July 31, 2009

July Reads

It's that time of the month again. No, not that time; I'm talking about book time! This July, I settled down with a much-loved classic and dabbled in the world of mystery with a couple of new (at least, to me) authors. There's something about reading chilling mysteries in the heat of summer that appeals to me; I love dichotomies. Here is what I read this month:

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. This book is just behind Pride and Prejudice on my list of favorite Austens. It's a fascinating character study of two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, so unalike in temperament, yet both endure similar heartache and struggles while striving to find happiness in an uncertain world. While one sister is guided by cool intellect and reason, the other is lead by her passionate and unaffected nature. The reader comes to find that both have the capacity to go beyond what their natural proclivities normally allow them. I've thrice read this book, and every time I encounter it, I come away learning something different about these complicated and completely relatable women. Also, I highly recommend two completely amazing film versions here and here.

The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King. This is the first book in a series where know-it-all teenage girl Mary Russell literally stumbles upon a middle-aged, curmudgeon Sherlock Holmes, with whom she strikes up a likely friendship and runs about England solving mysteries in 1915. The characters are all very finely drawn and they get into a couple scrapes that had me excitedly turning the pages. Overall, this book is more of a introduction that sets up the story for the remaining books in the series (apparently Mary and Sherlock become an item later on, which, considering their 40+ year age difference, is mildly off-putting). I hear the books only get better as the series progresses, so I'm curious to read the next one, A Monstrous Regiment of Women (great title, isn't it?).

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. Up until now, I was an Agatha Christie neophyte. I figured the first book of hers on my "to read" list may as well as be the most iconic. A man is murdered in the dead of night and renowned detective Hercule Poirot must find the murderer among a cast of dubious, albeit glamorous, characters on the Orient Express. There are some eyebrow-raising cultural simplifications and stereotypes that are indicative of the time in which the book was written, and it wasn't as page-turning as I had anticipated; nevertheless, the book sustained my interest. Though I kept wondering to myself how a book that mainly consists of dialogue and rumination among characters without a whole lot of action could ever be made into a film. But it was, most famously in 1974 with Lauren Bacall, Albert Finney, Sean Connery, and a host of other talented actors, and there were also a couple made-for-television movies, with a new version scheduled to air in 2010. Agatha Christie was impressively prolific, writing over 80 detective novels in her lifetime. I wasn't satiated with reading just one of her books this month; I had to read another, with an entirely different sort of sleuth at the helm of the mystery. Read on....

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie. The title and book cover alone intrigued me (on a completely superficial level, I rather like the dead woman's ensemble on the book's cover--how morbid of me!). But almost as soon as I picked this book up, I had another reason for reading it: Miss Jane Marple, wonderfully canny and skeptical "old maid" (I hate that term, but that is precisely what she is) and resident sleuth of the village of St. Mary Mead. When Colonel Bantry and his wife shockingly discover the strangled body of a young, tawdry-looking woman on the hearthrug of their library one morning, they instantly call on their good friend Miss Marple to help solve the murder mystery. Underneath Marple's sweet face and impeccable manners lies a decidedly shrewd and suspicious view of human nature. The book is a quick read, and although it provides interesting insight into the inclinations and actions of its characters, I wouldn't say I was wowed by its ending. I will say that the best thing about it is undoubtedly Miss Marple. My favorite line has to be this: "'Gentlemen,' she said with her old maid's way of referring to the opposite sex as though it were a species of wild animal." I mean, priceless.


Still on my nightstand: a Gothic masterpiece and a modern food classic that I am slowly making my way through, and a memoir of a Japanese geisha....

3 comments:

Leigh said...

Fantastic list and some great ones to put on my need to read. Thank you for the reviews. :)

Anne @ The City Sage said...

I'm constantly amazed at all the reading you do! Austen is of course a must---Pride and Prejudice is probably my number one fave of all time. i've been wanting to tackle george eliot's 'middlemarch' but haven't had the courage--have you read it?

Joanna said...

Leigh: Thanks for stopping by. Happy reading!

Anne: I actually wish I could get through more books than I currently do. Haven't read Middlemarch, but always wanted to. Virginia Woolf says it's a book for grown-ups, which definitely sounds appealing.