May 27, 2015

Death by Cashmere by Sally Goldenbaum

Disclaimer/Spoiler Alert:  Ok, so I'm not really giving away the story, but my thoughts on some of the characters could give some clues away.  You have been warned.

Ok, so in a way this book was almost wildly predictable, but then the author throws a curve that really didn't have any clues leading up to it, probably just to make sure noone could solve the mystery.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Death by Cashmere is the first book in the Seaside Knitters series, which means that even after this book, there will be more mysteries to solve.

Izzy, after quitting her job as a lawyer, settles down on the coast to open a knitting shop in her hometown.  Of course this shop is visited by a myriad of characters who are also friends and when the young woman who lives above the shop is murdered, they speculate on the cause and questions while purling and dropping stitches.  But a lot of people are suspect and there's something not quite right about a few of the citizens in the town.  While it's the police's job, the knitters can't help but get in the middle of things.

This book is not about Izzy.  I would have suspected it to be, but the main character view is from her aunt Nell.  Nell is the one who can't let things be and is investigating heavily.  And because she has the time and connections it seems like this is the most appropriate for her.  There are a lot of "dark" characters in this book and I can't help but think that one was purposely setup to look terrible when they really shouldn't have been.  It was just a ruse to throw off the reader (unfairly) and I think it came across as kind of a cheap shot.  My favorite character was probably Birdie because she just seems like that busybody everyone knows and loves anyway.  She put a little life in the group.

The greatest descriptions in this book were of the food, not the knitting surprisingly.  While the yarns were described in glorious detail, the food made me drool and sad that there was only a knitting pattern at the back of the book and not a gathering of recipes mentioned.  I really want that recipe for pineapple fritters.  Knitting jargon was used but it took a backseat to the mystery.  And since this is classified as a cozy mystery, that didn't really bother me.  What did bother me, and as I've said before, was that in general you had a lot of clues in this book, and then the author throws a wildcard that wasn't really in character or believable.  In retrospect I can see where there might have been a few clues, but it still wasn't fitting to the story and how the characters were presented.  And I'll keep repeating that fact until the rest of you believe it.  I just was left dissatisfied with the way it was handled.

I certainly am interested in reading the next book in the series, but it won't be one I rush out to get.  There are a lot of cozy mysterious out there of varying qualities and they are nice quick reads that don't demand immediate attention.  This one fits into the middle of the spectrum.

Death by Cashmere
Copyright 2008
297 pages

May 25, 2015

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

I'd never read anything by Kurt Vonnegut before and had this recommended to me.  That was over five years ago and I finally picked up a copy at the local book store to give it a try.  The messages were interesting, but because of the book's style, I can't say that I liked it or found it to be an engaging read.

Billy Pilgrim can travel in time.  He's also been to war, survived the bombing of Dresden, been abducted by aliens, and survived a plane crash; not necessarily in that order.  But then again, order really isn't important is it?  When he was abducted he was put into a zoo and mated with another female earthling.  Because of his time traveling, he is not always in that place though.  He bounces around from being an optometrist to being a lousy soldier who shouldn't have probably been drafted.  And as such eventually ends up as a Prisoner of War where he has to live through numerous atrocities, the least of which being made to wear a woman's coat.

Billy is a strange character.  My take on the book is that he suffers from mental illness (not necessarily a result of the war but certainly amplified by it) and that the course of the book is his head coping with his surroundings.  Because of that I'm never really sure what's "true" in Billy's life.  Certainly the alien abduction is suspect, but it seems like the plane crash could be real.  Because Billy is a somewhat unreliable (but reliable to his own thoughts) narrator, I'm not sure we're supposed to know.  I can't really say I felt one way or another about any of the other characters.  They weren't focused on as heavily as Billy and I didn't read about them enough to care.

So now that I have read some of the other reviews here, I've learned that this book is anti-war.  Or has a strong theme of it.  I didn't know that going into the book but there are certain parts that would make you suspect it.  The callous "so it goes" expression being one of them.  Used at the sign of every death it shows meaning but also a cold voice to the truth of how deaths are calculated in war.  And then there's the bombing of Dresden, which is fractured in this book and you could miss it if you're just skimming through, but still very much an important time in Billy's life.  To me this book was more a look at mental illness and potential PTSD.  Billy's mind is erratic and chaotic and he doesn't always deal with situations in the ways that he should.  If the style jumping around wasn't so aggravating to me (I prefer a linear timeline) I might have appreciated how the book read like a confused mind would, not necessarily staying in any time sequence and only bouncing back and forth like a stream of consciousness thought would.  But that style unfortunately doesn't resonate with me and instead made me want to rush through the book as quickly as I could and get it over with.  Which means that I probably missed some meaning along the way.

Would I read it a second time?  It would take a lot for me to.  I'd probably gain some more insight in doing so but weighing the time against reading something new it would be a very hard choice.  I can see why this book is popular, I just unfortunately couldn't connect to it like the majority of the population seems to be able to.  This is a high-star book for a lot of people, but for me personally, it falls among the average as there are several other books with deep meaning out there that I found more readable and engaging.

Copyright 1969
215 pages

May 24, 2015

London by Edward Rutherfurd

Rutherfurd has a distinctive style to his writing.  He'll take a setting, then proceed to take you through time and follow a few families through the generations of a place.  This particular time, he chose London.

We start at the beginning of time.  And then quickly proceed to where people inhabit London, most noticeably the Ducket family, with their webbed fingers and patch of white hair.  As the generations move, the plight and fortunes of the Ducket family change and intermingle with others (Like the Barnikel family and the Penny family) and they lose and win fortune several times over.  The landscape of London changes as it goes from rural to more urban and the great London Bridge is built. 

There are a lot of characters and it's hard to keep up as you go along.  But it's almost like a series of short stories so if you don't remember the family lineage, it's really ok, you can still get caught up in another set of characters story.  My favorite is probably the story of Jenny and Percy, the maid and the man who loved her and their difficult relationship.  They were later in the history and more familiar in how they lived, so maybe that's why it was easier to relate to them.  Not that the other characters are uninteresting, there's so many different professions and issues that each story is unique.

I really do like the format of how the history is told.  Following the families through generations it makes it easier to understand the history of the area and it definitely isn't as dull as a history textbook would be.  This is a great way to learn history!  Although I can't speak as to how factual everything is.  Obviously the characters aren't real, but the way the landscape and city changed is probably pretty spot on.  There are a few stories that are a little rougher (brothels, kidnapping, etc.)  but the majority are pretty tame and non-violent.

Another good one by Rutherfurd.  I look forward to reading more of his books.

Copyright 1997
1124 pages