Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Picks and Pans off the Summer Bookshelf

So what are we reading besides the blog? :-) No, I’m not going to go into the anniversary of 9-11—there’ll be more than enough of that on other channels to keep you busy, if that’s the way you want to spend some time. But for our purposes this morning, it’s time to catch up on the reading we’ve been doing, or trying to do, of late. Tried to read: The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield. This story starts out promisingly enough, even charmingly, in that quirky sort of way that ‘literary fiction’ likes to call its own. (Whether or not this is considered ‘literary’ is immaterial. If it quacks like a duck…) But then, the endless story of the wild twins and their nonsense goes on, and on, and on, and…I finally said, “Enough, already” to these amoral, maladjusted people and their exploits. Frankly, the 157 or so repetitions of how “special” and “unique” and “remarkable” they were for simply being born unconscious of anyone else’s importance or value in the world (which means—hello?—they were mentally ill!) had exactly the opposite effect: it didn’t make me sympathetic or even fascinated by them as much as it merely made me irritated with everyone around them who enabled them. At that point I knew it was time to climb out of the byzantine, self-indulgent litany and put the book back on the shelf. I understand this is presented as a long, complex, layered story, and I only went halfway through it. However, at the halfway point, I was increasingly getting that sinking feeling one gets when a “highly touted” book is 105 pages’ worth of story told in 400. (“Boys and girls, can you spell ‘overwritten’?”) Those of you who have finished this thing may have a totally different picture of it, but I’ve learned over and over again that when I ignore that sinking feeling, the book ends up hitting the wall anyway. So I saved my arm, the book, and the wall the trouble and put it back into the library. (I was just glad I hadn’t bought it.) Tried to read: Widows and Orphans, Susan Meissner. This really sounded promising, to the point where I did buy it through the book club. I love mysteries, I love suspense, and this was presented as having both…so I dove right in, despite seeing pictures of Asian characters on the cover and thinking, “Oh, no, not something about Chinese adoption…!” Please understand, I have nothing inherently against that kind of story (or the character types involved). But had it been hinted in the book’s presentation that there was a foreign element involved, or that someone had to go halfway across the world to start the plot, I may have passed—only because that’s not first on my list of the kind of story I like to read. And had it been hinted that the heroine, whom one meets first, is less concerned about other people than she is about her own inconvenience…well, suffice to say I felt nothing after the first chapter. I wanted to feel something positive for these characters. I didn’t. In fact, in short order, I got fed up with the heroine, who wavered so close to whining in Chapter One that I didn’t want to spend any more time with her and wait for her to go into full-blown self-indulgence. (Notice a pattern here?) If the reader grits her teeth during the first chapter, for that reader, the writer has failed. ‘Nuff said. Tried to read: Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, Fannie Flagg. This, once again, sounded charming. I’d never read Fannie Flagg, who sells and sells and sells, so I thought I’d give this one a try. And for a good ways into the book, it’s a cute piece. Lots of humor, lots of down-to-earth characters, absorbing and pretty true to life. And then, the character gets to “heaven”—where she’s only stopping temporarily, mind you—and the thing goes into utter touchy-feely counter-religious “unitarian” nonsense. I won’t spoil the “surprise” for those of you who may want to wade through this—but just be forewarned, the “people you meet in heaven” in this book are liable to make your blood boil. Think George Burns in Oh, God!, only taken to a sacrilegious extreme for the sake of “humor,” and you’ll get the idea. That blatant disrespect for faith, in a book that could have taken a lighter hand, made it impossible for me to read on. I wanted to, but I’ve gotten to the point in my life where when or if an author insults my faith, however innocently it’s “intended,” I get too irritated to want to finish the story. In that respect, yanno, the author has failed…in that, unfortunately, she’s reminded me it’s only a book, and a book in which she’s taking a perverse and screwed-up doctrinal stand. (Call it preaching in reverse, I guess.) Once again, I was glad it was a library book! Lest you completely despair that I liked anything over the past few weeks, however, here are a couple of picks: THE ELEVATOR, Angela Hunt. Three women trapped in an elevator, in the path of an approaching hurricane, soon learn they’re bonded in ways none of them expects. Gritty and compelling, so much so I read it in 24 hours. (Ah, the joy of a weekend with a new book!) The few details about setting that I found confusing and/or unresolved don’t hurt the story overall; it’s a keeper. THE HAUNTED RECTORY, Katherine Valentine. Katherine Valentine is a successful author of the Dorsetville books, which seem to be an attempt at being the Catholic answer to Jan Karon’s Mitford series; I say “seem to be” because I never got into Dorsetville. I tried. I read a few pages into one of the books, stifled a yawn, and put it back. People think “nothing happens” in the Mitford books, that all they are is a presentation of small-town life, so if you just start turning the lens around the street of a small town, it’s automatically fascinating…but suffice to say they’ve got it wrong, and IMHO Valentine’s got it wrong with Dorsetville. But this one? A whole ‘nuther story, literally. Pick this one up for more than the cute play on words involved in the “St. Francis Xavier Hookers” (a group of women who hook rugs, of course!). Pick this one up for a chilling, realistic, and yet hopeful portrayal of Satanic power, of possession, and of all-too-realistic people struggling against the depths of darkness. You may not want to read this one more than once—it’s that kind of book, if you know what I mean—but you’ll probably want to pass it on to others. If I’m advising Katherine, I’m telling her to stick with the St. Francis Xavier hookers for a few more books. They’re great ladies, and Fr. Rich Melo is one of those wonderful things—a true Catholic priest, a man who struggles to believe but who nevertheless, when the chips are down, acts faithfully and consistently as the kind of priest we’d all like to know. The author’s hit a stride here that she’d be well advised to keep on with! More to come—I read way more than I seem to be able to write about, unless I put my mind to mini-reviews as part of this blog. But since I don’t really want to become a book reviewer by trade, I’d love to see you all chime in as well. What are you trying to read? What did you set aside? What’s the latest wall-banger, or what’s got you staying up past your bedtime? Inquiring minds want to know, and fall is prime getting-back-into-the-TBR pile for many of us. Share your finds with the world! Thoughts? Janny


Donna Alice said...

I too read The Haunted Rectory, thinking it might be another Miracle for St. Cecilia's. Was I wrong! Not that I didn't LIKE the book--in fact, I can't wait for the next one in the series. But I kept waiting for it to be all a bit Nancy Drewish at the end and resolve in the old--"aunt so and so wearing a sheet" trick. That the demonic elements were REAL really threw me for a loop.

Somehow I seem to be in a "literary" rut these past few years. I read tons of children's and YA books--some good, some bad, some truly awful. When I'm not, I LOVE mysteries and suspense (although I prefer they NOT be Christian.) There's something rather unholy about a mystery where nothing BAD and HORRIBLE and nobody gets murdered happens.

I did find myself rather surprised to read the Betsy series (and I'm sorry, I can't remember the author!) It's about a female priest in the Episcopal church and is too funny for words! Even though I don't agree with women priests, I find myself rooting for Betsy. (Wonder if that's something I need to tell in Confession?)

My latest find in the Christian world was a trilogy about Grace Chapel Bed and Breakfast by Melody Carlson. I like Melody's books. Unlike some CW, she doesn't mind having Christians do awful, bad, real naughty stuff. The first book was HIDDEN HISTORY. Bits of it were stilted but I took that to be the way the characters learned to speak the King's English. Even though I thought, 'ho hum--I wont' be finishing this"---I LOVED the book to the point of wanting to read the rest.

Now, if someone could just write a good, interesting book about the saint's. I'm reading one now by a celebrated author and it's a yawner.

Deb said...

You want good, interesting books about the saints? How about just one? (mwahh-hahh-hahh)

After I finish my medieval time-travel, I want to write a biographical fiction piece about Julian of Norwich. How's that for biting off a big piece to chew? Soon now, my loves. Possibly next year if the time travel wraps itself up by November, which is my goal.

What I've read/tried to read?

Read: BRAT by Lindsay Sands. Man, I wanted to like this book. It purports to tell the story of a spoiled young woman in King Edward III's court. Right up my alley, you say? An experience, multi-pubbed author, so it must be good, you say?

Not so. I'll give it a C+ simply because I did not wallbang it but kept hoping & waiting for it to get good. It didn't. As far as the medieval flavor I love, you could've set this book in 1870s Texas, changed a word or two, and it would've read the same. I HATE that! Give my my medieval, or Texas, or futuristic flavor, uncut and unadulterated!

Tried to read: BAD IDEA. T & J Hafer brand this as "a novel, with coyotes." It's actually a teenager whine, with coyotes. If I want to hear a teenager whine, all I need do is open my ears after school each day. Got four pages into this one, and it didn't do the job. My recommendation? Pass.

Reading now: THE HARLOT'S DAUGHTER by Blythe Gifford. It's not out 'til October, I'm reading it early for review. So far, it rocks. When it comes out, look for it. It's by Harlequin, but her previous novel was true to its medieval Christian roots, and she didn't pull any punches just because it's an ABA publisher.

That's the report from here at Casa Chaos.