can luxuriate in the fashion and manners when gentlemen and ladies did not stray from values and mores set down by the laws of social intercourse.  Not particularly thought provoking or profound, but absolutely fun.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Some new books for this week

"The Trinity Six" by Charles Cumming
"Believing the Lie" by Elizabeth George
"How It All Begins" by Penelope Lively
"The Leopard" by Jo Nesbo

What I am reading now:  "Catherine the Great" by Robert Massie
                                         "Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James
                                          "Skippy Dies" by Paul Murrey

THE PERFECT SUMMER by Juliet Nicolson (non-fic paper)

1911 was the "perfect summer!"  It was one of the hottest on record in England.  Juliet Nicolson's social history of 1911 is a fascinating read. It covers one lovely summer including the new royals, George V and Queen Mary, the gentry (who with nothing to occupy them except good times were the forerunners of the wild 20s), and the working and serving classses as well.  If you are a fan of Downton Abbey, you will appreciate this book.  The television series began in 1911, and one can see the seeds of unrest in the serving and working classes of England.  It is a summer of strikes, new movements in art, literature and dance.  Many famous politicians, artists, and society doyans make their appearance in this hot hot summer. Most of all it is the calm before the storm of World War I.  Recommended reading.

Monday, January 9, 2012

A few other recent reads

FRIEND OF MY YOUTH by Alice Munro.  This is an early collection of Alice Munro's short stories.  Munro is considered the best of North American short story writers.  If you have followed her in the "New Yorker" and enjoy her work you will enjoy this book as well.
STONE ARABIA by Dana Spiotta.  This book has been on the best seller list.  It is about the relationship between a brother and sister and follows their disfunctional progress through the 70s and 80s.  It is well written, I just wasn't into the characters.  I found them tiresome.
SONGS WITHOUT WORDS by Ann Packer.  This book held my interest because the writing was excellent.  It is about confronting loss and how it came between two friends.  I found it sad and was looking for a lighter read at the time, so didn't enjoy it as much as I might have.

THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE by Julie Orringer (fic. papbk)

"The Invisible Bridge" is one of the best books I have read this year.  The story takes place during World War II and is set in Paris and Hungry.  The main character, Andras Levi is from a Hungarian/Jewish family and as the story opens is an architectural student studying in Paris.  There he meets the love of his life.  As the anti-Jewish laws begin to be inforced in Paris, Andra returns to Hungry with his wife.  There the war intensifies and divides his family.  This all too real story draws you in so that you are involved with this family and become emotionally entangled with its members and their lives.  I highly recommend this book.  It is beautifully written, and historically correct.  The characters are based on the lives of Ms. Orringer's grandparents.

THE MAYTREES by Anne Dillard

"The Maytrees" sat on my book pile for quite a while before I picked it up.  To my surprise, I found the book delightful.  Anne Dillard who won a pulitzer prize in the past writes beautiful poetry-like prose.  "The Maytrees" is a love story set on Cape Cod, beginning during World War II and continuing until present day.  Lou and Toby Maytree fall in love, have a child and have a community of friends who are mixture of summer people and long-standing citizens of Provencetown.  Without effort the reader falls into their life.  If you enjoy good writing, this is a good choice for you.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Murder in the Northwest in 1867

THE TENDERNESS OF WOLVES by Stef Penney is one of the better books I have read in the past year.  It takes place in a cold isolated settlement in Canada's Northwest Territory.  The setting feels authentic and the characters real.  The reader is taken back in time to the frontier where the early settlers, traders and Indians mix warily.  From the moment the murder is discovered by Mrs. Ross to the gunfight at the climax of the book, the reader is engrossed in the life of the characters.  I am not a great fan of westerns, but this book fired my imagination from start to finish.