Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Few Stray Reviews

Here are some of my reads during December:

In The Woods - Tana French.
This novel was the December BOOKLEAVES selection. I really didn't expect to like it at all because I'm not a big mystery fan, but I ended up liking it very much. Rob, a police detective based near Dublin and his partner, Cassie are put on a murder case that happened in the country near an archaeological dig. It also happens to be the same place where, 20 years before, Rob (then called Adam) and 2 of his best friends went missing. The friends were never found and Rob/Adam was found safe a couple of days later, clinging to a tree with no memory of what happened. The more seasoned mystery readers in the group were able to spot the murderer almost immediately and guessed at another character's involvement. I got really caught up in the intricately choreographed way Rob and Cassie would interrogate suspects -- it was my favorite aspect of the novel. Some readers groused that one of the mysteries was never solved, but I didn't mind -- it seemed more realistic. I'm looking forward to reading more of Tana French's work.

Holidays on Ice - David Sedaris.

I read this one because my co-worker Brian saw that I was at 97 books and he wanted to nudge me closer to triple digits. We swapped Sedaris -- I gave him Me Talk Pretty One Day. Holidays on Ice seems a little uneven, but the first offering in the collection, "The Santaland Diaries", which is about his sojourn as a department store elf, is definitely worth your time. I was reading it while eating lunch alone at Lotteria (Korea's version of a fast food burger chain) and I laughed suddenly and loudly. The three ajummas at the table next to me jumped and stared.

Dream Story - Arthur Schnitzler.
Although I've never seen the movie Eyes Wide Shut, I was definitely interested in this 1926 Austrian novel, the source material. Too soon, I found myself borstrated with the draggy, semi-surreal plot. Dream Story is less than a hundred pages, so I was able to tough it out, but I won't be turning it into a Read the Book, See the Movie Challenge. Thanks anyway to my book buddy Paul (who's got all those great Jim Thompson novels!) for the loan.

The Rule of Saint Benedict - St. Benedict. Faulkner Guy passed this slim volume to me several months ago, and I finally read it, making it book #100 for the year. (Not only is Faulkner Guy Faulkner Guy, he is Medieval Guy.) In 73 short chapters, Benedict of Nursia lays out a constitution and laws for living in a religious community and he touches on almost every detail of daily life including the election of an abbot, obedience, daily labor, the twelve degrees of humility, prayer, diet, reading scripture at mealtimes, punishment and how to dress and behave while traveling away from the monastery. Although there are rules for everything except breathing, they seem thoughtful and moderate, and there is a degree of democracy present. This book was written around 530, but Benedict's vigorous and clear writing has aged well.
Ride The River - Louis L'Amour. This novel is part of the Sackett series, and the only one featuring a female Sackett, 16-year-old Echo. After spending her whole life in the mountains of Tennessee, Echo journeys to Philadelphia to collect an inheritance. The lawyer with the money advertised as minimally as he could, in hopes that no one would ever come forth, but Echo saw the notice by chance. Now he intends to cheat her, but Echo's smart and ready to kick ass if needed. L'Amour made some of the clumsiest style choices in 20th century fiction. There's too much exposition and the book could spawn several rounds of drinking games since Echo repeats herself so much, but if you like a snappy plot and the reassurance that the Sacketts always come out all right, you might enjoy seeing this hillbilly Katniss in action.

The Quiet Little Woman - Louisa May Alcott. I read this during Christmas week for the All About Alcott Challenge. Back in the 1870s, three sisters were huge fans of Little Women and decided to pay homage to the March sisters and Alcott by creating their own literary magazine. Alcott heard about this and kindly contributed to their effort the three stories in this volume, all with a Christmas theme. There's nothing of Jo March here, the character that gives Little Women its fire and energy. On the contrary, these anemic, sentimental tales seem more like they could have been authored by Beth from her sickbed. The Quiet Little Women is nice as a stocking stuffer for a grade school girl or for devotees of Louisa May Alcott who would like to get their hands on absolutely everything she ever wrote, but the latter group should be advised that they will need a good strong dose of A.M. Barnard afterwards.


B said...

I really want to read some Tana French. Like you I'm not really into the mystery genre, but I've heard you don't have to be to get into her books. I've also got my first David Sedaris sitting on my nightstand waiting to be read - Me Talk Pretty One Day. I'm looking forward to that one.

Great December reads!

raych said...

'Borstrated' = bored/frustrated? Please say yes.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed the Sedaris about the Elf too. I listened to that book on CD ages ago. I really didn't like the story about the exchange student and the baby in the washer though.

Lesley said...

I'm not much of a mystery reader either, so when my book club read The Likeness (the followup but not really a sequel to In the Woods), I was a little sceptical, but I ended up really enjoying it, too. I think because it wasn't a traditional mystery and was very character driving - both things with kind of annoyed the died-in-the-wool mystery readers in the group! I haven't yet gone on to read In the Woods or her latest, though.

And I agree with you on Holidays on Ice - I read it several years ago and in fact the only story I remember is Santaland Diaries. Hilarious!

I got his Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk book for Christmas but haven't really peeked at it yet.

Carrie#K said...

I am a mystery lover and I've really enjoyed all of Tana French's novels to date (okay, the two and the 3rd that's still waiting to be read on my shelves). She never goes where I think she's going and I love how her characters matter more than the plot.

I like all the Sackett novels too. My English teacher in high school told me he assigned a Louis L'Amour book because he said the guys get a little more comfortable with books and enjoy reading, which was his ultimate goal anyway. (He was the one that got me into science fiction because I used to pull random books off his shelves on the way in or out of class).

Bybee said...

Me Talk Pretty One Day is my favorite Sedaris. I can't even think about it without laughing!


Ruby Canary,
I would love to hear The Santaland Diaries on audio.

The first chapter of The Likeness was at the end of my copy of In The Woods, so I read it and immediately got interested.

Your English teacher sounds cool.

Anonymous said...

I had to google borstrated before I realized it wasn't a word. I'm not exactly at the top of my game this evening.

Susan said...

Yaay, you liked In the Woods!! I have to read the next ones in the series soon. I did feel the ending did leave me hanging a little, though, unresolved in what I thought was the essential question to the main character. You know what I mean!

Bybee said...

I wanted to invent a new word!

I know exactly what you mean...I had the same thought. Cause we're twins! LOL