Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review: Red Mist, by Patricia Cornwell

The Kay Scarpetta series is my guilty pleasure. My book candy. It has no seriously redeeming value, but I have always enjoyed the characters. As it seems to be with all series, the first books were the best, and her 2010 release left much to be desired, so I was a little apprehensive about the newest book, Red Mist, which came out on Tuesday. Actually, though, this newest additon to the series was a return to many of the things I loved in her earlier books. Scarpetta is in South Carolina for this one, looking further into the death of her deputy chief Fielding. There is plenty in this episode that harks back to the previous one, but our old Scarpetta is back—clear thinking and organized. All our usual characters are here as well, and we get our triumphant ending. There are some slow parts, and the book seems to take a while to get started, but Cornwell's writing is familiar once again, and the story is enjoyable.

Book 49 on my way to 52.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Review: The House I loved, by Tatiana de Rosnay

This is the first preview book I've read that I truly didn't enjoy. I didn't care for de Rosnay's writing in Sarah's Key, and this was far less sophisticated. Rose has spent all of her married life in the home on rue Childebert, and though Napoleon’s Prefect now plans to tear the neighborhood down in the name of progress, she is unwilling to part with it. While she doggedly awaits the impending destruction she writes letters to her beloved late husband, sharing memories from their past, both good and bad, and building up to a final confession that she has kept as her secret for thirty years. Set in nineteenth century Paris during the Haussmann reconstructions of the Second Empire, this story is as much about that iconic city and its legacy as it is about the strength of its citizens. Those who enjoyed Sarah’s Key will recognize de Rosnay’s love for France and trend toward poignancy and tenacity in her characters, but this newest novel is more one dimensional than her earlier work. Told entirely through letters, the story tends to feel choppy and forced, and events are not related in chronological order, leaving the tale disrupted and at times hard to follow.

Book 49 on my way to 52.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Review: Sarah's Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay

I picked this one up because I received de Rosnay's newest novel as a review book from Book List and I figured I'd better brush up a bit on the author's previous work. In Sarah's Key, a woman in current Paris seeks information about the round-up of the Jews during the WWII occupation, specifically about a Jewish girl and her family who once lived in the same apartment. Throughout her search she is faced with the dark facts about the round-up while also dealing with problems in her own life.
I think book was warmly received, and it's hard to speak against it because of the subject matter—the roundup of Jews in Paris, France, is not a well known piece of history and deserves some highlighting, but I found this book tedious and depressing. Granted, the subject matter is depressing, but tackling it from the view point of a repressed woman in current times just added to the heaviness of the story. I see that parallels are being drawn between the time periods—repression then, repression now, and de Rosnay does a fine job of drawing the character of the French citizens, both now and then, but I expected something that felt uplifting, and never really found it. What I did find was florid and overly dramatic writing, and my attention waned about half way through.

Book 48 on my way to 53.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Review: Wild Abandon, by Joe Dunthorne

Blaen-y-Llyn, founded by Don and his wife, Freya, among others, is a commune dedicated to a natural way of life. Though once a thriving community of like-minded individuals, over the years membership has dwindled and now even Patrick, one of the founding members, has left to escape Don’s controlling nature. With Freya thinking of doing the same, Don’s marriage is faltering as well. In search of stability his teenage daughter, Kate, escapes to college, but living with her boyfriend’s family isn’t the haven of normalcy she was hoping for, and she left her beloved younger brother behind in her hasty retreat. As each of the characters comes to terms with the reality of their lives and relationships, a story unfolds that is about midlife crises, adolescent dramas, and self-discovery. With well developed characters and a dark humor reminiscent of that in his first novel Submarine, Dunthorne delivers hilarity and heart-break while redefining the essence of normal in this story about what makes a family, and what makes a family dysfunctional.
This was a great read.

Book 47 on my way to 52.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Review: The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides

I really enjoyed The Virgin Suicides, and loved Middlesex, both by Jeffrey Eugenides, so when I caught wind of this release I preordered the book. I'm shameless that way. Unfortunately I found it not as good as Middlesex, but that isn't actually saying a whole lot because I was such a big fan of Middlesex. The Marriage Plot is almost a modern (eighties anyway) version of The Portrait of a Lady, an intelligent young college senior torn between worldliness and two different men makes a difficult decision, and finds herself wrong and trapped in the end. Told from three different view points, the young lady's and each of the young men in turn, the story is engaging and enjoyable. Being set in the eighties, this will be especially enjoyabe for anyone who lived through that decade. Eek. So I didn't find it as good as Middlesex, it was still a fantastic read.

Book 46 on my way to 52.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Review: One Moment, One Morning, by Sarah Rayner

I had a really hard time reading this one. Simon, only fifty-one years young, dies suddenly one morning on the train to work. He leaves behind a wife, Karen, and two young children (now you see why it was a tough read), but they are not the only people touched by his loss. Karen’s best friend, Anna, and Lou, a stranger who was also on the train that morning, find that their lives will also be forever changed. Though Karen, Anna, and Lou each have something different to learn from the loss, they ultimately find themselves bound together in a friendship forged during the most trying of times. While the subject matter tends toward the trite, Rayner’s writing is concise and contemporary, bringing her characters and their emotions to life in so realistic and believable a way as to avoid the cliche. Her portrayal of emotion is authentic, even to the point of being painful to read, but this story is as much about relationships, hope, and second chances as it is about death and loss, making the most valuable lesson of all that we each have only one life to live. A difficult read, but a worthwhile one for sure.

This was book 45 on my way to 52.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Review: Greasewood Creek, by Pamela Steele

This book was pure poetry. I started reading it like a standard novel and found myself a little befudled, but a few chapters in I caught on and really started to enjoy the language. The story was a bit depressing, though. Avery is just a child when her younger sister dies, followed close after by her father’s desertion and her mother’s slide into alcoholism. Surrounded by family and friends she is able to stay and grow up on the Oregon ranch where she was born. As an adult she finds constancy there, but cannot escape the guilt she feels over her sister’s death. She hopes for happiness finally in the child she is expecting with her life partner, Davis, but when their newborn son dies the same forces of grief that tore apart her childhood engulf her again. Avery’s inability to escape the past is palpable in this fragmented narrative that mixes the present with flashbacks to her childhood and teen years, and Steele’s poetic style brings the beautiful Oregon ranch setting to life. Steele has depicted the depression, grief, and guilt of living after a loss with expert clarity, making this a powerful and faithful story of finding the inner strength to move forward and be reborn.

Book 44 on my way to 52.