Saturday, November 24, 2007

Recent Reads

I haven’t been reading as much lately, although I did finish Kristin Lavrensdotter, The Bridal Wreath. I thoroughly enjoyed it. In many ways it was a typical romance novel – heroine is rescued by the handsome stranger with a past, falls madly in love, sneaks around to be with him, becomes estranged from her family, and in the end. . .well no spoilers. But the setting and the feel for Norwegian culture/life in the 1400s made the novel stand out from the typical. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, which tells of her tumultuous marriage. I give it 4 stars out of 5

I thought I’d go back and look at some of the books I’ve read lately.

Up at the Villa by Somerset Maugham
I was on a Maugham kick for awhile – Cakes and Ale, Razor’s Edge, The Moon and Sixpence,. While enjoyed Razor’s and Cakes and Ale, I couldn’t finish The Moon and Sixpence – there was not one character that I found sympathetic. The characters in Up at the Villa were also unpleasant, self-centered, thoughtless and, generally. not someone I would want to know. I kept seeing Sean Penn and Kristin Scott Thomas and Edward Fox in their movie roles.. I had only seen the beginning of the movie and decided to stick it out with the book. Definitely not a “re-read”. I give it 3 stars out of 5

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
I loved this book. In fact, I recommended it to two friends for their reading groups. It was truly a romantic mystery, in the form of letters or essays written by various characters, totally from the character’s point of view. One character saw Count Fulco as a wonderful, kind gentleman, while others had an entirely different, more accurate opinion of him. Love blooms between the art tutor Walter and his lovely pupil Laura who, unfortunately is engaged to someone else. The mysterious Woman in White touches all their lives some positively, others less so, as everyone tries to determine who she is (those that don't know) and what her relationship is with Laura and her family. Will love conquer all? Of course, but its the how that makes it such a wonderful read. I give it 5 stars out of 5.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
I had heard many people talk about both the book and the movie but wasn’t familiar with either, until I picked up Rebecca at my favorite used book store. In high school I was hooked on gothic romances, so how I missed this book I’ll never know. Fortunately, I read it before seeing the movie (in fact I didn’t even know who starred in the movie version.) The unnamed narrator meets Maxim de Winter in Monte Carlo and after a brief acquaintance, marries him. He’s a very wealthy man, quite a bit older and far more sophisticated than his bride. The relationship between the second Mrs. de Winter and Maxim is intriguing – she loves him but is afraid of his world. Watching her mature and come into her own as well as solve the mystery behind the relationship between Rebecca and Maxim was engrossing. As I’ve said before, I love highly vivid descriptions of the locale and I could “see” Manderley and it’s surroundings. I admit to preferring my Manderley to Mr. Hitchcock’s in the movie when I finally saw it. (I think it was Turner Classic Movies that ran it a week after I finished the book.) I give the book 5 stars out of 5.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
I made the mistake of picking this book up at the library right after reading Rebecca. Not that it was a bad book, quite the contrary, but it paled in comparison. It was an ambitious novel with a number of connected subplots. A young woman who works in her fathers antiquarian bookstore is hired to write the true story of England’s premier storyteller, a woman who has told as many stories about her own life as she has about her characters. Her true story is complex involving numerous characters, mistaken identity and bizarre masochistic behavior/relationships. I was wrapped up in the events for the first two thirds. Then it was as if Ms. Setterfield couldn’t figure out how to end it. The wrap-up was disjointed from the story preceding it. She tied up a lot of loose ends quickly with a “they all lived happily ever after” ending, some of which rang true but to me the primary explanation was stretching it. I felt like she was saying “oh, dear, this story is going on too long. I have end it. So I’ll do this.” I look forward to Ms. Setterfield’s next offering, though, since this was an excellent start for a first novel. I give it 3 stars out of 5 (because the first part was so good.)

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
This was recommended (and loaned to me) by a friend from work. I read it rapidly, staying up a little later than usual to keep reading. The train rides to work and back home sped by while I followed the adventures of Jacob and Marlena and August and Rosie and Walter in the circus. The story moves between Jacob’s life as a 90 something year old living in an assisted living home and his life with the circus when he was in his early twenties. The transitions were perfect. Jacob knows he’s old, he can see it in the mirror and in the way his body acts. Sometimes his memory shifts in and out, but he’s not ready to give up and be OLD. His memory of the circus is strengthened when a circus comes to town and puts up a red and white tent (not the traditional white tent of Jacob’s youth) near the home where he lives. The stories he remembers are exciting, scary, depressing sometimes, but riveting. Many chapters include a photo from an actual period circus, that makes the events come even more alive. I give it 4.5 stars out of 5.

There are other books, there always are, but those are the most recent.

Currently, I’m reading The Tenth Muse by Judith Jones, recommended by my beloved Chef/Husband. Mrs. Jones was an editor at Alfred Knopf when she was given the opportunity to introduce the world to three women who revolutionized American cooking – an American woman and two French women. The American was, of course, Julia Child. But Julia Child was not the only fascinating chef she knew.

I tend to read like I visit the library and bookstore - selecting books on a whim. I've been reading a number of book blogs the last few months and I think I'll try a challenge to give my reading more structure. Just have to figure out which one.

1 comment:

jenclair said...

The Woman in White is one of my favorite books ever. I read it in high school (at least twice). Then for the next 40 years or so just said how much I loved it. Until I re-read it last year for Carl's R.I.P. Challenge.

At first, I was afraid of being disappointed, afraid that it wouldn't live up to my memory-- silly me. I adored it once again!
This year for the R.I.P. Challenge, I re-read The Moonstone, which was also an adolescent favorite. The Woman in White is much better, but I did enjoy reading The Moonstone again.