I recently read somewhere that bloggers shouldn't be allowed to review books. I was aghast! Anyone can review a book. They may not review it well, but they are certainly allowed to review it. When I was a newspaper reporter I reviewed books both for my gardening column and my religion beat, and my editors certainly never told me I didn't know how to review a book, so I guess I will continue to do so. However, I have gotten behind on reviewing and am going to combine five short book reviews into one post.
"SECRETS OF EDEN" by Chris Bohjalian
I first read Chris Bohjalian when Oprah's book club featured "The Midwife." I knew then that I would enjoy further books by him. I hate to say it after publishing that cartoon at the top of this post, but I did read it in one sitting. The crux of the story is that a parishioner of Rev. Stephen Drew is murdered on the same day that he baptizes her. At first it seems cut and dried that Alice Hayward's husband George has strangled her in one of his furious rages and then killed himself. Immediately after this, Stephen suffers a crisis of faith and leaves his parish. But all too soon Stephen is being considered a suspect in the deaths. I'm not writing a lot about the book here because I don't want to give anything away. There are no secrets in Eden, but there is one in this small Vermont town. I will certainly not reveal what the secret is, but I hope that it is one that stayed buried forever.
"THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO"
by Stieg Larsson
I may not have read "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" in one sitting but it did take me only two days to get through the 465-page book. Mikael Blomkvist is a Swedish financial journalist who has been convicted of libel. Being at loose ends, he accepts the one-year job of ostensibly writing the history of the famous Swedish industrialist family The Vangers. He soon learns that the true assignment is to find out who killed 16-year old Harriet Vanger. If the focus of the book had been on Blomkvist I doubt I would have liked the book that much. Frankly, he is not that likeable a person. But enter the person of Lisbeth Sanders, a computer hacker who works for a private eye. Hired at first to check out Blomkvist, Lisbeth eventually joins him on his quest.
Lisbeth is unlike any other mystery novel heroine you will ever meet. She is "the girl with the dragon tattoo". She also has several facial piercings, violently-colored hair, kooky clothes and a condition that appears to be something like Asperger's Syndrome. And I loved her! A person who has often felt powerless in my life, I would love to exert revenge like she can. Larssen featured her in at least two-more novels before he died. I have "The Girl Who Played With Fire" on reserve at the library and "The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest" comes out in the U.S. in May.
"HOWARDS END IS ON THE LANDING"
by Susan Hill
"Howards End is on the Landing" is the story of how Susan Hill devoted one year to reading only the books she had in her home - books that she had read and loved, books that she had never read: "I wanted to repossess my books, to explore what I had accumulated over a lifetime of reading, to map this house of many volumes. There are enough here to instruct, divert, entertain, amaze, amuse, edify, improve and enrich me for far longer than a year and every one of them deserves to be taken down, dusted off, open and read. A book which is left on a shelf is a dead thing but is also a chrysalis, an inanimate object packed with potential to burst into new life."
In the world of literary lists there is actually a category called "Books About Books" and this is a most delightful addition to the list. I thought Hill might have been a bit of a book snob but this turned out not to be true. I was especially thrilled to find out that she too thinks Jane Austen is boring! One small flaw for me as an American is that Hill listed so many books by British authors I had never heard of. Hill, who has written 37 books, is another British author I had not heard of. Since she is famous over there, and since her novels have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize and have won the Whitbread Award and the Somerset Maugham Award, I am going to rectify my ignorance and seek out her books.
"SOPHIE'S CHOICE" by William Styron
There is no need to review "Sophie's Choice". It's a classic. I had seen the movie but had never read the book until this past weekend. After seeing the movie I thought I knew what Sophie's choice was, but now I think the actual choice was something different. As much as I liked the book, I do think Styron could have used some judicious editing. The book could have been trimmed in parts, and his language could have been edited as well. He always chose the more convoluted, esoteric word when a much simpler word would have sufficed.
"WATERWOMAN" by Lenore Hart
I picked up "Waterwoman" at a thrift shop and never even noticed that the book, an advance reading copy, was signed by the author. Having finished the book, I am thrilled that Lenore Hart inscribed her name in it. It is lovely and lyrical, but I don't think it made a splash in the literary world (it was published in 2002). However, I certainly treasure the book and look forward to finding more books from Hart. The waterwoman of the title is Annie Revels, who follows her father's calling as a fisherman off the barrier islands of Virginia. Her people might be described as backwoods except that they are not of the woods but the shore, so I will call them "backwater people."
"Waterwoman" is similar in tone to the books of Pat Conroy and Anne Rivers Siddons in their passion for the outer banks and low country of North and South Carolina. Annie, forced by her work to be masculine in appearance, is surprised and amazed when Nathan Combs shows an interest in her. Her happiness is short-lived, however, as her sister Rebecca steals him away. The themes of choice and fate are explored in a subtlely-told and touching story that culminates in a terrible storm, "The Great Nor'easter of 1920".