Wednesday, March 4, 2015

February Books

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny has recently retired Quebec Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, seeking balm in the picturesque town of Three Pines. His neighbor Clara Morrow’s artist husband has failed show up as promised on the first anniversary of their separation. She wants Gamache to help find him, so a trusty band of friends set out to solve the mystery. The writing starts out almost lyrically, but gets a bit bogged down in the middle.  The NYT  found “ elements of the police procedural with a deep-delving psychology,…a sorrowful sense of the precarious nature of human goodness, and the persistence of its opposite, even in rural Edens.” Maybe, but maybe it tries a little too hard.

**Prague Summer by Jeffrey Condran is an insightful, beautifully written story of a happily-married State Department employee and her rare-books-dealer husband  who enjoy a good life in Prague.  Their routine is thrown into chaos by the arrival of an old friend whose  own husband has been mysteriously imprisoned.  She hides a sinister agenda that is gradually revealed in a tantalizing and ingeniously constructed study of relationships and human character. “"Like the city itself, Prague Summer is romantic and mysterious, with a refined literary bent.”

*City of Thieves by David Benioff is based on his grandfather's stories about surviving WWII in Russia. Alone in Leningrad during the siege, 17-year-old Lev Beniov is caught looting a German paratrooper's corpse. To avoid execution, he and his cocky side-kick are given the challenge of finding  a dozen eggs for the colonel's daughter's wedding cake. The touching Quixotic buddy story blends tense adventure, a bittersweet coming-of-age tail,  an oddly touching quest with  humor blended with the grisly absurdities of war.

*Children Act by Ian McEwen probes the dread beneath the surface of most post-middle-age lives in his best book since Atonement. Through the perspective of Fiona Maye,  a leading High Court judge who is renowned for her intelligence, exactitude, and sensitivity, McEwen examines legal, medical and religious issues,  while exploring  the human experiences of  anger, sorrow, shame, impulse, regret and yearning. He rejects religious dogma that lacks compassion, but also questions secular morality as well. “Few will deny McEwan his place among the best of Britain’s living novelists."

The Hundred Year House by Rebecca “Makkai  is a “ twisty, maximalist story with…a natural ear for satire”. Partially  screwball comedy, intellectual sex farce, historical drama and fashioned ghost story told backwards in time and with an impressive array of colorful, yet forgettable, characters. The Hundred-Year House  unfolds the secrets of an old-money family and their turn-of-the-century estate and sometime artist colony .. “ feels like the precocious love child of John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire and a rousing game of Clue.”

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