Friday, February 28, 2014

Middle Sister's February Books

February flew by in a blink, but I still managed to read some books while continuing to plow through my book club's Mark Twain selection for this month (which I will clearly not finish by the end of the month). Here's what provided some distraction from Twain:

At Home by Bill Bryson Very entertaining discourse on the different parts of the house as we know it, where they came from, how they came to be, with a few splashes of famous names like Thomas Edison and the scoundrel Samuel Pepys for good measure. I've been to the Pepys Library and hod no idea he was such a scoundrel. Naturally, the historic homes were of particular interest to me, and I was glad to hear mention of Skara Brae. Mr. Bryson is so adept at weaving what at first glance appear to be disparate threads together into a dazzling, informative, yet fun whole. This was an audiobook I listened to while gardening, and let me just say right here that I'm blaming Bill Bryson for my sore back two weekends ago. He made pulling weeds so enjoyable that I kept doing it, hour after hour after hour...

Rosemary and Crime by Gail Oust This was an ARC from NetGalley that I really, really wanted to like. The protagonist is a woman about my age, starting over after a divorce, with a teenaged daughter and a spoiled ex-husband, who opens a spice shop in a small town in Georgia. Yup, see, that was the problem--that part of the premise. Had her shop been set in a fancy strip mall, or a restored tourist attraction--then I might have bought it. But the downtown of a small town? Not buying it. The downtown of big cities and small towns alike have been deserted for decades, and are not the place to set a specialty store of this kind unless, unless, the owner was part of a larger redevelopment project. That could have introduced a whole slew of people, but nope, our shop is downtown with the bank and  used car lot. While the mystery and murder itself wasn't bad, the premise, plus Piper's inconsistent attitude towards her former mother-in-law were glaring problems. Another gripe--I'm not sure the author is a chef or a spice expert. Those that she mentions and the recipes she discusses are all generic and standard (chili, lamb) and didn't convey that Piper or her shop would offer me the reader anything I couldn't find in a cooking magazine. I did find Piper's relationship with her daughter to be realistic and understandable, and very well portrayed. But really, Piper should have let her ex-husband find his gorgeous home trashed by drunken teenagers and cleaned it up himself--Piper cleaning it all up before telling him about the drunken prom escapade meant any lesson learned by Dad was going to go in one ear and out the other, which makes me ponder her character. Probably not recommended except to diehard genre fans.

Miss Marple's Final Cases by Agatha Christie Another book group read. While I've read all of Christie's novels, I haven't read her short stories, so this CD of stories narrated by Joan Hickson (the perfect Miss Marple), Anna Massey, and Isla Blair was fun to listen to. All except the creepy The Dressmaker's Doll. Creepy dolls are as creepy as creepy clowns and I don't like them. Perhaps Dame Agatha was trying her hand at a different genre with this short story--there was no mystery, no murder, just a creepy doll. Still, it's Dame Agatha...

The Marseille Caper by Peter Mayle I have enjoyed Mr. Mayle's nonfiction but had steered clear of his fiction up till now. I should have kept steering away. I wasn't terribly impressed. Beautiful people, all wealthy, all gorgeous, and rivals over a local development in the south of France sounds like perfect light summer reading, but it left me wanting much, much more. I hate perfectly gorgeous people in perfectly wonderful relationships--they never seem real. Elena in particular was very flat and one dimensional; she's a high-powered executive in an international insurance firm yet she acts like a high school tween when she meets Mimi or Fifi or whatever the journalist's girlfriend's name was. Francis Raboul is a self-made multi-billionaire, yet he didn't write a prospectus for the presentation to the development committee until Sam suggested it just days before the presentation? How did he make those billions? The descriptions of local French food were the best part of the book, and that's pretty pathetic in what was supposed to be a funny, fast-paced romp through the south of France, with menacing thugs, attempts to disrupt large real estate developments, and kidnapping. Just re-read a Year in Provence instead of this; it's much, much better.

Two out of four--not bad, I guess.

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