Tuesday, May 24, 2016
I have to admit, I don't usually go for cozies ... but I enjoyed this one, the second in a series featuring a former-MI5-agent-turned-Anglican-priest in the small town of the charmingly named Nether Monkslip! And if he is virtually flawless--a total hottie who's brilliant and charming and does dishes, for God's sake--well, perhaps all the better. In this book, the dysfunctional Footrustle family gathers at Chedrow Castle for Christmas, and the lord and his twin sister both die in the same day, although not in the same way. Naturally, suspicion falls on one of the visitors. Max heads to the castle to assist the police and solve the crime. To be honest, it felt to me as though Max pulled the solution out of thin air at the end; perhaps this was because clues such as the barcode on the apple were withheld from the reader. But I enjoyed this book, largely for (of all things) the humorous asides and the references to everything from Harry Potter to Madame Defarge to Sense and Sensibility. I kept scribbling little smile faces in the margin, next to phrases: "The large portrait of a man whose mustaches deserved a painting all to themselves ..."; "Oscar has been called the Voldemort of Fleet Street"; and the plain-speaking servant: "It was as if she thought we were all living in some daft production of Upstairs, Downstairs or Downton Abbey."
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
I found the premise hilarious: Henry James, depressed over his sagging book sales, goes to the banks of the Seine, where he plans to throw himself in. (OK, maybe that doesn't sound funny, but wait.) There, he meets Sherlock Holmes, who is depressed because he is beginning to figure out that he's only a character instead of a real person. Add a murder mystery. Add cameos by just about everyone from the late 1800s (Wilkie Collins, Henry Cabot Lodge, John Hay, George McClellan, Mr. Lincoln, etc.), and the World's Fair in Chicago. Twist what you think you know about Professor Moriarty and Irene Adler and Dr. Watson and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Add in the sort of cleverness you find in Shakespeare in Love. (Here's an example: "The turn of the social screw at the dinner party [Henry James] had attended including inviting five couples . . . who were comprised of four of the women having illicit affairs with no fewer than five of the men present.") I wouldn't say this book is a quick and easy read--it's dense and you have to be paying attention--but I totally enjoyed it.
I liked this mystery, the first in a series set in Venice. (My family is heading there in June for a few days, so I enjoyed peering up and down the streets.) This is not a thrilling nail-biter filled with stakes that ratchet up predictably every twenty pages, but--like its protagonist, Guido Brunetti of the Venice police--understated, intelligent, observant. Some of the writing is just marvelous. One of my favorite lines: "The man looked to be about the same age as Paola, though he had clearly had a harder time getting there." I will definitely read another by this author.
A Matter of Heart is by my friend and fellow Arizonan Amy Fellner Dominy. This is authentic, heartfelt YA, about a competitive swimmer who discovers, partway through her sophomore year in high school, that she has a heart condition. The relationships with her parents are drawn beautifully, partly because Dominy sketches the relationship between the two parents as well as Abby's relationship with each; and the coach is neither the usual benevolent or malevolent "type." Wonderfully written, without relying heavily on the overheated prose that seems to be all over YA now. I would recommend to any smart teen girl and will hand it to mine next.
I know, everyone is reading it. And, probably, everyone should be reading it. It’s heartbreaking, empathic, beautifully written; it reaches far beyond the hackneyed message of "make the most of what's left.” The author, a neurosurgeon who died of lung cancer at 36, asks openly, how do we find our values, in the middle of crisis, when life has been upended? And then how do we find them again, the next day, when something else has changed? One of my favorite parts of this book was his acknowledgement, early on, that "a word meant something only between two people, and life's meaning, its virtue had something to do with the depth of the relationships we form." He draws on his undergrad and M.A. in English--he references dozens of authors who wrote about the passage of time, from Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" on--and it adds a depth and reflexive humor to the entire book. Another of my favorite bits, alluding to the "pair of claws” in "Prufrock": "For the last several months, I had striven with every ounce to restore my life to its precancer trajectory, trying to deny cancer any purchase on my life. As desperately as I now wanted to feel triumphant, instead I felt the claws of the crab holding me back. The curse of cancer created a strange and strained existence, challenging me to be neither blind to, nor bound by, death's approach." I think readers who liked Atul Gawande's Being Mortal would appreciate this.