Sunday, November 27, 2016

Death Comes to Pemberly by P.D. James

Death Comes to PemberleyDeath Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've read novels by both Jane Austen and P. D. James, but it has been a while for both. Still, when I saw a Goodreads recommendation for Death Comes to Pemberley, I thought it would be an interesting read. It's a sequel to Pride and Prejudice and it's a murder mystery keeping with P. D. James' genre.

Sometimes when listening to an old Lennon/McCartney song, I find myself guessing whether it was John or Paul who wrote it. I did something similar when reading this book. I know P. D. James wrote the entire novel, but I wondered which sections she wrote with Jane Austen's style in mind and which ones show her own style exclusively. I would guess that the parts where the dispute between George Wickham and Fitzwilliam Darcy was described were Austen and the trial was mostly James. Those two guesses probably come from an oversimplification, but it was fun to think about when reading the novel.

Death Comes to Pemberley had some moments when the action slowed enough to start to lose me, but it came back. Yet, the trial was great and, unlike some of the other reviewers, I didn't figure out the mystery until P. D. James let me know. I think it's fun to find out what has happened to the Bennet sisters since we left them and it's always fun to read a good P. D. James novel.

I recommend this to readers who enjoy books set in the early 19th century and like mysteries. Much of Pride and Prejudice is about which young woman will end up with which young man. Although there's a little of that revolving around Georgiana Darcy, it isn't emphasized here. But the mannerisms, the style, and the morality of the time are all in this story.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Crossing to SafetyCrossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reviewing a book by Wallace Stegner is difficult, because a little research shows that he led an admirable life, dedicated to writing, history, and environmental activism. He won a Pulitzer in 1972 and the U.S. National Book Award in 1977. He also started and led an acclaimed writing program at Stanford University. But I'm not reviewing his life, I'm reviewing one specific book.

Crossing To Safety is my introduction to his writing and it left me feeling awe with some aspects and disappointment with others.

I love Stegner's writing. Here are some of my favorite metaphors/similes:

Meeting his eyes was like taking hold of a hot wire.
She's dividing herself like some inexhaustible Eucharist. She's going around to everybody she loves, saying. 'Take, eat, this is my body.'

Some of my favorite descriptions:

Her eyes were suspicious and pocketed in radiating wrinkles.
The skimpy whorl on the top of his tanned skull reminded me of something Lyle Lister had told me once, … that south of the Equator the crowns and cowlicks of the natives, like the whirlpools in bathtub drains, go counterclockwise, the opposite of the way they go up here.

Some of my favorite moments of self-examining thought:

Can I think of anyone in my whole life who I have liked without his first showing signs of liking me?
She saw objectives, not obstacles, and she did not let her uncomplicated confidence get clouded by other people's doubts, or other people's facts. Or even other people's feelings.

Despite my admiration for the writing, I found it easy to put the book down and was never excited to pick it up. Some of my reaction has to do with the plot. It is about relationships and how they weather life. It's the type of plot that has the reader thinking about what happened rather than wondering what will happen next. Another aspect that put me off a bit, was a pretentious feel in some of the dialogue. Larry Morgan and Sid Lang both taught in university liberal arts departments and were able to do some literary name dropping. Here's an example of that:

This door was yanked open, exposing the brilliantly lighted interior, and in the doorway stood – who? Theseus and Ariadne? Troilus and Criseyde? Rusian and Liudmila?

Maybe most readers would do better, but I only recognized 1 of those 3 couples, which I assume are all from classic poetry.

Crossing To Safety is about people who get less out of life than they expected, then, while looking back, become aware that they got more than they thought they had. I recommend it to people who like well written, introspective novels.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Monday, November 14, 2016

The Maze Runner, #1 by James Dashner

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)The Maze Runner by James Dashner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Maze Runner is a YA sci-fi/survival book. Like so many recent YA books, it takes place in a dystopian society. Here a group of young boys have had their memories wiped and have been placed in a threatening environment by “The Creators.” Their goal is to escape, but, in the meantime, they have to survive, so they develop their own society through which they establish rules and find roles for everyone living there. Their society can be quite brutal.

The book begins with Thomas' arrival. We see this world through his point of view, so we have no idea where he is or where he came from. Thomas is what is called a “greenie,” which is a label for one of the last boys to arrive. Chuck, someone who had arrived a short time earlier, is assigned to Thomas to show him the ropes. Chuck, who is young and excitable, begins to admire Thomas' strength and bravery. It doesn't take long before the roles of leader and follower are flipped.

After Thomas begins to settle, another “greenie” arrives, but this time it's a girl. Here's where I see a weakness in the book. The only girl in the majority of the story is kept in a comma for a long time and, once she regains consciousness, adds a few memories and ideas, but is never a full partner in the search for a way to escape. I'm hoping Teresa becomes more important in the other books in the series, with feelings and goals of her own.

However, the minor boys are intriguing characters. These include Alby, the leader of the colony, Newt, Alby's second in command, and Minho, the leader of the runners. (The runners are the boys who leave the secure section in the middle of the colony to explore the dangerous mazes in the perimeter.) All these boys as well as Chuck have unique relationships with Thomas that keep the story interesting.

I listened to the audio of this book, read by Mark Deakins, and recommend that format. It would make a good listen for a family trip. The narration is done well and the YA plot is straight forward enough understand without any need to flip back and reread sections.

I have not watched the film version, but intend to.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Me Before You (Me Before You, #1)Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The concept behind Me Before You is simple, but brilliant. Louisa Clark is hired to take care of Will Traynor, a quadriplegic man, but she's not hired to take care of his medical needs or to help him with his bodily functions. She's hired because she's “chatty” and Will's mother, Camilla Traynor, is desperate to find someone who might touch aspects of her son's life that still have value. Although Louisa needs to know the routine of Will's meds and eventually has to learn how to give him bed baths and change his catheter, their story is primarily psychological and emotional rather than physical. It's the story of two people getting to know each other.

It helps that Louisa is someone with her own set of issues, someone who is resigned to living a life defined by the needs of her family rather than pursuing her own dreams. As the title indicates, the story is more about Louisa than it is about Will, but both characters change and grow throughout the book.

I listened to the audio and have to say that all the readers were good, but I was most impressed by Susan Lyons, the voice of Louisa. The book is primarily from her point of view, so she did most of the reading and had the character's gabby compensation for a lack of self confidence down pat.

I intend to see the movie soon. I only know Emilia Clarke through Game of Thrones, but think she will be perfect as Louisa. Although the roles are very different, a sense of strength through an aura of vulnerability is important to both.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Debbie De Louise

Between a Rock and a Hard PlaceBetween a Rock and a Hard Place by Debbie De Louise
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Debbie De Louise's new novel Between A Rock and a Hard Place is a great example of a “cozy mystery.” This type of novel is defined by Wikipedia as “a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community.” Between A Rock and a Hard Place takes place in Cobble Cove, a small community that reminds me of Stars Hollow from the TV show Gilmore Girls, except when things go wrong in Cobble Cove they go REAL wrong.

De Louise spends the first part of her book establishing the warm and fuzzy atmosphere of life in Cobble Cove. Alicia, the main character, is a happily married mother of twin babies, Carol and Johnny. (The boy is named after Alicia's husband, John.) Alicia works as a librarian at Cobble Cove's public library where she has a good relationship with all her coworkers and a wonderful director, Sheila, who is as understanding as anyone can be about work/life balance. Sheila works the circulation desk if someone has a conflict and is not above bending the rules slightly to offer an employment opportunity to one of Alicia's friends. Alicia is leading as idyllic a lifestyle as is humanly possible, until she notices some odd, slightly frightening things happening in her community.

Between A Rock and a Hard Place is the second Cobble Cove mystery. There are a number of references to actions that took place in the first book, A Stone's Throw, but this novel can stand on its own. I haven't read the first and had no trouble understanding what led to the events in the second.

The mystery in De Louise's novel is good, with a horrible crime and enough possible suspects to keep the plot interesting, but the characters and community dominate the work. I would recommend Between A Rock and a Hard Place to readers who like their crime stories in gentle environments. It reminded me of a number of TV series I've enjoyed, including Murder She Wrote and Rosemary and Thyme.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, and Hopatcong Vision Quest

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Wynfield's Kingdom by Marina Julia Neary

Wynfield's KingdomWynfield's Kingdom by Marina Julia Neary
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wynfield's Kingdom is subtitled A Tale of the London Slums, which is true for most of the book, but the novel also presents an interesting look at the upper classes in nineteenth century England. Wynfield is introduced to readers as a young orphan, who has been viciously beaten by members of a local gang. He had been a member of that gang, but had turned on them for a number of reasons, including his desire to save a little girl. This frail girl had been selected by the leader of the gang to be sold into a situation which would have killed her.

Wynfield and Diana, the girl he saved, are adopted by Tom Grant, a former surgeon turned barkeep. As they grow older, Wynfield rises to power in the Bermondsey slum while Diana takes on more and more radical ideas. Wynfield's friends call him the King of Bermondsey and he refers to Diana as his queen.

Wynfield is raised in the slums, but has an interest in literature that is not shared by most of the others around him. He is particularly fond of one French writer in particular. Here's how he explains his fascination to his adopted father.

“Dr. Grant, you wonder why I inhale Victor Hugo's writings? My life practically mirrors his plots. I could easily be one of his characters. I drink seawater like Han of Iceland, swing my axe like Cromwell, sing like Hernani and write poems like Gringoire. Hugo doesn't merely justify rebels. He glorifies them.”

Wynfield is right. The most obvious argument for his life mirroring a Hugo plot is his interest in Diana, a waif who could have easily been found in a Hugo novel. M.J. Neary's prose in Wynfield's Kingdom seems modeled after Victor Hugo. The story is long and winding with lots of coincidences, which is typical of nineteenth century writing, and the characters are all larger than life. Also, there is a supreme romanticism to the story.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, and Hopatcong Vision Quest

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Major Pettigrew's Last StandMajor Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read Helen Simonson's The Summer Before the War before I read her debut novel, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and had a similar reaction to both books. It took me a while to get into the stories, but once I did, I loved them. Simonson reveals her characters slowly. They not only grow throughout the book, but their true natures come out at a pace that causes the reader's perception of them to change. Either type of change is just as real.

In Major Pettigrew's Last Stand we are presented with a pompous, retired soldier, who demonstrates a shallow nature when his brother, Bertie, dies. Pettigrew focuses his concern on the acquisition of a gun he wants reunited with his own Churchill rifle. He wants to create a pair he can show off to his upper class, hunting buddies. But as his friendship with Mrs. Ali, a Pakistani widow, strengthens, the quality of his morality and empathy begins to show.

Although the relationship between Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali is at the core of the story, there are a number of other subplots, which all keep the pages turning. Major Pettigrew has a son, Roger, who is aggressive in his real estate career, while the Major is someone who wants things to remain the same as long as possible. There's a subplot involving the rifles and a disagreement with Bertie's widow about what should be done with this valuable inheritance. And Mrs. Ali is also at the center of a story about her relationship with her late husband's family. The result is a complex plot with plenty of important choices the characters must act on. It's a hard book to put down.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, and Hopatcong Vision Quest

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