07 July 2013

May and June Book Report

I was getting ready to post about what I'd read in June, and realized I never posted about the books I read during May, so you get a combined post.  Frankly, the weather has been so incredibly hot and humid, reading is about the only thing I can stand to do - it doesn't require moving around, and helps you stay cool!

So, if you want an excuse to stay still and keep cool, read on.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home,  by Carol Rifka Brunt.  I have to say up front that I finished this book a while ago, and almost hated to write about it.  Mainly because I think it is such a great book.  It's sad, happy, poetic, serious, and several other things that can be contradictory.  I thought the writing was beautiful, and enjoyed reading it for that as much as for the story.

The basis of the story is the relationship between the narrator, June, and her family, her Uncle Finn, and his partner, Toby.  The book takes place in 1986 and 1987, when AIDS was still "new" and terribly misunderstood, and no one wanted to admit that someone they knew or were related to was suffering from it.  June's Uncle Finn, the love of her young life, who is also her godfather, is an AIDS victim.  His death sets off a series of events in the family and between June and Uncle Finn's surviving partner, Toby.

I can't do this book justice by trying to describe it.  I can tell you that it's one of those books that makes you consciously think about life, love, and forgiveness.  About the things we do in the name of love, or what we think is love.  About fear and how it can make your brain seemingly shut down your heart.

It also made me realize that although AIDS is still around, it is now manageable for a lot of people, and we all understand it so much more than we did then.  Some of the reactions in the book seemed almost quaint.  So though there is still a lot left to do to find out more about it, we really have made progress.

In my opinion, this book was pretty amazing.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley.  I know a lot of people who have read this and liked it, but I just never thought about reading it, to be honest.  Until recently, when it was an inexpensive offering for the Nook.  I was more than pleasantly surprised.

The main character, Flavia de Luce, is an 11-year-old girl living in post-WWII England, with her father and her two older sisters in a small town, in the family home.  She is extremely fond of chemistry, and the fact that one of her ancestors had a science lab built in the house means she can spend all kinds of time there, reading, experimenting, and being away from her sisters, who annoy her and taunt her.

When a stranger shows up unexpectedly at the house, and is found dead in the garden the next day, Flavia wants to find answers - and then when her father is arrested for the murder, she is more determined than ever.  She just knows in her heart that chemistry will help her find the real killer, and embarks on her quest with renewed determination.

I enjoyed this book a lot.  Flavia was an interesting, and often amusing character, and her investigation was very entertaining.  I liked that she was so intelligent and that still, she also had certain child-like sensibilities.  At times I got some of the minor characters confused, but it was easy enough to resolve.

One of my sisters is a chemist, and I can't wait to send her a copy of this book.  It was well-written and nicely paced, in my opinion.  If you like characters that are different than a lot of the regular types, you would probably enjoy this book.

A Share in Death, by Deborah Crombie.  When Scotland Yard Superintendent Duncan Kincaid accepts the offer of a week at a time share that his cousin cannot use, he accepts, thinking it will be a lovely time of reading, relaxing, and taking long walks in the countryside.  He arrives at Followdale House ready to take it easy.

But shortly after he arrives, one of the employees shows up dead, electrocuted in the jacuzzi.  Kincaid wants to stay out of it, but when he sees the local detective doing a sloppy job, he can't help but start looking into things on his own.  He even calls London to ask his partner, Gemma James, to look into some other guests' backgrounds.

During this time, he learns a lot about the others staying at Followdale House, as well as those who work there.  And another person is killed, and another accident occurs - things are getting out of hand!

This was a nice, leisurely read, particularly after a recent spate of serious, intense, complicated books.  I think I might give at least one more in the series a look.

Last Wool and Testament, by Molly MacRae.  This wasn't so much a bad book, than it wasn't a good book.  The premise is that a young woman returns to a small town in Tennessee for the funeral of her grandmother, who raised her.  As her only living relative, she is set to inherit the house her grandmother lived in, as well as the business/shop she owned, which is a knitting/weaving/yarn shop.  It had some potential, as a nice cozy mystery and also about knitting, which I often enjoy, but it just never got there.

Kath, the main character, is upset that her Granny, Ivy McClellan, has died and she didn't have a chance to visit before it happened.  But when she returns home for the funeral, and to clear out Granny's house, she learns that  the house is not hers to inherit.  She is 100% convinced that her Granny would not have sold the house to anyone else unless under duress.  And one of the employees at the store Granny owned, The Weaver's Cat, shows up at the luncheon after the funeral in a jacket that Kath just knows Granny would not have made and given to her, as claimed.  A friend of Granny's, who administers a Williamsburg-type historic site in the town, offers Kath the chance to stay at the caretaker's cottage, instead of a hotel.  The first night she is there, she learns that the caretaker was murdered there, and she meets a ghost.

This could have been a fun - if light - story.  But instead it just dragged along, and seemed to not be going anywhere for the longest time.  So you are probably wondering why I kept reading.  I wanted to see if I could find out what had happened with the house and why.  And even that resolution was not that satisfying.

I really can't recommend this.

The Red House,  by Mark Haddon.  Every time I came across a review of this book, I'd think to myself, "That sounds interesting, I really need to get around to reading the Advance Readers' Copy we have."  And then I would think about cake or see something shiny and forget until the next review came along.  But a little more than a week ago, I finished a book and was in one of those what-should-I-read-now moods, and saw this on the shelf, and decided to give it a go.

The basic premise of the book is that Richard, a successful doctor in London, invites his sister Angela and her family to stay with them at a rented house in Wales for a week during the summer after their mother has died.  Richard and Angela have not really spoken for years, mainly because Richard was off being a doctor and Angela was taking care of their mother.  So when the two families get together, it's nothing but awkward.  And during the week they spend together, the dynamics of the siblings, as well as those of the various spouses and children, change.

Well, sorry Reviewers and Readers Who Raved About This, but in my opinion, this book = Snoresville.  None of the characters appealed to me, and really nothing that happened to them - no matter how "interesting" or emotional - made me care.  Every once in a while, there would be a good passage, so I would keep reading.  Apparently for no good reason.

I spent only a few hours over several days with these people.  If I had been staying with them in the country house for a week, it wouldn't have been pretty.  For any of us.

Murder Most Frothy, by Cleo Coyle.  A good summer read, especially after a few "serious" books.  Clare Cosi, owner of the Village Blend in NYC, is in the Hamptons for the summer, helping a friend open his new business, Cuppa J.  But during the July Fourth celebrations, someone is killed.  And Clare is convinced that the bullet was meant for her friend.  So she sets out to prove that the bullet was meant for her friend, and not in fact for the young man who died, and also to find the killer.   At the same time of course, she meets people who join her list of suspects, even though one of them is particularly appealing.

Not great,  not horrible.  As I said, a good read when you have had an overload of books with serious, or troubling themes.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson.  Major Ernest Pettigrew (Ret.) is happily living out his remaining years in the house where he and his late wife lived together and raised their son, Roger.  Mrs. Ali is a recent widow, who with her husband, ran the small shop carrying food and other odds and ends in the village.

These two characters come together when Major Pettigrew learns of his brother's sudden death.  Mrs. Ali happens to stop at the house to collect money for newspaper delivery (the boy who normally does so is sick), and finds the Major in a shaky state, and stays for a while to help him relax and settle down.  This opens up a friendship between the two which deepens as time goes on.  The Major's son Roger, and Mrs. Ali's nephew do not approve, and as the book progresses, we learn that the others in the village are shocked for reasons of race, class, age, and just about anything else you can think of.

At the same time, the Major is dealing with Roger's desire to climb up the ranks, both financially and socially.  Mrs. Ali meets a young woman and her toddler son and makes an immediate connection with them.  These two plotlines eventually join up with the main story, and things come to a head at a large social event.  Major Pettigrew realizes that he needs to decide what he wants and make it happen.

I liked this book, it was a combination of the type of social satire and wit reminiscent of Barbara Pym, and the characters seemed like people rather than caricatures.  It was also a reminder that you can't live your life based on what others think about you, or you will have a lonely existence indeed.

The Good House, by Ann Leary.  I don't remember how I heard about this book, but it sounded interesting so I thought I'd give it a try.  The narrator, Hildy Good, is a divorced mother of two adult daughters, with a young grandson and a career as a successful real estate agent in her home town of Wendover, Massachusetts.  When the book begins, she is telling us about selling one of the old family farmhouses in town to the McAllisters, a young, wealthy couple with two young children from Boston.

But, Hildy is really the main character, and the book is about her life and relationships with family, friends, and clients after she returns from Hazelden, where she went for rehab after an intervention by her family.  Hildy does not consider herself an alcoholic, and didn't consider herself as someone with a problem even while in rehab.  The story follows her as she lives her life and negotiates the life of someone just out of rehab in a small town where everyone knows everyone.

Of course, because of her job and the fact that she grew up in town, she knows a lot of the people there.  She develops a relationship with young Rebecca McAllister, who shares some of her personal secrets with her, and who also has a different view of the people in the town, having just moved there.

This book was a good read.  Though towards the end it was pretty dramatic, it was not entirely unbelievable and seemed like what might happen.  Only when I read the acknowledgements did I realize that the author is married to the comedian Denis Leary.  Which is neither here nor there as far as the book is concerned, I just found it to be a point of interest.

What Was Lost, by Catherine O'Flynn.  Kate Meaney lives with her father.  That is, until he dies.  Her mother left when she was a toddler.  Her mother's mother, who she barely knows, comes to live with her.  Kate has started her own detective agency, with suggestions from a book her father gave her, called "How to Be a Detective."  She has a stuffed monkey as her assistant, named Mickey.

Kate spends her spare time looking for investigative opportunities.  She has already completed one assignment for her friend Adrian, who works in his father's shop nearby.  Kate and Adrian are friends, though she is a young girl and he is 22 years old.

Green Oaks is a mall that opened in their neighborhood, and is eventually causing all of the local shops to close because they don't get enough business.  Kate does a lot of detective work there, looking for individuals who are acting suspicious.

Years later, Kurt, a security guard at the mall, thinks he sees a young girl on the security camera.  Lisa, a young woman who works in a music store at the mall, wishes she could see her brother Adrian again, but he disappeared after everyone thought he had something to do with Kate's disappearance.  Gavin is another security who has worked at the mall since its opening, and knows a lot about its history.

A detective becomes involved in new information related to Kate Meaney's disappearance.

This is an interesting, if sad, story.  Fascinating in the way it weaves around, with a huge twist at the end.  Not my favorite book, but a good read and a different way of telling a story.

So there you go, a weird mix of lots of different books.  When I first wrote this post, I *thought* I had my copy of The Red House by Mark Haddon to offer to any interested parties.  I didn't really like it, but it got a lot of good reviews, so *somebody* liked it!  However, since then, I have learned that since I said I didn't care for it, The Tim gave it to someone he knew who wanted to read it.  So sadly, I have no books to offer this time around ...

And that's it for now, folks.  Hope everyone is doing OK with whatever weather they are experiencing.

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