06 October 2011

August and September Book Report

I just realized the other day that even though I'm always reading something, I haven't really read much this year.  For whatever reason - funk, exhaustion, work responsibilities, you name it - I have fewer books finished and/or going than I can remember for a while.  This dismays me.  So I'm going to start and make a more concerted effort to make sure I read the books I have and want to start, and the bazillion more that are out there waiting for me.

One way will be to consciously devote one evening a week to reading ONLY.  This will likely also make me feel more calm and centered, so I think it will be win-win. I've informed The Tim of my plan, in the event that he wanted to join me, but you never do know with him, and I'm not gonna worry about it.  (So there!)

Anyhoo, here's what I think about some recent reads.  Feel free to let me know your thoughts if you've also read any of them.

One Day, by David Nicholls.  I've had an Advanced Readers' Edition of this title for a few months now, but finally decided to read it when I saw that the movie version was coming out.  It is the story of Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, beginning with their college graduation, and for 15 years afterwards.  The catch: we meet them each of those years on the same day, and learn how their lives have changed since the year before.  

This was neither the best book I've ever read, nor the worst.  It was interesting in some ways, and towards the end, very bittersweet.  But I never really liked either of the main characters, so other than mild curiosity, I was never *dying* to know what would happen next.  In some ways it was predictable.  

The most interesting part for me was reading the changes in the world during that time period, more than what happened to these two people.  

Still Life, by Louise Penny. This is the first book in this series. I had read the fifth one last fall, and LOVED it, so was anxious to start at the beginning. All of the books take place in a small town in Quebec called Three Pines, and the crimes are investigated by Armand Gamache, from the Surete Office in Montreal. 

In this story, a well-liked former schoolteacher, Jane Neal, is found dead in the woods, and immediately there are all kinds of suspicions. For one, her dog was at home, and she was known for never leaving the house for a walk in the woods without her dog. Also, for the first time ever, she has entered a work in the local art fair, and though she has been painting for years, no one has ever seen any of her work. Her friends and neighbors are puzzled and frightened. When Gamache and his associates arrive to handle the investigation, we learn about many of the others in the town.  

When it is determined that Jane Neal was killed by an arrow, the story begins to go in a completely different direction. Likewise, when the will is read, more intrigue begins.  

Jane Neal's friends as well as Armand Gamache manage to work together to solve the crime. This is a well-written, well-paced mystery with some touches of Quebec history and thoughtful characters.  

On to #2! 

A Bitter Truth, by Charles Todd.  The third installment in the Bess Crawford mysteries is no disappointment. In this book, Bess comes home for holiday leave from the front lines of World War I France, to find a woman hiding out, crying and shivering in the doorway to the boardinghouse where Bess shares a flat with a couple of other women. After she convinces the woman to come inside, she sees that she has a severely bruised eye. The woman reports that her husband, also home on leave, hit her during an argument, and she has run away. Bess notices that the woman - Lydia - is obviously well-to-do, and after a day or so, Lydia convinces Bess to come back with her to her husband's family home, Vixen Hill, which turns out to be an extremely dreary location and not what Bess is expecting at all.

One evening, a family friend makes a comment about a child he has seen in one of the orphanages in France, and how much the little girl resembles the young daughter of the family, who died in childhood. The next morning, the family friend is found dead near the town church. As usual, Bess tries to figure out just what has happened; and at the request of Lydia, looks for the young girl when she returns to France.  

I enjoyed this book because it is well-written, and because Bess Crawford is an interesting heroine. The World War I setting continues to interest me, as it is so seldom a character in fiction, and is a time just at the cusp or modernism. I didn't figure out the villain until the very end of the book, so I enjoyed the "chase" as well.  

Less Than Angels, by Barbara Pym.  This is the second Barbara Pym novel I've read, and it did not disappoint.  The main characters - Catherine, Tom, Deidre, Mark, Digby, and Miss Clovis - are all connected in the beginning of the novel, by their study of or involvement with someone studying anthropology.  The two primary characters, Catherine and Tom, live together at the beginning of the novel.  Tom is an anthropologist, spending a lot of his time researching a tribe in Africa, and living with Catherine when he is back in England.  Catherine is a writer of women's stories for a magazine, who realizes that her way of making a living is by writing frivolous stories allows her to be an independent woman who can afford to do most of the things she enjoys.  

All of the characters are interesting.  All of them have flaws, and certain attributes that are humorous.  But Pym makes then human.  You can understand their feelings, whether or not you particularly like them.  The usual Pym style of writing is here, with the enjoyable turns of phrase, and the biting social commentary.  The one thing that was different from "Excellent Women" is that "Less Than Angels" ends on a sad note.  I didn't really see it coming, but when it happened, it didn't seem suddenly manufactured like such things are in more modern works.  

I really enjoyed reading this, and hope to find a few more of Barbara Pym's books to get to know her better.

And that's it.  Stay tuned - I'm clearing out my bookshelves, and will be looking for new homes for some of the books I've read in the past few months.  I'm finally getting to the point of realizing that just because I have a book, have read it, and enjoyed it, I don't *have* to keep it forever ...


Carrie K said...

That's it? As if that's not enough? Silly rabbit.

Louise Penny books are always so good. A Bitter Truthsounds intriguing.

I'm slogging through my perfectly interesting book about the crash in the 20's but for some reason, non fiction can take me EONS to read. I was reading the Ravelry forums last night on my iPhone instead. You'd think it wasn't fascinating! which it is!

SissySees said...

I take spells too. I wanted to read more this year, but it just hasn't worked out that way.

Kim said...

When I was teaching (*gulp*), I cleaned out my bookshelves each semester, and took boxes of books in to give away to my students. It was always very satisfying: first, getting space on my shelves, and second, seeing them get excited over their "new" books.

MrPuffy said...

That's a good idea to plan a time to read. I tend to read in bed just before I go to sleep and, hence, I don't get much reading done :)

I think you should keep your book! Books are disappearing and someday they may not be as readily accessible - LOL

How about those Irish, eh? Nice. Skip skip skip ~ Happy Fall indeed ~

Bookfool said...

Ah, you and I are going through the same stage. I have 5 or 6 bags of books ready to donate (sitting in my trunk). I used to keep just about everything I enjoyed. Now . . . I figure I'll never get back to 99% of them. I've gotten rid of over 600, this year. It's really kind of freeing to part with them and make space, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

Oh, j'adore Gamache, complètement!

Started that series on #5 as well (The Brutal Telling, wasn't it?) and have been absolutely hooked ever since!