Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Black Dahlia

The Black Dahlia / James Ellroy, 325 pp.

After finishing Rick Geary's Black Dahlia I thought I would compare it with the fictional treatment of Elizabeth Short's story, told by the author of L.A. Confidential, Suicide Hill and others.  Short was murdered in particularly gruesome fashion in 1947 Los Angeles; the crime was never solved.  Ellroy tells her tale through the narrative of two fictional detectives, Lee Blanchard and Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert, former boxers who happen to be in love with the same woman.

The novel was first published 30 years ago and its setting takes us back 70 years.  And it sure reads like a trip in a time machine!  There is one heck of a lot of misogyny, racism, and homophobia packed into these pages, most of it a perfectly accurate depiction of the setting, no doubt.  The lingo - a very noir LAPD-ese - is great fun, but it took some getting used to.  And the story?  On that point, I would have to agree with the rave reviews on the jacket.  Detective fiction doesn't get much better than this.  But I think my next LA noir read will be a Easy Rawlins by Walter Mosley.  Same time, same place, but a very different perspective.

Monday, March 20, 2017


Homegoing / Yaa Gyasi, 305 pgs.

The setting is Ghana in the 18th century.  Two half sisters are born and follow different paths.  One marries a British slaver, one is sold into slavery.  Each chapter follows an offspring from the previous generation.  Both sides run into issues and strife.  This story follows through to present day.  Some chapters are harder to read than others.  I mostly liked the book but the short exposure to many of the characters left me wanting more information about several.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Conjuring of Light

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab, 624 pages

In the first two books of the Shades of Magic trilogy, Schwab created a series of parallel worlds centered on their different versions of London: Grey London, which is for all intents and purposes our world; Red London, a beautiful world in which magic flows freely, though not unrestrainedly; White London, which has become stark and scary through the rule of siblings who control magic with an iron fist; and Black London, which has fallen to wild dark magic and is shut off from all other places. The only people who can travel between these Londons are specific types of magicians, called Antari (easily recognizable through their one normal eye and one reflective black eyeball).

This final entry in the trilogy brings the Antari together to fight a force that has escaped Black London and is attempting to take over Red London. Though there are some elements of this story that I particularly liked (The gay non-white royalty that's not really a big deal! The tougher than nails women!), I felt a bit let down by the story as a whole. The book felt long and unwieldy, and certainly could have used another pass of proofreading, as way too many inconsistencies and typos sneaked through. It ended well enough, though, and I got to see these fantastic characters grow and mature. So it was OK.

Before We Visit the Goddess

Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni  225 pp.

This is the story of three generations of strong, determined, and headstrong women and the effect secrets had on their mother-daughter relationships. Sabitri learned the art of making spectacular Indian sweets from her mother. After she successfully sues a company for the wrongful death of her husband she opens a sweets shop which becomes immensely successful. But her workaholic ways and strident rigidity with her daughter, Bela, leads to abandonment when her daughter elopes to America with her shady boyfriend. Even after the birth of her daughter, Tara, Bela has very little contact with her mother until she enlists Sabitri's help when Tara drops out of college. Bela is a survivor, coping with a divorce and estrangement from her own daughter. She is befriended by Ken, a young gay man who lives in her apartment building. With his help she regains her self-confidence and begins a successful food blog and cookbook writing career. Tara tries to distance herself from her Indian heritage until a job puts her in contact with a visiting Indian businessman who takes her to the temple. Tara has her own problems and secrets that keep her away from her mother. By the end of the book multiple secrets are revealed that caused the behavior that created wedges in their relationships. Even Bela's dishonest ex-husband's secrets come to light and explain much of his behavior. There is a lot packed in this short novel and it's characters are fully fleshed and interesting.

LaRose, by Louise Erdrich

The name “LaRose” has been passed down through several generations of a Native-American family and those who bear the name are special.  The newest LaRose is a boy, unlike those who bore the name before him.  Six years old, he is youngest of the five children being raised by Landereaux and Emmaline Iron.  The eldest, Hollis, is actually not their kin, but the son of Landereaux’s childhood friend, Romeo, whose life has been ruined by alcohol, drugs, and resentment.  He is bitter about the success of his former friend, who had a hand in the serious boyhood injury that left Romeo a cripple.  LaRose’s best friend is his cousin, Dusty.  Dusty is the son of Peter and Nola Ravich – Nola is Emmaline’s half-sister and Peter is not Indian – and he has an older sister, Maggie.  The Irons live on the reservation and Peter and Nola live just adjacent to it.  In the fall of 1999, tragedy occurs when Landereaux, an accomplished hunter, is out after the buck he has been watching all summer.  He shoots it on his friend Peter’s land, where he often hunts, and is horrified to find that somehow he has killed Dusty instead of the deer.  To atone for this mistake and following an ancestral way, he and Emmaline take LaRose to the Ravichs to live with them in Dusty’s place.  Both families struggle with the grief that this event has set in motion.  This beautifully written story weaves together the members of the two families and how they handle love, loss, and justice.  It also speaks powerfully of the shameful treatment of Native-Americans by white settlers and governments.  A thoughtful book that is a worthy addition to Erdrich’s long list of affecting novels.  372 pp.

The cruelest month, by Louise Penny

Dirty work at the crossroads, again – in the little village of Three Pines as spring is upon it and Easter is being celebrated.  The seemingly harmless idea of holding a séance turns deadly when an ill-advised second séance is held in the evil old Hadley house.  Once again, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is called in to investigate whodunit.  And he has problems of his own as old friends/enemies continue to pursue the end of his career through devious means.  Luckily, since after three volumes one comes to really love the inhabitants of the village, Louise Penny hasn’t yet pulled an “Elizabeth George” on us and killed off a favorite character.  I’d hate to lose Gabri or Oliver and their delicious food and drink.  311 pp.

The Alienist

The Alienist by Caleb Carr  496 pp.

Newspaper reporter John Moore joins with "alienist" (aka psychologist) Dr. Laszlo Kreizler to solve a series of brutal mutilations/murders in 1896 New York. During the time when Teddy Roosevelt was NYC Police Commissioner and vainly trying to clean up the corruption in the police force, someone is killing male child prostitutes. The crimes are so horrifying and the victims so scandalous the "respectable" newspapers won't publish articles about them. The boys are ones who cater to a specific type of gentleman: one who likes young boys dressed as girls. The victims are tortured, mutilated, and murdered in horrendous ways. Roosevelt approves of a plan to have Moore and Kreizler investigate without official police sanctions. They are pitted against the city's wealthy elite who want the crimes hushed up, anti-Roosevelt rogue police, and the killer himself. Moore and Kreizler are aided by Kreizler's servants, the Isaacson brothers who had aided Roosevelt in battling corruption, and Sara Howard, the first woman hired by the NYPD albeit as a secretary. This book is a classic, if a bit gory, whodunit. There is a sequel: Angel of Darkness.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63

Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, by Marcelino Truong, 272 pages.
The author tells of the time when he was young (from 4-6 years old) and living in Vietnam. His mother was French and his father was a Vietnamese diplomat, who served during these two years, as a translator for South Vietnamese President Ngo Dihn Diem.
The violence in Saigon, as the war grew into something broader and more all-encompassing, is shown as Truong remembers, he and his brother were excited when they saw two A1 Skyraiders bomb the Presidential Palace as part of an aborted coup. Both boys giggle when their firghtened mother curses as they're hiding under the table during the resulting anti-aircraft barrage.
The boys look on in wonder as soldiers, tanks, and helicopters fill the city. Their older sister is less impressed, and their mother is frantic with worry. Just before Diem falls in a successful coup, Truong senior takes a posting in England. A well-illustrated and interesting memoir.

The 13 Clocks

The 13 Clocks by James Thurber, 124 pages.

Thurber's 1950 fable of a wicked Duke, a princess, and time.
It's a children's story, and I really should have read it to my daughter, but she wanted something with pictures, so I read this after she went to sleep.
Neal Gaiman talked about this book in his collection of essays, The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfictions.
A fun read.


Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair, 111 pages.

Sinclair's poems were in that in-between zone, for me. Some of them were clear and bright and accessible to me. Some of them, like "Crania Americana," which the notes explain, is titled to reference Samuel George Morton's psuedoscientific text of the same name, and also "incorporates, alludes to, and repurposes the lines, and phrases from Shakespeare's The Tempest that are either spoken by Caliban or spoken in direct reference to Caliban," went pretty much over my head. Interesting.