Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Everything That Rises Must Converge

Everything That Rises Must Converge / Flannery O'Connor, 269 pages


This is a collection of stories that O'Connor was working on when she died of lupus at the age of 39, in 1964.  How to describe them?  The protagonists are often horrible people who experience brief opportunities to grow.  Generally, they do not take advantage of these opportunities.  They or others die hideously violent deaths in surprise twist endings.  (I may have blunted the surprise a little - sorry.)

O'Connor is considered great by many people who know a lot more than I do, but I struggled to love these stories.  They are nearly perfectly crafted and one reads them quickly, even easily.  They are frequently extremely funny, and I will concede that O'Connor was an extraordinary observer.  As awful as the people in her stories are, they feel organic and strangely believable.  But she pulls no punches whatsoever when it comes to describing racial attitudes in the '60s south, and reading much of the (realistic) dialogue made me feel nauseated.  If she was too honest about her time and place, that's no failing.  But I was glad to turn the last page.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

I know what I saw

I know what I saw: modern-day  encounters with monsters of new urban legend and ancient lore / Linda S. Godfrey, read by Gabra Zackman, 322 pgs.

Basically this is a long list about first hand sightings of mysterious creatures.  Bigfoot, Momo, or whatever you call him/her makes an appearance but so do a whole lot of other unusual creatures.  Stick people, dog women, cave creatures, werewolves, dire dogs, the list is not short.  I loved the way each encounter is handled and the citations included.  Gabra Zackman does a brilliant job narrating.

They Called Us Enemy

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, art by Harmony Becker, 192 pages

In this graphic memoir, Takei recounts his years spent in two Japanese internment camps during World War II. He was a small child when his family was sent first to Rowher and then to Tule Lake, so he didn't really understand what was going on — though he had a better idea when the camps finally closed and his family was left to reintegrate into society on their own. Throughout the book, Takei explains clearly and calmly how this experience affected his family, and how it led him to a lifetime of campaigning for civil liberties and human rights. The book comes at the perfect time, as so many of Takei's experiences are being echoed in ICE roundups, in Muslim travel bans, and in refugee detainment on the Mexican border. This is essential reading for Americans of all ages.

Summer Lightning

Summer Lightning by P.G. Wodehouse  316 pp.

This is one of the series of books and stories that revolve around Blandings Castle and its inhabitants. Lord Emsworth, the master of the castle is absent minded and frequently confused. He cares only about his award winning pig, the Empress, and worries that his rival, Sir Gregory Parsloe Parsloe will produce a pig that outshines his. Meanwhile Emsworth's brother, Galahad, is writing a tell-all memoir that could prove to be an embarrassment to the family and get them ostracized by their friends. Emsworth's sister, Lady Constance is a domineering old bat who is chatelaine of the castle and sends many residents into hiding to avoid her. Adding to the chaos are two romantic crises involving younger members of the family, a shady private detective, Lord Emsworth's secretary who may or may not be mad, the theft of the Empress, and a butler who probably deserves sainthood after dealing with all of them. This is classic Wodehouse and a great deal of fun. The audiobook was narrated by John Wells who does a masterful job of voicing the characters.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Jade War

Jade War, Fonda Lee, 590 pages

Jade War is the second novel in Fonda Lee's Green Bone saga, and it picks up shortly after the first book ends, with the ensemble cast having arrived where they were headed at the end of Jade City. The story is a bit slower in pace, as the characters spend more time setting up plans and putting plans into motion, which makes sense in the context that they are realizing that their actions now have moved from impacting their local communities to being international quasi-crime bosses. The continued themes centering around the importance of family, cultures of violence, and the attended costs of belonging to a super judicial clan of Kung Fu masters. This is decidedly not light-hearted fantasy fare, as things often seem to move from bad to worse for the characters, and every action the characters take seems to come at a great personal cost. Relationships crumble, families and clans are torn apart, and the Kaul family that is at the heart of the story seem to barely hold on in each situation they end up in.

The Sol Majestic

The Sol Majestic by Ferrett Steinmetz, 384 pages

Savor Station is a remote space station best known for The Sol Majestic, the most exclusive restaurant in the universe. People will travel light years to visit, and reservations are made years in advance. But Kenna doesn't know about The Sol Majestic when he arrives. He's a starving teenager, dragged from station to station by his parents, who are attempting to fulfill the Inevitable Philosophies of their religion while haranguing Kenna for not yet coming up with his own Philosophy. Yet by pure dumb luck, Kenna finds himself in the kitchen of The Sol Majestic, falling in love with the work the chefs perform every day and falling in love with one chef in particular, an indentured servant named Benzo. Soon the fate of Kenna's as-yet-unknown Inevitable Philosophy and the grandiose-but-bleeding-money restaurant are intertwined, causing Kenna to doubt the religion of his parents as well as his own humanity.

This book is a love letter to food, to determination, to hardworking labor. In rebelling against his parents' prohibitions against manual labor and mixing with the commoners, Kenna learns about the universe around him as well as about himself. So in that sense, it's a fairly standard coming-of-age tale. But it also delves into the concepts of knowledge, of power, of honesty, of skill, and of time itself. While parts felt a bit slow to me, I ended up loving this book and the way it resolved itself. I'm so glad Ferrett Steinmetz decided to keep writing and created this book.

Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead

Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead / Olga Tokarczuk, 274 p.

Janina lives in a lonely Polish village near the Czech border.  She has few neighbors, and there are fewer all the time, as they keep turning up dead.  Stranger still, their deaths involve the presence of deer, foxes, and other wild animals of the region who are frequently hunted by the residents.  Could the animals be taking revenge?  Between helping her friend Dizzy translate William Blake and constructing elaborate horoscope predictions, Janina decides to solve the mystery herself, with interesting consequences.  Not quite what I expected, and not sure what I think.

After the Funeral

After the Funeral by Agatha Christie   191 pp.

I read all the Christie mysteries (yes, all 82 of them) many years ago but the title of this one didn't spark any memories when I found the audiobook available for 99 cents. And it was read by Hugh Fraser who played Hastings in the PBS Poirot series with David Suchet so why not revisit it? It's a typical Christie-type mystery: large manor house, wealthy family, death of eldest brother, etc. But at the reading of the will the sister comments "But he was murdered, wasn't he?" When she is brutally murdered the following day. When the family lawyer's investigations come to a dead end, he enlists the help of Hercule Poirot who, of course, solves the mystery. Eventually I came to remember the story but not the solution so it was almost like a new book to me.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

A Spark of Light

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult (2018) 369 pages

Author Jodi Picoult's thorough research brings to life just about every aspect that relates to abortion in her powerful novel, A Spark of Light. A cast of characters converges at an abortion clinic in Jackson, Mississippi, the last open clinic in the state: A gunman, a hostage negotiator (who learns that his daughter and sister are hostages in the clinic), a doctor who performs abortions, the various staff members of the clinic, and most tellingly, the different life situations and needs that bring patients (and pro-life activists) to the clinic.

The story starts at almost the end of the hostage negotiations, then each chapter drops back in time by one hour, revealing the mindsets, histories, and surprises that bring each person to life, before the jump to the finale. Masterful, suspenseful, real.

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Cruelest Month

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny (2007) 311 pages

In this third book in Penny's Inspector Gamache series, Madeleine Farreau, a woman that seems well-loved in the small village of Three Pines, dies during a seance in the very spooky Hadley house. When Inspector Gamache comes onto the scene, he has a good handful of suspects who had been at the seance, including a psychic and Tarot card reader, Jeanne Chauvet. Did Madeleine really die of fright or was her death a murder?

Meanwhile, while he works on the case, several different newspapers publish misleading information about him and his family, smearing their reputations. He thinks it's because of the work he'd done in the not-so-distant past, ousting some corrupt officials from the Sûreté du Québec. But if all the corrupt officials have been jailed, who is planting these outrageous stories in the media? Gamache has his own mystery to deal with as he explores Madeleine's death.