Wednesday, September 01, 2010

a cornucopia of books I have read recently whilst i have been avoiding this blog

The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale is set in 18th Century rural England and London. After surviving a hellish rape and subsequently stealing enough to forge her way to the grimy and vast city of London, Agnes begins a life pregnant and alone.

With the exception of a tawdry and mysterious woman she meets on the coach, Agnes is altogether alone. Happenstance finds her on the doorstep of the Rochester-like Mr. Blacklock; a surly and seemingly meretricious man whose great possibility lies in his quest to add light to fireworks. As his assistant, Agnes deals in all manner of pyrotechnics; liaises with the other mistresses of the Blacklock household and flirts with the advances of a mature admirer or two.

This book is dense and the writing is beautiful. I found the subject matter and Borodale’s attention to detail captivating. Moreover, I enjoyed the unique feel of the book and the wholly unexpected turn at the ending.

Readers of Geraldine Brooks will be in their element.

I have also read the entire Isabel Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall Smith. Isabel Dalhousie is an erstwhile detective with a tender and seminal perspective into human psyche, morality and a casual judiciousness which sets her apart from numerous other female detectives. With the same quirk, warmth and heart as Smith’s other great lady detective, Isabel is rather the Precious Ramotswe of Edinburgh. Smith paints his native Scotland with a coloured grey light often calling on Auden and Burns to collaborate in his portrait.

C.S. Harris is my other discovery of late, What Angels Fear was intended as a quick beach read; but I soon found myself falling for the series. I have heard the hero, Sebastian St. Cyr referred to as a hybrid of Mr. Darcy and James Bond and this representation is accurate. Harris writes a gripping and graphic mystery and the first two of the series ( the rest are already checked out of the library ) were wonderfully-paced and chockfull of interesting tidbits from the Regency Era. The inclusion of politics and the seedy underworld of England at that time are well-rendered and I especially love her characterization of the foppish and boorish Prince Regent himself.

A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer was a book I had wanted to read for quite awhile. I had heard it didn’t fall in line with the traditional romance ---- especially not any romance of Heyer’s ilk. What I found instead was a careful meeting of minds. A marriage of convenience, tradition and civility that blossomed not into passionate love rather into mutual understanding and respect. I must admit to being someone devoid of my usual Heyer-fulfillment at the end due to the fact that Jenny’s long unrequited love for the dashing and solemn Adam was not reciprocated in the way she desired. Instead, it seemed as if she was settling for the only love from him she was likely to have. The story wrapped up neatly; but not with the same heart-stopping felicitation as other Heyer novels. This certainly made it more believable and certainly the dark undertone of the story spoke to Heyer’s malleability and craft. That being said, I read Heyer for romanticism and while I got it in a small scooping, I wish I had been overcome with it at the end of the novel. A very well written book.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett was one of the best-written books I have read in an age. Mindful of its hype, I stepped in hoping it would make a passable plane read. It certainly did. I read it in the 9 hours from Austria to Toronto. The vernacular of the two contrasting African American maids and the southern white woman who records their circumstances and stories is nothing short of amazing. Stockett permeates her book with a strong emotional conscious reflective of her own experience with her own maid. At once heart-warming, tragic and amusing, the book holds all the yo-yo ups-and-downs of real life. Moreover, it boasts a contextual relevance and inspires a frightening realization that the history so painfully rendered in the novel is not so far off.

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

I loved both The Book of Fires and The Help. Glad you liked them too!