Friday, April 1, 2011

Recent Reads

Kate Atkinson was a tall act to follow, so I am not surprised that the other books I’ve read since were just ok to really good, but not nearly as wonderful as Started Early.

These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf is told chapter by chapter from different character perspectives. Not my favorite technique, especially when some of the chapters were only a few paragraphs long and some of the individuals sound exactly same.

The premise is a crime committed by a teenage girl, previously considered to be a paragon. While the story is slow in building and coy, you guess right away, correctly, that it has something to do with a baby and an unwanted pregnancy. It develops that she gave birth unattended and disposed of the baby girl in a river behind her house. She is subsequently convicted of murder, but as a juvenile is out in five years. She is sent to a halfway house in her hometown, tries to reconnect with her sister and start over.

The plot was pretty predictable, but there were a few twists, one I expected and some I didn’t. The ending makes it worthwhile.

I have enjoyed most things I’ve read by Penelope Lively. Her prose is elegant and spare, which makes even a commonplace plot worth reading. Although most of her stories are pretty original. I did not love Family Album, her newest. I felt like I was reading something I had already read. The characters seemed stock and the story, two disparate parents, six children and an au pair over the years in a huge Edwardian house, was just as expected. It picked up a little towards the end, but by that time I was tired of slogging through everyone’s Life Review. However, the writing itself is marvelous. She just has a perfect way of wording something or describing something that makes it wonderful.

A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell is the first in a series that is set in Germany in the 1930’s. Hannah Vogel is a newspaper reporter barely eking out a living as the Weimar Republic ends and the Third Reich begins. Her younger brother is murdered and, heartbroken, she vows to find the killer. A good story, nicely written and interesting historical perspective.

Francine Matthews is a pseudonym for Stephanie Barron, who writes the Jane Austen mysteries. The Alibi Club couldn’t be more different from the Austen books. Set at the beginning of the German occupation of France (I’m going through a WW II kick), it is violent and confusing. Filled with real life characters and fictional characters based on real people, it revolves around stolen material for creating an atom bomb. I think. I found the dozens of characters distracting and hard to follow. And the murder that opens the book is gratuitously violent and grotesque.

I was really looking forward to The Postmistress by Sarah Blake. Beginning in 1940, it tells the parallel stories of Iris, the postmistress of a small Cape Cod town, Frankie, a war correspondent based in London during the blitz and Emma, the young wife of the town doctor. One of these three has a letter in her possession that she is supposed to deliver, but never does. The plot revolves around these women and how they are affected by war. The quote that introduces the book is by writer Martha Gellhorn, who covered conflicts from WWII to Vietnam: “War happens to people, one by one. That is really all I have to say, and it seems to me I have been saying it forever.” Well written and thought provoking.

If any of these interest you, just click to purchase from Amazon!

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Kathy Parker said...

Marie, if you're into WWII have you read Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther mysteries. I've liked them a lot. Speaking of Kate Atkinson i read a review of her latest and got in line at the library for it, something about dog in the title. Meanwhile, I got her earlier 3 with Jackson ?, ex-policeman. I liked Case Histories but couldn't stick the next one. Now I'm reading the one with dog in the title. I read and liked Open City by Teju Cole. I bought 2 books of poetry by women that I'm looking forward to dipping into. One is "One with Others" by C.D. Wright. Have you read about it? I have a weakness for Southern writers

Marie said...

Hi Kathy! No I haven't read Philip Kerr, I'll check it out. I love that period, the history, the music, the clothes, everything.

Check out my previous post to see what I thought of Started Out Early, Took My Dog. I liked it a little. lol

The second Jackson Brodie book was not my favorite of the four, but I think all of them are great.

I haven't read poetry in a long time. I should dip back in. I am not a huge fan of Southern writers per se, but I just started re-reading Flannery O'Connor. A Good Man is Hard to Find is so chilling and brilliantly simple.

Thanks SO MUCH for stopping by and leaving your comment.

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