Wednesday, December 15, 2010

December Reads I

I was almost finished reading The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood when I commented to Bud about how good the book was and that I thought it would make a good movie.
He said, "What was the name of it?" And when I told him, he replied, "I think it has been made into a movie." Upon checking the TV movie guide we found that the movie was on pay per view that very day!
It seemed like an omen to me. So we decided to watch it. You know that old saying about a movie never being as good as the book? True. True. True. It might be okay to watch a movie based upon a book, just don't do it the same day you finish reading the book. It ruins both.
The book tells the story of two brothers. Both are killed in a car wreck, but the eldest, Charlie, is shocked back to life by one of the paramedics. At Sam's (younger brother) funeral, Charlie realizes he can see Sam. When he follows him into the nearby woods, he discovers he can also talk to Sam.
Rather than go to college as planned, Charlie takes the job as cemetery caretaker. He has promised to meet Sam each night at sundown to play catch with him. As long as he doesn't miss a night, Sam will stay visible.
Meeting Tess Carroll, a woman training for a solo sailing trip around the world, changes Charlie's life. She is the only other person ever able to see and hear Sam. When her ship is lost in a treacherous storm, Charlie has to choose between death and life, between the past and the future, between letting go and holding on.
Forget the movie (Charlie St. Cloud). Read the book.

Alexander McCall Smith's seventh Isabel Dalhousie novel, The Charming Quirks of Others, is, well, charming. Smith has to be one of the most intelligent authors around. He poses, rather Isabel poses, so many interesting philosophical questions. Smith takes us on all the twists and turns of Isabel's mind as she ponders the correct response or action to every situation.
So many people love Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Series which I really don't care for. But I do love Isabel Dalhousie.

I skipped over a whole bunch of Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford books to read a newer one in the series. (She's been writing them since the '70s.) The Babes in the Wood was published in 2003. I know there was a lot of character development in those interim books, but it did not seem to affect my enjoyment of this mystery.
Chief Inspector Wexford is more worried about the widespread flooding in the Sussex area than he is about the report of a missing babysitter and her two teenage charges. The baby sitter's car is also gone and at first it is assumed they were swept away in the flooding Kingsbrook River. At last the rains quit falling and the river recedes. No car, nor bodies, are found. Delving into the backgrounds of the missing and their families leads to more questions than answers.
Eventually the car, with one body inside, is located in a quarry on private land. The corpse is that of the babysitter. Where are the missing brother and sister? Who killed the babysitter? Rendell points us in the direction of the teenage boy. With this author, you don't want to believe you know the guilty until the final page. And even then, you wonder......

Susan Gregg Gilmore is another new author (along with Sherwood) for me. The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove is set in the turbulent 1960's in Nashville. Relationships are complicated where society remains neatly ordered by class, status and skin color. Bezellia Grove has a lot to live up to. As a Grove, she belongs to one of the city's most prominent families. As the first daughter, she is burdened with carrying on a name which has been passed down for generations - Bezellia.
She may have been born into a life of privilege, but growing up is anything but easy. For as long as she can remember, she and her sister have been mostly raised by their nanny, Maizelle, and Nathaniel, the handyman/chauffeur.
Bezellia falls in love with Nathaniel's son, Samuel, the first time she meets him. In a time and place where rebelling against the rules carries a steep price, Bezellia Grove must decide which of her names will define her.
This book reminded me of what it was like in our country fifty years ago when a black man was not even supposed to talk to a white woman. I felt the author did a wonderful job of portraying a family in turmoil and a culture in the midst of upheaval. The way she ended her novel surprised me, but I liked it. Food for thought.

Dorthea Benton Frank's Lowcountry stories are entertaining - perhaps a bit too pat - but enjoyable nevertheless. Reading her first novel, Sullivan's Island, made me want to visit the real Sullivan's Island, South Carolina. Reading Plantation, a Lowcountry Tale, made me even more interested in seeing the ACE Basin for myself. I seem to be reading a lot of books set in that area. There must be a reason.....

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