Friday, December 01, 2006

NOVEMBER READS

CHILDREN OF GOD by Mary Doria Russell: a follow-up to THE SPARROW, which you all should know by now is one of my favorite books ever. In this book, Emilio leaves the priesthood, falls in love, prepares to marry--and ends up back on Alpha Centauri without his consent. Because of the time it takes to travel, more than fifty years have passed by the time he arrives to find that one of the party they thought lost actually survived. Civil war has erupted, the oppressed have become the oppressors, and Emilio struggles for personal redemption in the midst of negotiating a better future. A satisfying conclusion to the characters and story from THE SPARROW.

CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME by Mark Haddon: I grew curious about this book about after the Salt Lake County Council caused a firestorm by choosing it as a countywide adult book selection. Yes, there is swearing in this book. Yes, there is the f-word. But honestly, after all the criticism I'd read in local papers, I was surprised to find how little it actually appeared. It didn't bother me, and the story itself is quite interesting. Told from the POV of an autistic teenager who finds the body of a dog on his neighbor's lawn. He decides to detect what happened, which leads him into secrets about his own family and a terrifying journey to London. The most compelling part of this book is the look at the world through someone who processes everything differently than I do. I recommend it for that experience.

BLADE OF FORTRIU by Juliet Marillier: my favorite fantasy author, Marillier writes fantasy set in actual historical times and places. This is the second in her trilogy about the Picts in southern Scotland in about 500 A.D. Like all second acts, this one has several different storylines going--from King Bridei who is about to launch an ambitious attack to retake Pictish land from the Dalriadans (Irish) to his most trusted spy, Faolan, whose current job is to deliver a royal bride to a secretive forest leader in order to cement a treaty. The focus is on Faolan and Ana, the bride, and the mysteries they uncover while at her betrothed's court. Marillier has never disappointed me yet, and my only regret in finishing this book is that I'm not Australian, where the third book became available in September. I, alas, shall have to wait until May.

FALLS THE SHADOW by Sharon Kay Penman: the second in the trilogy that began with HERE BE DRAGONS (see last month's reads.) This is primarily the story of Simon de Montfort, the rebel baron who married Henry III's sister, Nell, lived an indecently happy 27 years with her, fathered seven children, and led England into its first serious rebellion for the people's rights. He defended the Magna Carta, demanded that the king be subject to its principles, and believed that rulers were responsible to their subjects. He was also arrogant, unforgiving, inflexible, and unlucky. His rapid rise, capped by the miraculous battle of St. Albans, was succeeded by a dramatic fall, ending with his death at Evesham in battle against the army of Prince Edward, later Edward I. His body was mutilated, his head and limbs hacked off and sent around the country as battle prizes. One son died with him, one was dangerously wounded but later escaped to France, the son who failed to get to his father in time with a relief army never forgave himself. His wife, Nell, held Dover Castle for three months against the king's army before accepting surrender and fleeing to France with her only daughter. I knew next to nothing about Simon de Montfort before reading this book, and now he's one of the men I admire most.

THE DEVIL'S FEATHER by Minette Walters: a Reuters reporter thinks there are links between serial murders in Sierra Leona and Iraq. She suspects a former British soldier and begins researching the story. The day she is set to leave Iraq, she is kidnapped and held for three days. When she is released, she refuses to speak about her capture, fleeing to England where she rents a quiet house in the country to escape the questions of reporters and her parents. But quiet English houses have their own secrets and she's soon thrown into the mystery of an old woman's being left to die in the cold. And what happened to her in Iraq most definitely doesn't stay in Iraq, for some demons cannot be outrun, only outfought. Powerful psychological novel of fear and hostages, though I was mildly disappointed in the very ending which leaves unanswered the question of what really happened to the bad guy.

AMERICAN GOSPEL by Jon Meacham: this book was given to me by a neighbor. I usually avoid all poltical/religious/current events topics, since I deplore rigidity and intolerance. But this non-fiction piece, by the current editor of Newsweek magazine, was a pleasant surprise. Meacham goes back to the founding of America to uncover the Founder's real thoughts and intentions in the separation of church and state. Using contemporary sources, Meacham makes an excellent case for our current society having strayed too far on both sides of the debate of where religion belongs in public life. I enjoyed this thoroughly.

UNDERWORLD/RECALLED TO LIFE/ARMS AND THE WOMEN by Reginald Hill: another orgy of the Dalziel/Pascoe mysteries. Now I'm all caught up with the series, and have to wait until spring for a new one! I definitely prefer Hill's later entries in the series, which get deeper and more complex, both in plot and character. My favorite of these three was ARMS AND THE WOMEN which deals with a threat to Pascoe's wife, Ellie. The police believe it's some bad guy from Pascoe's policing past come to threaten him, so Ellie takes her daughter and retreats to the country at Pascoe's insistence. Unfortunately, Ellie is the true target and she's just put herself straight into the middle of the most dangerous situation of her life. Ending with a killer storm that literally sends a building falling into the sea, I liked it tremendously. Although I still don't like Ellie Pascoe and wish her husband had chosen a wife with more care ;)

HISTORIES OF THE HANGED by David Anderson: I bought this for my husband before our trip to Kenya last June. A history of the British colonization in East Africa, beginning in 1900, and an examination of the events leading up to the Mau Mau rebellion, the most serious and bloody colonial rebellion against Britain in the 20th-century. It helped bring independence to Kenya, but at an awfully high cost in both African lives and British ethics. There's plenty of blame to go around here--from the Mau Mau rebels who killed women and children without compunction to the British justice system which pretty much threw out the concept of rule of law and, well, justice. THE HANGED are those who were executed by colonial courts with occasionally less than circumstantial evidence. No one really comes out looking great, except perhaps Jomo Kenyatta, who endured years of imprisonment before becoming Kenya's first president.

ARTEMIS FOWL AND THE LOST COLONY by Eoin Colfer: I'm an Artemis Fowl fan and I don't apologize :) In this newest installment of the Irish boy genius who used to be a criminal mastermind, Artemis stumbles upon the fact that a lost colony of demons is breaking down and may soon disappear altogether. With the help of Holly Short, Foaly, Butler, and a pretty and equally brilliant 12-year-old girl, Artemis must make a dreadful sacrifice to save the colony. I did not expect the end of this book, was very surprised in a good way (unlike so many of the YA books I've read this year), and can see that Colfer is ready to take a leap with this series. I can't wait until the next one.

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