February was a slightly above average reading month - ten books read: one rated 5; two 4.5's; two 4's; two 3.5's; one each 2.5, 2 and 1.5.
Lila is Marilynne Robinson's latest of her 'Gilead' books and my 5 book this month. It is the story of how Lila came to Gilead and became the wife of Pastor John Ames. How this young woman survived her feral life on the fringes of society made me contemplate what it would be like to grow up without family or education. A beautifully written book, it sent me back to the library for Ms. Robinson's previous two 'Gilead' books.
Gilead, which won the Pulitzer for Robinson in 2005, was my least favorite of these three books. I resisted reading it when everyone else was because of its religious aspect. Perhaps I was meant to read all three of these books at the same time. I gave this one a 4.
Home had been recommended to me by a friend after it won the Orange Prize in 2009. Again, I didn't care to read a 'religious' book, even though I have almost always liked the books this friend recommends. And, again, I believe I was meant to read all three of Robinson's books at the same time. I gave Home a 4.5. I found myself thinking about my nephew, Mike, as I read about Jack's tortured inner despair. This book gave me some solace surrounding Mike's life and death. I can see myself re-reading all three of these books. I think there's much more to them than I gleaned in a first reading.
Alan Bradley is one of my 'adopted' authors at our library. That means they order the book, I pay for it and I get to read it first! I have adored the Flavia de Luce Mysteries from the very first one. I gave As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, #7 in the series, a 4.5. Flavia is banished to Canada to the same boarding school her mother once attended. Of course there are mean girls, missing girls, terrifying teachers and duplicitous head mistresses, oh yes, and the body in the chimney. Who it is, how it got there and who put it there is a mystery for Flavia to solve - which she does brilliantly - before being sent back to England - banished once more.
I may as well confess, I am in love with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. But I also love his wife, Reine-Marie, so maybe it's okay. Louise Penny's fourth book in this series finds the Gamache's celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary at a remote resort. Other guests include a fractious family holding an annual reunion. When one of those quarrelsome family members ends up dead, Inspector Gamache's vacation is sidelined as he investigates what appeared to be a tragic accident but what can only be a murder.
I did not care for this book as much as many of her others, but it still rates a 4. It was one of the two books in the series I had not yet read. Thanks to my NYC son, I have now read all of Penny's books and can eagerly await her next one (which doesn't come out until August).
My two 3.5 ratings go to Lauren Oliver's Rooms and Jo-Ann Mapson's Solomon's Oak. Rooms was better than I thought it was going to be considering the premise: Man dies, alienated family members (ex-wife, two children and granddaughter) come back to clear out the house - which is inhabited by at least two ghosts. Their stories, as well as the family member's are told, which, as I said, was much better than I thought it would be.
I am becoming a Jo-Ann Mapson fan. Solomon's Oak is a lovely story about a young widow struggling to make a living after her husband's death. She begins hosting weddings on her Central California farm. She fosters a very troubled teen aged girl. (She and her husband had fostered only boys in the past.) Mapson's books stand alone, but the characters appear in other books which make for some interesting reading. I'm looking forward to reading more about the disabled ex-cop who makes an appearance in this book.
Ghosts seem to have been a theme for me this month: Nora Bonesteel is a wise old woman with the sight. I have loved this character from the time I read Sharyn McCrumb's first Ballad book, If Ever I Return Pretty Peggy-O. I gave McCrumb's Nora Bonesteel's Christmas Past (A Ballad Novella) a 2.5 but only because of its brevity.
Ghost Wanted by Carolyn Hart is apparently the second book in the Bailey Ruth Ghost Novel series. Bailey Ruth as a ghost goes back to earth from Heaven to help solve mysteries. She is invisible but has the ability to materialize and when she does, she is always sartorially splendid. I tired of reading about her perfect outfits and found it hard to buy into the 'ghost solves mysteries' premise. I gave Ghost Wanted a 2.0.
I started to rate An Italian Wife by Ann Hood a 2 also, but decided to drop it to 1.5. Looking back I see that I gave this author a 3 for The Obituary Writer. An Italian Wife started out with promise - a young woman in Italy is married off by her family to an older man three days before he leaves to make his fortune in America. It is eleven years before he saves enough money to send for her.
I'm sure many old world unions began this way, possibly even for some of my ancestors, which is why I thought the book would be good as it does cover four generations. Unfortunately, even though the book is about this Italian Wife, her daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters, it is almost exclusively about their sexual lives. Very disappointing compared to what it could have been if the author had just given us more about these women's lives than the one aspect.
My February reads included one I took back unread: "This is the Story of a Happy Marriage". I like Ann Patchett's novels, but I did not care to read her essays about her life.