Friday, July 4, 2014

What I've Been Reading


I haven’t been blogging very much lately. There was, of course, the launch of a certain novel to get through, along with the usual end-of-the-school-year craziness and a little trip to run through Utah. Yet despite all I had to do over the past weeks, I somehow managed to read several books. It’s my version of avoidance, I think—when I probably should be doing something else or can’t manage the concentration to write something of my own—I get to work on my to-read pile. And I’ve had great luck so far this year. Some great novels, a couple stellar collections of stories, fabulous essays. Here are my most-recent reads, all of which I’d recommend.

Coincidence by J.W. Ironmonger

I discovered this book because it was recommended by author Christina Baker Kline, who knows a thing or two about good reads, but I was also drawn to the description:
Thirty years ago, on the date in June known as Midsummer's Day, a young girl is mysteriously orphaned. Now, after a life of bizarre and troubling circumstances, she becomes obsessed with the idea that she too will die on Midsummer's Day . . . until she meets the one man who may be able to save her.

Azalea Lewis was found at an English fairground at the age of three. She spends her life feeling as though her fate hinges on a series of coincidences and to that end, she seeks the advice of Thomas Post, a scholar whose work attempts to debunk the notion of coincidence. What follows is part love story, part mystery, and the examination of ideas that will keep you contemplating long after you turn the final page. A multi-layered, entertaining and fascinating puzzle of a story.


A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A choice made by my book club. Conor is a thirteen-year-old boy beleaguered by the tree-shaped monster that appears nightly at his window. This is an illustrated novel, a collaboration between the author, the artist, and the woman who provided the spark for the story before her premature death. These aspects combine to a near-perfect piece of art. I loved this book to distraction, but I will warn that most members of my book club were in tears discussing it, and I had a rare, long and ugly cry when I read it. You must read it and cry too.


Restoration by Olaf Olafsson

Alice is a lonely woman living on a Tuscan hilltop with her older husband. The marriage is strained, both by the death of their young son and by Alice's brief affair with a childhood sweetheart. Outside the villa, WWII is ramping up, and Alice is blackmailed into keeping a valuable piece of art hidden from enemy forces. A refugee shows up, a woman who knows something about the restoration of the painting, and both women work through the secrets and silences of their pasts. A contemplative and setting-rich story, an examination of ill-advised relationships and the power balance often lurking below the surface.


Can’t and Won’t by Lydia Davis

I devoured Davis’s newest collection of stories in just over a day. Reading her work is like sitting in a comfortable room amidst old friends. Every observance she makes is recognizable, every description seems right. She represents the rise and fall of the everyday like no other writer I know. The worst I can say about her, I guess, is that once in a while, a story may approach tedium with its close attention to thought processes. But even this rings true, when I think about my own mental gymnastics and the restlessness you can sometimes feel in the company of another. A remarkable writer, another must read.


Mistress of Fortune by Holly West

Lady Wilde is a woman of independent means living in late-17th-century London. She maintains a secret identity as the fortune-teller Mistress Ruby and looks after her lascivious brother, the last remaining member of her family. She’s fiery and stubborn, an unapologetic mistress of King Charles and the type of woman who may have had something to do with the death of her abusive husband. When a magistrate disappears after consulting Mistress Ruby about his fears for his own life and a possible papist plot against the king, she takes it upon herself to investigate.

The historical setting of the novel is fascinating and the plot moves along with intrigue and pace, but for me, the main strength was the character of Lady Wilde. She is sort of a modern woman in an ancient time, maintaining her business and autonomy, and conducting her private life by her own rules. She’s refreshing and interesting, and I’d be very happy to follow her to the sequel, Mistress of Lies, which is coming this September. A perfect, transportive summer read and for me, an ideal warm-up for Wolf Hall, which is next on my list of poolside reading!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the recommendation. I won't rush to buy any books right now, too much on, but I made a mental note of the first two, 'Coincidence' and 'A Monster Calls' and will recognise them during my next bookshop round.


"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka