Monday, August 20, 2012

June Books

I keep returning to Scandinavian mysteries although generally I believe that I find them too depressing. Harry Hole, the recovering alcoholic cop at the center of Nesbo's book, is certainly not an easy, joyful character. With a failed relationship and the deaths of colleagues behind him, he is merely going through the motions at work when the possibility of Norway's first serial killer lands in his lap. A woman is gone--and a snowman wearing her scarf left in her yard. It's not long before a connection is made to other missing women over the years, all vanished on the day of the first snowfall. But just as Harry sees the pattern, the killer breaks it and all bets are off. Bleak but not unrelentingly so. I'll likely read the other Harry Hole novels.

ELANTRIS/Brandon Sanderson/A-
Sanderson's debut fantasy, but the last of his published books that I've finally read. A stand-alone (unlike his Mistborn trilogy), Elantris was once the city of gods who mingled with the world until one morning they were no longer gods but simply cursed men and women, unable to die despite unrelenting pain and hunger. The story begins with Prince Raoden thrown into the cursed city when he wakes with the plague, and with the arrival of his intended bride just afterward. Princess Sarene's marriage was meant to strengthen her city's vulnerable position but now she is little more than a nuisance. But maybe she can stop the warrior-priest who will either force conversion on both her old and new homes--or destroy every soul who opposes him. Filled with Sanderson's complex plotting, outstanding characterization, and sympathetic viewpoint. I recommend everything he writes.

I adore Connie Willis and her Oxford time travel books. This was the first one she wrote (before DOOMSDAY BOOK and the BLACKOUT/ALL CLEAR duet) but the last one I've read. It's more lighthearted than the others, but not lightweight at all and it ends with some poignant and relevant views on what is worth saving from the past. It opens with historian Ned Henry, who is severely time-lagged from attempting to find an artifact for an overbearing Lady Schrapnell's restoration of Coventry Cathedral, being sent off to Victorian Oxford with no clear idea of what he's supposed to accomplish or even who he's supposed to meet. He winds up attached to a gentleman desperately trying to find a girl he's fallen in love with at first sight and finds himself helping another time-travelling historian to keep the two lovebirds apart. It seems the girl is supposed to marry someone else--but they don't know who and they only have three days to find out. And is it possible that saving a cat from drowning has altered the course of history? Highly recommended.

In the fifth mystery featuring Tudor lawyer Matthew Shardlake, Sansom paints a brilliant backdrop of England preparing for a French invasion. Matthew travels perilously near the threatened coastline at the request of Queen Catherine Parr, to investigate the case of a young man in a possibly desperately bad guardianship. Though Matthew finds the boy unhelpful, he is not happy about the family situation and is determined not to let secrets lie. And surprisingly, those secrets seem to bear upon a woman Matthew knows who has been a voluntarily inmate at the Bedlam asylum for twenty years. Sansom is equally adept at the intimate moments of suspense in a quiet household as he is at the grander danger of an English ship being sunk by the French fleet. A great historical series.

ANGLO FILES/Sarah Lyall/B+
A series of essays about the oddities of English life, written by an American journalist who married an Englishman and thus had to adapt to his world. From the effects of segregated boarding schools on the sexual development of English gentlemen to the (to American ears) violent insults of Parliamentary debates to the unexpected habits of English aristocracy, Lyall combines a sense of humor with a reporter's instinct for fact.

A memoir both amusing and touching of how the author learned to stop focusing on numbers (on the scale or in a dress size) and live her life without the burden of constant dieting/despair/resolution that informs so much of modern womanhood. She has a complicated history with her mother (who put her on a diet at the age of 11) and a loathing of mirrors and clothes. In her own words: "[This book is] for anyone who ever wished for candlelight in dressing rooms. It’s for anyone who has ever owned a pair of “fat pants.” In short, this book is for anyone who ever felt good or bad about themselves based on how they look."

The first two in a YA trilogy that I either wish I'd read before or, considering that book two just came out and she's still writing book three, that I'd waited for another year to read so I didn't have to wait. Beatrice is sixteen and it's time to choose which faction she will spend the rest of her life in. She's been raised in Abnegation, which dresses plainly and emphasizes service and selflessness. It's a good and worthy life, but Tris is not happy. She chooses Dauntless, and immediately begins training with the most reckless and courageous of factions. Is she brave enough to endure pain and face her fears? Is she brave enough to never see her family again? Is she brave enough to know what is right when her world begins to come to pieces and there are no more easy answers? It took me three days to read two books. Veronica Roth--write faster!

I love P.D. James' Adam Dalgliesh mysteries so I was very excited to read her homage to Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth and Darcy have been married for some years and have two young boys when murder comes to call on their estate. Not only has a man been murdered, but the disreputable Mr. Wickham, Elizabeth's brother-in-law, has been arrested for it. Darcy is determined to find the truth, but there is unexpected opposition from his favorite cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. The storyline is fine enough, and it feels appropriately Austen-like, but Elizabeth herself seemed to be missing entirely. Even when she was present, her wit and cleverness and willingness to stand up to Darcy were lacking. It felt more like a generic period mystery rather than a continuation of Austen's characters.

REDSHIRTS/John Scalzi/A-
I am a Star Trek fan. Also a Galaxy Quest fan. (Yes, I'm aware, these are just other ways of saying 'geek'.) I am the natural audience for this book, to which I can give no finer blurb than this from Amazon: Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid . . .
Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.
Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

No comments:

Post a Comment