Books 39 - 42

39. Death of an Ordinary Man by Glen Duncan - A dead man observes his family at his own funeral and wake, looking for clues as to why he died. His recently departed stature gives him the ability to see but not be seen, as well as to hear some of the thoughts of his family. Their grief triggers memories of another death in the family, one that no one dealt with nearly as well they seem to be handling his passing. The presence of two people he doesn't recognize is what troubles him most, and until he finds the connection, he can't let himself move on. In a less brave author's hands, this story would have been turned into a predicatable story of bad things happening to good people. But Duncan isn't afraid to twist the story, to veer off just when you think you see the path he is following. He's an author who creates characters strong enough to tell their own story.

40. Fielding Gray by Simon Raven - Set in 1945, this is a story of what happens when the acceptaed school boy flirtations and crushes develop int0 something stronger and less accepted. **, an upper level student at an all boy school, is attracted to a younger student. He pursues him, seduces him, but isn't ready when the younger boy wants to continue the relationship over the term break. An unhappy home life convinces ** that is is good to be wanted, despite warnings from other classmates that he's wrong to encourage the younger student. By the time he's ready to face the younger boy, something he feels responsible for setting in motion had gone horribly wrong. A very fast read, sad but honest.

41. The Outcast by Sadie Jones - If Ian McEwen had ever been a sixteen year old girl, this is the book he would have written. A young boy loses his mother, and no one around him has the tools or the heart to help him recover. Instead, they all have their own levels of disfunction to travel through - all except one, who fanfic readers will recognize as a Mary Sue of the highest calibre. That's not to say this isn't a good read, if you enjoy a pretty good gothic mixed with a heavy dose of romantic idealism. My complaint is that Jones paints her characters in such obvious broad strokes that you know what they're going to do pages before they do it. Also, there's a gender bias so broad (women = silently suffering victims, men = brutes that can't help themselves), it might have worked for a story set in the 1850's, but not the 1950's, The author is capable of letting characters reveal their flaws through subtle actions, there are some very moving passages of this book that prove it. It's when the story is dragged back onto a "love conqueres all" path that it becomes difficult to read.

42. The Birth House by Ami McKay - l checked this historical fiction out at the library after having a "Well, I've never read a book about that place or topic!" reaction to the cover flap, and I'm very glad I did. Set in Nova Scotia shortly before WWI, this is the life story of a young woman, the only girl in a large family of boys, who learns the art of midwifery, at first out of lack of any other future, but later out of love and respect for the other women in her town. This was the point in time when medical science had discovered how to turn child birth into a medical procedure instead of a natural event, and our protaganist runs head on into a doctor who is all about business and nothing about health or well being. There's a lot of interesting homepathic history in this book, as the village midwife dealt with all parts of women's health, from infertility to after-the-fact birth control. There are plenty of multi-layered characters in the book, and every one of the main ones has a complete and believable arc, something that few historical fictions accomplish.