Monday, January 07, 2008

December Reads

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF LORD ERROL/Errol Trzebinski/B: Account of the "Happy Valley" murder of Joss Hay in Kenya during WWII. Joss was a longtime settler and a member of the infamous Happy Valley set whose morals didn't always square with the more conservative settlers. The husband of Joss's mistress at the time of his death was tried and acquitted for the murder, but committed suicide shortly after. The author speculates that the murder was actually carried out by the British Secret Service.

ANGLE OF REPOSE/Wallace Stegner/A: My immediate reaction upon finishing this Pulitzer Prize winning novel was, "I need someone to talk to about it!" It moves back and forth in time, as a crippled historian in the early 1970s writes about his grandmother's life on the western frontier in the late 1800s. I'd never have imagined I'd devour a novel set in mining camps and rustic cabins, but the characters are compelling as they move toward a devastating event that I didn't see coming.

THE INFERNO/Dante Aligheri/B: The one good thing I could say about THE DANTE CLUB from a couple months ago is that it inspired me to read my college copy of THE INFERNO. I enjoyed it, as much as one can enjoy a long poem set in the descending circles of hell and featuring men buried headfirst in the ground and men frozen up their necks in water. Still, now I can say I've read it. And I now understood many more allusions found in modern literature.

ARIEL/Sylvia Plath/A-: Plath's last collection of poems before her suicide. Some I loved, some I tolerated, and some I just plain didn't get. But I enjoyed stretching my mind--it's been a long time since I've read poetry.

ONE TATTERED ANGEL/Blaine Yorgason/B: Short non-fiction account of the LDS author's youngest daughter, adopted with multipled problems and diagnosed as having no brain, only a brain stem. They were told she would only live a few weeks and that she would never be capable of emotion. She lived for 8 years and showed many times over her capacity for feeling and her effect on the lives of others.

BECOMING JANE AUSTEN/John Spence/A-: I give it the minus only because I would have liked a final chapter telling me what happened to Jane's family members afer her death. But overall, a good biography of Jane that puts her in the context of her time and her upbringing. If you love her novels, this is a good biography.

PUCCINI'S GHOSTS/Morag Joss/A: A stand-alone that alternates chapters between the present-day, when Lila has come home to bury her father, and the summer more than thirty years before when everything fell apart. Using an unexpected windfall to mount a local production of Puccini's TURANDOT, Lila's mother, father, and uncle are set on a collision course with a disaster fueled by Lila's adolescent imagination. Very powerful.

LOST BOYS/Orson Scott Card/A+: It was a toss-up whether to give this an A+ or an F. The Fletcher family moves across country in the 1980s following a job for Step. But their oldest son, Stevie, doesn't adjust well. He begins playing with a group of imaginary friends who share the names of little boys who have disappeared in the area in the last two years. Meticulously plotted and incredibly woven, this book leads to an ending that shocked me to my core, had me sobbing in bed next to my husband . . . and that couldn't have been written any other way.

THE PALE BLUE EYE/Louis Bayard/A-: A cadet is found dead at West Point Academy in the early 1800s. Then his heart is carved out of his chest. The commandant calls in a retired NY police officer to investigate, hoping to keep the publicity to a minimum. But soon another cadet is murdered and the police officer finds himself working with West Point private Edgar Allan Poe. I thought I had it all figured out, and then come the final chapters. Though I normally despise characters who withhold information, in this case I didn't mind it so much, perhaps because of the powerful story.

MANIAC MAGEE/Jerry Spinelli/B+: Newbery award winner about an orphaned boy who runs away from his aunt and uncle and becomes a legend in a town divided by color. A quick but good read that I would recommend for kids.

THE MOONSPINNERS/Mary Stewart/B: I'm on a Steward kick at the moment. She wrote in the 60s and 70s, romantic suspense novels that don't overtax my brain. This one involves the island of Crete, a wounded man, a missing boy, and a woman who can't stay out of the drama she stumbled into.

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