Friday, January 08, 2010

New Year books

Picture unrelated to post, here for the red berries and snow. View from Braunwald, Switzerland.

I try to write down every book I read using Goodreads, and this year I thought I'd make a point of adding a note to each title to try to remember it better. Luckily Christmas and my family were kind to me and I started the year with a nice tower of books to get through. Unless anyone objects, I think I'll start posting my list on Kolo too (more posts, what an idea!). In the meantime, here are my books read so far this January:

Peril at End House, Agatha Christie ****
The usual twisty turny Poirot plot; a perfect page turner for New Year's eve and day.

The facsimile edition added an extra star to my review - imagine a light, six inch high hardback, old-fashioned type printed on sturdy vanilla stock. The book fits just right into your hands and reads gorgeously. If you like Agatha Christie, I absolutely recommend searching out these facsimile editions, they seem to be available in the UK and Germany. If you're an expat, check The Bookdepository for the lowest prices and free shipping.

Girls in Trucks, Katie Crouch ** 1/2

Living abroad, I'm plenty nostalgic for glimpses of my hometown and the area where I grew up and if I find a book that talks about South Carolina marshes, chances are I'll read it. Remembering Katie from our childhood choir and finding Trucks on my sister's shelf turned this book into a definite addition to my reading list. For once, the details about Charleston and the lowcountry didn't disappoint and I was happy to discover that becoming a writer doesn't mean you must forget the mosquitos and stinky pluff mud that add that certain something to romantic river views.

About the book though - Girls in Trucks is marketed as a novel, but it feels more like a collection of short stories laid out in chronological order. The main characters spin in and out of the stories without resolution, the perspectives change, the language shifts - all frustrating in a novel but typical in a collection of stories. Katie is an apt short story writer too, and possesses the wit and ability to spin bon mots and endings which keep these stories satisfying and lodged in your memory.

Would I recommend Girls in Trucks? If you'd like to dip into a few chapters, yes. If you want to read a novel about a developing set of characters (particularly the protagonist), maybe not. Most of the book, I couldn't bring myself to like the main character at all. I thought a pickier editor would have split her into two - she seems sharper and possibly more autobiographical in some chapters, and then hammered into a simpler and more frustratingly destructive and sterotypical shape in another. As the book ends, she resolves too swiftly upwards in a hockey stick curve that feels editor driven. I'd recommend keeping an eye on Katie as a writer though, and trying to catch her short stories as they appear.

Sick Heart River, John Buchan ***1/2
Long descriptive passages often find me (im)patiently plodding through a page (or, hmm, just flipping right by it). John Buchan's descriptions are another story - he writes words into pictures with such clarity I read them again and again to enjoy the view along with the fast paced plots and characters I'd love to meet.

Buchan's last book, Sick Heart River, has a slower plot pace and is much more introspective than the rest of his books. The painterly descriptions remain, and because of the slower pace, they stand out even more than usual as graceful, unusual images.

It is in many ways a final book - like most authors closing down their imagined world, Buchan spends a good bit of time tieing up shutters, and preparing his characters to set off toward a further shore. He even sends the protagonist, Sir Edward Leithen, north to a land that reminds me of the country Frodo sails to at the end of the Lord of the Rings. (Spoiler alert) But here Buchan does a curious thing - rather than setting Leithen to sea with a hero's farewell, he turns the tables and ends his writing world with a humane, counter fairy tale ending I found touching and unusual.

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, Agatha Christie ***

Another Agatha Christie facsimile edition, this time a collection of short stories.

The book begins with Poirot in the country enjoying an old fashioned Christmas, complete with turkey, Christmas pudding and a thick blanket of snow. The stories are enjoyable, and the mysteries somewhat easier to solve than most of her books because the clues arrive condensed. If you can hold out until next December, I'd recommend Christmas pudding then - it's an ideal over-Christmas read for those nights when just one story will do.


Barrett Bonden said...

You're quite tough on Katie Crouch, aren't you. What I enjoyed was our shared interest in the role of editor and what he/she should have done. But you never know. Perhaps Katie would have burst into tears at any suggestion that her prose might be tinkered with.

Just to prove that Mrs BB isn't the only reader in our family I have just started "The rest is silence", by Alex Ross, music critic of New Yorker. The sub-title is Music in the Twentieth Century and it got rave reviews in what Damon Runyon used to call "the blatts". He writes with clarity and anthusiasm about what, for many, would be a difficult subject and eases the reader in comfortably with turn-of-the-century stuff about Strauss (especially the first performance of Salomé) and Mahler. Huge book, must be 1000 pages. When I'm a bit further in, round about the Berg violin concerto, I'll be posting. Twas a Christmas prezzie from Mrs BB who took note of my reaction to the reviews earlier in the year.

Ross runs a website with the same name and musical illiterates like me, who regard scores as something that happens at soccer, can access it to hear the extracts he alludes to in the book.

Julia said...

I am tough on her, though not as tough as I could have been ;-). She's really a good writer, much better than the usual crop of lowcountry writers and she just needs to get an MFA out of her system.

I'd make a large bet that it wasn't Katie who forced the book into a novel form and called for the happily ever after ending; it reads editor all over it.

The Rest is Noise has been on my wish list for a year! I'm glad you like it - looking forward to your post on it.

Barrett Bonden said...

Noise! Of course. When one editor meets another...

Julia said...

His blog is great too, that's why I have the title stuck in my head!

BabelBabe said...

have had that Crouch book in my hands several times - next time I bring it home. Between the review and the ensuing comments, and as an editor of sorts myself, I am intrigued.

and hello? It's your blog. You wanna write books, you write books. I for one am happy to enable you : )

Julia said...

I'm not an editor, but BB (that's Barrett Bonden, just realized you could be BB too ;-) is a semi-retired one and my few years on a magazine long ago let's me fake it a bit.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

I have heard that before about the Katie Crouch book. I'm of the opinion that too much is published without careful editing.

Beth said...

Goodreads isn't on my radar, but looks good. I use LibraryThing for the same purpose. Makes me feel like I'm still in the library biz! I just adore your photos, by the way. I have a new camera on order and am just so excited!!

Julia said...

Beth, I've got the perfect photo book for your new camera! I'll post the review soon. Tell Bill we that every exit sign in Germany stil reminds us of him ;-).

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The Coffee Lady said...

I think I will bear the stories in mind for next Christmas.

I think it is a shame to hide books on Goodreads; I've been wondering the same thing too about my blog.