Friday, 14 January 2011

My first reviews of the year

I have decided among my personal goals, to review every book I read this year.  So in keeping with the newness of the year and that I've read 4 books only so far, here for review are:

1. The Unstrung Harp - Edward Gorey.  Can I just say, if you are a writer or want to be one, run to your nearest second hand bookstore and start hunting for this book?  It's perfect, and perfectly describes everything we go through as writers, from the way we do anything but put pen to paper, to the way we react when we see our book in the sale bins.  Fabulous and funny.  One of my favourite quotes:

"Mr Earbass belongs to the straying, rather than the sedentary, type of author. He is never to be found at his desk unless actually writing down a sentence.  Before this happens he broods over it indefinitely while picking up and putting down again small, loose objects; walking diagonally across rooms, staring out windows, and so forth."

This also has the benefit of being accompanied by Gorey's wonderful pen and ink drawings.

This was a Library book so I have one completed already on my Library Challenge! Recommended, recommended, recommended!

2. Lifelode - Jo Walton.  I couldn't  figure out why I couldn't find this book anywhere, until I found it at the library and discovered it had been written expressly for Boskone, the Boston Science Fiction convention held every year.  The New England Science Fiction Association are the publishers of this book, a limited hardcover edition of 800, of which Ottawa Public Library holds # 589. All this to say, it might be hard to find, but if you see it, grab it.  For anyone who likes fantasy, this is a fantasy book quite unlike any other, sort of like every other book Jo Walton has written recently.  It's fantasy, set in a medieval invented world, with a different kind of religion and making of the world, and the story is small: an ancestor comes back to her ancestral home and her actions threaten to destroy it.  One of the particular beauties of this story is that it is set in the domestic domain: much of the magic comes from Taveth, who's lifelode (life path) is to keep the house of her lord.  It is a path she has chosen willingly, as any does in the world of this book.  Everyone has the right path that fulfills them, and one of the fun and interestng ways in which this is domestic fantasy, is that hardly anyone is doing what they were meant to do.  They have given up their lifelode to do what is demanded of them by family, by relationships, by circumstances.  The wonder of this fantasy tale is that so many people find a way to step into their right path anyway.

I really enjoyed this fantasy.  The religion, the gods, the setting of the manor house, the way in which the harvest is depicted, the villagers helping the lord out in return for his protection, and most of all, the long look  at the heart of the manor, which is the kitchen and all that goes on there.  Taveth is the main heroine. Part of her magic is that she can see all the past and future of a person by the shadow selves that pop out around someone.  Everyone in this world has a gift, and part of their growing up is learning about it as well as about what they are to do in the world.  It sounds simple, and it's not.  It's magic, and what life is about - happiness, love, choice, where guests are going to sleep, is there enough food, and making sure everyone is cared for.  Even though Teveth can see the future selves, she can't prevent or even act to change the future because she doesn't know what leads to it.

Very fun, and a little bit different, and recommended.

This is part of the Library Challenge, and the Canadian Challenge 4.

3. Hypothermia - Arnaldur Indridason.  Detective Erlendur investigates a suicide that isn't quite normal - just the slightest intuition that something is off.  He also goes back over one more time two old missing person cases, because it's been over 20 years now, and the parents are dying in one case.

Hypothermia is a state that Canadians grow up being cautioned about from the earliest days in childhood: what the danger of extreme cold is, what the signs of freezing are, and when you should come in from the cold.  Hypothermia is the state of slowly growing colder, of the body parts shutting down until you freeze to death.  Hypothermia is also what almost killed Erlendur when he was lost in the blizzard when he was a boy.  It still affects him today, the nearness of death and escaping when his brother didn't, and in this book we see Erlendur talk about what it has done to him, and why he couldn't stay in his marriage.  It is fascinating and sad, and even if you have never experienced cold, you will have suffered loss at some point in your life and so this becomes a story about grief and loss, and how people never really recover from tragedy, though they do find ways to move on.  In the end, I was most surprised to discover that I think Erlendur is a romantic, because he won't, he can't, give up on these cases.  He is not a flowers-and -cards romantic, far from it!  It's in his soul though, the ability to care and keep caring long after all hope is gone. This series, and the writing also, keep getting better and better. If I didn't already have my love Harry Hole, Erlendur would be a close competitor.  I must have a thing for lonely police detectives who stand guard against the darkness of the world. 

4. The Serpent Pool - Martin Edwards.  This is the 4th Hannah Scarlett and Daniel Kind mystery novel.  I have to admit up front that I found it disappointed me in one area, though overall it is good.  The problem I have with this mystery is that Hannah's partner, Marc Amos, should be questioned when it turns out he has a link to an old case Hannah is investigating.  Hannah decides she doesn't want to question him that night, and then the action takes over.  Not only do I have a problem with Hannah's decision, but I found myself distracted, thinking that Hannah should at least go to her superior and let her know of her conflict-of-interest and have someone else assigned to questioning Marc, if not get herself removed from the case. She doesn't, and I don't like this, because wouldn't normally the first accusation be that she was hiding information about him from the investigation? Impeding it? Otherwise, it is quite an interesting mystery, with gruesome killings and the slow falling apart of Hannah's and Marc's relationship.  Despite the flaw this is still a good mystery and given the high quality of the previous books, I hope it's a one-off.  Recommended, with reservation.

This leads me to the last review for tonight, another mystery I read last year from a favourite author who also had a problem with her mystery, I thought.

5. The Murder Stone - Louise Penny.  Normally I love Armand Gamache and the Quebec woods setting.  The Murder Stone is no different - set in an historic hunting lodge deep in the Quebec woods, Armand and his wife Reine-Marie have gone to celebrate their wedding anniversary, as they do every year.  Only this time a whole other family have also come at the same time, and when one of them turns up dead, and it's plainly not accidental or suicide, the Surete du Quebec must be called in.  So far, so good.  But stop me if I'm wrong, shouldn't Armand and his wife be investigated?  This is a 'locked-room' mystery, where there is a known set of guests, hotel workers etc in the remote countryside.  Even though Armand and his wife have no obvious links to the murdered victim, they should still be investigated and cleared.  However, Armand is put in charge of the investigation!  I really think he wouldn't be allowed to lead it.  He should have been side-lined and worked from the inside (because he is Armand and Chief Inspector, he would never stand idly by, but get involved anyway) to find the killer. So once again, I am left wondering, is it me? do both of these mysteries seem to have a fairly large hole in the investigative process?  Despite this, this was a very good mystery.  I enjoyed the locked room feel, the setting of the hotel in the far woods, the closeness of nature (there is a violent thunderstorm the night of the murder), the mosquitos that torment his second in command Guy Beauvoir, and the writing is excellent.  I really enjoyed this mystery over all, except for the blip.  We find out more about Armand's father and see much more of Reine-Marie than normal, and I quite like her, and them together, also.  Overall, this is still a wonderful mystery series, very well written.  Highly recommended, with one reservation.

This counts for the Canada Challenge 4.

I hope you are enjoying your first books of the year, my Gentle Readers.

5 comments:

Memory said...

I knew LIFELODE was rare, but I didn't realize it was quite that rare. Alas, neither of my libraries has it. :(

Emily Barton said...

Hypothermia sounds quite a bit like Tana French's In the Woods. It and the Gorey (how could I not have known about that one?) have been added to my TBR tome.

Kay said...

Ah, Susan, and now that you have read THE MURDER STONE (or RULE OF MURDER as the US edition is titled), you are ready to move on to THE BRUTAL TELLING and BURY YOUR DEAD. And have you got some great books ahead. Truly. Be prepared though. :-)

Eva said...

That manor house setting makes me wish Lifelode was more available! :) But I guess I'll read Tooth and Claw for my first Walton fix!

I wonder if I'd get along better with The Murder Stone; I didn't enjoy the first in the Penny series, but I do love 'locked room' style crimes. Although there is the whole Armand should be a suspect thing! I'm willing to overlook that in Golden Age authors, but I wonder if I'd cut the same slack for contemporary ones.

Susan said...

Memory: Oh rats! Too bad your library couldn't borrow (inter-library loan) from ours!!

Emily: very thrilled to be adding to your TBR list! lol you will like the Gorey, I think. Hypothermia is a little like In the Woods, but not - I think I'm going to write about it in a post, since you raise an interesting comparison. Thanks! have you read any Erlendur books yet?

Kay: I see that The Brutal Telling won some awards for mysteries, so I'm anxious to get to it! It sounds a little bit ominous, your last sentence, though!

Eva: oh I hope you enjoy Tooth and Claw!

My sister just told me the same thing, she didn't like Still Life (the first book in the series) either. She thought they went on and on about the marvelous painting too much. Try the next one or try the latest, The Brutal Telling. At least you are trying them!! :-)

I don't like to have to 'cut slack' in any of my mysteries!