Tuesday, February 20, 2007

House Thinking

A room-by-room look at how we live.

I haven't actually read this book, but this is the second time I have checked it out from the library. The first time I started to read it, decide it wasn't what I was looking for, and took it back. When I started reading it this time, a severe sense of deja vu recalled my former foray.

House Thinking, by Winifred Gallagher, is a historical-sociological look at how the rooms we have in our houses came to be, and how their usage has evolved over the years, whether centuries or decades. Since I was looking for something a little different, I didn't finish it. But if you like the sound of it, you'll probably enjoy it. The tone and writing style are well enough.

The Looking Glass Wars

Princess Alyss Heart is the only daughter and heir to the throne of Wonderland, through her mother, the powerful Queen. When her parents are killed and her throne usurped by her aunt Redd, Alyss disappears into the Pool of Tears and emerges in Victorian England, to become Alice Liddell, the muse of the Reverend Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll. Though Alice adapts to her new home, her former life eventually reclaims her and she must resolve the matter of her destiny. Will she become the rightful Queen of Wonderland or remain Alice Liddell? Or will her choices have other, darker results?

This novel by Frank Beddor is the first in a series, and it is not what I was hoping it was. I should have remembered that it is categorized as juvenile in the library, for the tone is certainly geared to the teen crowd, with less depth than I imagined. However, it is good enough for its genre, with plenty of well-placed references to the Lewis Carroll classics Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. And since this is the first of a planned trilogy, with book 2 in the works, there is still time to develop the story in greater depth. Or meander into tedium. Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Shape Shifter

Tony Hillerman has added another volume to his Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee series, with happy results. This story turns around a famous accursed Navajo rug, thought to be destroyed, but suddenly appearing in a magazine photo. As Leaphorn investigates the strange events surrounding its (possible) destruction and (reputed) survival, he considers the possible involvement of a shape-shifter, the most feared of Navajo witches. Leaphorn solves the mystery with his usual acumen, while Jim Chee and Bernie appear only briefly.

I am a fan of the series, and found nothing lacking in this latest addition. I particularly liked Hillerman's exploration of retirement, an experience that Leaphorn must deal with, as well as other characters from previous stories.

If you like Hillerman, settle down and enjoy the latest installment.

The Body on the Beach

Simon Brett gets great reviews and has more than one murder mystery series going. I decided to give him a try, and so checked out The Body on the Beach, the first in the Fethering mysteries.

Good things: he writes well, the setting is interesting (a self-satisfied village on the southern coast of England), the characters are diverse enough without being too weird. Such supporting cast as the Vice-Commodore and poisonous Winnie Norton are drawn with a spare deft hand.

Bad things: I didn't really like either of the lead characters. Carole is stiff and stodgy but starts to loosen up, newcomer Jude is breezy and freewheeling but surprisingly discreet about her past. Neither of the two roused my empathy, and after a while I got tired of them. I finished the book in case the ending was super-satisfying, but it wasn't. Not that it was bad. It just ended.

Maybe I'll try another series of his in a while. This one just doesn't appeal to me.

A Christmas Caroline

Author Kyle Smith, who is a guy, writes this chick lit homage to Charles Dickens. A send-up of A Christmas Carol, this story stars Caroline, a misanthropic fashionista in New York City. Her supporting cast, sporting such names as Ursula Heep and Nic Nickleby, do their own bits to help the story along, but on the whole, I found it inadequate and tedious.

Caroline is plenty self-centered, and her Christmas Eve is wholly disastrous, but more for herself than anyone else. Her three ghostly visitors appear right on schedule, but became dull in no time at all. Caroline manages to reform without getting a clue, and the would-be climax, which includes a surprising appearance by Miss Havisham, is lackluster at best. Even the ending, which should have been satisfying, was not-quite-resolved, which I found unsettling.

So if you, like me, found the premise intriguing, don't waste your time. The original is superior in every way to this pallid wannabe.