Thursday, February 5, 2015

Feb. 5: Our Fifth Snow Day!

This winter has been amazing, and the snow just keeps coming. So far, we've made up two days and then used four more, so we're going a full week in mid-June and two Saturdays in the spring. Ah well--nothing we can do about it except shovel and read!

Snobbery With ViolenceSnobbery With Violence by Marion Chesney
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One of the recommendations from a FB link, "If you like Downton Abbey, try these books," Snobbery with Violence was poorly written but entertaining nonetheless. Chesney, who also writes as M.C. Beaton, crammed way too much into too few pages, ending up with a bewildering panoply of characters who were thinly developed. The focus was dizzying, swooping from one paragraph that zeroed in on the deep personal secrets of one minor character to cover a day or a week of action in a few lines. "Tell, don't show," becomes Chesney's motto--the whole piece feels rushed, as if she was trying to crank out the story without truly developing its structure. Still, somehow, the character of Daisy the maid and the few glimpses of historical facts about the upper classes views of the middle and lower class make the novel a 2 star read rather than a 1.

*If you're craving a good and somewhat similar historical novel, try Katherine McMahon's The Crimson Rooms (my next review). It's excellent!*

The Crimson RoomsThe Crimson Rooms by Katharine McMahon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes, when I start reading a book, I know instantly that I'm in the hands of a skilled story-teller. Characterization, narration, word-choice, pacing--everything just flows together, creating a world that closes around me. McMahon's The Crimson Rooms is a perfect example of that experience. I got the title from the FB article "Books to read if you like Downton Abbey," and I inter-library-loaned a few on one of our many snow days. . . Several of them were weak outings (lookin' at you, Snobbery with Violence and Withering Heights), but The Crimson Rooms is an excellent novel, combining strong characterization, fascinating historical detail, an interesting whodunnit aspect, and a strong plot. I read it in about three days, deliberately working not to sprint through it just to find out how it ended, and my book hangover when it ended was intense! Luckily, McMahon has just published a sequel, only available in England at this point, but I think I'll indulge myself with a little Book Depository treat for Valentine's Day.

This is a terrific book!

Withering Heights (Ellie Haskell Mystery, #12)Withering Heights by Dorothy Cannell
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Abandoned this one pretty fast: too dumb to endure. An adult woman who acts like a moron is something I can't accept, unless I've already gotten hooked, as is the case with the Diane Mott Davidson series. Dorothy Cannell's nitwit lacks Goldy's recipes, so I put her down pretty fast.

The Husband List (Culhane Family #2)The Husband List by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Another abandoned book, but I pretty much expected that. Given our endless snow this year, I've been reading a lot, and I was roaming my beloved public library (Ellsworth Public Library! Three cheers!)'s shelves when I spied this offering from Evanovich. Somehow, her Stephanie Plum novels work (tho less effectively as the numbers go on) but I have found her non-Stephanie books to be pretty fatuous, and I especially remember reading one that she co-wrote with Dorien Kelly and finding it unbearably dumb. . . . so for some reason (call it cabin fever?), I thought I'd give this one a shot.

Suffice it to say that Evanovich should probably *not* try to do historical fiction. I'm not stickler for complete historical accuracy, but why set a novel at a particular time period and then ignore nearly everything about that society's rules, expectations, attitudes? Stir in a tedious plot and you've got yourself one star.

Delicious!Delicious! by Ruth Reichl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Found this during a random wandering session in my beloved library's shelves, and since I've enjoyed other Ruth Reichl non-fiction, I thought I'd give this a shot, and ended up enjoying it a lot. It's obviously based on the demise of Gourmet, and I had the feeling throughout that if I knew more about Gourment's staff and setup I might've seen it as a "roman a clef" (I think?) or a poison pen novel, but as it was, it provided several slices of lives very different from my snowbound Maine teacher/mom experience. Pleasant and interesting (also mouthwatering!), the book strained to hold all the plot-lines together at the end, and the love story aspect was the weakest aspect. However, foodies and Reichl fans, as well as Gourmet experts, should enjoy it.

Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of GraceSmall Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

=Sigh.= When I hear "Anne Lamott's new book," I, perhaps naively, expect that her book will actually be *new work,* so I rush out and buy it for my best friend and also a copy in hardback for myself. Imagine my naive surprise when I read this book ($22.95 worth of new book) and find about 75% of it to be RECYCLED BOOK: essays I have read in her OTHER books (which I also rushed out to buy, often in hard back)!!!!

I really enjoy Anne Lamott--I see her as one of the ways that "God is still speaking" in our modern times, to use the UCC slogan. She has gotten me through some tough times and has provided me with words, jokes, and perspective that I value deeply. Some of her new essays in this collection are, I am sure, excellent, and some of her old ones that have been reprinted here are among my favorites. However, when I think of this collection, my overwhelming sense is that I've been ripped off, manipulated into spending my hard-earned teacher-money for words I've already spent my hard earned teacher money on before.

And that makes me sad, and more than a little bit angry.

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