Thursday, June 19, 2008

The 2008 List: Fiction Old Favorites

Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis. “An old classic. Extraordinarily witty and well-written, it's akin to P.G. Wodehouse - i.e., absurd story lines mixed with clever social critiques. A light-hearted but nonetheless rich and rewarding read.”

Dancing at the Rascal Fair by Ivan Doig. “an older book but a newly discovered author for me…beautiful writer… I want to read more of his books.”

Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife: Pride & Prejudice Continues by Linda Berdoll. This was on last year’s list, and I read it over the winter. Oh my gosh, it is trash! But it’s fun, especially if you loved Pride & Prejudice and like to imagine what became of Elizabeth and Darcy after they got married. You have to overlook the author’s attempt, lame at times, to use the language of the times. (Someone must tell her how to use the word “betwixt,” because she DOES NOT KNOW). If you like this sort of book (continuations of, or different perspectives of, Jane Austen novels) there are others in the genre. The Pamela Aiden trilogy, which begins with An Assembly Such as This tells the P&P story from Darcy’s perspective. You really and truly can skip the second book in that series.

Disgrace by J.M. Coatzee. “Though not very long and quite an easy read, this book amazed me with all it accomplishes. Coatzee does gender and race in South Africa without ever mentioning the words, hardly hinting that he’s talking politics at all. In fact, the title could be ‘Desire,’ for all its focus on what the heart wants. I’ve wanted to read Coatzee since he won the Nobel in 2003, and I wasn’t disappointed. Yes, the book’s subjects involve the political, but what he’s really written is a suspenseful—This can’t be happening but it is!-- near-Biblical tale on the meaning of love—and parenting.”

The Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell. “…Really great history of Shanghai and redemptive father-daughter story.”

The Eight by Katherine Neville. Written in 1997, “an intense thriller that is steeped in history. The story revolves around a chess set with magical powers that is sought after across the ages. Highly complex and quick-pace at the same time.”

Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir. “France, England. Good old raucous Royals.
Ok, I love good romps of royals in historical fiction and normally love Alison Weir's books. This one didn't do it for me (too dry), but big Alison Weir fans may really love it. It got very good reviews.” (This reader preferred
The Children of Henry VIII by Weir, saying it was “wildly more interesting and entertaining.”)

English Passengers by Matthew Kneale. I haven’t read this yet, but I have it on deck on the strength of reviews I read on Goodreads (great social networking for readers with more than a million users. You all must join, and when you do, you can “friend” me. Aren’t I the early adapter!) Here’s one review: “the book is about a self satisfied minister who decides to voyage to Tasmania where he is certain he will find the Garden of Eden. Travelling on a Manx ship captained by an endearing pirate, and accompanied by a hilariously racist doctor, this character provides quite enough entertainment. However, there is much more in the book. At the same time, Kneale chronicles the eradication of the indigenous people of Tasmania, in a manner which is alternately heartbreaking and funny. There's something for everyone in this book.”

Flashman by George Macdonald Fraser (and others in the Flashman series). These are guy books. Drew has really enjoyed them. They are “satirical histiography” about this a rascal -- Harry Flashman – who finds himself amid great events of the 19th century, while being chased by jealous husbands and getting (and accepting) credit for courage that he didn’t actually possess.

Gaudy Night (and other “Lord Peter Wimsey” mysteries) by Dorothy Sayers. I’m getting into it, heeding all the Amazon reviewers’ warnings that it starts slow but gets great. But I hope to like it, as there are others in this series. Briefly, the protagonist returns to her alma mater, the fictional women’s “Shrewsbury College” at Oxford – to get to the bottom of some crimes being committed there. Written in 1936, it offers, in addition to a psychological thriller, an interesting view of a women’s college in the interwar period.

The Good Life by Jay McInerney, author of Bright Lights Big City. “Not one likable character in the lot, really, but for some reason I couldn’t put it down. Voyeurism, really.

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears. “If one gets into historical mysteries, this is an all-time winner.”

Lying Awake by Mark Salzman. “I’m just about to order this book. I was told by a friend that it is very interesting.” From an Amazon reviewer: “Sister John of the Cross is a Carmelite nun, part of a cloistered group in Los Angeles California. She is faced with worsening headaches that allow her to have visions or insights, leading her into a state of ecstasy and an extended understanding of the meaning of Christ in her life. When a pathological reason for the headaches is found she is faced with the possibility that her visions are part of the manifestations of the condition and not real.”

My Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain. “This book intertwines the stories of two women, an Irish travel writer living in present-day London, and a British landowner's wife during the 19th century potato famine, who was convicted of committing adultery with an Irish groom. This book has gotten lots of great reviews. Including: ‘A lovely heartbreaker of a novel that asks the hard questions...O'Faolain writes beautifully about longing and regret. (USA Today).”

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. “Barcelona. 1950's but harks back. Secrets. Intrigue. Much more intense than the other recommendations, also longer. Just 1/3 way through, but it's terrific so far (and has gotten rave reviews).” I read this and loved it last year.

Sophie's Choice by William Styron. “I read this for the first time a few months ago. I loved it. William Styron was such beautiful writer. I went out and bought all his other books which I hope to read soon.”

The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard. “You may have read Hazzard’s The Great Fire a few years back, but this 1980 book is even better, richer, more ambitious. It’s the story of two orphaned sisters that spans more than next forty years. Like The Great Fire, it’s a love story at its heart. Read the last chapters carefully to discover how perfectly and intricately plotted the story is. Hazzard’s writing is painterly, incandescent, and her wisdom and knowledge light up every page.”

The Unlikely Spy and other titles by Dan Silva. “These are great beach reads if you like fast-paced, historical mysteries. My husband and I both read them – but honestly we’ve read them a few times and are always surprised (again) by the ending. They don’t stick, but they are good.”

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. “You have to read it as an adult. It’s about the passions of a dysfunctional family and the happy resolution of its misery.”

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