Friday, March 16, 2012

January Books

WOLF HALL/Hilary Mantel/A-
Man Booker-Prize winning historical novel about Thomas Cromwell. From his service with Cardinal Wolsey to his rise to the height of Henry VIII's government, Cromwell navigates the ever-changing currents of religious and political turmoil in Tudor England. But his memory is long and he keeps his eye on the big picture. The sequel will be out this year, and I can't wait.

Memoir by President Kennedy's mother written in the early 1970s. The best part of this book is the personal photos and the little-known stories of a mother raising a family of famous children. She begins with her own childhood as the daughter of Boston's mayor and her marriage to Joe Kennedy. The book flagged for me when Jack began his political career--as a mother, Rose Kennedy appears willfully blind  about the flaws in her sons.

MWF SEEKING BFF/Rachel Bertsche/A
I adored this memoir about a New York native who moves to Chicago with her new husband and is desperate to find friends. Sure, it's partly because I'm in the same situation, but mostly it was Bertsche's engaging voice and willingness to do almost anything in her quest. She goes on fifty-two friend dates in a year and along the way to making friends, she endures uncomfortable dinners, injury-filled parties, and awkward set-ups. Any woman who values friendship should read this book.

After nine years in a mental institution, Caroline Hill is released into the community. With her parents dead and her baby daughter adopted out, Caroline finds a job and begins to feel her way into a new life. But someone is stalking her, and Caroline doesn't know who to trust. She's crazy, after all. A good hook, and a decent heroine, but the tension just never took off for me.

When two men are murdered at a Botswana bush camp, Detective "Kubu" is brought in to investigate. One man was a tourist, the other supposedly died nearly thirty years before in Rhodesia's civil war. And a third guest is missing. Is he the killer? Why is the camp owner so jittery? What will Kubu do when his wife is threatened? And how can a man dead for decades be both villain and hero? A fine second entry in Stanley's series; I look forward to the third.

Another wonderful outing with 1950s pre-teen sleuth Flavia de Luce. Although her father's finances are fast falling off a cliff, Flavia has bigger problems when a gypsy she befriends is attacked and left for dead. Flavia, as usual, is right in the midst of it and that continues when a local poacher is found speared to death on a statue in the family gardens. The great charm of this series is Flavia herself, and the underlying melancholy of this precocious girl who never knew her dead mother and desperately wants affection from her grieving father.

Hitler's armies not only aimed to take over European governments, but also to relocate hundreds of thousands of cultural treasures to Germany. A few hundred men and women in the Allied forces were tasked with finding the looted artwork. Edsel's book is a fascinating account of Nazis and spies and priceless art hidden in damp mines, as well as the destruction of hundreds of irreplaceable architecture by both Germans and the Allies. This book has just been optioned for film rights by George Clooney and I can't wait to see it onscreen.

One of my favorite authors, in a short and lovely elegy to writing. Patchett talks about her own writing life, which is an ode to hard work and a bit of luck, and the theme of it for me is summed up in this quote: "The journey from the head to the hand is perilous and lined with bodies." If you love writing and/or Ann Patchett herself, this is a great read.

Martin's long-awaited fifth book in the GAME OF THRONES series, continuing the story of Westeros and its feuding kings. Jon Snow is desperately trying to hold the Wall against both wildlings and darker enemies and Daenerys is making unenviable choices to hold her imperiled city and keep her dragons from destruction. Then there's Tyrion, heading east and twisting every turn of fortune to his own advantage. Martin continues to engage, but I hope his next book doesn't take five years to deliver!

Didion wrote one of my favorite books, THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING, about the death of her husband. During that first year as a widow, their only child was seriously ill. BLUE NIGHTS tells the next chapter, about her daughter Quintana's death. Didion is a mesmerizing writer, but the power of this book is in its authenticity. She doesn't hide behind her talent, but uses her gift to write an amazing book about motherhood and loss.

With Hill's unexpected death, this is his final book. It's a standalone mystery with something of a mythical quality. Wolf Hadda led an apparently charmed life, until the day it crumbled beneath him. After years in prison, he meets a psychologist and decides to tell her his story in order to win parole. But is he really repentant--or just seeking release in order to wreak vengeance? Who put him prison with lies, and what is he going to do about it now? A fine book, but I wish I could have had one more Dalziel/Pascoe novel to relish. Rest in peace, Reginald Hill.

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