Monday, 4 January 2010

Happy New Year! and first book review, plus Book of the Year

Happy 2010 to you all! I hope you had a very good holiday period, I certainly did. I am still recovering, in fact! I also lost a post I did two days ago, which got me mad at Blogger. So I am back today, and I know I have 2009 encapsulations to do, but I thought I would surprise everyone by starting off with my first book review of the year!!
The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke is the 16th Dave Robicheaux mystery set in Louisiana. It is one of his best. There is a mix of characters from the sleazy, to the mobster, to a chilling serial killer, to an ordinary guy caught up in what seems to be the the maelstorm of Katrina, but what is really the aftermath of his daughter's rape and the uncaught rapists. All these stories become linked, drawing in characters from all over Louisiana. I enjoyed the mystery, and while we know quickly who did it, it's because Burke is more interested in showing the variations of the criminal character, and how Katrina affected their lives. There are many characters that have a scene or two, but instead of detracting from the mystery, I found it added to the full effect of being in Louisiana. I always come away from a Dave Robicheaux mystery feeling like I have just been to the bayou, and this mystery is no exception. This is a solid mystery. What lifts it up to a very good book, is how the aftermath of Katrina is woven into the story also. One of the characters comes from the 9th Ward, which if you remember, Gentle Reader, was the ward that was completely flooded and destroyed when the levees broke. Burke has always written about Southern corruption, and now he has been able to add a sense of real anger and reality to it. He shows, with the destruction of New Orleans, that corruption has a real face. This is not a mystery about who done it to New Orleans; it's not exploring who in the different levels of government are responsible for deciding to cut the funding to New Orleans, to weaken the levees, to cripple the welfare situation of recipients who made up a large portion of the 9th Ward. This is a mystery about a detective outside the city, who is called in because the damage is so overwhelming that the New Orleans Police Department can't cover everything, and the crime he investigates during his work. It's a book about the soul of New Orleans and especially of Louisiana itself, reeling from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and how some of the people took advantage of the destruction, and how others tried to survive it, but mostly this is a lament for the parts of the city underwater, for the wards and the thousands of people who needlessly drowned and died in their homes in the attics while the world watched helplessly. Robicheaux is doubtful if the city can recover its joie de vivre even in the face of death, and only time will tell. So much was destroyed, and the different characters in this book certainly convey so much of what went on then. Especially as the aftermath continued, with New Orleans unable to deal with the clean-up, and the lingering stories of what happened as it becomes a new mythology of the city and state. I highly reccommend this book. This is one of many sentences that linger in my mind:
"I have long subscribed to the belief that the dead lay strong claim on the quick, that indeed their spirits wander and manifest themself in the middle of our waking day and whisper to us when we least expect it."
It's not a perfect mystery, and indeed here is review of the book that almost trashes it, from two years ago. Unlike this reviewer, I found there was an extraordinary range of emotions in the principal characters, that none of them are cardboard figures - they are all three-dimensional, good and bad, with differing levels of self-awareness. There is a hilarious view of one character revealed in a letter sent to Dave, and the main criminal, who stumbles around after the hurricane as what he did during the storm begins to torment him. There are some fine characterizations, and descriptions of the sun and the storms and the setting that are so vivid that I really do feel as if I just came back from there myself. Molly, and Alafair, Dave's wife and daughter, play a role in this story also, and Dave as well as the other characters like Otis the insurance salesman whose daughter was raped, and Sidney the mobster whose son was run over, also discover what they will do to protect those they love from evil. This is a mystery about retribution, justice, crime, and redemption, and also about guilt and remorse, and being trapped, and about love. I highly reccommend this book.


Well, it's not a new challenge, I'm joining it again this year!! J. Kaye's 100 + Reading Challenge:
I know I failed it last year - I only got to78 books read, but for me this was also an unqualified success. It is more books in one year than possibly one other year, that I have read each year in the past 15 years, since I have been keeping rough stats. I read more in every single category of book. So, this is an achievement for me, even though it's not quite what I wanted! so you know me, even if I give up I also usually just try again, so I am signing up again for this year. Unfortunately Tin Roof Blowdown doesn't count since I began it last year! You can sign up here. I do have to add though, that if I manage to complete The Shorter Samuel Pepys this year, it's going on the list! I don't care!! at over 1,000 pages, I will deserve it no matter when I finish it....

I am having difficulty coming up with one standout! I enjoyed so many. I gave three copies of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society to three people for Christmas, leant several books that I have reviewed here in my blog to my sister who came from New Brunswick for a week (hurray! she has finally accepted my passion and letting me lend her things to read!! - but I want them back, sis!), and am beginning to wonder how I can find - or where - time in my life for more reading.

Book Totals:
mystery: 25
fantasy 17
YA - 17 *overlap with fantasy and horror)
horror - 10 *overlap with graphic novels and YA
graphic novels - 8 ***SURPRISE OF THE YEAR (post to come)
non-fiction - 6
science fiction - 5 (Thank you, Becky's 42 SF things challenge!)
fiction - 4
classics - 3
poetry - 2
children's - 2

There is of course room for improvement in all areas!

All right, the list:
Susan's Favourite Books of the Year:
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Burrows
Selected Poems , Vol 2 - Mary Oliver ****edited to correct title: New and Selected Poems, Vol 2
The Plain Janes - Cecil Castellucci
Dreams Underfoot - Charles de Lint
The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss
Middlemarch - George Eliot
Turnstone - Graham Hurley
Winter Studies and Summer Rambles - Anna Brownell Jameson
Moon Called - Patricia Briggs
Mistress of the Art of Death - Ariana Franklin
Watchmen - Alan Moore
The Dark is Rising - Susan Cooper
***edited to add: The Various Haunts of Men - Susan Hill

and, Susan's Book of the Year for 2009 is:
The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale
Here is my original review of the book, almost a year ago to the day.

Now, one of my resolutions is to keep up with you on your blogs, my dear Gentle Readers. So now I'm off to see if you have listed your favourite books from last year. If you haven't listed it, let me know if you have a book of the year! I love discovering what people love to read - that's why we have these blogs, isn't it? At least, that's partly why I have mine. Happy reading, every one!!


Eva said...

Happy new year Susan!!! And yes, we do have blogs so we can share all our book loves. :D

Marinela Reka said...

Happy New Year Susan :)

Care said...

I'm excited that you have poetry in your tops list! I'll have to go check that out. :)
Happy New Year!

Cath said...

Happy New Year, Susan! That's a good 'favourites' list. I forgot to include Moon Called in mine. Oh well... My favourite book of the year was A Gathering Light (A Northern Light in N.America) by Jennifer Donnelly. I actually have your favourite book on my tbr pile. Deslily had read it and finished with it so kindly sent it to me - a lovely surprise.

Andrea said...

I'll have to check these out!

BookPlease said...

Happy New Year Susan!

I too loved The Suspicions of Mr Whicher when I read it in 2008. I couldn't decide on a book of the year, as most of the ones I read were just so good.

DesLily said...

Happy New Year Susan!

How funny.. I read your favorite book of the year!! And I have in my tbr pile Cath's favorite book!... not that we influence each other you understand! LOL..

I hope you have a fabulous 2010!

Stephanie said...

Happy New Year to you!! I haven't been around much lately, but I do plan on changing that. Finding time to keep up with my favorite blogs is high on my list this year.

Glad to see Patricia Briggs made it to your list of favorites. She is so awesome!! I have not done my favorites yet, but I will soon!!

Anonymous said...

Way to go! I still have book reviews to write for some of the books I read in 2009. Slow going for me...also, welcome to the 100+ Reading Challenge. This is going to be a great year of reading!

Carl V. said...

Great to see Plain Janes on there. I just loved it and its sequel.

I saw The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society on so many lists at the end of 2008 that I snagged it for my wife for Christmas that year. She read it sometime early in 09 and really enjoyed it a lot.

I hope your 2010 reading year is even more satisfying!

Kailana said...

I really must read Kate Summerscale! Happy New Year!

Susan said...

Eva: Thank you! after your amazing wrap-up of last year, I am still in awe today. You and Nymeth are my heroines of book reading! lol and I get so many great books from you two, and everyone else......

Marinela: Welcome! I think this is your first time here. Happy New Year to you also! Thank you so much for leaving a comment.

Care: I think I got the title of Mary Oliver's book wrong! and I just love it so much, I read it over and over, and finally put it down so I could pick up the first volume (which I got after) and it's having the same affect on me!
I hope you like it when you get it :-D Happy New Year to you too!

Cath: Happy New Year, Cath! thanks again. I've put your book of the Year on my to-get pile. I love Pat's comment below, we so very much influence one another!!! lol! she's as bad as anyone. She's going to get me reading Patricia C Wrede, no mean feat in itself.....that was lovely of Pat to send it to you. I think it's going to be one of those criminal disseminations that becomes one of the classics to read - it should, anyway. Plus it's riveting. I hope you enjoy it!

Andrea: thanks! Happy New Year again to you!

BooksPlease: I really had difficulty deciding on the book of the year, and almost didn't. Middlemarch, the Plain Janes and Suspicions of Mr Whicher were the stand-outs all year for me, so it was like picking eeny meeny miny mo! Happy New Year to you too! And you know I enjoyed your crime books of the year, which I've spent my long boring day at work thinking about!

DesLily: you are such a riot! I almost snorted my tea, you and me and Cath influence each other so much in what to read, and we all like the same things!! lol I have Cath's book of the year on my list of books to get, too. no we don't influence each other at all!!

Stephanie: I look forward to your list of favourites too! and I love Patricia Briggs. i have to get her other series (Alpha and Omega) and try it too.

J Kaye: I didn't review about half of what I read! Though I am getting better. I love your challenge, and this year I'm determined more than ever to reach 100.

Carl: It was one of my books of the year, and almost made it as the book. I really loved it and the sequel. I'm happy you did to! I hope both of our reading years this year is deeply pleasurable for both of us, Carl! Thanks :-D

Kailana: Yes, you must read it!!!! lol Happy New Year to you too. I ran out of time before I could get to your blog yesterday. I have to read your summaries of the year too! lol

Bybee said...

78 books is excellent and you read in many more categories than I did! I didn't read any poetry this year. Good for you, trying again with the 100-plus challenge...I'll cheer you on because this is your year!

Susan said...

Bybee: thanks! you are my heroine though, reading so desperately in November and December to make your total over 100!!! I can see me doing that this coming autumn! lol And you read far more non-fiction than I did. It was a good reading year for both of us, wasn't it?