Friday, August 31, 2012

July Books

I HATE MY NECK/Nora Ephron/B+
This one I listened to while driving across country with my best friend. It was poignant listening to Nora Ephron read her own book of essays so shortly after her death, but mainly it was laugh out loud funny. She touches on everything from aging and what it does to a woman's body (now I know to appreciate my neck while it lasts--it could go at any time) to falling in love with a place to live to a fascination with culinary greatness. Ephron was funny and insightful and delightfully deadpan and she will be missed.

The first in a new mystery series featuring Harriet Westerman, unconventional wife of a naval captain, and Gabriel Crowther, anatomist with a mysterious past. When Harriet finds a body in her woods, she asks for Gabriel's help in identifying the man and discovering who killed him. Meanwhile, a young girl and her brother are made orphans when their father is murdered and the man who killed him will stop at little to get to the children as well. Atmospheric, detailed, with a story that slowly weaves together into a single whole and characters with surprising complexity. I will definitely be reading more of her work.

The memoir of a girl surviving drug-addicted parents, her mother's death from AIDS, and homelessness and eventually being accepted at Harvard. The story is naturally compelling, but in book form I wished it had spent a little less time on the details of her awful childhood and her time on the streets and slightly more on how she managed to finish high school in two years while not having anyplace to live. But how can I fault her personal story?

PASSION/Lauren Kate/C+
In this third of four books in her FALLEN series, Kate sends Luce on an increasingly frantic search through her past lifetimes to try and discover why she and Daniel were cursed at the beginning of time and what she can do to change that curse. Over and over again she watches herself die in the very moment she realizes her love for Daniel and with each life visited she comes closer to the truth while the Daniel of her present tries desperately to catch her. The reason for the low grade is that I felt most of the book was nothing more than backstory with very little forward momentum to the plot of the series. The last little bit turned that around and gave a good jumping point to the next, and final, book but overall I was more bored than inspired.

OLD MAN'S WAR/John Scalzi/A-
At the age of seventy-five, John Perry leaves Earth forever to become a soldier in the Colonial Defence Force. He knows nothing of where he's going or how they will turn him into a deadly soldier, but he's determined to do something useful with the life that remains to him. This amazing book has advanced genetic engineering, serious alien enemies, intense battles, and an unexpectedly familiar presence from John Perry's past. Scalzi is a talented storyteller and I went straight on to the second book in this series when I was finished.

This collection of short stories by Nix ranges widely from the Merlin legend to an urban Hansel and Gretel to two young boys caught in a war zone. But the title refers to the first story, in which Nix explores once more the worlds of the Abhorsen from his Old Kingdom trilogy (SABRIEL, LIRAEL, and ABHORSEN.) I picked the book up for that story, but enjoyed most of the others as well.

This is not a mystery in the sense that the reader is trying to uncover who did it--from the moment of the murder, we know exactly who killed the abusive ex-husband and how. This is more a battle of wits, in which Ishigami, the devoted next-door neighbor of the dead man's ex-wife,  covers up the crime and keeps one step ahead of the police. The detective knows that there's something wrong with Ishigami's involvement, and the novel becomes a battle of wits between Ishigami and an old friend who is occasionally a police consultant. Interesting psychologically, but not exactly my favorite.

Finally I have read this classic and I wonder why I never did before. Charles Ryder is an officer in WWII when the army commandeers a large country house and Charles is thrown back to his involvement with Brideshead and the elegant, aristocratic, royally screwed-up Marchmain family who owns it. From his intense friendship with Sebastian Marchmain to his love for the outwardly cool but inwardly tormented Julia, Charles is always a little bewildered amongst the family--but he's also a keen observer. A beautiful, melancholy novel of England between the wars, when a certain class could see its own end coming without knowing what would happen next.

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