Friday, January 1, 2010

December Books

When a young boy loses his mother and gains a stepmother and baby brother a short time later, he retreats to a world of make believe that becomes distressingly real. In a twisted fairy tale land, he must make a perilous journey in the company of occasionally recognizable characters to find the king and ask to be sent home. But the king is not that different from the boy, and he has his own plans to abandon his kingdom. Not for children, despite the premise.

Bryson takes his trademark wit from travel writing to time travel as he explores what (very) little we know about William Shakespeare. And why he matters. And why Shakespeare really is Shakespeare and not Kit Marlow or another writer. Brilliant, funny--and that's just Bryson. With this subject, he couldn't possibly write a bad book.

Just when I thought I had Penny and her detective, Armand Gamache, figured out--she goes and writes a book like this. Stunning and disturbing are two words that come to mind. So are powerful and haunting. Gamache returns to Three Pines when a hermit's body is discovered in the restaurant he loves. Why was it left there? Who is the man and why does he have a priceless collection of antiques in his cabin? And what secrets is the innkeeper holding? Penny kicked it up about seventeen notches with this story and I'm still breathless.

I so wanted to like this book by the author of THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE (which I adored). But sadly, I did not. I did at least finish it, to see if the interesting premise (twin sisters inherit a London flat from an aunt they never knew and are haunted by her ghost) ever led to an interesting story. It never did. The only character I liked was the agoraphobe-OCD upstairs neighbor and I have a hard time liking books with a slew of unlikable characters. If you want a great book about twins, identity, and mysterious pasts, check out Brunonia Barry's THE LACE READER instead.

A re-read of one of my favorite mystery novels. Superintendent Dalziel's first case as a cop involved the disappearance of three girls that was never solved. Twenty years later, the reservoir that swallowed up the town where the girls lived is evaporating in a drought and another little girl has gone missing. Woven through the mystery is the serious illness of Inspector Pascoe's daughter; not a random plotline, since Rosie actually helps solve the mystery. I obviously love it if I'm willing to re-read it with so many other books demanding my attention.

When I grow up to be 89, I hope I'm P.D. James. The author of the Dalgliesh mysteries wrote a short volume covering the creation of detective fiction and it's most famous practitioners. The core of the book is the evolution of detective fiction and how previous writers have influenced where the genre is today. A must for fans of either James or mysteries in general.

In 1913, a little girl shows up on an Australian dock with a white suitcase, no memory of her name, and no parents. Raised by adoptive parents, Nell discovers only when she's grown how she came to their family. She goes to Cornwall, trying to find the truth of her first four years of life, but the journey is interrupted when she takes in her 10-year-old granddaughter, Cassandra, to raise. When Nell dies, Cassandra inherits a Cornish cottage and a quest. The story moves back and forth through time, but is well-labeled to minimize confusion. From a young woman fleeing her family to a best friend asked for a favor she cannot refuse to a lonely woman trying to remember her own place in the world, this is a beautiful and engaging book.

A short book covering the author's move to Provence from England and a year in the life. From dreadful mistrals that destroy the roof in winter to baking sun and hordes of tourists in summer, it was a lovely, gentle way to visit somewhere I've never been and appreciate the foibles of people everywhere (not to mention the mouthwatering discussions of food!)

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