08 November 2009

October Book Report

So - here are the books I read during October.  The ones with asterisks (*) next to the title are available for giveaway.  Anyone interested should leave a comment, letting me know the one you'd like, by Friday, November 13 (!).

The Moonstone, by Wilkie CollinsWilkie Collins is considered to be one of the inventors of the detective story (Edgar Allan Poe is the other one), and he has created a truly involved story with this book.

The Moonstone refers to a diamond taken as the spoils of battle from a depiction of an Indian god. The legend of the moonstone is that whoever holds it wrongly (meaning if it is not returned to its original location), will have tragedy befall them. The story begins when Franklin Blake is charged with the task of delivering the jewel to the niece of the late military man who originally stole it, on the occasion of her birthday. Rachel Verinder, the young lady in question, is thrilled with it, and wears it to her birthday party. However, the next morning, it has disappeared, seemingly without a trace. From here, the story traces the investigations to locate the moonstone, as well as how it changes the relationships of the various characters.
 Wilkie gives the story several different narrators, each one taking a different time period, and describing various efforts to not just locate the jewel, but attempts to repair reputations and relationships. This made the story both more interesting, and in some cases, amusing, as each individual has their own take on the different people involved, and what may have happened to create such a mystery.

The final resolution was pretty far-fetched, but as far as I'm concerned, it fit right in to the rest of the story and the time period involved.

I enjoyed this read, and it completes my commitment to read two titles for the R.I.P. IV Readers' Challenge. I would recommend this to anyone who likes some suspense and anyone who enjoys period literature. 
The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster, by Kaye Gibbons.  One of my very favorite books EVER is Ellen Foster. As a matter of fact, a few years ago, when a local theater group did a dramatization of it, I nearly didn't go, even though we had season tickets, because I didn't want it to be ruined for me. Fortunately, it was extremely well done, and when I talked to the guy who had done the adaptation afterwards, he said that he knew it had to be true to the book, since so many people he knew were dedicated to it.

 Anyway, this book picks up Ellen's life after she has been a foster child for a while. She is now fifteen years old, and hoping to go to Harvard. The original Ellen personality is still there, just slightly more sophisticated. She is still friends with Starletta, and has processed a little more about how she felt about her parents and their deaths.
 I enjoyed this book, though not as much as the original story of Ellen. But this was a very reasonable "sequel" and did not suddenly make her a different sort of character. She still observes everything and everyone around her, and tries to make sense of what is often a cruel or ridiculous world.

The best thing is that she remains optimistic but not sappy, realistic but not jaded. Reading this book makes you appreciate Ellen, and if you are lucky, your own life in the process.
*The Invisible Mountain, by Carolina DeRobertis.  This book is one of those multigenerational sagas, but told about three of the women of the Firielli family of Uruguay. Beginning with Pajarita, a country girl who married an Italian immigrant and moved to Montevideo when it was still a small town; to Eva, her daughter who from an early age knew what she didn't want in life; and finally to Salome, Eva's daughter, whose life experiences go through the social revolution in the country of the 1970s. Besides the family's story, you learn a lot about Uruguayan history.

The title of the book refers to the "mountain" that inspired early settlers to name the town Montevideo (roughly translated to mean, "I see a mountain"). The idea of the mountain continues throughout, as it is seen first as a mountain, then as a small rise, and then as not even existing as a mountain at all during the changes going on in the city and the country.

This book is well-written in my opinion. You can create pictures in your mind of the three main characters, but also of their families, acquaintances, and the surroundings that they move to and from througout the story.

One of the things that I really liked about the book was that it gave you the sense of strong familial bonds in the Firielli family, but without being sentimental. Much like things that happen in every life, experiences, losses, and triumphs were depicted in what seemed to be true fashion, which made the characters much more authentic to me.

To summarize the book is nearly impossible without writing a long and involved review. But I can say that I found it to be a great read, about a very real-seeming family. If you enjoy family sagas, and you have any interest in world history, I think you would enjoy this book.  (Advance Readers' Edition)

In the Woods, by Tana French.  I had been wanting to read this book since it was first published. It is the story of the search for the murderer of a young girl in modern-day Ireland. One of the detectives involved was the sole survivor of a group of three children who entered to woods to play in the summer of 1984, and two were never seen again. Rob Ryan, the found boy, was standing next to a tree, gripping it for dear life, with blood-filled sneakers. He has never been able to recall any details of that afternoon.

Ryan and his partner, Detective Cassie Maddox, try to unravel the mystery of the murdered young girl, in the same woods. Her body is found at the site of an archaeological dig being conducted before a highway is to be built. The dead girl's father is the head of a local group of citizens who are trying to block the building of the highway.

This book is really well-written, allowing you into the mind of Detective Ryan, as well as giving you an idea of life in Ireland in the later part of the 20th century. The characters are interesting, flawed, determined, and at times herioc. The mystery of the girl's death leads to a series of revelations about members of her family, and certain deals being made by members of the government.

I really don't want to say much more about the book, not just because the story deserves to be read as it actually unfolds, but because there are a lot of things happening simultaneously with several characters that would be difficult to describe in a review such as this.

I would highly recommend this book - it's a great read!

*The Girl Next Door, by Elizabeth Noble.  Le sigh. I am pretty sure I lost some brain cells reading this one. Not that it was bad, but it was just not worth the time. I can imagine people would like it if they enjoy a lot of "chick-lit." I can only take so much, personally.

The story is about the lives of residents in a New York City co-op, and how their lives intertwine over a period of time. Some characters were more interesting than others, some more likable. But really, for the most part, their problems were cliches, and with one exception fall into the category of things that my sister calls "White Man's Troubles."

I grabbed this to read one day when I needed something at the last minute, and at a certain point, I had read more than half of it, so I figured I would finish it. I can't really say I liked it, but at the same time, it's not one of those that I disliked so much, it made me angry at myself for having read the whole thing.

For me, it falls into the category of "didn't really care."   (Advance Readers' Edition)

The Children, by Edith Wharton.  I was surprised when I saw this book on the shelf at the library, because I wasn't even aware it existed! But being a fan of Edith Wharton, I thought it was worth a try.

The story involves a civil engineer, Martin Boyne, who is aboard a ship on his way to visit Mrs. Rose Sellars, who has taken a summer home in the Dolomites. They are old acquaintances, and Mrs. Sellars' husband had recently died. Martin travels to her both to cheer her up, and because he feels that it would now be OK for him to confess his true feelings for her.

On board the ship, he becomes aware that the Wheater family will also be traveling. He realizes that Cliffe and Joyce Wheater, the parents, are people he knew back in his college days at Harvard. Long before he reunites with them, he has encounters with some of their children, and is both enchanted by them and puzzled about their histories.

The eldest daughter, Judith, confesses to Boyne that her parents have been marrying and divorcing and remarrying in the years since they knew him, and that the children are a mishmash of biological children, half-sisters and brothers, and stepchildren. The parents do a lot of traveling, and so do the children - though not necessarily together! The children, it turns out, are shipped back and forth to wherever their parents are staying. Judith has decided that she will do her best to keep the children together by the time she meets Martin Boyne.

Reading the book, you become aware of the fact that neither parent is all that invested in their children. They more or less think of them as a group that can take care of themselves, and they have a nurse and a governess employed to keep track of them. In their own way, they do love them, but mostly they are too busy with their society lives to pay much attention to them. Once the ship arrives in Italy, things take a definite turn, when Judith, the nurse, and the governess take things in hand regarding the future of the children and the family. Boyne becomes involved, much more than he ever thought he would, and the rest of the book details the struggles and relationships in this strange group. Boyne involves Mrs. Sellars in his attempts to help the children, and this has a definite effect on their relationship.

This was a great read. It had all of the Wharton trademarks - wealthy family, lavish settings, interesting characters. The story is both sad and comical, but never contrived or false. As the reader, you become very involved in the turn of events, and you have to keep reading to see what might happen.

I am so glad I found this book - it was well worth the time spent reading it.

Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin.  I have been wanting to read this book since reviews when it came out piqued my interest. The story is that of Eilis Lacey, a young girl who has finished her education to become a bookkeeper in Ireland during the 1950s, but struggles to find a decent job in what was then a really terrible economic situation. An Irish priest from Brooklyn convinces her mother and older sister Rose to have Eilis come to America, where he feels he can find her a job in the neighborhood where his parish is located.

Eilis arrives in Brooklyn, and begins working as a salesperson in a department store. Her experiences and the descriptions of Brooklyn during that time make for interesting reading, particularly when the first African-American customers start coming to shop there. She also meets a young Italian-American who introduces her to more of American life, such as Coney Island and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

A family tragedy causes Eilis to return to her hometown, and the longer she stays there, the more she feels that her life in America wasn't real, and that there is actually no reason for her to return. But Tony, her American boyfriend whom she secretly marries in a civil ceremony before returning to Ireland, writes to her on a regular basis, fully expecting her to return, and wanting to know when. Eilis goes back and forth for quite a while in the story, and I at least had no sense until the end of the book what her final decision would be.

I liked this book a lot. The ending left me wishing for a little bit more information, but at the same time was not contrived or fake.

An interesting read.

November is the last month at my Eastern State Penitentiary job, so I'm trying to cram in all of the reading that I can, since who knows what will be my routine after that ...


Mr Puffy's Knitting Blog: said...

Have I ever mentioned that you are an impressive reader before? That was quite a lot of reading last month. Only book that I've read was The Moonstone and I recall similarly thinking the ending was far fetched.

Quite the recommendation for Ellen Foster. Might snoop for that when I'm in the bookstore next.

Currently reading: tawdry romance novel ;)

Marie said...

You do read interesting books, and a lot of them. Since I've gotten one of your books recently, I won't put my name in for any of these. There are a couple in your list that I may have to read. Thanks for the reviews. You do it so well.

Anonymous said...

I like Wilkie Collins' books. Assuming you've also read "Woman in White"?

Wendy said...

I have the second Tana French book if you want it - the Likeness. I can leave it for you at Rosie's if you want to read it! Let me know. It wasn't as good as Into the Woods, but still a page turner!

Kathleen Dames said...

You've intrigued me with the Wharton book, since Nick and I have a mishmash family :)

SissySees said...

Off to find the Wharton book...

Geek Knitter said...

I'll put my name in the hat for The Invisible Mountain. I love long multi-generational stories like that.

I drove my husband nuts while I was reading In The Woods... kept telling the characters to stop being so obtuse and PAY ATTENTION! Loved it though, kept me up past my bedtime.

Carrie K said...

I'll have to hunt down the Wharton book - did Brooklyn have shades of Henry James?

I just finished In The Woods Saturday night - I'd picked up The Likeness from the library and wanted to read the first outing - I loved how psychological the book was, and sentences crafted so well. And the plot. ;0