Monday, August 16, 2010

August Reads I


A week of extreme heat and humidity and two quick reading books brought my first part of August reads total to six books.
The month began with yet another spell binding murder mystery by Minette Walters. "The Breaker" is her sixth book.
On the coast of Dorset County in Southwestern England the body of a young woman lays on a pebble beach below the shale escarpment of a high cliff. At first it is assumed she is an accident victim, falling to her death or a suicide - jumping from the top of the cliff. But why is she naked?
When it is established that she drowned and washed up on the narrow beach, the question is whether she fell from a passing yacht or was deliberately cast into the waters of the English Channel. But first she has to be identified.
Once again Walters peoples her novel with likely suspects and gives each one a plausible motive. Until the very end, the reader does not know the identity of the murderer. She also portrays her cast of supporting characters so clearly we feel we know them.
Several years ago I gave my son, Doug, Leif Enger's amazing debut novel, "Peace Like A River". He returned the favor by suggesting I read Enger's "So Brave, Young and Handsome". In 1915 Minnesota, novelist Monte Becket struggles to repeat the success of his first book. After many false starts and discards of plots and characters, he is about to admit he was a 'one book wonder' and go back to his former job.
His wife and son still have faith in him, however, and keep encouraging him. As he contemplates yet another character while standing on his dock on the Cannon River, a silent, white-haired man rows up river. He is rowing standing up. He won't stop to talk. As he disappears into the mist, Becket can hear him chuckling.
This book has everything - outlaws, river adventures, train rides, car chases cross country on dirt roads, even an elephant. Enger is a joy to read. His prose is beautiful. His characters, human. I loved imagining what it would have been like to make a trip across country at a time when the roads were merely trails, automobiles were a new invention and you had to be your own mechanic.
Emilie Richards is an author I have enjoyed for her Shenandoah Valley quilt book series. I picked up her "Happiness Key" last month - the first new book I had purchased in quite awhile. "Happiness Key" appears to be the first book of a new series set in Florida. It tells the stories of four women who have nothing in common except for living in some ramshackle beach cottages. This book examines their lives and their strengthening bonds as friends. "Fortunate Harbor", the next book in the series will continue their story plus introduce a fifth woman. Richards is a former family counselor. She does a good job of exploring social issues and giving depth to her characterizations. A good summer read.
Ivan Doig has long been a favourite author of mine. I believe I have read most of his novels: "This House of Sky", "The Sea Runners" , "English Creek" and "Dancing at the Rascal Fair". When I spotted his slim (156 pages) "Heart Earth - A Memoir" I knew it was coming home with me.
Doig's mother died on his sixth birthday. He was raised by his father and his maternal grandmother. His knowledge of his mother were his own vague memories and the stories he heard from relatives. When his mother's younger brother dies and leaves Doig all the letters she wrote to Doig's Uncle Wally during WWII, Doig is given a new look at his own early life.
If you haven't read Doig, I highly recommend him. A sample - the last line of this memoir: "As I put words to pages, I voyage on her ink."
Jacqueline Winspear - a new author for me. Originally from the United Kingdom, she now lives in California. She has one several awards including the Agatha. "The Mapping of Love and Death" is her fifth 'Maisie Dobbs' novel.
In 1932 London, investigator Maisie Dobbs is hired by the parents of a WWI cartographer, killed during the war, to find the nurse whose love letters were among his belongings found when his body was recently unearthed in France.
When the elderly parents are attacked and left for dead, when Maisie is knocked down, her documents case stolen and her attacker later found murdered, we know someone doesn't want that nurse found. But who? and why?
The library does have two more books in the Maisie Dobbs series and one book on tape. I enjoy period pieces and this was a good mystery. I'll probably follow Ms. Dobbs a bit further.
Some of the blurbs on the Minette Walters books say things like: "In the grand tradition of Ruth Rendell" or "Another Ruth Rendell". I decided I'd best see just who this Ruth Rendell is and how she writes. The library has thirty-five of her books. I chose one of her stand alone ones: "Adam and Eve and Pinch Me".
Rendell is an award winning author: three Edgars and many Crime Writers' Association 'Daggers'. This novel was interesting, but I prefer Walters' writing. Rendell has a series with Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford as her ongoing protagonist. I may try one of those to see how I like them as well as something she wrote under the name Barbara Vine--but it will be after I've read all my Minette Walters' books.

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