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New Books and Old Books

December 27, 2007

New books first!  Talking to my grandmother, she informed me that the Visa giftcard she sent me is in lieu of a bookcard, since there aren’t any B&N or Borders near where she lives.  It’s a big giftcard, so I’m planning on taking most of it to my The Grand Tourfavourite used bookstore downtown.  However, I needed to spend $12 at Amazon today to get free shipping (long story).  So, I browsed the bargain books and found a great deal…for $8 I got three boxed Penelope Fitzgerald novels: The Bookshop, Offshore, and The Blue Flower.  I’ve never read Fitzgerald before, but I’ve heard good things, and I can’t resist a title like The Bookshop!  Then, I wandered over to the children’s section and picked up The Grand Tour by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia Wede.  You might recall my love of Sorcery and Cecilia, which I read earlier this year.  My library has that and the third one, but not the second.  Only one solution to that!

 Now for old books!  Since I’m trying to get all of my reviews out of the way, I’m going to briefly mention some recent reads.  There isn’t really a unifying theme, however.  This is going to make the post pretty long, so in case you want to skip ahead, lower I talk about The Italian Secretary, The Virgin in the Garden, and The House on the Strand.

The Little Country was my second Charles de Lint experience.  This is a delightful stand-alone novel that, while it might be called urban fantasy, is really about the relationships and communication between people, and how easily they can be messed up.  There are two storylines, the second of which is a book within a book called The Little Country.  But this isn’t just any book; this is a one-edition magical book that changes depending on who’s reading it.  We, the real-life readers, getThe Little Country to read the version read by Janey Little, a musician living in Cornwall.  The book belonged to her grandfather’s best friend, who we discover was a popular author of childrens books which focused on faeries.  As we discover, the faeries had a basis in more than just his imagination; by reopening the book, Janey brings the attention of a rival, evil magician.  He and his secret society begin to converge on Janey’s small town, in search for the source of power.  Meanwhile, her former boyfriend (and possibly the love of her life) also turns up, having received a letter Janey knows she didn’t write.  As her story gets more complicated and dangerous, we also get drawn into a fictional world where a girl accidently gets on the wrong side of a mean witch and, now about two inches tall, must try to figure out a way to defeat the witch and regain her life.  As the two stories continue, they seem to be moving somewhat in parallel, and Janey comes to believe that the solution to her real-life problems lie in the magical book.  Interwoven with the plot line is a fundamental appreciation of faeries and music.  While the story itself is incredible, the best part of the book are the characters; de Lint has made people so real it’s impossible to forget them, or not care about their problems.  This is a perfectly complete book that will, I think, satisfy anyone.  I can’t recommend it highly enough!

 I’m less impressed with Caleb Carr’s The Italian Secretary.  I haven’t read any Carr before, and I can see how he’s a best-selling author: he knows how to keep a plot moving and throws in lots of bombs for interest.  However, his writing style wasn’t up to snuff for me.  This book is a Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson continuation; Mycroft calls the duo to Scotland to solve two gruesome murders that are uncomfortably close to the Queen and may have something to do with the tragic murder of Mary’s, Queen of Scots, Italian secretary centuries earlier.  I really enjoyed the setting, since I love Scotland, and the hints of history were fun (I have a soft spot for poor Mary, Queen of Scots), but it wasn’t anything but an average book.  If you enjoy Victorian-era thrillers with a strong plot, and can overlook the overuse of adjectives and adverbs, you might enjoy this one. 

Speaking of the Golden Age (or round abouts there), I finally finished The Virgin in the Gardens by A.S. Byatt.  It’s more The Virgin in the Gardenof a character than plot driven book, focusing on the brilliant but disfunctional Potter family.  There are three children: Stephanie, a graduate of Cambridge who finds herself now teaching at the same girl’s school she graduated from, Frederica, a 17-year-old cocky misfit, and their brother.  All of the drama in their lives unfold against the backdrop of a modern verse Elizabethan drama, written by Alexander (an English teach slash dramatist both Stephanie and Frederica have loved for years) and now being produced as a pagaent involving most of the small town.  Frederica, cast as the young Elizabeth, is drawn into a world of sex and academics, while Stephanie (raised in a profoundly atheistic, anti-God household) is strangely attracted to a young clergyman.  Both of these storylines I loved; Byatt captures the intersection of emotion and intellect, the inexplicability of sexual attraction, the awkwardness of late adolescence perfectly.  The only reason I only gave it four stars was the brother’s storyline.  He sees the world in lines and lights, and when a religiously crazy science teacher realises that, he draws Marcus deeper and deeper into an attempt to find God’s unifying plan through religious ecstasy.  While I thought Byatt’s characterisation still rang true, the whole mystical craziness got a little dull, and I tended to skim those passages to get back to Frederica and Stephanie.  All in all, I’d highly recommend this to people who enjoy more literary works (lots of references to literary theory and the pleasure therein) and dry humour; it has a broader scope than Possession, but it’s more down-to-earth than The Biographer’s Tale.

Finally, I read The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier.  In this book, a simple Brit vacationing in a wealthy friend’s country manor ends up being transported back to the fourteenth century.  While he can’t interact with anyone, he quickly gets caught up in the drama happening so long ago.  But when it starts interfering with his real life, he has to decide where his values are.  Deep down, this book is about addiction, not time travel.  For most of this book, I really loved it.  However, towards the end it begins to fall apart a little, and the ending was disappointing enough to drop it down to the three stars.  I really wish I could’ve been able to give it four or five, but I still think it’d be a worthy read for anyone who enjoys time travel and/or the Middle Ages.  Another book, surprisingly good, with a similar concept (although very different themes) was Michael Crichton’s Timeline (don’t judge it by the movie).

Other Book Bloggers’ Reviews:
Puss Reboots (The House on the Strand)

 Whew-I think I broke some blogging rules with the length of this post.  But I’m trying to start fresh in the new year, and this is the only way!

15 Comments leave one →
  1. December 28, 2007 7:02 am

    I’ve never read Penelope Fitzgerald either, but I’ve got two of the books you mention, The Bookshop and The Blue Flower, and I must read her soon! I agree about The Bookshop — I couldn’t resist the title!

  2. December 28, 2007 8:51 am

    Thank you! I love Daphne DuMaurier (and I love her name…); I read House on the Strand and liked it very much, too. and I see your point about the ending… I’m off to a small quaint indie bookstore this afternoon and will look for the deLint book. – Care

  3. December 28, 2007 3:53 pm

    I enjoyed that de Lint too. I was surprised to discover that I like him actually. My favorite of his to date has been Memory and Dream. Happy book shopping!

  4. December 28, 2007 4:06 pm

    Thanks for the review of Byatt’s new book. I remember I’ve really liked her other ones, and the “Golden Age” is such a fascinating period in history.

  5. December 28, 2007 5:38 pm

    The Little Country sounds irresistible. 2008 will be the year when I finally read Charles de Lint! I have the feeling I’ll love him.

    The Virgin in the Garden is a book I’ve been meaning to pick up for ages. I really like what I’ve read of A.S. Byatt’s work. Your review definitely gives me extra motivation!

  6. December 28, 2007 6:50 pm

    Dorothy, we’ll have to discover her together!

    Care, I’m a fan of du Maurier as well (and feel the same about her name), and I’ll definitely be looking into more of her books in the future! If it weren’t for the ending, I would’ve rated House on the Strand five stars, so I did really like most of it. :)

    Ted, I’ll have to look into that one! I randomly picked him during the Once Upon a Time Challenge, because my library had one of his books, and I certainly didn’t expect to like him as much as I did either.

    Flash, I’m very fascinated by the Golden Age as well-really the whole Medieval period. This one is the first of a quartet of books, so I’m excited to see what happens with the characters.

    Nymeth, I can’t see you not loving him. :) And I must’ve mooched The Virgin months ago (on Imani’s recommendation) and just kept putting it off. I’m glad I’m finally into it!

  7. December 28, 2007 8:12 pm

    I put Sorcery and Cecelia on my TBR list when you wrote about it, but have not run across it at the library and have not ordered it yet. The TBR list is soooo long. However, I went back and re-read your post about it, and I’m going to look for it again at the library and move it up on “the list.”

  8. December 29, 2007 11:56 am

    I’ve read many of these too! I love “Sorcery & Cecelia” but I haven’t read the 3rd one yet. I’m going to search it out because I really enjoy this series. I’ve just begun reading Colleen Gleason’s Regency/Vampire series and in some strange way it reminds me of Sorcery & Cecelia – very tenuous connection but that’s what it makes me think of. (much more adult of course…)

    I liked Byatt’s “Possession” but have not read “Virgin”. I picked up “The Bookshop” at a second-hand shop in October, and I read and reviewed “The Little Country” earlier this year. Strangely I did not receive any books or bookcards at all for Xmas this year. Guess I’ll have to start reading from the shelves of unread books I already own…

  9. December 29, 2007 4:11 pm

    I loved “Sorcery and Cecelia” as well but somehow I never got to “The Grand Tour” and I didn’t even know that there’s a third book in the series. Clearly I’ve got some catching up to do!

  10. December 29, 2007 6:43 pm

    Im curious about the du Maurier book. In the bio I just read about her, that is considered one of her more important works. I’ve not read it, but I do hope to get to it eventually.

  11. December 29, 2007 6:52 pm

    Jenclair, yay! bump on the list!

    Melanie, lol @ the shelves of unread books; I’m officially going to declare 2008 the year of already owned books. I’ll go have a look at your review of The Little Country. :D

    Kate, I think the new book is pretty recent. :) I wandered over to your blog, and that short story challenge looks awesome. I’ll have my list up soon! (and I’m not sure how you disappeared from my blogroll…but I’ll put you back on!)


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