Friday, May 19, 2006

Recent reading

Yesterday's post reminded me that I've read a few books recently while on sick leave. The following comments are not by any stretch of the imagination intended as proper reviews - I didn't read them to review, and my mind was pretty distracted by other things, anyway, so they didn't get 100% attention!

Poison Study by Maria Snyder. I enjoyed this fantasy; it's well-written with a well-created world and likeable characters. Of course, taking a book called Poison Study when going to ER with weird symptoms is probably not the wisest thing, but fortunately nobody arrested me ;-)

Nora Roberts' In the Garden trilogy. These were fine, but in my distracted state I didn't find them as good as the Quinn brothers quartet, which was my first introduction to La Nora. I wasn't totally convinced that the first two couples really were the best match for each other; I didn't feel a strong emotional connection either between me and them or between the characters. But, as I said, I was distracted by other things so maybe that was just me.

March, by Geraldine Brooks. I'd been thinking about buying this one before it won its big prize, so picked it up when I was going away the other week. It was okay - competently written and constructed and well researched - but it didn't grab me. I couldn't really relate Brooks' portrayal of March and Marmee with the characters in Little Women, so it didn't work for me in that way. I also found the mention of all the famous people - Thoreau etc - a little contrived. Brooks based the March character on Louisa Alcott's father, who did know all the luminaries of his area, but I sort-of felt that they didn't have much of a place in the plot other than to impress with all the famous people March supposedly socialised with. But then, I'm a hard to please beech when it comes to literary fiction ;-)

The Crimson Code, by Rachel Lee. There was nothing on the Australian edition of this book to indicate that it's part of a series, but there were a lot of references in the text to previous happenings that strongly suggested this is part 2 of a series. It's also not a romance, which is okay, except the back cover blurb could have been for a romantic suspense and I started it assuming it was. (It's published by Mira, who do a lot of romantic suspense, but also a few non-romantic ones.) Anyway - it was quite okay. Once again, competently written, lots of twisted plot strands woven in, and nothing that jerked me out of the story. It entertained me sufficiently that I kept reading (on the rocking chair in the sun room) until I finished it. Although I haven't read The Da Vinci Code yet, I suspect this book has some similar themes - the Mary Magdalene and Christ were married theories, Templar conspiracies etc, but this book has other elements as well, including international terrorism etc.

So, that's what I've been reading lately. We're off to Perth tomorrow for 10 days, which I'm looking forward to, so one of my tasks tonight is to raid the bookshelves for some reading material to take - we spend most of the day tomorrow on planes, which should be at least two books' worth! However, having had a reading binge lately, the TBR pile is not very big - I may have to take an old favourite or two, or check the airport newsagent in Sydney when we're in between planes.

The blog will probably be quiet again while I'm in Perth, as we won't have a lot of time for internetting. Have a good week while I'm gone!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Wow! books, Ahhhh... books, and feel-good books

Yes, it's been ages since I posted - life happens, including being away for over a week dealing with family things, and being in hospital (I'm fine now) and general life stuff.

Kate Rothwell's been talking about great books, I think arising out of general blogosphere discussion about the best books of the past 25 years.

Nope, I'm not going to come up with my list, because that would take more brain space than I currently can spare. But it did make me think about some books I've read that have made an impression. Some books I've read are Wow! books - books that blow me away for some reason or another. Other books are Ahhhh... books - books that make me think, stay with me, that I read and re-read and always find something in. And other books are feel-good books; ones that I curl up with and enjoy - sometimes repeatedly - as pure pleasure.

Wow! Books
Perfume, by Patrick Susskind
Kate mentioned this one and I made some comments on her blog. It's not an easy book, by any stretch of the imagination, but the originality of the idea and the writing is amazing, IMHO, and they work together seamlessly in this story. Definitely not everyone's cup of tea, so to speak, and I can't say it was a book I 'enjoyed', but I did find myself going 'wow!' as I progressed through it, and it stays in my mind as an original, well-crafted, and different book.

Ahhhh... books
The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula Le Guin
I've read this about a dozen times in the past 15 or so years, and every time I still find something new in it. It's a beautifully layered book, with subtle themes woven through a story that on the surface is straight forward, but which is enriched by the complexities and depth of the world and characters that Le Guin builds.

Brother Cadfael's Penance, by Ellis Peters
The last in the series of 20 or so Brother Cadfael medieval mysteries, this book brings a beautiful, touching conclusion to the series, as Cadfael faces difficult choices of devotion, duty and loyalty. There is an additional depth to this book compared to the others in the series, and there were many Ahhh... moments for me - such as this one in the first chapter, where Cadfael is contemplating the garden:
He had never before been quite so acutely aware of the particular quality and function of November, its ripeness and its hushed sadness. The year proceeds not in a straight line, through the seasons, but in a circle that brings the world and man back to the dimness and mystery in which both began, and out of which a new seed time and a new generation are about to begin. Old men, though Cadfael, believe in that new beginning, but experience only the ending. It may be that God is reminding me that I am approaching my November. Well, why regret it? November has beauty, has seen the harvest into the barns, even laid by next year's seed. No need to fret about not being allowed to sow it, someone else will do that. So go contentedly into the earth with the moist, gentle, skeletal leaves, worn to cobweb fragility, like the skins of very old men, that bruise and stain at the mere brushing of the breeze, and flower into brown blotches as the leaves into rotting gold. The colours of late autumn are the colours of the sunset: the farewell of the year and the farewell of the day. And of the life of man? Well, if it ends in a flourish of gold, that is no bad ending.

Feel-good books
The Faeries Midwife, by Lawrie Ryan
This book came out in the late 90s here in Australia, and it really appealed to me. Here's some of the back cover blurb:
In search of her unknown father, Mary Lightfoot - carpenter, nurse, animal-trainer and ex-detective - stumbles across an unexpected family drama. Two cultured old ladies are being drugged into senility by their greedy, hypocritical nephew, their housekeeper is dead; and a gang of thugs lurks nightly in the swamp at the bottom of the garden. The house is guarded by intimidating spirits, not least of which is Charlie the swamp owl who occasionally, fleetingly, transmutes into a dragon.

Mary takes on responsibility for the two old ladies, and enlists the aid of a number of colourful characters - Penny the inspired cook, with her devoted duck Debbie; ... Greenhut the reclusive gardener; Jonathon Crow the art and antiquities expert...

It's a wonderfully warm story, with gentle humour, and delightful, likeable characters. The subtle touch of the supernatural is deft and perfectly in keeping with the characters and the plot.

So, does anyone else have recommendations of Wow! Ahhh... or feel-good books they've read??