I have five books completed for the year so far. Here are my reviews. I am determined to write a review of every book I read this year, posting them to LibraryThing and this blog.
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
I have been digging into Daemon Voices, a collection of Philip Pullman’s essays on storytelling. In the essay on The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, he suggested that, while he usually doesn’t explain his books, this particular book required some background. Written for a series called Myths, Pullman created his own version of the story of Jesus by imagining that twins were born on that fateful night. He stuck close to the Gospels but took each event and gave it a little twist. And, in the end, he concluded that “the imaginary figure of Christ was of much greater use to the church than the historical person of Jesus.” The religion that grew around the historical personage is, according to Pullman, of human construction.
I feel like this is a book that should be read like the scripture. One chapter at a time with reflection about how Pullman re-interprets that familiar story. It is worth a read and I can also recommend the essays. I had checked the book of essays out from the library but knew I needed to own a copy. His prose is just thick and wonderful and I want to be able to reread at leisure and browse without feeling like I have to finish it at a pre-determined time.
Laurie R. King
Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King begins with fifteen-year-old Mary Russell stumbling over her neighbor Sherlock Holmes who has retired to the Sussex Downs to take up beekeeping. From that chance meeting between two similarly brilliant minds, the novel unfolds wonderfully, following the friendship as it becomes a partnership. All the familiar Holmes’ characters from Mrs. Hudson to Watson to Mycroft appear as well. I loved this book in so many ways not least of which was the gorgeous, overflowing prose.
For now, it is listed as a stand alone novel on the author’s website but I would love a sequel.
Nightwoods: A Novel
It has been a very long time since I read Cold Mountain but remember Frazier’s prose, the way that natural world played its role in his story. And, I remember having a pretty knock down drag out argument over the ending.
I think the ending of Nightwoods is a little more definitive but Frazier isn’t one for making it completely clear. What he does do well is spin a tale full of suspense and fear and past violence coming full force into the presence. He reveals details on his own timeline, just at the moment when they will, he knows, hit you the hardest, wrapped up as you are in the story.
Luce lives as a hermit in the old Lodge on the lake, seemingly contented with the “reimbursements” she receives for her life of solitude. These are mostly a deep connection with and gratitude towards the natural world. But she opens that solitary life to her niece and nephew after her sister dies. The children have been deeply wounded but Luce, with her patience and lack of expectations, works with them gently. Eventually, the world finds them and Frazier’s tale spins fast and sometimes shockingly towards its end.
Among Flowers: A Walk Among the Himalaya
I am sorry I didn’t like this book more. I found the prose choppy and as the story moved along, also too inward focused. I wanted more travel and flowers and less Kincaid. Finding that balance in this kind of book (and recipe blog posts on the Internet) is a challenge, I think. The opening chapter, as she prepares for this journey, includes observations about leaving Vermont and how she knew that world would never be the same. She drew me in with these moments of clarity.
But the journey ends before she comes home and only in the last paragraph or so do we get any larger lessons. Ultimately, while her view of Vermont may have changed, she didn’t seem to record any real change in herself. She admitted to whining and swings from appreciation of the sherpas to annoyance when they don’t seem to be meeting her every need. (At some point, I think she does recognize that they are basically keeping her group alive on this adventure.) There is honesty in the account: she could have left out her annoyance and whining, I suppose.
I am toying with a rating scale as I have benchmarks for five-star books having read at least two so far this year. I think, for me, this was a 3.5. As a gardener, the idea of seed gathering in the Himalaya was of interest and her observations about making gardens resonated with me but the author herself got in the way.
One Good Deed
It is 1949, and Aloysius Archer has just been released after a wrongful prison sentence and bussed to Poca City where he is determined to get a clean start. Despite those plans, he quickly gets pulled into a murder mystery. Baldacci’s novel has all the elements of a classic crime novel, with gritty realism and snappy dialog. Archer is a compelling character who discovers his army scout training can come in handy when you are the prime suspect in a murder. I am hoping it might be the beginning of a series but for now, it is listed as a stand alone novel on Baldacci’s website.