I've got a mixed bag for you today--good, middling, and awful. Which should I start with first? Good, I guess.
Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris
Last library day, I mentioned this book as Julie's pick for me. I didn't realize until I got it that Joanne Harris is also the person who wrote Chocolat, another phenomenon that passed me by, both book and movie, maybe because--and I believe this is heresy among all women to say--I'm not all that into Johnny Depp. He is scary, what with all his movie roles in crazy tricked-out costumes and huge purple circles under his eyes and sometimes missing his whole head and having blades for hands and whatnot, it's alarming to me and I just don't understand the appeal, with the exception of the pirate movie when he was channeling Keith Richards. So I've probably lost everybody by now with the whole anti-Johnny Depp (though, hello, he's now the Mad Hatter, am I proving my point?) just as I usually lose everyone when I tell them I don't like U2 with the exception of "Angel of Harlem."
OK, we were talking about Gentlemen and Players? I think we were. This is a good book, not a great one, but a good one. It's got all these ingredients I love--England and prep schools and troubled students and cynical-on-the-surface-but-dedicated-underneath teachers, and people who seem like one thing but are really another. It was one of those that's hard to put down, and I do recommend it to you but with a caveat. Now nobody ever believes me when I tell them this, but Darren and I figured out The Sixth Sense within the first eleven or so minutes of the movie. We were watching and leaned over to each other and whispered, "So, Bruce Willis is dead, right?" and from then on, the whole thing was obvious to us. Since then I've noticed that certain books suffer from The Sixth Sense billing--movies will be compared to it, or books, such as Gentlemen and Players, will have this sort of blurb on the cover that comes out and TELLS you that there are twists and turns in it, so now you're looking for the twists and turns and then you guess them and it's kind of a letdown. And I'm not giving anything away to you, because like I said, it's on the cover for all and sundry to see. Suffice it to say, I did guess the major mysterious plot point. There were some other minor points I hadn't guessed, so those were nice to be surprised with, but still. I do recommend it though, and if you read it, let me know how you liked it and if you guessed anything.
On to the next:
The Privileges by Jonathan Dee
Oh my stars, avoid this turkey at all costs. It is dreadful; dreadful I tell you. It's about this young, beautiful couple who get married early and become fabulously, incredibly wealthy, and it chronicles (kind of) their life in New York. All the people in it are one-dimensional and evil and all-around hateful so that pretty much even if one of them clipped me with their car at this point, it might lower my oh-so-low opinion of them maybe 2%. Here's the thing, I LIKE novels about incredibly wealthy evil people--IF they are interesting. Think The Forsyte Saga and Soames Forsyte. Now there was a rich, tortured villain. These people were just banal idiots who never had an original thought or emotion. If you see this book, run far, far away.
White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner
This reviewlet kind of pains me to write because I really like Susan Meissner and think she has written some good-quality Christian fiction, which can be hard to find sometimes. However, this one just wasn't doing it for me. It was about a modern family who take in the mom's niece for a little while because she's homeless and the son of the family has a troubling secret in his past and the two of them (they're high school students) get to work together on a Holocaust project for history class. I like the premise, but the problem with running two stories in tandem--one in the present and one in the past--is that unless you're super-skilled at it (Barbara Vine, I'm looking at you), inevitably one of the stories is more interesting than the other so you find yourself skimming through the other one to get to the good one. Another negative on this one is that it falls prey to something I find a lot of authors mess up on--telling the story from too many people's viewpoints. I'm not telling you not to give this a whirl, because it was not bad and you might like it a lot better than I did. But I like other books of Susan's much better, including In All Deep Places and A Window to the World.
Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy
I think I always get on a Maeve kick around this time of year since St. Patrick's Day is coming up. This is her latest. I love Maeve's earlier work. Like I said before, in the olden days like the 80s and 90s, nobody could spin a 600-page Irish yarn like Maeve could. Then Oprah got ahold of her with Tara Road and she's not been the same since. Her last two, Nights of Rain and Stars and Whitethorn Woods were distinctly under par. I had no great hopes for Heart and Soul, but I was pleasantly surprised. It's about Dr. Clara Casey who is appointed director of a brand new cardiac care clinic for one year. It details the stories of Clara, the patients, and the staff of the clinic. It certainly wasn't as good as one of her novels from the old days, but I'd recommend it as a fun, summer beach read. That is, if summer ever comes.
Then I've got...
The Cradle by Patrick Somerville
I took a gamble on this book by first-time author Somerville. In fact, I let it sit in the library bag for awhile and almost took it back unread, but then thought better of it. I'm glad I did. It's about Matt, a young husband and soon-to-be first time father who goes on a wild goose chase around the Midwest to find a cradle that used to belong to his wife when she was growing up because she wants it for their baby. Matt's trip, what he discovers about himself, his wife, and the cradle...well, I really liked it. There's a past secret revealed, but it's not that surprising and I don't think it's supposed to be. Really, it's kind of a lovely book about family and figuring out what's most meaningful to you but it's from a man's point of view so it's less sappy than I'm making it sound.
And lastly, a sort of classic:
Nemesis by Agatha Christie
I've read so many Agatha Christies in my lifetime, I can't even count how many I've read. And I always am wanting to use the quote by Nancy Banks Smith, "Agatha Christie has given more pleasure in bed than any other woman," but it also seems, you know, vaguely inappropriate so then I don't. But Nemesis I don't think I had read; however, I have seen the movie adaptation many, many, many times. In fact lately, I'm not sure why, I've taken to just turning it on at any and all times, so it's sort of on a continuous loop at my house. It's so comforting. And when I ask Elaine sometimes if she wants to watch something with me, she'll say, "Yes. Miss Marple. The one where they push the statue down on that lady." Which is actually moderately alarming now that I'm confessing it to you all, and I probably shouldn't be letting a 4-year-old watch murder mysteries. But they're classics! Murderous classics!
Let me say that I think in some ways, Agatha Christie parallels her beloved Shakespeare in that her stories, as his plays, while excellent reading, are better when performed. Nemesis certainly falls in that category. The book was good, but the movie is far better, and you'll rarely ever hear me make that claim. The story is that Miss Marple is commissioned by an old friend (who dies at the beginning of the book) to solve a mystery for him; however, she doesn't know what the mystery is and she doesn't know when she will have solved it.
I recommend that you watch the movie, but please. Please oh please oh please oh please I beg of you, do not watch the most recent version with Geraldine McEwan. For some reason, Agatha Christie's estate needs to make more money off her, so they've let ITV make these new awful versions where they completely change the stories so that the plot is practically unrecognizable, and the villain always turns out to be a Nazi or a lesbian. Or both.
If you want to see the real version, get the Joan Hickson one. Agatha Christie herself sent Joan a note after seeing her in a play and said, "I hope that one day you will play my Miss Marple." She did, like nobody else. Here's a clip (and a bit of the way through there's a bit from Nemesis)...
Well, there's some more stuff, fortunately more good than awful, so...carry on reading (and watching)!