Tuesday, May 29, 2012

BOOK: Swann by Carol Shields

Swann by Carol Shields, 397 pages

Canadian Book Challenge 5

This novel is sometimes called Swann: A Literary Mystery, but as a reader of mystery books, I would say that title is a bit of a stretch for this book. There is a slight mystery, but the main one, Who was Mary Swann? is more of philosophical question. The end result is there really wasn't much to learn about Mary Swann and I would rank this near the bottom of Shields' books so far in my reading adventure.

Four main characters - a feminist literary critic, the poet's biographer, a small-town librarian, and a crusty, brilliant newspaper editor each get a section, giving the reader their own background, as well as fleshing out the character of Mary Swann. Well, it tries to, but there is precious little information about the uneducated farm woman whose poetry is 'discovered' after her brutal murder. I felt that Shields was commenting on the world of literary scholarship, as so many people were commenting and making conclusions about Swann that went far beyond what Swann herself would have meant or understood. It was often my view of poetry while I was in school - who am I (or my teacher) to say what the theme or symbols meant? Because the four characters have their own motives for what they say about Swann, what is concluded has to be taken with a grain of salt, especially as we get to see them all change or omit facts that further their opinions. Which now makes everything I read suspect! Who recorded this information, and why?

The final section, where all the main characters meet at the Swann Symposium, is written as a screenplay, after stating that all the characters were fictional. This threw me a little bit - how can the characters in the novel be described as fictional? What then is the next part? Anyway, the slight mystery of who is taking the Swann artifacts is explored in this section, and the characters get to interact. Throughout it all, Shields characteristic writing of details and characters development is here. I just kept hoping there would be a little more plot to the story. If I was more of a literaty scholar or historian, I would have enjoyed it more.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

MEME: Crime Fiction Alphabet: Blood and Circuses by Kerry Greenwood

The Alphabet in Crime Fiction - a Community Meme.

This meme  (highlighting crime fiction titles or authors) was run first on Mysteries in Paradise in 2009-2010 and was re-run in 2011.  This week's letter is the letter B. Head over here to see what other books are being highlighted this week.

Blood and Circuses by Kerry Greenwood, 208 pages

Aussie Author Challenge; Series Challenge (book 6 of 18 in this series)

Phryne (fry-knee) Fisher is the coolest detective around, especially in 1920s Melbourne, Australia. She is rich enough to do as she likes, with whom she likes, and she does, with at least one new handsome fella each book. As she joins the circus in this book, friend that she is of some gypsies, she gets to meet some 'freaks' and clowns, and sleep with some new guys. The books are more than Phryne sleeping around though. By joining the circus and learning to ride bareback on horses, she leaves her servants and 'people' and learns that she can survive on her own, a powerful lesson. The mystery is generally forgetable, but getting to spend some time in another time and place with the definition of a cool chick, is always enjoyable.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

BOOK: The Girl Who Chased the Moon and The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

Sarah Addison Allen has written some wonderful books with just the hint of magical elements. Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen were both delightful. Her books contain strong Southern women, learning to be happy and to trust their instincts. Maybe a mysterious past that needs to be uncovered.

The Girl Who Chased the Moon, by Sarah Addison Allen, 269 pages

A teen girl, recently orphaned, is sent to live with the grandfather she had never heard of. The grandfather is a giant! Huge man. Emily meets a boy from the strange family who never comes out at night, and learns gradually why her mother left the town and never talked of her previous life. There is a neighbour who bakes magical cakes and looking for love. This was just enough magical elements, just enough southern charm, just enough mysterious past to make this a sweet, charming read.

The Peach Keeper, by Sarah Addison Allen, 273 pages

This had the elements: two thirty year old women who have never been friends, but attended high school together and still live in the same town have neither found love. Their grandmothers were best friends but they don't acknowledge each other. There is a old mystery involving their grandmothers and a salesman who bewitched the town. However, something was missing. I usually never notice this, but it was too much telling about the characters, not enough of them actually living. Paxton and Willa should have been great characters, but they seemed to be making the same decisions but it was described differently as they were 'opposites', never likely to be friends. And then they became best friends, because they should and their grandmothers were? Way too pat.

It was a cute, light read, but compared to the other books of Allen's, this was my least favorite. A nice surprise was the caterer, Clare from Garden Spells, making an appearance.

Monday, May 14, 2012

BOOK: The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright

The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright, 229 pages

Orange Prize Shortlist (2012); Ireland Reading Challenge; 2nds Challenge

I am one of the few people who enjoyed The Gathering, Enright's Man Booker Prize winning book back in 2007 (my review is here). Her writing matches the way my brain thinks, and I seem to relate to her female characters, even though they are not necessarily likable or that I've had their experiences. Something just really clicks for me.

In my absence, the party had shifted up a gear. You can never catch the moment when it happens, but it always does: that split second when awkwardness flowers into intimacy. This is my favorite time. Those who were drinking had drunk too much, and the ones who were driving had ceased to matter. p88

Here we have Gina, telling us how she ended up with Sean. It begins romantically enough, with her description of when she first saw him in her sister's garden. As the story progresses, it turns out they had an affair, breaking up the two marriages. Her backward story allows her to justify how it happened, how her marriage was falling apart.

We did not fight until New Year's Eve. I can't remember what triggered it. Money probably. We used to fight about money. His mother. I mean, tick the list. p72

The book is actually divided into three sections, each covering a major upheaval in the life of a thirty to forty year old: affair, death of parent, illness of child. And that may be part of what I related to; I know people who deal with all of these major stressful life occurrences. Gina was sad, making some terrible decisions, and then justifying them afterwards, but some people have sad lives and make bad decisions. Sean was no catch, which I think Gina eventually realized, but by then, so many live had been disrupted, she didn't feel she could change her mind. So sad.

Aileen's worry had become impossible. She had worried so hard and for so long, it had transcended itself and turned into a rapture of care. p 197

Evie was always a bit of a barreller, a lurcher; her elbows are very close to her unconscious. p 218 

Look at all the quote I noted. I can read many books and not pick out one phrase that resonates with me, but I found all these.This is the second of the short-listed books for the Orange Prize to be announced the end of May. I'd be happy with either this or Half-Blood Blues so far. That makes me two for two.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

BOOK: The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

 The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino, 298 pages

nominated for Edgar Award - best novel, 2011

I've really enjoyed Miyuki Miyabe's Japanese crime novels (I've read three already) so when I saw The Devotion of Suspect X  by Keigo Higashino was nominated for best mystery novel, and that my libary had a copy, I grabbed it.

What happens when a brilliant but lonely middle aged math teacher puts his mind to work to help his 'adored from afar' neighbour deal with the death of her creepy ex-husband? It turns into a game of chess between the man and an old college associate, who happens to be a friend of the police detective investigating the death.

Criminals never get away with their crimes, because they continually commit crimes until they get caught. The best chance to get away with a crime would be one well thought out plan, and then no more crimes, which is what might happen in this book. A great, well plotted story, with characters that seemed real, faults and all.

also reviewed: jackie at farm lane books; kerrie at mysteries in paradise; les at lesley's book nook; wendy at musings of a bookish kitty;

Saturday, May 12, 2012

BOOK: Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris, 608 pages

Orange Prize Longlist 2012

You know amazon's feature, May We Recommend? If you like these books, then try? Here's my recommended reading list for Gillespie and I: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, Arthur and George by Julian Barnes,  The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale and maybe a little Fingersmith by Sarah Waters.  So, Victorian mystery book, and if you enjoy narrator's that are possibly unreliable? Get yourself a copy of Gillespie and I!

Harriet Baxter decides in 1933 London that she must write the biography of the obscure Scottish painter, Ned Gillespie. In her words, who better to tell his story? Through flashbacks, Harriet tells of her meeting of the Gillespie family in Glasgow at the Glasgow International Exhibition of 1888 and her growing friendship with Ned, his wife, their children, and his mother. The deliciousness of the story is reading between the lines of Harriet's story, and deciding how the family sees her. The first half of the book sets the scene, and the second half deals with the aftermath of an incident, all from Harriet's view.

Harris writes in an easy style, and the book was a real page turner. Really, the less you know, the more enjoyable the read, although as Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory would say, now I've spoiled you to the fact that there is something enjoyable or surprising about the book.