06 May 2009

April Book Report, Part 2

And here it is, the final installment of April's Book Report. Some new authors and a couple of old standbys. Check at the end to see if any of the books available are ones that you are interesting in reading!

The Locusts Have No King, by Dawn Powell. I had read a magazine article about Dawn Powell’s writing a couple of years ago, and was curious to read some of her work. I’d never heard of her, and what I had read in the article said that she wrote wonderful satire, much of the time about the publishing world in New York during the 1940s. That combination seemed like a winner to me.

This book is the story of Frederick Olliver, a writer who, at the beginning of the book is somewhat of a recluse, who has had a few things published (but not things most people would have actually read), and whose biggest “adventure” in life is a somewhat limited but intense affair with Lyle Gaynor, the wife and writing partner of one of Broadway’s most well-known playwrights.

At the beginning of the book, Frederick is a somewhat boring character, and his life is not all that exciting or interesting. Then a chance meeting with a young woman named Dodo Brennan changes everything. Though originally he is not interested in her – finding her frivolous, silly, and shallow – Lyle sees her with him and becomes jealous. Through a series of events, Frederick’s life suddenly becomes that of a social person, infatuated with Dodo, and intent of hurting Lyle, though he still loves her. As a result of his involvement with more people, he becomes a bon vivant of sorts, and his life changes. The job he has as an editor of a “lowbrow” magazine brings him no end of frustration and shame, but at some point, the publisher decides to publish one of Frederick’s “serious” works to counter the negative attention of a rather racy book the company has recently published. Suddenly, Frederick is looked upon as a real writer, and is in demand in publishing circles. I don’t want to reveal the ending, but I will say it was not as strong as it could have been.

I found this book an enjoyable read, and though some of the characters were stereotypical, I’m not sure they would have been as much at the time the book was published. In any event, they are interesting and amusing. The thoughts and lines that Powell gives them are for the most part believable.

My biggest problem with the book was the beginning. It was confusing and not that interesting, and I only kept reading because I wanted to see if the satire would really develop. I’m glad I stuck with it, but I wish it hadn’t taken so long.

The Gathering, by Anne Enright. This book was the 2007 winner of the Man Booker Prize, and tells the story of an Irish Catholic family as they gather for the funeral of a wayward son. The narrator, Veronica, is the younger sister (by 11 months) of Liam, who has committed suicide. Veronica and Liam were extremely close as children, and shared many experiences and secrets that their other siblings (10 of the still living) do not know anything about.

As the story develops, Veronica tries to piece together what could have made her brother the person he grew up to be. She goes back to her grandparents and their courtship, and memories of times that she and Liam (and occasionally their next youngest sister, Kitty) were sent to live with the grandparents for periods of time, usually following the birth of another younger sibling. Through her grandparents’ stories, and her memories, she is able to discover a secret that served to define Liam’s existence, causing him to pull away from the rest of the family, and live a somewhat troubled and turbulent life. While all of this is happening, Veronica begins to question her love for her husband and daughters, pulling away from them as a result.

I found the book very readable, and slightly thought-provoking. I had a feeling before I started it what may have happened to Liam as a child, so I wasn’t really that surprised, other than not knowing exactly when or who was involved. But the book is pretty well-written, and also sad. Did I like it overall? Yes. But it’s not a book that is likely to stick with me for very long.

The Murder Room, by P.D. James.* The Murder Room of the title is located in the Dupayne Museum in London, and commemorates some of the most fantastic and lurid murders in history. Through a chance meeting, Adam Dalgliesh visits with an acquaintance, but is called back soon after to investigate a series of murders. The first murder is one of the members of the Dupayne family, who were named as trustees in their late father’s will, with the caveat that any decisions regarding the museum have to be unanimous among the three surviving children. Dr. Neville Dupayne is the first victim, and is burned to death in his car in the museum garage shortly after a meeting where he voted to close the museum, to the dismay of his sister and brother.

Shortly after the first murder, another body is discovered in a trunk in the Murder Room. Now Dalgliesh has to figure out what, if anything, these two events have in common, and/or what the motive(s) was. By the time he and his team have started to figure it out, one of the main witnesses, the cleaning lady at the Dupayne, who lives in a cottage on the grounds, is nearly killed by the murderer.

As usual, James makes the story suspenseful, colorful, and creepy. The characters are occasionally stereotypical, but nearly always have a slight twist to make them memorable. My only problem with the story – and it’s likely that I’m the only one who cares – was that towards the end, the housekeeper’s cat, who was tortured by the murderer, disappears and we never learn whether or not he returns to her safe and sound. These are the kinds of things that bother me – if something horrible is going to happen to an animal as part of the story, I want closure on that aspect as well as the other threads.

I mostly read this book while I was at work, and found it amusing when someone passed by, saw the title and told me it was a “terrible thing to be reading here.”

*By the way, I *heart* P.D. James. I went to one of her booksignings a few years ago, and she spent a few minutes telling me all about her cat!

The Lace Makers of Glenmara, by Heather Barbieri. I received an Advance Reader’s Edition of this title, which will be published in July 2009. It tells the story of Kate, a young woman from Seattle who has recently lost her mother to cancer, and her live-in boyfriend of five years to a young model. To add insult to injury, she is a clothing designer whose latest collection went nowhere.

She decides to visit Ireland, for a change of scenery, and because it was a trip she and her mother had originally planned to make together. After spending time in Dublin, she ventures out into the countryside, and eventually finds herself in the west. She ends up walking along the country roads in the rain, with her backpack and no immediate plan, when she is given a ride by a traveler (gypsy) and dropped off in the town of Glenmara, during the beginning of the St. Brendan’s Festival.

Glenmara is a town that is shrinking in population, due to the demise of factory work and the fishing industry. The festival is not much of a success at first, and Kate meets two women – Bernie and Aileen – who are packing up a display of handmade lace that no one bought. Bernie (who is recently widowed) in particular takes to Kate, and invites her to stay with her until she decides where to go or what else to do.

As the days pass, Kate gets to know Bernie better, and causes Aileen to become jealous, as Bernie had been her best friend. She also becomes involved in the Lace Maker’s Club, and learns the basics of creating lace from the members. Each of the women in the club has a backstory, and to some degree, none of them are surprising stories. There are times when the conversations and the story itself become predictable. Kate shows the women ways in which their lace can be added to lingerie pieces, not just table runners and curtains, and they decide that there may be a market for lingerie in the modern world more so than household items. As the uses for their lace changes, so do the lives of the women, including Kate, who meets a young man in the village. It is a case of mutual attraction, though he has a loss of his own that he is trying to overcome.

This book was enjoyable, if sometimes predictable. There was really not a lot of melodrama, like there tends to be in stories like this that I’ve read previously. It was interesting reading about the different types of lace, and how the threads are manipulated for differing effects. I liked the descriptions of the town and the surrounding countryside, as it sounded very familiar and true of the places in the west of Ireland that I have visited. It was also interesting how Barbieri used the example of the village priest and his strict, old-fashioned ways as an example of a stationary Ireland, and the stories of the women, their lace, and the support of their families and neighbors to show that embracing new ideas and modernizing in some ways does not have to ruin the character of a place or its people.

Dyer Consequences, by Maggie Sefton. This is another one of the knitting mysteries that are in no way literary masterpieces, but can be entertaining. I know that it’s not kosher to say that, but I do enjoy them, not necessarily because of the story or the plot twists, but because they are straightforward and easy to read for a change of pace.

In this installment, Kelly Flynn is dealing with what she first thinks are random acts of vandalism on her property, but when the vandalism spreads to the yarn shop across the way, and someone is killed in one of the dye sinks downstairs, everyone becomes more concerned. When the vandal(s) also tries to poison Kelly’s dog, she becomes even more determined to get to the bottom of things.

Is this the best book I’ve ever read? No, but it was a quick, enjoyable read, and I enjoyed the yarn references.

The Big Dirt Nap, by Rosemary Harris. This is an author and series that are new to me, but when I visited the library recently, this book caught my eye. The main character, Paula Holliday, has given up her stressful life as a media executive in New York City, and opened her own gardening business – Dirty Business – in Springfield, Connecticut.

This story (second in the series) begins with Paula heading to a hotel that is past its glory days in suburban Connecticut, with plans to meet a friend, and write an article for her local paper about the upcoming blooming of a corpse flower. Problems begin when Paula’s friend Lucy never shows, and the man that Paula was talking to in the hotel bar lobby turns up dead with Paula’s business card in his pocket.

The story goes back and forth over the next few days, and covers the Ukrainian mob, Native American casinos, and Lucy’s involvement with a member of one of the local Native American families that have been causing trouble. Paula in the meantime, is pretty sure that she is being followed as she goes back and forth from her home to the hotel.

This was OK, as far as the story went. Paula was a likable character, and it was interesting how confident the author made her – she really didn’t fall into the usual line of finding a male character to “save” her or to help her solve the crime. I think I would like to read the first book in this series, Pushing Up Daisies, to see if it seems worth continuing with any future books. One of the quotes on the back cover from a review, called it “a cozy mystery that is intelligent and modern.” Whether or not that is how I’ll feel about it remains to be seen, but I’m willing to give it a try.


I have copies of Educating Alice and Ex Libris to pass along, if anyone is interested. (They were discussed in Part 1 of the April Book Report.) As usual, if more than one person speaks up, I'll use an independent party (Jetsam) to choose a name on Tuesday, May 12.


Chris said...

Oh! I'd love to have a copy of Ex Libris!

sprite said...

I added Educating Alice to my GoodReads queue after reading your book report, so I'd be excited to be entered into that drawing.

Marie said...

I, too, would like to be in the drawing for Educating Alice. Thanks.

Lorraine said...

Bridget- That's clever, get some red dye and you can commit the perfect murder.

I'll have to remember that.

Carrie K said...

When murder starts impacting pets and yarn shops, heads must roll.

Oh now you have a contest. I've got Ex Libris and ordered Educating Alice yesterday. :) Good luck, all you contestants!

Bookfool said...

I'm interested in both books, so please toss my name in the hat. Your book reports are really fun. :)

Shan said...

Hi Bridget! I just wanted to pop in and tell you that you won the fish drawing on my blog...Congratulations! Send me your mailing address when you get a chance and I'll get it on its way. Thanks for visiting my blog.