Monthly Archives: July 2007

Gentlemen and Players, by Joanne Harris

Gentlemen and Players feels like a significant departure from Harris’s earlier novels, including Chocolat, Five Quarters of the Orange, and Holy Fools. I’ve read those and enjoyed them, though I occasionally tire of Harris’s one-sided and relentless bashing of the Catholic church. But her settings (usually French, and historical) are lovely, and her female protagonists always engaging.

Gentlemen and Players brings us into a very different world — British, contemporary, male-dominated — and offers a plot driven by suspense and misdirection. The novel is set in an English boys’ school in the present day, and the alternating first-person narrators are an elderly and seasoned teacher at the school, and a newcomer who is determined to bring down the school through scandal.

Switching back and forth between the points of view of the two narrators, Harris creates a fast-paced and suspense-filled story that I found almost impossible to put down. Near the end of the novel, she begins throwing in plot twists that, to me at least, were completely unexpected and changed the way I saw the whole story. I am in awe of authors who can surprise me like this, and these were the most skilfully presented authorial surprises I’ve seen in a long time. Totally unexpected, yet when I looked back through the earlier chapters, I could see that all the clues were there — I just hadn’t picked them up. I’m not normally one for thrillers and suspense but this was a thoughtful yet fast-moving novel that kept me absorbed through an entire day of airplane and airport travel. I highly recommend it.

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Filed under Fiction -- general, Fiction -- mystery

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling

On our plane trip from St. John’s to Seattle, the kids and I made a game of counting how many people we saw — on the plane, in airports, on the street — reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  We counted eight — which, when you think of the number and variety of books and readers in the world, is pretty amazing.  Driving through Seattle today I noticed that a car ahead of us had a message hand-lettered in white paint on the back window: I TRUST SNAPE.  There’s no question that the Harry Potter books have made a bigger impact on popular culture than another novels of our generation.

As the conclusion to a seven-book series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is almost completely satisfying.  No, it’s not a perfect book — there are flaws, and in wrapping up the storyline J,K. Rowling was bound to disappoint some readers who might have hoped for different outcomes for favourite characters. But that wrap-up answers so many questions that have been raised throughout the series and brings the characters and their stories to such a satisfying conclusion that most of us who’ve followed Harry’s adventures from the beginning are left feeling that all-important sense of closure. 

Writers like me, who start books without the slightest idea how we’re going to finish them, are also left in awe at the accomplishment of a writer who can weave such a tight-knit plot that seemingly random comments made in Book Two become crucial to the conclusion of Book Seven.   

The strength of these books has never been in Rowling’s literary ability — they are not very literary books; her style is probably most comparable to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books and there are many writers of children’s fantasy who are more skillful wordsmiths and worldbuilders than either of them.  But what Rowling does well is create characters that readers care about — complex characters whose motivations we can argue about for ten years — and lead them through a storyline so filled with twists and turns that one hundred pages from the end of the six-hundred-page final volume, we’re still unsure whom we can trust and how the conflict might finally be resolved.

Spoilers from this point on … if you haven’t read if yet but you plan to, don’t click!

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Filed under Children's, Fiction -- fantasy

Queen’s Ransom, by Fiona Buckley

I came to Queen’s Ransom with the disadvantage of jumping into a series — this is the third in Fiona Buckley’s series of mysteries featuring Ursula Blanchard, a sixteenth-century sleuth in the employ of Queen Elizabeth I and her right-hand man, Sir William Cecil.  As this book opens, Ursula is tired of the underhanded work she has undertaken to support her young daughter, and wonders whether it’s time for a break from the spy business.  When she embarks on what should be a simple trip to France and the journey becomes increasingly convoluted and clouded with intrigue, her concerns about espionage become even more intense — and understandable!

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Filed under Fiction -- historical, Fiction -- mystery

Harry Potter … the first six books, by J.K. Rowling

I know you have just been waiting with bated breath these last two weeks thinking, “What is Trudy reading? Why is she not updating her book reviews?!?! How can I go on living?!??!??!!?

Have no fear, fellow overreaders.  I have my reasons.  For the last two weeks I have been immersed — engrossed, even — in a comprehensive re-read of all six Harry Potter books in preparation for the  release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on July 21.

If any of you have issues with Christians enjoying Harry Potter and would like to know why I’m a fan, I’ve already written about that at some length here a few years ago — suffice it to say my attitude towards reading Harry Potter has more in common with this guy than with these people.  But if you want to discuss it more, we can do that in the comments.  Where we can also discuss, if you like, the literary merits of J.K. Rowling’s writing, as other people I know have objections to the books on literary rather than aesthetic grounds. 

So if you have questions like: Is Harry Potter teaching kids to worship the devil? or Is J.K. Rowling really ripping off a bunch of better fantasy authors? feel free to raise those in the comments section.  Here in my blog, where the compulsive overreader is queen, we will be dealing with the questions on my mind right about now…questions such as:

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Filed under Fiction -- fantasy

Definitely Not Martha Stewart, by Janice Wells

Janice Wells writes a column (same title as the book) in my local paper, which I occasionally read and usually enjoy. When I saw that this book — a collection of her columns — was for sale, I picked it up on impulse to add to my mom’s Mother’s Day gift bag, thinking it was something she might enjoy.

My mom was more enthusiastic about it than I’d expected, and so of course I had to borrow the book. By coincidence, on the weekend I borrowed it I was away from home, staying in a house owned by none other than Janice Wells, a house my friends and I had rented for the weekend. Though I’ve never met the author, there is something strangely intimate about reading someone’s book while renting their house. It almost felt like I knew too much, and Janice Wells might have to shoot me.

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Filed under Canadian author, Newfoundland author, Nonfiction -- memoir

The Rebels of Ireland, by Edward Rutherfurd

I read and reviewed the first volume of Rutherfurd’s “Dublin Saga”: The Princes of Ireland, last month, and as I’ve said before, I generally don’t review sequels unless I have something new to say.  In this case, I do have something new to say — I enjoyed The Rebels of Ireland even better than Princes.

This may be because Princes covers a shorter timespan — only about 300 years of Dublin history, from the early 1600s to the 1921 Easter Rising.  In general, a span of 300 years does not indicate a fast-moving novel, but for Rutherfurd this is positively snappy.  As a result, there are fewer of the jarring leaps that bothered me in Princes — getting absorbed in a character’s story only to find that the next section picks up 300 years later with that character’s distant descendants.  In Rebels, the reader is able to read about a character as a young man, then as an older person, and in the next chapter read about his children, which provides much greater continuity and, for me anyway, kept pages turning more quickly.

The novel ends by bringing the story of one of the several Dublin families full circle, returning in some ways to the people and place that began the saga back in the first chapters of Princes.  While this was a satisfying way to end the books, I did have one quibble about the ending.  Even if Rutherfurd didn’t want to pursue the story of Irish history past the date of Ireland’s independence, I wish he had included a short epilogue giving us a glimpse of the vital, thriving city that is twenty-first century Dublin.  But maybe I’ll have to wait another 500 years for him to write that novel!

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Filed under Fiction -- historical