04 September 2014

July and August Book Report

Granted, this is actually more of a July book report, since reading was not something I was able to do in August - darn if those words didn't swirl on the pages when I would try to read something while taking heavy duty painkillers!  But I did listen to an audio book, so there was actually a book "read" in August - just by someone else, while I listened.  :-)

Here you go.

After You'd Gone, by Maggie O'Farrell.  This book was a little difficult at first, as it tends to switch points-of-view and time periods without much warning.  But once I got used to that, I found it to be a fascinating read.

Alice is a young woman who wakes up one morning and decides to take the train to Edinburgh to visit her two sisters.  They meet her at the train station, and stop for tea.  Alice goes to the rest room, and something she sees while there causes her to rush out of the rest room, and back to her sisters, saying she is sorry but she has to go back home immediately.  Without further explanation, she gets on the train and heads home.  Once home, she walks to the local market to buy cat food, and just as she steps off the curb to cross the street, a car comes ...

As Alice lays in a coma, her parents and family gather at her bedside.  The question comes to be, was it an accident, or was she trying to commit suicide?  And what did she see that started the whole chain of events?

As we learn more about Alice's life, childhood, and family relationships, small pieces start to seem to fall into place, but instead of fitting the puzzle together, they just seem to swarm around for a long time.

I thought this was a compelling book, and that the author did a good job (once I was used to it) with different characters' voices.

By the time you reach end end of the book, you know an awful lot about Alice.  Even though she has only been an active character for a small part at the beginning.  I enjoyed this one very much.

Classified as Murder, by Miranda James.  I was in the mood for something like this, and it fit the bill.  It's the second in the series featuring Charlie Harris, rare book cataloger, and his Maine coon cat, Diesel.  When an elderly and wealthy library patron asks Charlie to help with an inventory of his collection, it seems like a great opportunity.  James Delacorte is known as a collector with excellent taste.  But when Charlie meets the rest of the family, he's not so sure about them.  Delacorte fears that someone is stealing from his library, but can't prove anything until he checks, item by item, and that is what Charlie is hired to do.  But of course it can't be that simple, because barely into the project, Charlie returns one day after lunch to find Delacorte dead in his own library!  Was it natural causes, or murder?

In a side story, Charlie's son Sean has unexpectedly come to visit from Houston, where he works as a successful attorney.  This gives Charlie another mystery to solve, since Sean doesn't seem like his usual self.

These books are entertaining and engaging enough to be a fun read.  I am jealous of Charlie, since he gets to bring his cat to work with him ... ;-)

Miss Buncle's Book, by D.E. Stevenson.  Barbara Buncle is a single woman who lives in a small English village called Silverstream.  She is not known for anything in particular, other than living there and being thought somewhat dowdy.

When money gets tight, she writes a book, about life in a small English village called Copperfield, using the pen name John Smith.  To her great surprise, not only does a publisher grab onto it for release, but it becomes a best seller!

That is when Miss Buncle's problems begin.  The folks in Silverstream read the book, and decide/realize that the characters are based on them.   And they do not always like what they see.  It becomes quite a sore spot for certain people, and more than one do everything they can to have it recalled, with no success.  Finding out the true identity of John Smith becomes a regular pastime, particularly for those who feel they were treated poorly, a society leader in particular.  On more than one occasion, she admits to being John Smith, but of course no one believes her.  The ending of the book turns out to be rather amusing, and not necessarily as contrived as it might sound if I described it.

This book was fun to read.  I liked the tizzy that the villagers got themselves into over a book that in the end, was harmless.  There were some really amusing characters, and it was also amusing to be inside Miss Buncle's head.

Not quite the level of Barbara Pym, but evocative of her work.

The Perfume Collector, by Kathleen Tessaro.  Grace Munroe is a young English woman in London in the 1950s who has just learned that her husband is cheating on her.  She also receives notification from a lawyer's office in Paris that she has inherited the estate of a recently deceased woman.  The thing is, Grace has never ever heard of the woman, Eva D'Orsey.  She travels to Paris to meet with the attorney, and to try and figure out what exactly is happening.

Eva D'Orsey's story takes place in the early part of the 20th century, into the 1920s.  Though born in France, she starts out as a maid in a New York City hotel after her parents die, and her aunt and uncle in American don't quite know what to do about her.

The story is told in chapters that alternate between Grace's story and Eva's story.  Grace has had a relatively easy life, though as a married woman she is not very happy.  Eva struggled for years, and had to take advantages of opportunities that came her way, even if they were not always elegant or all that legitimate.

I enjoyed this book.  The story was nicely paced, and the characters of Grace and Eva were interesting and somewhat different.  I liked learning about how perfume is made, and I always enjoy stories that take place in the post-WWI period.  The primary supporting characters were also well-drawn, and I think the author did a good job of making us appreciate each woman's situation.  And in the end, it made me even more determined to visit Paris one day.

In the Shadow of Gotham, by Stephanie Pintoff.  I have no idea how I found out about this book, but I really enjoyed it!  First of all, it takes place in one of my favorite places and times: New York City at the turn of the twentieth century.  But whereas most of the other books I've read about this time and place deal with well-to-do types, this one focused more on working people, and poor people.

Simon Ziele, a former New York police officer, has moved to Dobson, New York, in the Hudson Valley to start over once his fiancee dies.  Dobson is a pretty quiet small town, and Ziele is trying to convince the only other police officer, the captain, that he is not there to put him out to pasture.

When a young woman visiting one of the wealthy families is brutally murdered, Ziele finds himself in New York again, trying to learn more about the young woman and her associates.  He becomes involved with a professor at Columbia and his colleagues who are involved in the relatively new science of criminology, and who are sure that one of their subjects has committed the murder.  Finding him becomes the hard part.

This was a really interesting look into the life of early New York from the standpoints of those who, for the most part, would be considered the "have nots."  Ziele works hard to find the killer, not just to solve the case, but to prove to himself that he hasn't lost his touch.

I thought this was an interesting read, and that the characters were well-drawn.  I certainly couldn't wait to get to the end to find out what really happened!

Birds of a Feather, by Jacqueline Winspear.  I must admit that I listened to an audio version of this book, rather than having read it.  This is partly because, after surgery, the painkillers I've been taking have made it hard to actually read - words and letters seem to swirl on the pages!  So I listened to this book, and admittedly missed portions when I would doze off, but I did get most of it.

This is the second Maisie Dobbs story I've tried, and I really enjoyed it. In this installment, Maisie and her assistant, Billy Beale, are investigating the disappearance of a well-known businessman's daughter.  Their investigations lead to also investigating the sudden deaths of three other women, who turn out to have had an earlier relationship with the missing girl.  As if that wasn't enough, Maisie's father is also seriously injured in an accident at the stable where he works, and she needs to make sure he is recovering well.
And to add insult to injury, Billy has started to exhibit some disturbing behavior, which makes Maisie very suspicious of what he is doing with his free time.

The story moves along at a reasonable pace, and like Maisie and Billy, the reader becomes as involved in trying to figure out what happened to the three other women, as well as where the missing girl might be.

I do have to say that the voice used for Maisie by the woman who was doing the reading was kind of annoying, making her sound kind of fake to me.  But I got over it, and really found this to be a good story right up to the end.

Fortunately, now I am off the painkillers, and can choose to read and/or listen to a book!  The yarn store where I work on Sundays (Rosie's) is starting a Knit and Lit Club that will meet once a month.  We'll read an agreed-upon book and then meet to knit and discuss it.  I really hope it takes off, because I think it sounds like fun.  Our first meeting is September 21, and we are reading A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, so I'll let you know how it all goes next month!


Anonymous said...

I can't wait to hear how the Lit & Knit group goes. Sounds like a very good idea.

Glad to hear you are feeling better too. :-)

Lorraine said...

Bridget- What better, knit and lit. Sounds terrific.

sprite said...

I enjoyed A Walk in the Woods and hope you do, too.

Mereknits said...

A knit n lit club sounds perfect to me. Hope you are continuing to recuperate and are feeling stronger everyday.

elns said...

Bridget, your book reports are the best. I already see something on your report that is calling me :)