Friday, September 21, 2012

Novels, Novels for Everyone

I'm still here! Oh, what tumbleweeds have flown through my blog's landscape this month. But, like a conquering hero, or locusts, I inevitably return.

It's not that I haven't been reading. I've got plenty of good stuff to share with y'all. I've just been in one of those crazy all-over-the-place places, which for me means I'm in the midst of six or seven books, and have to stop myself and focus before I can talk about anything. (I know, I'm soooo manic, right? People shy away from me in public, with all this kind of craziness on display.)

But here are some pretty books you might well admire.

Vanessa Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers is a debut novel (you guys, I read so many books in series, and so many authors I discover then devour, and it's a treat to come across a debut and sit, fingers crossed that I will get to enjoy them over the course of their careers.) It reads as a sophisticated, incisive portrait of a very compelling character. Victoria has been orphaned since birth, and made the rounds of foster care and group homes, the one shining period of enduring peace and happiness being when she lived with a grape-grower named Elizabeth. Elizabeth wanted to adopt the eleven-year-old, and then things went wrong, so much so that when we meet Victoria on her eighteenth birthday, she is ill-equipped to be released from care. But she is eager to be on her own, and to retreat into the world of flowers. Elizabeth taught her the Victorian language of flowers (you know, red rose means love, yellow rose means friendship, and a thousand more I never suspected until I read this.) It's the most accessible and honest form of communication Victoria can use, and when she meets a flower grower who seems to understand it, it signals the start of a relationship but also the unraveling of the secrets of Victoria's past. The whole thing is compelling and smoothly plotted, if a little too fast to wrap up at the end, and I hope like heck that Diffenbaugh publishes more like it in the future.

One of those authors I devour is Jonathan Tropper, and One Last Thing Before I Go was no exception. Unless the exception is that I devoured it more exceptionally ravenously than others of his. It's yummy. Honestly, a book about a ex-rock star who makes his living playing in wedding and bar mitzvah bands while ignoring his ex-wife and daughter and living in a dump of a long-term hotel habituated by other pathos-laden divorced men, and I love it? Yeah. Tropper is excellent at giving me reasons to invest in his characters, in this case, even before Silver has a heart attack while taking his fresh-from-high-school-graduation daughter to get an abortion, I felt for him. The genius of Tropper is that even in the midst of Silver's self-pity and self-absorption (all of which is accompanied by some biting humor), he is a man I'm pulling for, even as I laugh at him and cry for him.

And here's another English amateur sleuth series I can't believe I haven't mentioned already. Rhys Bowen's Her Royal Spyness (and subsequent Royal Spyness mysteries) is narrated by Georgie (aka Lady Victoria Georgiana blah blah blah, 34th in line for the British throne), who is young and penniless and not fond of living with her brother the dim but affable Duke of Rannoch (and his not-affable wife) in the ancestral Scottish castle that has yet to obtain any of the mod-cons of the 1930s. So she settles herself in the family's London townhouse, clandestinely begins making money as a house cleaner, and even more clandestinely takes on espionage assignments for her relative the Queen. There's the awful Wallis woman, there's a body in Georgie's bathtub, there's wedding-crashing with dashing-but-mysterious Irishmen, and Georgie has a Cockney ex-police grandfather and a neglectful jet-setting ex-actress mother. What more could you want? More? Well, you've got it, because there are five published and one forthcoming Georgie books, and so far, I've adored them all (Royal Blood less than the others, but it's a marginal thing.)