Monthly Archives: June 2007

The Art of Detection, by Laurie R. King

Last summer Jason and I got drawn into the world of Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell novels, most of which I read on our trip to England (although King is an American writer.  It just seemed appropriate to be reading about Sherlock Holmes in England).  King’s latest novel draws upon her Holmesian writings, but takes place mainly in the present and features the detective-heroine of her contemporary mysteries, police detective Kate Martinelli.

Martinelli, who knows little and cares less about Sherlock Holmes, finds herself investigating the murder of a Holmes expert/fanatic who may or may not have been killed because of a highly valuable manuscript he’s found, possibly a lost Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle himself.

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Filed under Fiction -- mystery

The Gun Seller, by Hugh Laurie

The Gun Seller is a book I probably wouldn’t have picked up if I weren’t so over-the-top in love with Hugh Laurie.  Even then, I might not have picked it up, because the idea of a novel written by an actor does kind of have that ring of, “Well, I’m famous so I might as well get that novel that’s been sitting in a shoebox under my bed all these years published, since they’ll print anything with my name on it.”  Not that that’s how I think Laurie got The Gun Seller published, it’s just that when I see  a famous actor’s name attached to a book, I tend to have fairly low expectations.

But The Gun Seller was selected as a book club choice over at my favourite online hangout, Ship of Fools, so I decided to give it a whirl. It’s a spy novel that is also a sort of spoof on the spy novel — Jason thinks it sounds like a spy novel would sound if P.G. Wodehouse had written it.  Which makes sense, as Hugh Laurie says that Wodehouse is, for him, the be-all and end-all of funny writers.

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Filed under Fiction -- general, Humour

Through the Children’s Gate, by Adam Gopnik

When I’ve already reviewed a book, I don’t usually review its sequel as well.  In this case I am doing that, because although I enjoyed Paris to the Moon, I really loved Through the Children’s Gate, the follow-up memoir about the Gopnik family’s return to New York with two young children after five years in Paris.

This is a lovely book of thoughtful, often funny pieces about living in New York.  As with Paris to the Moon, there are times when Gopnik’s “much ado about nothing” style gets irritating — he takes minute aspects of everyday life and extracts Deep Thoughts from them, and sometimes the result is a little … strained.  But it’s the kind of irritation you feel with a close friend who sometimes goes on a little too much — nothing that would make me want to put the book down.

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Filed under Nonfiction -- memoir

Finishing School, by Helen Porter

Helen Porter is a writer about whom I can’t even pretend to be unbiased, since I count her as one of my literary and life mentors.  I couldn’t say anything bad about her: if I hadn’t thoroughly enjoyed her book, I just wouldn’t have reviewed it.  But I did enjoy it, so here I am telling you about it so you’ll all go out and read it.

A lot of work and loving care went into this novel — Helen has been working it for almost as long as I’ve known her. It’s a sequel to her young-adult novel January, February, June or July, published in the 1980s to some acclaim — but far less than it deserved.  Finishing School is a novel for adults that focuses on Eileen Novak, the mother of Heather Novak who was the main character in January, February.  Forty-nine and divorced, but not past looking for love, Eileen is a hairdresser who has started going to night school to get her high school diploma.  Finishing School is written in the form of Eileen’s journal entries for her English class.

Writing a novel in the form of diary or journal entries, or indeed letters, is always a tricky conceit to pull off, because very few people (especially those, like Eileen, who aren’t already experienced writers) write diaries and journals in the kind of detail you need for a novel.  Thus, the long and vividly drawn passages, filled with dialogue, that pass for journal entries in such novels often strain credibility because so few people’s journals are really like that (trust me, I’m an English teacher … I’ve read a lot of journals).

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Filed under Fiction -- general, Newfoundland author

Jesus: Safe, Tender, Extreme, by Adrian Plass

For a long time now I’ve been hearing British Christians rave about how much they enjoy the work of Adrian Plass, best known for his semi-autobiographical, semi-fictional humourous works such as The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass, Aged 37 1/2  .  The first book of his I’ve actually had the chance to pick up is this recent non-fiction work about Jesus. It’s not overtly funny, but it does have plenty of Adrian Plass’s gentle, self-deprecating humour woven in as he talks about the aspects of Jesus (and, by extension, of the Christian life) that are meaningful to him.

The Jesus Adrian Plass worships is safe — that is, we are safe with Him — tender, and yet calls us to do extreme things for Him.  Plass’s vision of Jesus is one that’s familiar and comfortable to me, yet there are enough new insights here that I found this book “inspirational reading” in the best sense — it inspired me.  It inspired me to know and follow Jesus better — and it inspired me to read more books by Adrian Plass!

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Filed under Nonfiction -- general

Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey, by Alison Weir

Lady Jane Grey is possibly the most tragic teenager of the Tudor era (though her cousin King Edward VI might contest that title, as might Katherine Howard). I first was introduced to her story (on an emotional level — I’m sure I’d heard the facts before) through the movie Lady Jane.  Now noted popular historian Alison Weir has come out with her first work of historical fiction, an absolutely captivating tale of Jane Grey which had me so absorbed, I kept hoping the story would end differently this time and Jane would be pardoned.

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Filed under Fiction -- historical