May 31, 2010

Spring Reads: April & May

Below are an array of books I read this spring, each one different from the last.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. This behemoth of a novel won a slew of awards last year and received glowing praise from critics, authors, and book bloggers alike, so naturally I had to see what all the fuss was about. The world Mantel carves out is teeming with detail of what life must be like in the 16th century, which to this modern reader looks very bleak indeed. But to a man like Thomas Cromwell, life is only what you make of it, and Cromwell certainly made a lot out of very little. Wolf Hall is the story of one man's ascent into the ruthless inner circle of King Henry VIII's court. From poor, humble beginnings to the prime position as the king's right hand man in a reign seemingly on the dawn of a new age, Cromwell's cunning, intellect and matter-of-fact maneuvering into the King's confidence commands our admiration (the man was a brilliant wordsmith and legal mind), if not also our sympathy. Mantel is busy writing the sequel to Wolf Hall, which apparently chronicles Cromwell's imminent descent from Henry's good graces. Sounds like another engrossing read.

Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin. Sometimes one needs some lighter fare to shake off the heaviness of a meatier book. And this one did the trick. That isn't to say that I found this book lacking in intrinsic value or entertainment, because I thoroughly enjoyed it for its real (read: flawed) characters. I found myself identifying with the protagonist Rachel White in a lot of ways: I, too, have had that shallow narcissist of a friend who proves to be more of a foe than an actual friend; I know what it's like to be under-appreciated and over-worked; and lately I've marveled at just how relentlessly time marches on until sooner or later, your 30's are creeping up on you and you wonder where the hell your 20's went (though, admittedly, I do have some time yet before I get to meditate the mysteries of entering my 30's). But where our similarities end is on one major plot point around which the entire novel pivots: Rachel gets caught up in an whirlwind affair with none other than her best friend's fiance. And yet, I don't hate her, even though I hated and felt exasperated by some of her life choices (the affair being the most obvious one). Interestingly, Giffin presents a rather blurred line between right and wrong, that ultimately life is about making choices and facing the consequences of those choices head-on. Lapses in judgment aside, I couldn't help but root for Rachel, anyway. The sequel to this book, Something Blue, is apparently told from the perspective of the best friend/wronged woman. And so the drama continues....

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. Ten strangers are summoned to an island off the coast of Devon, England to stay as weekend guests at the private home of an unknown millionaire. What the guests learn soon after their arrival is that what they all share in common is a wicked past that they'd rather not be revealed. But soon one guest dies, and then another, at whose hand nobody knows. Unable to leave or call for help, each guest begins to suspect the other, and as more guests meet their timely end, it appears that not one of them will leave the island alive. Hands down my favorite Agatha Christie yet.

So....what books have you been reading?

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