And I'm trying this entry again after my computer ate it yesterday!
#24: Grand Opening by Jon Hassler. Anyone who's read here long knows that I'm a huge fan of Jon Hassler. I wrote him the only fan letter I've ever written. And he responded! Anyway, Grand Opening is the story of a family who moves to a small town in the middle of World War II and opens a grocery store. Hassler said, in his book Good People, that he wrote Grand Opening in direct opposition to his lived experience of growing up in a small town, which was pretty much idyllic. He thought it could not possibly be that way for other people, so he focused on the down side of the small town experience in this book. As for all of his books, even the negative looks at things are tinged with small graces. He does do something that is rare for him--he created an almost completely evil person in this one. Wallace Flint is a character who does something despicable. We recognize him as evil, and do not hesitate to call him that, but Hassler has made him complex. We understand the driving motivations for him. His resentments. His jealousies. We can't condone what he does, or give him sympathy, but we see him as a complete person--wounded, injured, but bad. Recommended, absolutely.
#25: Standing in the Rainbow by Fannie Flagg. This is the story, from the 1940s to the 1980s of Elmwood Springs, Missouri. It revolves around Neighbor Dorothy, who has a kitchen table radio show (shows which actually existed throughout the Midwest at the time). It looks at the lives of her husband Doc, the town pharmacist, and her son and daughter. All kinds of eccentric characters are thrown in--most notably the traveling evangelists. It is small town life as we would like to think it is--not reality. Much more saccharine than Hassler's look at small town life, it's still worth a read at the pool or beach, or when you're lying under an air conditioner vent with a glass of iced tea in your hand.
#26: Scales of Justice by Ngaio Marsh. Lord Lacklander, on his deathbed, gives his memoirs to Colonel Catarette, leaving behind an explosive secret. A secret so explosive that it leads to the murder of Colonel Catarette himself--found dead on the banks of the river Chyne, ostensibly after catching the long-sought-after fish the "Big 'Un". Inspector Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard is called in to solve the case. Not as engaging as Agatha Christie--because I don't care for her characters in the same way. At least not yet.
#27: Death of a Fool by Ngaio Marsh. Another Roderick Alleyn mystery. This time the murder occurs during the annual Winter Solstice performance of The Dance of the Five Sons. The dance is a traditional folk dance that has been performed by groups from local families for the past 200 years. Only this time, the "Old Guiser" -- lead dancer and paterfamilias--turns up dead after the dance. How was he killed when EVERYONE was watching? Inspector Alleyn and his sidekick Fox find out. I nearly had this one figured out. I got most of the puzzle pieces, but hadn't put 'em together quite correctly.
#28: Love Among the Ruins by Angela Thirkell. Another trip to Barsetshire, this time in the years immediately following the 2nd World War. The peace is almost harder to bear than the war was, and shortages are rampant. Plus, there's been a fruit basket turnover in the social order. The story largely revolves around the lives and loves of the Dean sisters (Susan the Red Cross librarian and Jessica the actress) and the Belton brothers (Charles a new schoolmaster and Freddy a navy man) and how they intertwine. Pig shows, birthday parties, conservative rallies, gossip gone wrong, all the brouhaha of a Thirkell universe. For this one, it helps to have read others. The cast is too extensive and there are far too many names to keep up with. But if you've read other Thirkell, this is another enjoyable one.
#29: Sights Unseen by Kaye Gibbons. The story of Maggie Barnes and her family as told by her daughter Hattie. Maggie is that woman known in her small North Carolina town as "that Barnes woman with all the problems." Her problem is mental illness--bipolar disorder in particular. A very clear-eyed look, in my opinion, of the costs of living with such a person, both to the person herself and to her family. The story has a twist--thanks to medication, electroconvulsive therapy, and psychiatric intervention, Maggie becomes well. The interesting thing is to see how that change affects her family. Gibbons has a gift for writing things so realistically that you lose track of the fact that you are reading a novel and assume that you are reading an autobiographical tale instead. Very good. (This is also my June selection for the Southern Reading Challenge over at Maggie Reads.)
#30: Nemesis by Agatha Christie. An unusual mystery, in that it takes off from characters met in another book, A Carribbean Mystery. I had to go back and reread part of that book to put myself in mind of the characters. Interesting--Miss Marple (how I love Miss Marple!) is sent on a journey to find out something and obtain justice for someone. The trick is that when she starts she doesn't know exactly what she is supposed to be doing or for whom she is looking. Of course, she figures it out, in her own flighty, but effective way. I figured out the how, but not the "who" did it until right at the end. Enjoyable.