A few of you no doubt noticed that my Holiday Gift Books I wasn’t followed by Holiday Gift Books II.
It has been suggested by some that I may have a sort of adult-onset attention deficiency disorder. Whatever I have has been with me all my life, and I admit something isn’t quite right where my attention span is concerned.
However, what knocked me off my pins three weeks ago was a bad cold that turned into something worse, plus additional demands at work, several holiday parties, more work, and then Christmas. It is over now and I’ve almost caught up on the sleep. I counted today, and realize that despite all this I read 34 books in 2009.
A discovery early in the year was Leif Enger. His award-winning debut novel, Peace Like a River, was published in 2001 and is narrated by the severely asthmatic 11-year-old Reuben Land, who lives in Minnesota in the early 1960s with his 8-year-old sister and best friend, Swede, writer of epic poetry; his father, Jeremiah, a school janitor and man of faith and miracles; and his older brother Davy, who early in the novel is arrested for the murder of two high school peers.
When Davy goes on the lam, the family takes off after him, hoping to find him before the law does. The cat and mouse game that ensues is one of marvelous highs and cataclysmic lows, belly laughs, tears, and more than a little of the Unexplainable. It’s a glorious picaresque. I couldn’t put it down.
In search of my competition, I located several mystery novels set in vineyards and wineries. Most of them are just plain awful. But I did enjoy the series by former AP correspondent Ellen Crosby. It is set at the fictional Montgomery Estate in Virginia wine country. The author is knowledgeable of both the wine industry and the intriguing Civil War history of the region; her characters are real and interesting; the plots are engaging. And there are hilarious moments–always a bonus. In order of publication, the books are: The Merlot Murders, The Chardonnay Charade, The Bordeaux Betrayal, and The Riesling Retribution. The Viognier Vendetta is slated for publication in a year. If you enjoy Sue Grafton, you’ll love Crosby.
I thank OPB for turning me on to another fine mystery writer, Sweden’s Henning Mankell. Firewall starring Kevin Branagh as Mankell’s gloomy Inspector Kurt Wallender aired last spring. Next day found me at the library putting holds on books. My biggest complaint about these novels is that some of the translations reek of the passive voice.
That said, I love Wallender. His personal life is a complete mess. He’s aging and frumpy and loses his temper easily. He’s overly sensitive, overweight, and has no close friends. Sometimes he drinks too much and does dumb things, and he doesn’t know the meaning of self care. But his mind is a wonder, and following him as he unravels a mystery is sheer delight. My favorite of Mankell’s illustrious list may be The Dogs of Riga, but it’s a difficult choice. They’re all considerably above average. And I enjoyed roaming southern Sweden with Wallender.
Tonight I will finish The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Oh, how I wish Ms. Shaffer had lived to write more novels. It is a story of occupation and war, scrappy and even heroic characters, random kindnesses, hardship, unspeakable courage, humor, and tragedy told in the wonderful voice of a woman who clearly believes most people are good. It has been so much fun I’ll be sad when it’s over.
That’s enough for now. Get thee to a good indie bookstore or your nearest public library. You’ll be glad.