BOOK & BLOG
February 21, 2012
Books of the Week:
I’ve really enjoyed Rhys Bowen’s Lady Georgiana books, set prior to World War II. Georgiana herself is a refreshing character, dictated to by society on one side and her own heart on another. Georgiana is half-commoner (her mother is an actress) and half-aristocrat (she’s Lady Georgiana Rannoch). She’s also resourceful, not afraid of work, poor, and in line for the throne, though way down on the list. Georgiana’s exasperating family is always included in the mystery, and lately her terrible maid, Queenie plays a role, too. Naughty in Nice is an entertaining entry with lots of characters to hate. It’s hard to be upset when the murder victim is so loathsome, and Georgiana gets to meet Coco Chanel. What’s not to like?
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows is Alan Bradley’s fourth mystery featuring Flavia de Luce, who is young and innocent in some respects, quite deadly and daring in others. Flavia plays in an ancient chemistry lab, since she is not supervised at all by her grieving widower of a father and her strangely hostile older sisters. But don’t feel sorry for Flavia; she’s quite capable of plotting vengeance, though she seldom carries through. We haven’t learned the secret that makes the de Luce family so dysfunctional, though I hope we’re getting closer. That mystery is at the background of every book, and t he current murder is at the foreground. Flavia is irrepressible, very bright, and full of ideas and plans. She’s a great character, and it’s not surprising that Bradley has been nominated for almost every major award there is. If you haven’t read one of these books yet, give them a try.
Moira Young is a new writer to me, and I picked up DUST LANDS: Blood Red Road knowing only that is was yet another dystopian YA novel. The 18-year-old Saba is growing up out in the middle of a dust bowl with her twin brother Lugh, her little sister Emmi, and her father. One day, four horsemen arrive and take Lugh, killing their father. Saba tries to leave Emmi behind while she searches for her twin, but Emmi, who’s lost everything she knew, outwits Saba every time. In the course of her terrible journey, Saba becomes tough, decisive, and a formidable fighter. Her quest to free her brother acquires urgency when she discovers he’s going to be sacrificed to extend the life of the king. This is a very suspenseful book with some lessons about how far desperation can drive us, and it’s quite a good read.
I’m often asked if can read while I’m working on a book, and I always say “Yes.” The more complete answer is that when I was a new writer, I had to be very careful about what I read while I writing my own work because there was a real danger I’d change my style to reflect the book I had in hand.
Now that I’ve written a lot of books, I don’t have a problem with this, with a few exceptions. If a writer has a very strong voice, or if I’m exceptionally moved by the work, I really have to be very alert that there’s no bleed-over.
Now I’m reading one of those books, and for once I find myself in sync with Stephen King. He posted recently that he was reading A Clash of Kings, the second book in George R.R. Martin’s GAME OF THRONES series. I’m reading it, too, and it’s a book so rich and distinct that I have to review everything I’ve written every day. And yet I can’t put it aside and read something less colorful. I’m compelled to finish this book. Then I’ll have to wait a while and read something else before I can pick up the third.
My admiration for Martin’s achievement is profound. His epic tale of the struggle for the Kingdom of Westeros is no gimmicky flash in the pan. All his people are alive, and he moves from viewpoint to viewpoint with amazing agility. They’re all flawed, some much more so than others, and yet they’re all struggling forward, trying to survive in the best way they can manage. Sometimes buying survival encompasses doing terrible things.
I hope every reader tries to find time to get at least one of these in hand this year. If you haven’t read them already, they’re just great, and they’re what so many of us aspire to: writing so vivid that the reader simply can’t put the books down.
© 2012 Charlaine Harris