01 April 2011

February and March Book Report

Last week one day, I was thinking that soon it would be time to post about the books I read during March ... then I realized that I'd never shared my valuable and insightful thoughts with you about any books finished in February!  I'm guessing that this means you have been in a state of limbo regarding your own reading material, since you surely count on my opinions before making your choices.  I apologize, and will try to remember that I don't just do this for myself, but for the tens (fives?) of you who wait anxiously for me to give you these updates ...

Mr. Chartwell, by Rebecca Hunt.  I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this book. My husband brought it home, as it is an Advance Readers' Copy, and no one else where he worked seemed to be interested. He thought I might like it based on the cover alone (yep, true).

Anyway, this is the story of Mr. Chartwell, a large black dog (they referred to him as a Labrador Retriever-type; I think he was more of a Newfie). He appears at the door of Esther Hammerhans, who has advertised for a lodger. She is a librarian at the House of Commons, and it is coming up on the anniversary of her husband's death. Mr. Chartwell is also an acquaintance of Sir Winston Churchill, and has come to London for Churchill's retirement as Prime Minister.

I don't want to give away anything that would spoil the story, so I'll just say that Churchill's retirement and Esther's profession turn out to be something that causes their paths to cross, and each one has no idea at the beginning that either has met Mr. Chartwell before.

I enjoyed this book, because the author had an excellent way of describing actions and behaviors of large dogs, while also having an excellent ear for what "conversations" Esther and the dog might have. She is intrigued by him, while also a little bit appalled at his messiness, and afraid of his physical strenght. Churchill has known Mr. Chartwell for a long time, so their relationship is a completely different one, but just as interesting.

I do have to say, that the arrival of a physical being such as Mr. Chartwell at my house, would be unlikely to mean the same things it does for Esther and Churchill.

This would definitely not be everyone's cup of tea, but I really liked it, and am glad I had the chance to read it.

**The Teaberry Strangler, by Laura Childs.  This is only the second or third book in this series that I've read, and I haven't even thought to read them in order, so there may be background in the stories that I'm not aware of. But this was an enjoyable read, and just the sort of thing I was in the mood to read at the time, so I consider it a win-win situation.

In this installment, Theodosia Browning is heading home one evening after the Back Alley Crawl, an event that was her suggestion, giving visitors and residents of Charleston, South Carolina, a chance to visit all of the small independent shops in her part of town. Theodosia owns the Indigo Tea Shop, and as she leaves at the end of the event, she witnesses her friend Daria, who owns a map store down the street, being strangled to death. Unfortunately, she doesn't get a clear look at the person who killed her friend, only a sense of a minty scent.

As Theodosia and the local police try to determine who killed the woman, we meet many of the other shop owners, and people around the town. There are quite a few suspects, some for obvious reasons, and others just because their stories/interests/attitudes to the murder just don't add up. The person who is revealed to be the murderer at the end of the story was a surprise to me, but another person I know who read this book informed me that the person was "obviously the murderer from the beginning." So go figure.

The book is not great literature, or full of amazing language and writing. But it is an enjoyable read,and the author is good at invoking place and time. I will admit that reading it made me wish for a cup of tea every single time, and I wouldn't have minded some of the food served with it in the story, either! Some of this is taken care of by the inclusion of a few recipes at the end of the book, which I think is a nice touch.

**The Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown.  I've been reading pre-publication reviews of this book, and thinking to myself, "Gee, I don't know if I want to read that or not." Then I realized I had an Advance Readers' Edition in my stack of books I want to read. Dumbass. (me, not you, kind reader)

Anyway, I decided to give it a read, and I really liked it. The things that gave me pause in the reviews I had read - that the family communicated with one another using Shakespearean language, and that it was "a classic story of sisters" - were only true in the broadest sense, and therefore not annoying.

The Weird Sisters of the title are Rosalind (Rose), Bianca (Bean), and Cordelia (Cordy). They are the adult daughters of an eminent Shakespearean scholar who teaches at a university outside of Columbus, Ohio. They have been exposed to Shakespeare and his works all of their lives, so yes, they do speak to each other sometimes using lines from various plays or poems - but they also speak like average people do. The story begins as the sisters are brought together again after learning that their mother has been diagnosed with cancer. They all have their own reasons for coming/staying home, that just happen to coincide with the news.

The thing I liked most about this story was the way it was written. The author makes it very conversational in tone, so that most of the time, you feel that one of the sisters is telling you what is happening or has happened. It's not divided like some books, where each character tells the story in their own voice all at once, but rather, it's like one person started telling you something, and another came into the room and added to the story, or told one that was related. (Unfortunately, my ability to explain the writing style to you is not as coherent, but I hope you get the idea.) Though I wasn't completely crazy about any of the sisters, they all seemed like real people, with good and bad characteristics.

Another thing I liked was that the story was not as predictable as I thought it might become as I was reading it. Yes, the mother's cancer is talked about, dealt with, etc., but it does not suddenly drive the story and make everyone a transformed person. The sisters face fairly common types of problems and situations, but the author does not make them always take the easy route to reach the end of their story.

I don't want to say too much else about the book, in case anyone reading this wants to read it for themselves. But I can say that I thought it was well-written and really interesting.

**Amaryllis in Blueberry, by Christina Meldrum.  My husband brought home an Advance Reader's edition of this book a few months back, and I just now got around to reading it. It's the story of the Slepy family, and the father who suddenly decides they are all moving to Africa where he will serve as a medical missionary.

I did finish this book, mainly because I kept waiting for it to get better. I had a hard time getting into it in the first place, and should have just stopped at that point. In short, I found it tedious, with poorly-drawn characters, and a story that was neither new in any way, nor well-written.

If you want to read a book about a family and their experiences when they are all taken to Africa by the father of the family, read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Not exactly the same story, but close enough and so much better.

**The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, by Tarquin Hall.  Well, here we are again with Vish Puri, Most Private Investigator, in the second of this series. This time, while dealing with his appetite and his family, Puri is also investigating the murder of a prominent gentleman who has been trying to disprove the claims of the "Godmen" - those who gain followers by convincing them that they are a god here on earth, and a guru able to perform miracles. From all witness accounts, the victim, Dr. Suresh Jha, was killled when a Hindu goddess appeared and plunged a sword into his chest - a sword that immediately aftewards, dissolved!

Vish Puri suspects Maharaj Swami, who has built a large spiritual retreat and has many followers all over India. Swami has his own TV show where he performs miracles, and he travels the country "helping" people with their problems, curing them of illnesses, etc. Granted, there was a young woman who supposedly visited his retreat and committed suicide while there, but that has not seemed to cost him any followers. Along with his ace team of investigators - Tubelight, Flush, Facecream - Puri infiltrates the compound and finds out a lot more is going on there than just spritual enlightment.

In the meantime, at home he is dealing with his daughter Jaiya, who has returned to her parents' home (as is the custom) to give birth to twins. Vish's wife, Rumpi, is busy not only with that, but doing some investigating of her own, along with Vish's mother. They recently attended a "kitty party" (a social/charitable get-together where money is pooled and one of the group members gets part of the amount that doesn't go to charity. I'm not explaining it very well, but that is the overall jist), where burglars entered the house and stole the entire amount collected. Rumpi and Mummy must do their sleuthing without Vish finding out, since he doesn't approve.

I enjoyed this book, as I find the characters amusing and the story involved enough to make me want to keep reading. Vish Puri is quite a character, being very old-fashioned but trying to adjust to the modern world. His thoughts and observations are often insightful, if presented in an unusual syntax! The one difficulty I have with this book, as I did with the first, is that reading it makes me hungry for Indian food!

I think the first book was slightly better, but still really liked this one. In my opinion, this is a promising and entertaining series so far.

As usual, anything marked with asterisks (**) is available as a giveaway to interested parties.  (Mr. Chartwell will be available in the future - The Tim wants to read it first.)  I also still have a copy of You Know When the Men Are Gone, by Siobhan Fallon, that I read in January and you can read about here.  Leave me a comment to let me know what book(s) you are interested in, and if more than one person is interested, Pip will choose a "winner"; I'll leave it open until through Monday, April 4.


SissySees said...

Skimmed a bit, as the tea cozy series is a favorite of mine and I don't want to spoil a second of it.

Tell me more about the dog story. As a rule I don't read pet stories because they find a way to be sad, but this one is tempting...

And the Weird Sisters appeals too. Hmmm...

joanchicago said...

I love what you wrote about The Weird Sisters, but I especially love this: "Yes, the mother's cancer is talked about, dealt with, etc., but it does not suddenly drive the story and make everyone a transformed person." Such a great description of how so many books about illness go wrong!

Anonymous said...

I would adore The Weird Sisters, as it was just highly recommended by someone whose taste I trust implicitly.

mdavis1@mchsi.com said...

I have The Weird Sisters on my Kindle wish list, so I'm glad to have read your review of it. Mr. Chartwell also sounds like something I'd like to read; maybe I'll put that on my wish list as well. Thanks for doing your reviews!

Anonymous said...

I'd love to read The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing... enough to nix any guilt I might have about entering one of your book drawings when I've previously won!

knitseashore said...

I see your reviews on Goodreads too, and really enjoy them. I'm a fan of mystery series, though I haven't gotten to the tea one yet. Sometimes you just need a little escapism!

Carrie#K said...

The Weird Sisters sounds so up my alley - I keep contemplating getting the audio version of this of if I should read and savor it.

Tarquin Hall's books look good too. More for my TBR list!