Search This Blog

Friday, November 10, 2006

November Reading -updated 11/28/06

Morley, Christopher. Parnassus on Wheels. Charming. I reviewed it

Albert, Susan Wittig. Dead Man's Bones. Another China Bayles mystery full of herbal lore (this time with an emphasis on herbs for bones and joints and osteoporosis).

Albert, Susan Wittig. Indigo Dying. A China Bayles mystery. I reviewed it in this post.

Rubenfeld, Ruben. The Interpretation of Murder. New York City and psychoanalysts involved in this excellent mystery. I reviewed it in this post.

Hill, Susan. The Woman in Black. More a long short story or a novella. I didn't find it as spine-tingling as others did.

Atwood, Margaret. Alias Grace. Disclaimer: Most people who read this novel praised it highly. However, inspite of Atwood's prose, inspite of the thematic and symbolic use of quilts and quilting, I did not enjoy this book. Not my favorite Atwood.

Based on the actual murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper, this is a dark story in which all of the characters are either unpleasant, wicked, or unreliable. The book is long and, throughout most of it, the reading is slow...partly because there is little action and partly because the atmosphere becomes so thick with tension and impersonal dread. And yes, it is skillfully done.

In 1843, Grace Marks, a sixteen year old servant girl, is convicted of involvement in the murders of her employer and his housekeeper/mistress. Atwood begins with the difficult life Grace endured in her short sixteen years, but nothing in Atwood's version of Grace's early history suggests the personality changes that occur later (whether innocent or guilty), although there are possible precipitating events that receive attention. Or maybe the links are too weak. Or too many things left unexplained. Jeremiah the Peddler, for example. Dr. Jordan, who comes to interview Grace fifteen years after her imprisonment, moves quickly from an individual with a purpose, to a seething emotional quagmire. Now there is an individual worthy of a psychological novel all his own.

After a while, I didn't care whether Grace helped commit the murders or not. My heart slowed each time I entered the miasmal atmosphere that pervaded the novel, which is why it took so long to read. In spite of the introduction of "psychological" principles and the spiritualist fad, Grace (and her involvement in the murders) remains an enigma, and by the conclusion,my sympathy for anyone in the novel had vanished.

Reichl, Ruth. Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table. Ruth Reichl used food as "a way of making sense of the world." In her home, where she was loved but neglected (her mother was a manic depressive), food was her fortunate way of connecting to people she loved. She begins by protecting people from her mother's cooking, and then, in self-defense, begins learning to cook from a variety of exceptional and talented individuals. Reichl not only survives a potentially damaging childhood, she celebrates the often unexpected dilemmas by using them to her advantage in an unusual and inspiring emotional growth.

One character that I loved was Aunt Birdie, and just as I was bemoaning the fact that Reichl appeared to have not felt it important enough to tell us what happened to her, Birdie makes another entrance when she is about to have her 100th birthday. Reichl's mother is planning a birthday party to celebrate the event, and her father, in desperation, seeks Ruth's help:

"I thought this was supposed to be a small party," I said.
Dad sighed. "It's been growing."
"But who could Mom possibly invite? Aunt Birdie's a hundred. Her friends are all dead."
"Oh, she's made new friends. You know Birdie. And then your mother began thinking up people who might like to be her friend" (246). Original comments from when I began the book are here.

Setterfield, Diane. The Thirteenth Tale. Reviewed here.

Howard, Elizabeth Jane. The Light Years. The novel opens in 1937 and provides insight into the lives of an extended family in those pre-war years. At first, keeping track of the many family members in a three generation family, their servants, etc. is a bit confusing. Parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, in-laws, servants...all kinds of relationships contained within the parameters of the Cazalet family. Howard creates real people with complicated situations and does it in a way that eventually makes you feel as if you are part of the family. More in this post...

Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. (I'm just cutting and pasting the review I gave earlier) The book's classification as YA is something of a puzzler. Not sure it was the best marketing option, although the blog buzz has certainly moved it into another category: Must Read. The book has been reviewed on so many blogs that there is little left to say, but I was not disappointed as sometimes happens when one has heard too often that a book (or film) is wonderful and expectations are set too high. Although Death as the narrator is sometimes brutally honest, at other times, he is deliberately misleading - so even in small things, your heart beats a bit faster. I think this one will join the ranks of books like The Diary of Anne Frank - a novel about war, love, courage, "words," humanity.

Donohue, Keith. The Stolen Child. I was eager to read this story about changelings. A fairy child (or the child of the devil) substituted for the human child that was spirited away is a common folk or fairy tale. The idea of "observing" the changling left to integrate into the human world and the human child that must adjust to a fairy world intrigued me. Unfortunately, this novel never managed to pull me in and make me care in more than a simply curious way. Nothing about the book quite me relinquish reality or stop me from thinking "this just doesn't work." Henry Day or Aniday, the human family or the fair children...couldn't believe in either one.


  1. Sounds like a very satisfying reading month. I'm a bit unsure about reading Tender at the Bone. It sounds intriguing, but the manic/depressive part makes me nervous. Was it really quite good, or just so-so?

  2. I found it interesting and want to read the next one, but I'm in no rush. Reichl's attitude toward her mother's problems is pretty matter-of-fact, and she doesn't play on it. Her life, even in the midst of the most trying situations, is always positive. It isn't an exciting memoir, but I thought it better than so-so. Is it a must read? Nope.

  3. The Thirteenth Tale was different than I would have usually chosen to read....but I read it pretty much non stop once started.

    Great way to get my warm up on finding reading time again.

    Also had an interesting experience with this book at the end....but cannot tell you now , because I don't want to ruin anything.

    Love, S.

  4. Crabapple - I see that you made another comment here so that is where I responded. :)