Friday, March 25, 2011

February Books

The second Flavia de Luce mystery, featuring the intrepid 11-year-old sleuth who lives in a crumbling English estate in the 1950s. This time around, Flavia lands in the middle of mystery when she meets a puppetmaster and his travelling companion in their broken-down van. Persuaded to stay and put on a show, the puppetmaster ends up dead and the motives stretch back to a child's death some years earlier. Flavia is bewitchingly endearing, particularly for a child who spends her spare time studying and creating poisons, and she carries the book with humor, cleverness, and a hint of vulnerability.

As I don't reveal too much of my psyche, I'll simply say that this non-fiction book about the often-fraught relationship between women and their bodies held lots of recognition for me. Recommended.

Sibeal is the youngest of the Sevenwaters girls, and a powerful seer. Though only sixteen, she is preparing to take her final vows as a druid and is irritated by her mentor's command that she spend one final summer with family and friends. Sibeal is certain of what she wants--until several mysterious survivors of a shipwreck are washed up on the island. When she saves Felix's life, she entangles herself in a story of treachery and lost memory and a love that threatens her own future. How is she to know what is right when the gods themselves are quiet?

PASSAGE/Connie Willis/B+
Joanna Lander is a psychologist researching Near Death Experiences (NDE) and how the brain constructs them. When she partners with Dr. Richard Wright (who induces NDE in healthy volunteers) she doesn't know what she's getting into. For the first while, I kept thinking "This is so weird"; then I thought "What does the writer think she's doing?!"; and finally I wept through the last few chapters. It's funny and poignant and suspenseful and tragic. Recommended.

A RELIABLE WIFE/Robert Goolrick/C-
More literary than I expected, which for me means the story was overwhelmed by the language and tone. Ralph Truitt is rich and lonely in turn-of-the-last century Minnesota. When he advertises for 'a reliable wife', he gets more than he bargained for. Catherine Land is not who she says she is, and her agreement to help him find his lost son is prelude to attempted murder. I read it to see how it ended, but the writing was too self-conscious and pretentious for my taste.

AT HOME/Bill Bryson/A+
What don't I love by Bill Bryson? Certainly not this book, which is billed as "A History of Private Life". Using his own 19th-century vicarage as a jumping-off point, Bryson explores how humans came to live in houses and the development of everything from indoor plumbing to kitchens to the clothing we put on. I know when I read Bryson that I will come away knowing things I never expected to. In this book, that included how British sailors came to be called 'limeys' and the importance of Beau Brummel to fashion.

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