Tuesday, December 1, 2009

November Books

A beautiful book and wonderful story translated from the original French. Rene Michel is the middle-aged concierge of a high-class Paris apartment building. Paloma is a 12-year-old girl who is looking for reasons to support killing herself (it's actually funnier and more poignant than that sounds). I would have read it for the perfectly-rendered depiction of the upstairs/downstairs life in the building, but when a Japanese gentleman moves in, a riveting story breaks forth. Highly recommended.

My first and last book by Rand. The story opened strong, with a depiction of a communal society that was much more Borg than communist, but by the time the hero is reading his wonderful collection of found books and then, instead of inviting his girlfriend/wife/partner to read them too, summarizing the important points for her, I was done. Never going to be a fan of stories for the sake of a philosophy, and this philosophy was particularly hard for me to swallow.

Picked up in Dublin and necessary for my latest revisions, this thin history is the account of the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland that culminated in the Act of Union in 1800, tying Ireland to England with bonds that were meant to be unbreakable. Much of the book follows the guerilla leader, Michael Dwyer, and his five-year holdout in the Wicklow mountains. Interesting to me, but probably not for general consumption.

Since I'm writing a historical YA with paranormal overtones, I've had this on my shelf for a long time as comparison. After reading it, I've concluded that to be successful I need only trot out Victorian etiquette, pair it with rebellious teen girls, and throw in a dash of somewhat vague Other Realms where a dead woman may or may not be speaking to our heroine. It wasn't terrible, but for true historical fantasy, I'll stick to master writers like Juliet Marillier.

THE WHITE GARDEN/Stephanie Barron/A
Ah, this was a gem of a story by the writer of the Jane Austen mysteries. When an American gardener finds a lost manuscript by Virginia Woolf, she gets more adventure than she bargained for. Reminiscent of POSSESSION (one of my favorite novels of all time), the story moves back and forth in time and asks the question: What if Virginia Woolf left a diary dated the day after she committed suicide?

I started this 800 page book back in April when I went to Ireland. It's a huge history that ends with the creation of the Irish Free State in the 1920s, but it's strength is in its early history, using stories and poems and traces in old manuscripts to give a look at the Irish long before the English and the Normans and the Vikings. Recommended as a general history, but again, probably not for casual reading.

Good tension, kept me reading, had the dumbest secret ever that the CIA was trying to protect. Really, really dumb. This thriller abandons the Catholic Church as its subject and takes on the Masons (significantly, in a much more evenhanded and openminded manner). I'll be in Washington D.C. with my family in April, so I'll be on the lookout for the symbols.

HOW NOT TO WRITE A NOVEL/Mittlemark & Newman/B
Pretty much what the title declares--a collection of mistakes by two editors who would be happy to never see any of them again. It's also very funny in its examples and I like being able to say, "Nope, don't do that." (The book I really need is one titled: "How To Write a Book That Every Editor On This Planet Will Want To Publish.")

A new Inspector Wexford is always to be treasured. I particularly liked this story because we get a look back at Wexford in his early years. One of his first cases involved a man whom he was sure had strangled his neighbor. But there was no evidence. Over the years, there have been other deaths. Now the man has reappeared and Wexford wonders where the next murder will come and if he can ever stop the killer. Tied in with a subplot about a Muslim girl who may or may not be forced into marriage by her family.

HOLY FOOLS/Joanne Harris/B+
Juliet was once an acrobat in 17th-century France who performed before the king. Now she is Soeur Auguste, given refuge in a nunnery five years before when her daughter was born. She has been content in her refuge, but now it is stripped away when her former lover, Guy LeMerle, shows up impersonating a priest. It's a disturbing book in that no one character is wholly to be admired, but Harris paints a vivid picture of mass hysteria and the ways talented men and women can play to the crowds. I kept thinking I didn't like it that much, but I couldn't stop reading.

In the 1950s, English student Adam Strickland comes to the Villa Docci to study its sunken garden for his thesis. He's soon caught by the emotions of two deaths--that of Flora 400 years ago, whose husband created the garden in her memory; and that of Emilio, the son of the elderly owner, who was shot in the villa as the Nazis were pulling out of Italy. Adam is entangled by the family and its secrets and that pull exerts on the reader as well. I loved this book and its writing.

Willie Upton (female) comes back to her small town of Templeton in disgrace. Then her mother hands her a challenge--Willie's father is not some unknown hippie, he's a resident of Templeton. Her mother gives her one clue, which leads Willie into an exploration of the town's history and her own family's past. Very intriguing, especially the weaving in of old stories. And the disgrace twist turned out unexpectedly, which is always nice. I will definitely look for Groff's next book.

MICHAEL COLLINS/Margery Forester/A+
A biography of the man who helped bring the Irish Free State into being and was assassinated by his own people because of it. Forester wrote it in the 1960s when there were still plenty of people living who remembered, even worked with, Michael Collins. The book begins with his country childhood, through his years in London, to his return to Ireland and participation in the 1916 Easter Week rising. It was afterward that Collins came to the front of the Irish independence movement. His intelligence network was unbeatable and he engineered the assassination of more than a dozen English intelligent agents on the same day. But he was also a man willing to make peace and recognize when the English had given all they were willing to give. He chose an imperfect treaty rather than continuing war and was killed by Irish Republicans at the age of 32. I have a better understanding now of the Northern Ireland problems, the history of the IRA, and the role of personality in politics.

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