Friday, April 03, 2009


What's not to love in a new Armand Gamache novel? This time, Inspector Gamache of the Quebec Surete and his wife are celebrating their anniversary at a remote lakeside inn. The only other guests are a family in the midst of a rather tense reunion. The town of Three Pines, where the first three Gamache novels were set, gets a cameo appearance, as two of the town's inhabitants are at the family reunion. Which leads to awkwardness for Gamache when he has to suspect his friends of committing murder. An ingenious method (a statue walking off its plinth) and a surfeit of bad feelings is a good backdrop for Gamache's kind of investigating. A moving sub-plot about Gamache's personal history adds depth to the entire story. What are you waiting for? Go get STILL LIFE and meet a wonderful detective and storyteller.

It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that I adore everything written by Bill Bryson. The minus in this grade comes solely because it's not a travel book, which are my favorites. This is a memoir of growing up in the 50s in Iowa and had me, naturally, laughing out loud. From Bryson's mother, who wrote a newspaper column and didn't know her son skipped most of elementary school, to the advent of color TV, to the innocence of a time when a woman could slip away from a White House tour and not be found for four hours (while setting more than a dozen small fires), Bryson delivers yet another wonderful book.

A classic historical romance, about a mathematical Duke and the Quaker girl who saves his life. When the Duke of Jervaulx has a stroke (although, of course, no one in the book knows what it is), he winds up in an insane asylum where Maddy Timms becomes convinced that, although he may have lost his speech, he hasn't lost his wits. She becomes his advocate and, eventually, his wife, all in an attempt to protect him from his avarious family who want him stripped of his title and property and locked away for life. Jervaulx is impatient, unkind, and sometimes cruel--Maddy is self-righteous and scared of what she feels for her unexpected husband. The story took me on a lot of twists and turns before delivering a most satisfying conclusion.

THE LIKENESS/Tana French/A++
This is going on my list of favorite books ever. The follow-up to INTO THE WOODS, this novel is centered on Cassie Maddox. In the fall-out from the previous book's end, Cassie has moved from Murder to Domestic Violence. But then a woman is found dead--a woman who looks uncannily like Cassie. Even odder--she's using a name and a persona that Cassie created years ago as an Undercover officer. So Cassie once more takes up the skin of someone else's life, this time to try and find a murderer from the inside. Besides being a wonderful story, this book is bursting with questions of identity and friendship and ethics. I simply loved it. And a more satisfying end than INTO THE WOODS. I can't wait to see what French does next.

CORALINE/Neil Gaiman/A-
Totally and completely freaked me out. A kid's book, no less. One I gave my daughter to read. Coraline is a girl longing for adventure with parents who are busy being, well, adults. And then she discovers a doorway in her house that leads to a parallel world, with parallel parents who have button eyes and want Coraline to stay with them forever. Coraline prudently leaves--but then discovers that her own parents have vanished. To save them, she has to return to the parallel world, with only a talking cat and her own courage for guidance. She is a resourceful and wonderful child--but man, I had nightmares after. My daughter didn't--I'm not sure what that says about the two of us.

BAD FAITH/Carmen Callil/B+
A history of a truly nasty person in a truly nasty time--Louis Darquier who served as the Commisar of Jewish Affairs in France's Vichy government. The author had a personal connection to this history--Darquier's daughter, Anne (whom he and his wife left in England with a nanny as a baby and never saw again) was the author's psychiatrist for years before, at the age of 40, committing suicide. That led Carmen Callil to investigate Anne's background, leading her to a virulently anti-Semitic man who'd do anything for money and an Australian mother who was too drunk and drugged to protest even if she'd wanted to. It was an unflattering portrait of Vichy (the French government that ruled by Nazi permission during their Occupation of France) and a horrifying look at the sentiments that allowed tens of thousands of French Jews to be deported to death camps in the east.

A small story for fans of THE GOLDEN COMPASS trilogy, recounting the first meeting of the Texan balloonist Lee and the warrior bear Iorek who both feature heavily in the other books. Definitely recommended if you're a Pullman fan.

Joss Whedon. Quotes from 7 seasons of Buffy. What more can I say? Except, perhaps, "I laugh in the face of danger. And then I run away." Or maybe, "This is the crack team that foils my every plan? I am deeply shamed." Or even, "If you get killed, I'm telling."

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA/Nathaniel Philbrick/A
A fabulous true survival story, about the wreck of the whaleship Essex in 1820, an event that inspired Melville's novel MOBY DICK. With a good grounding in Nantucket and the history and culture of whaling life, the story picks up in the far reaches of the Pacific where, for the first time in recorded history, a whale attacked a whaling ship. Not just attacked--sunk. The 19 men aboard made it into 3 smaller boats used to hunt the whales and had to navigate 3000 miles to the west coast of South America. Only four survived. This is not a story for the faint of heart--there is stupidity and ignorance and cannibalism. But talk about transporting the reader to another time and place. Suffice it to say I don't feel the need to ever go whaling--I'll just pick up this book if the impulse strikes.

FREEDOM/Malika Oufkir/D
Sadly, after a month of one great book after another, I ended with this one. I enjoyed Oufkir's previous memoir, about 20 years spent as a political prisoner in Morocco, but this follow-up left me cold. It read more like her diary, a disjointed, disconnected series of impressions about adjusting to her new life in France. I'd skip this one and stick with the first, STOLEN LIVES.


MiddleEastMama said...

Even though I don't comment often, I DO read your blog. And this book post made me remember that I have to thank you for recommending _Special Topics in Calamity Physics_ which I loved to PIECES. I cannot believe the mastery of language Pessl has--and all those cultural references left me kind of dazzled, in a good way. So here's my recommendation for you: _Life as We Knew It_ by Susan (?) Pfeffer (I am sure about the last name only; it's downstairs, but I don't feel like going to get it). It's a YA book so it's a short, fast read, but it is deeply haunting and so gripping that I read it through the night and that's not something I do that so much anymore. I'm reading it to C right now and he listens so hard he goes positively rigid. He jumped up at one point to go see what food we had in the cupboards. You'll know why when you read it...anyway, read it. OH, and I totally want _The Quotable Slayer_! That's going on my "buy it from Amazon this summer" list.

Sherise said...

So glad you agree with me on The Likeness. Loved, loved, LOVED it.

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