by Kathryn Stockett
I meant to read this a few months ago, so I could see the movie before Oscar time. (I always try to read the book before I see the movie it's based on.) However, it took until this month before my name came up on the library hold list.
The book was definitely worth the wait. Not my usual fantasy/sci-fi pick, this historical novel is set in the south in the early 1960s. If you've seen the movie buzz, you know what it's about: Upper-class white girl/aspiring author decides to write a book telling the stories of the ubiquitous black maids around her, against the background of the civil rights movement.
The book changes point-of-view between Skeeter, the would-be author, Aibileen, maid and nanny to Skeeter's childhood friend Elizabeth, and Minnie, Aibileen's friend and former maid to Skeeter's other friend, Hilly. The sections of Aibileen and Minnie are written in the vernacular, which I found very distracting at first - it feels very artificial in my head, like I have to translate as I go. I got over it pretty quickly, since the story is so engrossing.
Since I was born in 1970, this setting is as much history to me as if it had been set in the middle ages, and almost as hard to understand - people really believed these things, acted this way, and it was all just accepted as the Way Things Were. The author does a great job of placing the reader in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, of creating the historical context for the stories of the help. All of the characters, and their stories, are touching, amusing and moving. It's a book that stays with you. And now, I can't wait to rent the movie.
The Art of Deception
by Elizabeth Ironside
Also not my usual fantasy/sci-fi novel, this is a very British book. Sort of a murder mystery, set in London, it's told in the first person by Nicholas Osterlonie, an amateur art historian, who recounts how his life unraveled when his wife left him and he encounters a beautiful neighbor, who might be connected to the Russian Mafia. Everything in the story is about perceptions, how we make judgments based on limited information, and see only what fits our preconceptions.
The plot is way too complex, and nebulous, to really summarize, but it's an odd little story, with a twist ending that will have the reader flipping back, seeing what clues might have been missed because of our own incomplete perceptions, and our own understanding of how we expect the characters to behave based on the possibly unreliable information presented by the first-person narrator.