Friday, November 4, 2011

Middle Sister's October Books

Much of September and October was spent reading the first book below for my online 19th century novels group. I read this one to make up for having passed on reading Moby Dick. I'm not sure which is more punishing. The others were palate cleansers after Bronte.
  • Villette by Charlotte Bronte I hated this book. Okay, maybe hate is strong. Intensely disliked. That's no reflection on our book group moderator, who selected it. In fact, Villette generated a lot of discussion because people either liked it or hated it, so from a discussion standpoint, it was a great choice. Lucy Snowe was whiny, narrow-mined, superstitious, tractable, and liked to wallow in self pity. When I compare this novel to Jane Eyre, I find it difficult to believe they were written by the same author. This reads to me like someone’s first effort at a Gothic romance, written by an inexperienced teenager who pays no attention to consistency and is rather too fond of coincidences. For all my dislike of Rochester as a character, Jane Eyre as a novel is far more sophisticated in plot, characterization, and believability (can I use that made-up word?). And apparently one misses way too much if one reads a version without all the French translated (which was my fault, I admit). But I give Bronte her due--she has a way with descriptions of places and people, and I enjoyed that part of the novel.
  • The Love Talker by Barbara Michaels What better choice for my first Kindle library loan than one by my favorite author? And unbelievably, except for a few descriptive paragraphs, you would never have believed this was published in 1980; the story holds up that well. The romantic denouement may have been a little predictable, but I forgive Dr. Mertz that for her superb descriptions of a wintry Maryland night. I was shivering under my covers.
  • The Ninth Daughter by Barbara Hamilton First in a mystery series starring one of America's brightest first ladies, Abigail Adams. The Revolutionary War is one of the most interesting time periods in American history to me, and this novel takes place just before the famous Boston Tea Party. It reads as if Ms. Hamilton has done a beaucoup load of research into the time period, and I enjoyed it immensely, despite the slightly grim murder. I will join Abigail for more murderous adventures, I assure you. The Revolutionary War backdrop will be fascinating.
  • A Test of Will by Charles Todd My last venture, for a while at least, into mysteries centered around World War I. This novel is the first in this series that has many entries, and I had read good reviews of it. First, the pros: very well written, very well researched, and what a complicated main character. Cons: the plot device of Hamish? Meh. He got very old, very fast, after the first few chapters, and I was pleased that he seemed to recede a bit as the story, and Ian's interest and involvement in the case, deepened. 
  • Mrs. Amworth and How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery by E.F. Benson Halloween reads of short ghost stories written by my other favorite author. Evil dead baby twins! Vampires! Loved them. No one has a way with words like Fred.
  • A Midsummer Night's Scream by Jill Churchill I needed some DVDs to listen to while I was making the daily drive on an out-of-town project for work. I knew there were a bunch of these books at the library by this author, I saw this one on DVD and thought why not? I enjoy a cosy mystery as much as the next cosy mystery buff. Not this one. Stilted conversations between the characters, a no-dimension love story, and why do we have to wait until Chapter 13 to find out whether our main character is a widow or divorced? There may be a lot of these Jane Jeffrey mysteries, but I'll pass them by, thank you. Oh, and audio book publishers? If your main character is supposed to be a big mystery genre fan, then make sure your paid reader pronounces well known real live authors' names correctly. It's pronounced Nye-oh, not En-gay-oh, Marsh. About a thousand websites will tell you this.
  • The House at Sea's End by Elly Griffths Number 3 in the Ruth Galloway series begins with the birth of Ruth's daughter, Kate. There may be no more unmaternal mother who is not a psychopathic killer than Ruth, but that's not a criticism. Griffiths did a nice job over the last novel and this one of addressing Ruth's sometimes scattered reactions to becoming a mother at 40. This novel begins with the discovery of 6 WWII-era skeletons on a deserted and eroding shoreline, which prompts modern murders in an attempt to keep Ruth and Harry from discovering what happened all those years ago. My impressions: too neat an ending with the 'voice from beyond the grave' cementing our unmasking of the original murderer. I am tired, so so tired, of the angst that both Ruth and Harry have over their one night stand, which resulted in Kate. And then another one, here? And then, just because of her one-night stand and the knowledge that Judy is keeping an eye on her daughter, the pages and pages of crazed worry about her daughter are virtually forgotten and Ruth wants to stay at the snowbound Sea's End and play house with Harry? I cheered when Tatjana told Ruth off for her behavior, that's how tired of the whinging I was. No, Harry, you cannot have both the beautiful and sexy wife and the once-a-year one night stand with a brainy woman you feel an intellectual as well as passionate yet confusing attraction to. It's not even as if they are enduring soul searching philosophical wrestling over whether an extramarital affair is moral--both think it's wrong. Yet they can't help themselves. Please, I am over this kind of nonsense. You're both adults, act like it. But again, like in earlier novels, I think Griffiths does a great job of crafting the setting, the lonely, wind-swept beach, the crumbling cliff face. But her characters are just not that sympathetic to me. I liked Judy in the last novel. This time, nope, I didn't. The commitment issues that all Griffith's characters apparently must have is boring after a bit. Next book it'll be Clough unsure of his relationship with Trace who finds someone to sleep with, a newly married Judy maybe? Or, here's a twist--Cathbad? Can we have more mystery and less internal angst? Although I'm glad Michelle has had her eyes opened as the book ended, I'm not sure I'll read the next to see her reaction. I just don't care about these characters.

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