Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Best served cold...

Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris

Joanne Harris' website has the following quote describing this book:

"The place is St Oswald's, an old and long-established boys' grammar school in the north of England. A new year has just begun, and for the staff and boys of the School, a wind of unwelcome change is blowing. Suits, paperwork and Information Technology rule the world; and Roy Straitley, Latin master, eccentric, and veteran of St Oswald's, is finally – reluctantly – contemplating retirement. But beneath the little rivalries, petty disputes and everyday crises of the School, a darker undercurrent stirs. And a bitter grudge, hidden and carefully nurtured for fifteen years, is about to erupt.

"Who is "Mole," the mysterious insider, whose cruel practical jokes are gradually escalating …? And how can an old and half-forgotten scandal become the stone that brings down a giant?"

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Last Squeeze is the Sweetest

Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris

This is the story of Framboise - no, not a bottle of raspberry liqueur (thank heavens), but rather a woman by that name from a farm on the river Loire in the French village of Les Laveuses. This is partially the story of Framboise's troubled childhood with her brother (named Casis), sister (Reine-Claude) and especially her unwell and widowed mother (who was, of course, an amazing cook) during WWII and Nazi occupied France. It is also the story of her no less troubling old age - accounted from the time she returns to the village in her 'retirement', in order to open a creperie. She tries to avoid painfully dredging up her past by using a different name. However, mysteries and provincial villages never mix. This is especially true when a curious stranger serves delicious food (despite her not seeming terribly strange). They are bound to sniff out her secrets and inhale them deeply, much as the pungent release of the scent from an orange that has just had a thumb pressed into is juicy flesh.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Wine Tells All

Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris

Jay Mackintosh is a writer whose first hit novel "Jackapple Joe" revolved around a man he met as a boy in the late 70s in Pog Hill an ex-mining town in England. It's now 1999, however, and he hasn't written anything serious since - only junk novels under an assumed name. Suddenly, inspiration catches him and he impulsively buys a house in some no-where town in France, determined to get back his muse.

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Plot on a Plot of Land

Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck

When it comes to historical fiction, the years before, during and after World War II have become some of the most popular to write about, mostly because of the opportunity they give the writer to evoke strong emotions in their readers. Yet, with all the drama that this era affords, far too often these books seem to meld into one another. How many times can we read about going off to war, the broken who returned or even the enormous scope of the many horrors of the war itself?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Other Side of a Journey

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

Readers of Joyce's debut novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry will know Queenie Hennessy, or at least know of her. She is the woman Harold Fry worked with, who is dying of cancer. When Harold Fry gets the letter telling him of this, he decides to walk the length of England to see her one last time. In this novel, as Queenie awaits his arrival (along with many of the other patients in the hospice), it's time to tell her story.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Distinguished Thing

Curtain Call by Anthony Quinn

London, the summer of 1936, and things seemed to be changing at an alarming rate - not always for the better. One of the less pleasant things happening was the discovery of two women, strangled by the murderer they called the "Tie-Pin Killer" due to his gruesome skewering of their tongues. When the up-and-coming actress Nina Land accidentally foils a third attempt, allowing for the escape of his intended victim while getting a look at his face, London suddenly becomes a very dangerous place for these two women.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Fictional blogging for her life

Undiscovered Gyrl by Allison Burnett

Authors have always been told, "Write what you know," but as far as I can tell, this is a rule that Mr. Burnett has shunned totally. Had it resulted in an unsuccessful novel, would have been understandable, but amazingly, it doesn't. How a 50-something male author can get so much into the head of a teenage girl is totally beyond me. What's more, as far as I know, he has no teen-aged daughters of his own to draw upon either. Even if he did, I would certainly pray that he couldn't possibly have used that personal experience as a model for his protagonist – Katie – who is in such a mess, it is a wonder that she can even get out of bed in the morning. Instead, Burnett seems to have gotten a whole lot right here, and in his novel “Undiscovered Gyrl,” Katie is frighteningly realistic.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Home for Ties that Bind

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler's 20th novel is all about the Whitshank family, starting with Abby and Red. They live in the home that Red's father built on Bouton Road in Baltimore. Here, they raised their four children. Well, actually, only three of them are theirs. They informally adopted Douglas, the boy they call Stem. Now they're all grown up. Stem, Amanda and Jeannie are married with children of their own. Denny was married as well and has a daughter, but no one is sure if the girl is biologically his, and he's not living with her mother anymore. However, there is more, and to understand this family fully, looking at them today isn't enough. For that, you need to go back, at least three generations.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Great Book for Your House

Great House by Nicole Krauss

This novel is all about a desk, or rather about all the various people who have possessed this particular, very special and imposing piece of furniture. In fact, it practically had a life of its own. From the library of a Jew in Hungary during the Nazi occupation or in the hands of a Chilean poet caught up in Pinochet's reign of terror. From the bright living room of a writer in New York, or in a dark London attic of a woman with an even darker secret, or closed up in Jerusalem as a relic of the past. In all its incarnations, this novel investigates the effect this desk has on each of the people who have used it or lived with it, through a mosaic of stories.