22 September 2013

Parenthetical Reviews

I have been reading like a madman lately and just realized I was way behind on my insightful review nuggets.

Instructions for a Heatwave (in a country with no A/C)
Maggie O'Farrell
I love Maggie O'Farrell. Each one of her books is worth reading. She knows how to write plots and characters. In this case three adult children face the disappearance of their father and the Valium-induced confusion of their mother. But this is nothing compared to the messy lives the three kids live. My only challenge with the book is that I didn't find the details surrounding the youngest daughter Aiofe's illiteracy believable. My father volunteered for years teaching adults to read. I am not sure O'Farrell gets that part right. Still only a quibble. Go read this, and everything else by Maggie.

I think O'Farrell is the one on the right.
Patience and Sarah (sisters are homesteading for themselves)
Isabel Miller (Alma Routsong)
This shortish piece of historical fiction is about two women in the early 1800s who fall in love and set up house together. Written in 1969 and self published as A Place for Us, the story follows a painter and a tom-boy as they fall in love, weather discovery by their families, and ultimately begin life together on a small farm in rural New York. If you can't find a paper copy this one is available on Kindle. Highly recommended. Highly believable. Sad and uplifting. Absolutely rife for a television adaptation.

And Then There Were None (the tale with the ever changing title)
Agatha Christie
In this American edition the island is called Solider Island and the poem is about twelve little soldiers. In the less-PC British version, the island is Indian Island and the poem is about twelve little Indians. Does that mean that the island in the original was really called N***** Island? And the poem? Yikes. Was this Rick Perry's island? A quick, enjoyable mystery that doesn't insult ones intelligence. Makes me think I may try more Christie.

A Suitable Boy (reviewing 1400 pages in 14 words)
Vikram Seth
Epic tale of India in the 1950s. Loved Lata's story best. Ending didn't satisfy.

Of the Farm (this is pie country Jerry)
John Updike
I think this may be my first experience with Updike. I really have no idea what the rest of his work is like, but I really enjoyed this short novel. A thirty-something Manhattan executive tries to convince his ailing mother to move away from the Pennsylvania farm that she doesn't really farm anyway. Updike draws interesting characters and a situation that is wrenching in its realness. I also really appreciated a nostalgic rush. Published in 1965 (four years before the advent of me) I enjoyed wallowing in images of rural Pennsylvania in the 1960s. The rivers and air may have been dirtier compared to today, and the Vietnam war was in the near future, but the end of times angst of global warming al-Qaeda apocalypse were unheard of. (Hat tip to anyone who gets the pie country reference.)

You Are One of Them (who might like this book)
Elliott Holt
It is so rare that I read anything in the year it was published, but then somehow I came across DC author Elliott Holt on Twitter and began to follow her just as Penguin was about to publish her first novel. A story of two young American girls who write to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov. One of them ends up being invited on a goodwill tour of the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. Years later the girl who wasn't invited makes her own trip to the newly open Russia (I hope I am remembering this right) and finds out all kinds of surprising things. Definitely an interesting read but I think it left me somewhat unconvinced.

My Cousin Rachel (saves me from blogger isolation)
Daphne du Maurier
I am infamously known as the one who didn't like Rebecca. Won't try and defend it. Just didn't work for me. My Cousin Rachel on the other hand I found quite enjoyable. I found the characters way more believable and in the end gave it an eight out ten. Good enough to land it on my top novels by women authors list last week. Still, this is my third du Maurier and I find the underlying, kind of depressing Gothic-ness of them all to be not quite my thing.

Not Now, But Now (or then, then, then, and then)
M.F.K. Fisher
Food writer Fisher's only novel is really four related novellas. Each one stars a woman named Jennie who one can't help but root for despite her insanely selfish modus operandi in each story. Jennie is incarnated in England, Europe, and America and she shows up in 1928, 1947, 1927, and 1882. I didn't expect this kind of mean, wanton hussy from Fisher's pen. Fascinating stuff.

My Mother Was Nuts (in a good way)
Penny Marshall
Although the first few chapters were perfectly acceptable, I never really begin enjoy celebrity bios until they get around to talking about their ascent to celebrity. Didn't know what Laverne had done before she became Laverne. Forgot that she had been married to Meathead from All in the Family. Didn't realize how many blockbuster films she had directed. Shouldn't have been surprised at tales of drug use in Hollywood. Loved finding out the behind the scenes stories of Laverne and Shirley.

(Collins' brilliance not found in) Hide and Seek
Wilkie Collins 
I am beginning to think that any Collins novel under 500 pages may not be up to snuff. Armadale and The Woman in White? Giant door stoppers of sensation reading greatness. The slimmer Hide and Seek and No Name? Eh, not so much. Apparently Hide and Seek was Collins' third book but his first real mystery so I guess I can cut him some slack. In fact, I enjoyed it, but it wasn't the page turner that his other books are. Plus it had a circus in it. Man, I hate circuses.

The Quiche of Death (the first, and my last, Agatha Raisin mystery)
M.C. Beaton
London PR exec retires early to live life in the idyllic Cotswolds. Not a fan of mystery was hoping this might be at least cozy crime. But Agatha is rather misanthropic and miserable. A bit of an Edina Monsoon, but not nearly as funny. Sprinkle in some implausibility and some jarringly dated gay stereotypes (hell, it was 1992, not 1982 when Beaton wrote the book) and you have yourself...well, I am not sure what you have.

The Old Man and Me (was not for me)
Elaine Dundy
I am all for dark stories but there is something about Dundy's novels that just leave me bored and wishing they were different kinds of books. Like The Dud Avocado I really had to push myself to finish this one. Honey Flood heads off to London to try and get her inheritance back, by killing the the literary celebrity who has it. Yawn.

Charlie and the Great (boring) Glass Elevator
Roald Dahl
I read this to fill a year in my Century of Books when something else didn't seem palatable. Actually had a copy in the house (from John's childhood) and it was blessedly short. And blessedly boring. There is a reason this is a children's book, because cranky adults shouldn't read them.


  1. The ending of
    A Suitable Boy was devastating. Especially considering the length of the novel. But the story itself, and the details are almost magical!

    I hated My Cousin Rachel but the ending made me very happy. I was a fan during my late teens (I read Rebecca when I was 17) but with age, I'm sort of over her I guess.

  2. I'm glad to hear you liked My Cousin Rachel. I think I've told you I think its a better book than Rebecca, although I do love Rebecca.

    I'm not much of a Christie fan, but I have a soft spot for And Then There Were None because I was in a stage version of it back in high school (titled Ten Little Indians and written by Christie herself). I played Dr Armstrong because we didn't have enough guys trying out, and that part was easily rewritten as a woman's part.

  3. The length of the book (A Suitable Boy) initially put me off though I got dragged into the story. Liked it very much.

    Liked Rebecca and everything else that followed and Agatha Christie is a comfort read for me.

  4. There's an MFK Fisher *novel*? You've made my day!

  5. I enjoyed My Cousin Rachel as well. I really do love Rebecca, too, though. :)

    Agatha Raisin is sick reading for me. When I'm sick enough that I can't concentrate on anything else, I'll pick her up, but that's about it.

    You Are One of Them left me a bit cold. Some of the writing was really lovely, but overall, it didn't leave an impression on me.

    But to the point - I loved And Then There Were None when I read it, but one I read and loved even more was The Man in the Brown Suit. It's so different for Christie, much more an adventure novel than anything else and great fun. If you decide to move on with Ms. Christie, I urge you to try that one.

  6. And then there were none is the first Agatha Christie I ever read. I am glad you liked it and hope you try some of her other books to see if they are just as entertaining to you.
    I think My Cousin Rachel is as good as Rebecca, but I still like Rebecca best. I still remember my jaw dropping the first time I read it.
    I liked You Are One of Them, but I agree, it didn’t blow me away. I would, however, certainly be interested in reading further books from Elliott Holt however. Like pickygirl, I thought the writing was lovely, very evocative. But the end left me wanting more resolution.


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