18 January 2012

November and December Book Report

OK, so I feel good enough to write a post.  But I realized that before I got to any of my 2012 ideas/plans/goals, I wanted to tell you what I read at the end of last year.  I tell you, this pneumonia has me not just feeling behind on things, but trying to figure out what is what - like I needed to be more confused!

November and December were not major reading months, in that I spent a lot of time working on Christmas and birthday gifts, and getting things wrapped and sent to their respective recipients.  Which usually means I'm more likely to catch up on my magazine reading, since I usually don't mind reading them in an extremely piecemeal fashion.

But I did read some books, and thought you might want to compare notes, if you have read any of the same ones.  Let me know if you did, and if you felt anywhere near the same way that I did about them!

The Widower's Tale, by Julia Glass.  I had an Advanced Readers' Copy of this book, but had not even thought to read it until last week. I don't really have a specific reason, it just didn't mesh with my radar when I'd look for something. But for some reason, I decided it was finally time.

This is the story of Percival (Percy) Darling, who has been a widower for some time as the book opens. Retired from his job as a librarian at the Widener Library at Harvard, he is quite content to be living alone, quietly, and privately. Well, that's about to change, since the barn on his property has been converted into a preschool, meaning children, parents, and the accompanying challenges are now right at his back door.

Percy is an odd duck, and he gets along better with his oldest grandson than with either of his grown daughters. Each person in the book, from relatively minor to major characters, has a life crisis/change/challenge at some point, which changes their relationship with each other and with Percy.

I found the story pretty interesting, though I think Percy was kind of a pain. Being a librarian, I have met other ones like him, that feel they are smarter than everyone else, just by virtue of the fact where they are employed. His family consisted of not necessarily unique types, but each one had their own appeal as well as their own faults. 

One part that annoyed me was Percy's younger lady friend, Sarah. Of course, they gave her breast cancer, and it was made more tragic by the fact that she had a young son. Not that the same situation doesn't happen every day in real life. But it seems that fiction is filled with women who have breast cancer, as opposed to heart disease, or even any other kind of cancer. Seldom does it make the book any better, in my opinion, and it just seems manipulative. This could be, of course, because of how I feel about the way many people react to breast cancer, but still it seems that if there's a woman in the story - and particularly if she is a mother - then she is gonna get breast cancer. Kind of like a dog in a horror movie - you know it's just a matter of time until the dog gets killed.

Overall, the book was well-written and it was interesting enough. I didn't really get too emotionally invested in any of the characters, but at the same time, they seemed much like people you may come across on any given day.

An Orange from Portugal : Christmas Stories from the Maritimes and Newfoundland, edited by Anne Simpson.  A couple of years ago, I was looking for Christmas-themed books on Amazon, and came across this title. Now, I am fond of Canada in general, but I have truly fallen in love with Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. The idea of a book of Christmas stories from this area was so exciting to me! However, rather than buy and read the book then, I just kept it in my shopping cart. I'm not sure why, but this year, I decided it was time to buy it. I'm so glad that I did!

One thing that frustrates me is that there are so many good writers published in Canada that we here in the States either never hear about, or whose work is really difficult to track down at bookstores or libraries. Please note that I am not saying that all Canadian writers are wonderful, any more than I would say that all American writers are wonderful - just that there's plenty of worthwhile Canadian literature that's ridiculously hard to find when they are our northern border neighbor.

Anyway, this collection of stories is really enjoyable. Some are based on myth and tradition, some are poems, and some personal reflections. And of course, just plain, regular fiction. The best thing was that none of them seemed terribly formulaic, or even manipulatively sentimental. It was fascinating to read about various practices, beliefs, and traditions of the populations of these areas, that in some ways were so familiar, but not really.

I can see myself going back and reading these stories again and again at later Christmastimes. They were absolutely perfect for this time of year, and some of them I think would be amazing read aloud.

I highly recommend this book to those who like Christmas-themed stories.

A Holiday Yarn, by Sally Goldenbaum.  I've read on some blogs where people had been reading this series (The Seaside Knitters Mysteries), and when I saw this at the bookstore and it had a holiday theme to it, I decided to use the rest of a gift card I'd been carrying around to buy it, and I'm so glad I did!

The Seaside Knitters are a group of women who live in Sea Harbor, Massachusetts, not far from Cape Ann. A varied (and not stereotypical, THANK GOD) group, they are proud of their community and their families. At the beginning of this book, a former resident of the community, home for the settling of her grandfather's estate, is murdered right in front of the family home, which her cousin, who inherited the property, hopes to turn into a B&B. The story goes from there, and the Seaside Knitters - one of whom is the person who inherited the property - try to close in on who may have committed this crime. There are plenty of suspects, including an elderly woman who has made it her mission to stop the B&B from coming into existence, a flashy former male model who had been humiliated in public by the deceased, and the young man who is to be the new cook at the B&B.

I really enjoyed this book. The writing is well-done, evocative of place and time, and the characters actually have some development. In this book, the women doing the investigating happen to be knitters - but they are also quite varied in their backgrounds and other interests. The story is enjoyable without being sappy, and the suspense keeps you going. I will definitely try to find more in this series, and hope that I will have found a new group of people to visit now and then.

I can hear those of you who know me sighing, since you know that I love to read seasonal books, especially those that take place at Christmastime.  But this turned out to be a good group of stories, each different and enjoyable in its own way.

For anyone interested, I am happy to offer A Widower's Tale and A Holiday Yarn to anyone who might be interested.  Leave me a comment letting me know which one/ones you are interested in reading, and if there are more than one person interested in a book, I'll pick a name at random on Saturday morning, January 21.   Which means that you have until the end of the day on Friday, January 20 to let me know you would like either/both books.

I'm hoping that I can read a few more books during 2012 than I did in 2011, when I read 38 books.  Not bad, but there were plenty of times when I was in the mood to read something, but allowed myself to be paralyzed with indecision as to what to read next.  Which is stupid - I've told myself I'll just start something, and if it isn't right for that time, I'll know.  Not that it's a contest, but why should I feel like I *need* to read a certain thing "next"??  It's not like there's gonna be a test ...


Lynn said...

Put me in the running for Holiday Yarn!!!! I've been wanting to start this series for awhile now!!!!

Bob & Phyllis said...

Books are a sure-fire way to lure me out of lurkerdom...
I would love the copy of a holiday yarn.


KSD said...

Glad to see you're up to writing reviews! Please stay on the mend.

Lorraine said...

Bridget- I always impose these silly restrictions on myself, and it's crazy.

Glad you're feeling better- cats and a dog can speed the recovery.

Michelle said...

Glad to know you're on the mend. The Widower's Tale looks interesting. I'd love to read it.