Monday, December 01, 2008


GAUDY NIGHT/Dorothy L. Sayers/A+
Possibly my favorite mystery ever, I re-read this every few years. This time it was for book club. Sayers was a Golden Age mystery writer, sharing the British stage with Josephine Tey and Agatha Christie. Lord Peter Wimsey is something of a crush of mine and I've wanted to be Harriet Vane since I first read this. In this outing of the series, set in the late 1930s, Harriet returns to her Oxford college and winds up investigating a Poison Pen who is vandalizing the college. Peter drops in and out of the story while he and Harriet work out their personal life, but the book is redolent of Oxford and scholarship and the pull between professional ethics and personal concerns. Every time I read this book, I wish that I had gone to Oxford.

The story of Venice in the 1990s, the book opens with the burning of the Fenice Opera House. Berendt uses the investigation and rebuilding, with all their Venetian twists and turns, to frame his look at the city and its inhabitants. Definitely made me want to visit and possibly own a palazzo on the Grand Canal. Time for me to start reading books that lead to less expensive dreams.

After re-reading GAUDY NIGHT, I was moved to look at some of Sayers non-fiction. She was well-known as a Christian writer, friends with Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, but she also had an obvious interest in the role of women in society. The first book here contains two short essays that scathingly and satirically deal with the concept of women as actual humans rather than a separate species from men. The second book was more difficult but also more rewarding--a Catholic artist's attempt to explain the concept of the Trinity using human creativity as a model. It was challenging but rewarding.

UGLIES and PRETTIES and SPECIALS/Scott Westerfield/B+
A trilogy of YA books set in in a utopian future where the Rusties (us) have died out after destroying much of nature and where society is now strictly kept within various city limits. But the driving force is the surgery that is done when a teenager is 16, one that takes them from Uglies to Pretties. Tally, just short of her 16th birthday, can't wait for the surgery and to join her friends in New Pretty Town. But then she meets Shay, and learns about The Smoke--a place where people have never had the surgery and live together in the wild. Tally has been sent by Special Circumstances to locate The Smoke and betray them, but then she meets a boy . . . An excellent concept but also a fairly compelling story. I definitely read them quickly to see what would happen. Although it's billed as a trilogy, the author just released a new one this year, EXTRAS. I'll get back to you.

Made into a film by Spike Lee this summer, I found this an intriguing book. A little too, hmmm, spare? underwritten? for me. It's a story of a group of Buffalo Soldiers (the Negro regiments) caught behind enemy lines in Italy. They wind up protecting an Italian child who witnessed a massacare at the church of St. Anna and they take refuge with a village while they wait for help. For such a slim book, I did learn a lot--points of view include the child, the various soldiers, a villager who is hiding rabbits under his bedroom floor, and a legendary Italian partisan. It's not by any means a cheerful book, despite the title, but curiously satisfying nonetheless.

BROTHER, I'M DYING/Edwige Danticat/A
Danticat is a well-known Haitian-American writer. This is a memoir of sorts, about her two fathers--the one who brought his wife to the U.S., leaving Edwige and her brother behind in Haiti for years, and her Uncle Joseph, her father's brother, who raised her and her brother until her parents were able to bring them to New York. You see the differences between the brother who left and the brother who stayed, but both of whom loved their families and their homeland. The crux of the story is her Uncle Joseph's death while in the hands of U.S. Immigration in Miami. A brief and easy-t0-read book that's full of emotional layers. Highly recommended even if you've never been to Haiti.

CHECKMATE/Dorothy Dunnet/A+
The last in the Lymond Chronicles, that I began re-reading last month. What can I say? I have a definite crush on Francis Crawford of Lymond and I want to be Philippa Somerville, his border-English wife. In this last novel, they have to resolve their very complicated marriage while Francis is leading the French army and Philippa is trying to chase down the truth of his birth. Seriously, if you are at all interested in historical fiction--pick up The Lymond Chronicles!


Becca Fitzpatrick said...

Where do you hear about all these books? Do friends recommend them, or do you just pick randomly off the shelf?

MiddleEastMama said...

OK, I have a good blog post for you: make a list of all the fictional characters you have crushes on. When and where did you fall in love with them? (I can still remember that flash of "Oh, I think I love this man" for each of my fictional crushes). Also tell why you love each of them.

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