In keeping with my new year's resolution of writing down all the books I read this year, I'll also try to review a bunch of them, at least in mini-reviews. I usually have one or both of the girls with me at the library so my process of selecting books is grab something off the shelf, see if it looks remotely interesting, toss it in the library bag. And sometimes one of the girls will pull a book down and say, "Read this one, Mom." So there you are with my scientific process.
Here are this week's books:
In A Good Place by Rachel Johnson
Apparently Rachel Johnson (according to the blurb on the back of the book) is one of the most high profile and popular female journalists in the UK. The Guardian and The Times call her "the Nancy Mitford of Notting Hill" and "Notting Hill's Jane Austen." That's some pretty awesome billing, so I was excited to start. Meh. First off, it listed the characters in the front of the book and there are, let me run and count, 58 of them, all with some sort of precious description, such as "Virginie Lacoste: stone-cold French superfox and children's culotte magnate who never regrettes rien." Ugh. The book kept switching around from various characters' viewpoints, which normally I like, with the exception that I didn't like any of these characters. Then it teased the reader that one of the characters had a big! secret! that turned out that she's pregnant. There. I told you. Plus the book tried to be funny with all sorts of hip, faux cool, name-dropping references, which I didn't get (despite being pretty well-versed in UK names/places/slang) and finally was overcome with a big wave of "I don't care." So, thumbs down for this book and a word
to the wise: just 'cause it's British doesn't automatically make it klassy.
The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood
The cover and title of this book are somewhat deceptive. There's a comfy chair, a bit of knitting, and a pot of tea, so you think it might be some cozy tale with recipes thrown in. You would think wrong. The Knitting Circle is about a woman whose 5-year-old daughter has recently died unexpectedly from meningitis. It chronicles the first two years after the death and how a grieving mother pours her sorrow into the mind-freeing, healing activity of creating something with her hands. She comes together with a circle of other knitters--all who have turned to the hobby as therapy from tragedy. Each of their stories eventually comes out. It could all be kind of cliche except for the fact that it is somewhat autobiographical: the author herself lost her 5-year-old daughter to meningitis and comforted herself by knitting, so while some of the scenarios are improbable, the emotions behind them are quite real. I'd give this one a guarded thumbs up.
The Ghost at the Table by Suzanne Berne
I'll say straight up that I loved this one. It's the story of two adult sisters who have widely varying memories of their growing up together: one wants to remember it as lovely and the other remembers it as a nightmare. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between. They get together for the Thanksgiving weekend because the one sister wants to stage a reconciliation between the other and their father. In between this family drama are interwoven vignettes of Mark Twain and the fractured relationship he had with his wife and daughters (one of the sisters is an author of sanitized historical fiction, but she loves to know all the dirty details). There's some great writing in here, such as: "I understood perfectly well what Frances wanted from me: the tale of Mark Twain's daughters and their pleasantly eventful childhood. She wanted what everyone wants--what even I wanted--a good story with a reasonable ending. But she'd gotten carried away, as she always did, with the decor. With the kittens and the cherubs and the Christmas letters. And so I was forced to brandish the sorrows of Mark Twain's daughters to keep Frances from snatching them up, to save them from becoming bric-a-brac and bedposts." Thumbs up.
Haunting Rachel by Kay Hooper
I won't waste much time on this one. I was moderately taken in by the title, but I could tell by the typeface on the cover that it wasn't going to deliver (you know what I'm talkin' about). It's about some woman whose fiance died mysteriously, and now 15 years later his dead ringer is back in her life and she can't figure out who he is or if he's good or evil. Kay Hooper is billed on the cover as a "master storyteller" and the book as a thriller. Neither was true. It was more like a Lifetime movie in book form and wasn't thrilling at all. Also, as my girls would say, it was kind of trashy. Thumbs down.
Margaret's Peace by Linda Hunt
This is another book where the heroine's 5-year-old daughter has just died of meningitis. How odd, and now I'm paranoid and keep checking my own daughters for signs of it. She returns to her old family home in Maine for a rest, but she gets caught up in finding out what really happened to her sister. Twenty-five years earlier, she pitched off the widow's walk of their house and died. Was it an accident? Suicide? Murder? I could pretty much easily figure out what had happened and why, but the book still held my interest well enough though the characterization was a little cardboard cutout. Thumbs sideways.
So, there you go. I'm ready for another library trip today...we'll see what I come up with next week.