Wednesday, June 9, 2010

She Is Too Fond of Books: More Books I've Read Lately

Wow.  I've been reading like a machine the last month or so, and I have to say I've liked more than I have not liked.  Below are some more brief reviews for your edification and (possible) enlightenment.  Or maybe just for your to-read (or to-avoid) list.

I've read three Miss Read novels, Miss Clare Remembers, Emily Davis, and Return to Thrush Green.  I loved them all.  As I've shared before, I want to live in Fairacre (Thrush Green will do); but since many of these stories take place in decades past, it would take more than a place ticket to get me there.   But I can visit when I read these timeless stories.  If I had to choose a favorite of these three, and it would be difficult, I'd pick Miss Clare Remembers.  When I read it, I heard in my mind the instrumental song by Enya with the same name.

Kazuo Ishiguro's Booker Prize-winning The Remains of the Day was different than I'd expected, but extremely engrossing.  Subtle, with tantalizing depth, this is not a beach (or pool) read.  Once I began, I found myself sinking into the narrative, absorbing the atmosphere of Stevens's life.  I was amazed at Ishiguro's pitch-perfect voice for Stevens, especially since the bulk of the novel is interior monologue.  I enjoyed the film immensely, but now that I've discovered the book. . .  This is a keeper.

But not all books I've read, alas, are keepers.  Philippa Gregory's newest novel, The White Queen, takes place during the Wars of the Roses, when both the house of Lancaster and the house of York vied for the English throne.  I've read all of Gregory's Tudor novels and highly recommend them to others, so I was disappointed when this one failed to live up to my expected standards.  Gregory is usually quite proficient in breathing vibrant life into historical figures, but not so here.  Elizabeth Woodville, the main character, seemed flat to me; in fact, I found her boring, as I found most of the other characters.  Frankly, most of the narrative was boring as well.  Dull, dull, dull.  Moreover, Gregory, citing a bit of recent scholarship, veers sharply away from tradition in her account of what might have happened to the princes in the tower.  While this is historical fiction, I was intensely irritated with her version of events, which really makes no sense.  Tradition (and evidence) supports the idea that Richard III, after his brother's death, had the boys held in the Tower of London and subsequently murdered so he could ascend the throne.  Gregory takes a vastly different tack, explaining the the book's back matter why she did so.  She takes the position that Richard III had no need to kill the boys because he had had the boys declared illegitimate and was already crowned king.  Her thinking surprises me; how many times in history do we see a son or other younger relation whisked to France, only to return at a later date with an army to fight for the throne?  That being said, there is no proof (yet) that Richard was behind the princes' disappearance, but it most definitely was in his best interest that they were no longer a threat to his rule.  Further, the entire Melusina subplot, which injects an element of witchcraft into the story, is ridiculous.  Highly disappointing.

I have one word for A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick: yuck.  I don't care how many weeks this book has languished on the bestseller list.  And I'm not the only one.  There are more 1-star reviews on Amazon than any other.  And here's one reason why: it's gut-wrenchingly boring.  For a book that purports to be full of twists and turns, I found it predictable.  Not one of the characters was likeable or even interesting.  And the writing style!  The plot plods along like a tortoise.  To make everything worse, the narrative is repetitive, flat, and breathtakingly bad.  How many times does Goolrick need to tell us that the characters "ate oysters and drank champagne," anyway?  Obviously many, many times.  In fact, redundancy must be Goolrick's trademark since he resorts to it a lot, which shows a startling lack of imagination.  But so does the rest of the novel.

Thank heavens for Alexander McCall Smith and his Isabel Dalhousie novels!  I read the last three in the series in quick succession, The Careful Use of Compliments, The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday, and The Lost Art of Gratitude.  Aren't those wonderful titles?  I have to admit that when I first began the series with The Sunday Philosophy Club, I wasn't sure if I'd like these.  I'm now a complete convert.  Smith is extremely adept at creating unique, lively, and believable characters, and his dialogue is top-notch.  He is also excellent at giving his novels a real sense of place.  Himself and I honeymooned in Scotland and spent a couple of days in Edinburgh, but oh, how I long to go back!  I've also read all his No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novels (which also sparkle with Smith's skill in creating and fully expressing character and setting) and his 44 Scotland Street books.  You really can't go wrong with Alexander McCall Smith.

What are you reading this summer?  I need some suggestions!


  1. Let Priss know I'm reading the same :) And thanks for the heads up on Goolrick. I was wondering about that one. And of course AMS.

  2. LOL, you need suggestions? I came to pick yours and I'm soooo glad. Thanks for pointing to the yucks and the good reads!
    I've added The Remains of the Day to my tbr books, I loved the movie, and I didn't read it at the time but I'm going to enjoy it.
    I didn't pick up Chaucer from the library in audio. I'm currently reading non fiction, Last Child in the Woods, and Deeschooling Society, but a good friend has recommended this title in Spanish, but it's in English too The Guernsey society... (maybe you've read it but if not, she said she couldn't put it down). It's one of those books which refers to other books.

  3. Silvia, I've read The Guernsey Potato Peel... book and really enjoyed it! Yes, put it on your list. I'm glad my reviews are helpful to you!

  4. You do not read too many books, my friend. It is not possible to read too many books!!

    I love Kazuo Ishiguro too. His 'An Artist of the Floating World' is one of my all time favourite books. I found 'The Remains' a bit bleak, to be honest.

    I posted three of my faves here:

    Tell me what you think.

  5. Ah, Miss Clare remembers, possibly my favourite Miss Read ever. I read it pretty much annually, when spring or summer allows me to read sitting outisde, under the lilac tree. I absolutley adore Dolly Clare!

    As for Richard III and the princes in the tower, have you read Josephine Tey's 'The Daughter of Time'? I read it at school as part of a history course, basically to introduce to the art of questioning received wisdom or myths in history, and loved it.

    Nothing much to recommend as I am rushed off feet and unable to read for more than five minutes! I am trying like mad to read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, lent to me on good authority, re reading The Mission of Motherhood by Sally Clarkson and really finding a lot in there for the mum of a teenager that the mum of the toddler missed! and I've had a small heap of page turning chick lit donated for lighter moments and in the bath!
    Not much help there then :)


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