Sunday, October 31, 2010

October Reads II

Of the eight books I read the last half of this month, the one that affected me the most was the one I read last: Night Birds by Thomas Maltman. The two main reasons I found it so compelling were because it is fiction based on true happenings and because I learned of those happenings at a young, impressionable age.
Just as I wondered a couple days ago about the differences between what I learned in grade school and what kids today are learning, I wonder if Iowa students are still learning about the Spirit Lake Massacre of 1857? As horrible as it was, I was interested in learning more about it. That was why I read MacKinley Kantor's book, Spirit Lake, when it was published in the early '60's.
Maltman's book, Night Birds, is his first novel. It is set in the 1860's and '70's. The main focus is the Dakota War of 1862 when more than 400 settlers in south central Minnesota were killed by Sioux and Dakota warriors led by Little Crow.
The book begins: "I grew up in the shadow of the Great Sioux War which started here in Minnesota in 1862. Born four months after thirty-eight Dakota warriors were hanged en masse in Mankato the day after Christmas, I was named for an uncle, Asa, killed during the conflict." Part of the book is told by Asa, and part is related through the life of his aunt Hazel from the time she is a young girl in Missouri witness to the clashes between slave owners and abolitionists to her relationships with her Dakota neighbors near New Ulm, MN. Maltman explores German folklore, Dakota mysticism and pioneer spirituality in this moving tale of a local conflict overshadowed by the larger Civil War taking place at the same time.
Two more of Ruth Rendell's "Inspector Wexford" mysteries were among my eight reads: Murder Being Once Done and Some Lie and Some Die. Her writing is growing on me. I'm going to follow Wexford in the order of the novels available through my local library, as well as reading all Rendell's stand alone books Gibson Memorial has on its shelves.
Much as I like the new Inspector Lewis episodes on PBS's Masterpiece Mystery, I still miss good old Inspector Morse which is why I read two of Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse mysteries: The Riddle of the Third Mile and Morse's Greatest Mystery which is a collection of short stories. Good old Inspector E. Morris is hard to beat.
I read Cecelia Ahern's P.S. I Love You by accident about the same time it was being made into a movie. (I left home without a book to read and bought it so I wouldn't be book less on a car trip.) I liked it well enough to read Ahern's other books including this month's Thanks For The Memories. The book's premise is like the idea of a heart transplant recipient experiencing some of the donor's mannerisms, likes and dislikes. Except in this book, the recipient doesn't receive a heart, she receives a blood transfusion and begins seeing people through his eyes as well as being able to speak Italian and French just because the donor can.
It is a cute romance, set in Dublin (one of my favourite locales), England and Chicago. Ahern is the daughter of former Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern. She wrote her first novel at age 21. In addition to being an author, Ahern also co-produced the TV series, "Samantha Who?"
Anne Perry's fifth William Monk book, The Sins of the Wolf, finds Nurse Hester Latterly accused of murdering her patient, a wealthy Edinburgh matriarch. When the woman's expensive brooch is found in the nurse's luggage, it becomes the motive for murder. Detective Monk and Hester's friend, Barrister Oliver Rathbone, know she has been set up by the real killer, but how do they discover who that is in time to save Hester's life?
I have become a big fan of these Victorian mysteries. They are smartly written. I enjoy reading about the time period. Perry is almost as talented as my current favourite mystery writer, Minette Walters, in keeping her perpetrators hidden until the final pages.
Last of the eight is another first book, One Heart, by Jane McCafferty. It is the story of two sisters, Ivy and Gladys, who have depended upon each other during a shared lifetime. Now in their 40's, they are working as cooks at a school and summer camp in upstate New York. Ivy is cheerful while Gladys is sullen. The children like Ivy; they are frightened by Gladys.
As close as they are, the two sisters really don't know or understand one another. Nor do they always like each other. The book is one of family, friendship, forgiveness and redemption. I could not read it without wondering what my relationship with my sister would be like at this time in our lives had she lived.

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