Friday, January 02, 2015

My 2015 Reading List, Jackaby by Willian Ritter and Lisette's List by Susan Vreeland

For my birthday and Christmas this past year, I was given several Barnes and Noble and Amazon gift certificates, which I used to purchase 12 books that I have been wanting to read for several months.
Here's the list, in no particular order:

1. Jackaby by William Ritter
2. The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer
3. Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan
4. The Observations by Jane Harris
5. A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray
6. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
7. The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson
8. Dreamwalker by Rhys Bowen
9. Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer
10. Zodiac by Romina Russell
11. Carousel Seas by Sharon Lee (on pre-order, from Amazon, whose warehouse is less than 20 miles away from Maple Valley, but they can't get the book here for two weeks! Ugh!)
12. Lisette's List by Susan Vreeland

I've just finished Lisette's List and Jackaby this past few days, and I am now halfway through The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells.  I really want a copy of the latest Flavia deLuce mystery, (As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust) by Alan Bradley, which comes out on the 6th of this month, but I don't think my husband is going to be amenable to buying more books when I have 10 of the above still sitting about awaiting my attention.  There's also a Jo Walton book I want called The Just City and a copy of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr that have been calling my name, but since the holidays have passed, the bank accounts are too slender for more book purchases. Still, there's always anniversaries and Valentine's Day coming up and I would rather get a book than flowers any day.

I really enjoyed Jackaby, as it was rather like a cross between Sherlock Holmes and the intrepid Flavia deLuce from Alan Bradley's wonderful mysteries. Here is an American counterpart to Sherlock Holmes, operating in the same time period, but with the added advantage of "Second Sight" or the ability to see supernatural creatures. The prose is top notch, and the plot moves swiftly to a satisfying conclusion. Jackaby's assistant, or his Watson, is a young woman named Abigail who thirsts for adventure, which is refreshing. Here's the blurb:
Jackaby sighed and drew to a stop as we reached the corner of another cobbled street. He turned and looked at me with pursed lips. “Let’s see,” he said at last. “I observed you were recently from the Ukraine. A young domovyk has nestled in the brim of your hat. More recently, you seem to have picked up a Klabautermann, a kind of German kobold attracted to minerals. Most fairy creatures can’t touch the stuff. That’s probably why your poor domovyk nestled in so deep.”
Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary--including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail hasa gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police--with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane--deny.
Doctor Who meets Sherlock in William Ritter’s debut novel, which features a detective of the paranormal as seen through the eyes of his adventurous and intelligent assistant in a tale brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre.
I am not too sure where the Doctor Who aspect comes in, other than Abigail being somewhat like Amy Pond or Clara (though she's not nearly as whiny as Clara has been this past season) and serving as a balance to Jackaby's eccentricities. Still, this is a paranormal mystery that goes down easy and is fun to read. I had the villian figured out well before the final chapter, but that's probably because I watch television shows like Grimm and have read and studied mythology, legends and fairy tales. I'd give this debut novel a well deserved A, and recommend it to those who enjoy Sherlock in its present incarnations on American TV as Elementary and the BBC as Sherlock with the delicious Benedict Cumberbatch. 
Lisetttes's List is the 5th book of Susan Vreeland's that I've read out of the 8 that she's written. I started reading her works after discovering The Forest Lover, which is a marvelous novel about painter Emily Carr, whose works I viewed at the Vancouver Art Museum back in 1995. I followed with the Girl in Hyacinth Blue and The Passion of Artemisia, and was only stopped by Clara and Mr Tiffany, which, despite its fascinating subject matter, failed to engage me for some odd reason. I also couldn't get into Luncheon of the Boating Party, no matter how hard I tried. So it was with great relief that I discovered that Lisette's List is actually more like the Forest Lover than it is the Boating Party or Mr Tiffany. The prose is full of scintillating dialog, and the plot flows gracefully to a peaceful conclusion. Here's a small blurb from Library Journal: Since the elegantly conceived The Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Vreeland has written a string of best sellers that typically blend art and history with strong character study, and her new book is no different. At the time of the Vichy regime, a young Parisian ends up in Provence, caring for her husband's grandfather. Through the works of C├ęzanne, Pissarro, Chagall, and Picasso, she uncovers the glories of Provence despite wartime hardships. Not just art history, this book evokes key ethical questions, including the currently timely question of art stolen during World War II.
While I enjoyed Lisette's interactions with all the characters in Provence and Paris, I found that one character in particular was so awful that I found myself wishing for his death. Bernard, the local constable, is a crude bully and almost rapes Lisette, while he's stolen her grandfather's paintings and hidden them, and not seen fit to tell her because he wants to continue to leer at her and nearly sell her out to the Germans. He's craven and cowardly and disgusting, and Lisette should have stabbed him or had someone beat him up for his treatment of her. When Maxime does finally give this creep a few good whacks, Lisette (and one assumes the author) seem to have unending bouts of sympathy for him, because he didn't turn in other members of the town's resistance when he could have. Still, he stalks Lisette and doesn't deserve any kindness, as far as I can see. Creeps like Bernard need to realize that women aren't prizes or objects for them to "earn" or "take" as they see fit. Lisette has every right to spurn his advances, when he continues to make her afraid and feel unsafe in her own home. And his singing to her in the graveyard is somehow romantic? No, it's not, it's just him being his disgusting stalker/creeper self.  Other than that, though, I liked Lisette's List and it's lush descriptive prose, and nicely-paced plot. I'd give the book a B+, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys painting and stories of the salvaging of great art both before, during and after World War II.
Finally, I'd like to leave you with this tidbit:
A trailer has been
released for the six-part series adaptation of Hilary Mantel's Man
Booker Prize-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, which
will air on BBC Two this month and PBS in April, Entertainment Weekly
reported. Wolf Hall
stars Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell and Damian Lewis as Henry VIII.
Versions of the novels are also heading to New York City soon, with the
Royal Shakespeare Company's stage adaptations hitting Broadway in March.

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