Wednesday, January 03, 2007

DECEMBER READS


THE RECKONING by Sharon Kay Penman: the last in the 13th-century trilogy of Wales. This one focuses on the grandson of Llewellyn Fawr, Llewellyn ap Gruffydd who is also known as the last true Prince of Wales. He was actually accorded that title during the reign of England's Henry III, but a combination of Welsh infighting, a brother who swung back and forth between loyalty and betrayal, and the simple fact that England had time and money on its side meant that it couldn't last. Llewellyn ap Gruffydd married Simon de Montfort's daughter, lost her in childbirth, then was killed later that year (1282) in a completely random stroke of bad luck. His brother David held off England's Edward I for a time, but was finally betrayed by his own men. Edward I is also known as Longshanks for his unusual height and also as The Hammer of the Scots for his brutal repression of Scotland's rebels. But he honed his strength and vengeance in Wales thirty years earlier and his trial of David was the first time that a rebel was sentenced separately for each offense. Thus David ap Gruffydd, once Edward's close friend, was hung, drawn, and quartered. His daughters (and Llewellyn's single daughter) were sent to convents to live out their lives without fear of having children, and David's young sons were kept imprisoned until their deaths. From the Welsh chronicle, after relating the death of Llewellyn ap Gruffydd near Llanganten on the eleventh day of December: "And then all Wales was cast to the ground."

END IN TEARS by Ruth Rendell: an Inspector Wexford novel from one of my favorite writers. A teenage mother is dead, and when Wexford starts investigating no one's secrets will remain hidden. From the heartless plans of two girls preying upon the hopes of infertile couples to Wexford's own daughter's unusual pregnancy to a fanatically modern police woman who endangers her life in the investigation, Rendell weaves a story that I read in two days. Fabulous characters, tense storytelling, and Inspector Wexford. I couldn't ask for more.

HATESHIP, FRIENDSHIP, COURTSHIP, LOVESHIP, MARRIAGE by Alice Munro: a collection of short stories that I inherited from my birth mother. Not really for me, sorry to say. I liked the first story, which gives its name to the collection, but other than that I found them a bit depressing, a bit "so what?", and a bit not my taste. Okay, a lot not my taste. But they were short :)

COLD GRANITE by Stuart MacBride: a first novel, it got great reviews on DorothyL so I read it. Not for me, I'm afraid. I did read to the end, but I won't be buying anymore by him. It's a police procedural set in Aberdeen and the great strength of the book is the setting--bleak, cold, rainy/snowy, etc. I did feel that I was there. But it wasn't a place I wanted to be. I'm not generally a fan of serial killer books because they're most often boring and cliched. (An exception is DIALOGUES OF THE DEAD by Reginald Hill--I highly recommend that one.) This wasn't only a serial killer book, but a serial killer of children book. And it was very detailed in terms of autopsies and conditions of the bodies and other sorts of things I really don't need. But the worst of the book is that it was relentlessly cheerless. I didn't like any of the characters, except the poor children, and I really don't want to spend any more time with DS Logan McRae.

LIGHT FROM HEAVEN by Jan Karon: could not have gone more different in this next book. The last in the Mitford series, a relentlessly cozy world in which there is no murder, just minor mysteries at most, involving Episcopal priest Father Tim and his writer wife, Cynthia. I believe I've skipped several in the middle, but this isn't a series that requires a lot of attention to detail. It's warm and soft and quick reading and not a bad way to cleanse my palate after the previous book.

THE MURDERED HOUSE by Pierre Magnan: another DorothyL recommendation. I did like this better, but not my favorite of the month. Translated from the French (which might be part of the problem for me, I'm generally not wild about translations), it's set immediately WWI in a small French village. The house of the title has just been inherited by the only surviving member of a family who was massacred there twenty years earlier. A baby at the time, Seraphin becomes obsessed when he learns the details of the murders and winds up tearing down the house stone by stone. Of course there's a mystery about the murders that is eventually solved, but the book focuses on Seraphin and his desire for vengeance. Soon, the three men he has identified as the killers start dying--but he's not the one doing it. Who is anticipating his vengeance and what really happened the night of the massacre? An interesting enough story, until the last chapter which completely lost me. I hate finishing a book feeling confused.

SKELETONS ON THE ZAHARA by Dean King: for our new couples' book club. In 1815, the Connecticut merchant ship Commerce shipwrecked on the west coast of Africa. The crew was taken into slavery and spent months wandering the Sahara. Primarily the story of Captain Riley and his efforts to free himself and what men of his he could, it's a compelling account of the desert and those who lived there nearly two hundred years ago. Eventually freed, Captain Riley wrote an account of his travails that was famous in the 19th century (Abraham Lincoln is said to have loved the book when he was young). Keep a cup of water near you while reading--you will appreciate water as you never have before!

LABYRINTH by Kate Mosse: an impulse buy, it sat on my shelf until mono hit and I needed something fast-paced and interesting. The story of two women--Alice who stumbles upon a significant archaelogical find in southern France by accident (or was it?) and Alais who lived in the early 1200s in the same region. Enters DA VINCI CODE territory with three books and the secret of eternal life, but better written and historically more interesting as it moves back and forth between the two women's stories. Deals heavily with the Cathars in southern France and the Crusade that was launched against them until they were wiped out. (The first Crusade to be preached against Christians.) I recommend it as a good winter break read, or save it for the beach next summer.

WIVES AND DAUGHTERS by Elizabeth Gaskell: a big, fat Victorian novel to sooth my bored and restless mind while I'm lying around. I love Victorian novels, like those of Anthony Trollope, and thought I'd try out Gaskell. A contemporary of Charlotte Bronte (she actually wrote the first biography of Bronte), Gaskell was a wife, mother, and successful novelist in the mid-1850s. This is her last novel, and it actually remains unfinished because it was written in serial form and she died before the end. But it's sufficient to not disappoint. Molly Gibson is the doctor's daughter in a small English town in the 1830s who, in the course of the novel, acquires a stepmother, stepsister, and several suitors. It's a typical Victorian tale of imprudent marriages, deceitful men, twitterpated women, and the celebration of goodness, innocence, and true love. A wonderful way to end the year.

4 comments:

CarolBrigid said...

I LOVE VICTORIA novels too! Can you suggest any or recommend any? I just read a very good one called "Vertigo" by Lauren Baratz-Logsted. Thank you!

Laura A. said...

Thanks for posting--and the recommendation! My personal favorites among big, fat Victorian novels are those of Anthony Trollope, particularly The Barsetshire Novels. Six of them, I believe, each one dealing with a different aspect of life in a fictional cathedral town.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Hey, thanks for the mention of Vertigo in the comments section!

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