Saturday, May 30, 2015

What We Talk about When We Talk about Anne Frank

What We Talk about When We Talk about Anne Frank by Nathan Englander, 207 pages.

An engaging series of short stories by the author of The Ministry of Special Cases, this was an honorable mention for the Sophie Brodie Medal in 2013. The title story, named after the Raymond Carver story, portrays two couples, one Israeili couple, and one American, discussing who would save whom should the Holocaust come again. They do this while very high, and the story veers from humor to sadness. "Camp Sundown" involves a group of elderly residents of a strange sleepaway camp who decide that vigilante justice is called for when no one will believe their suspicions about a fellow camper. 
This is a strong and interesting collection.
For the audio, each story has it's own narrator, and they all do a good job.
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It's not about perfect

It's not about perfect: competing for my country and fighting for my life / Shannon Miller 288 pgs.

Shannon Miller is the most decorated American gymnast in history.  She has won more championship medals than anyone else.  She is also a cancer survivor.  She was diagnosed with a rare form of Ovarian cancer in 2011 after a cyst was detected during a routine checkup.  Even before the cancer, Miller had devoted her post athletic career to women's health and childhood fitness.

This book is the straightforward telling of her early family life and athletic career.  I guess it is obvious that she is highly motivated and hard else do you make it to the Olympics.  Her coaches Steve Nunno and Peggy Liddick clicked with her type A personality and helped her achieve greatness.  One story that I particularly liked was the moments following her gold medal performance in the 1996 Olympics, she did her dismount and her coach congratulated her and then gave her "corrections" -- things she could improve upon next time.  This was their way at all competitions but this was her LAST competition and her last event.  For some reason that story stuck with me.  I guess if you have a system that has worked well for you, why change it?

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Fives and Twenty-Fives

Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre, 380 pages.

Lt Donovan is aware that the troops under his command know that he
is not the leader that Gunnery Sgt Stout was, that he’s not even the leader that Sgt Michelle Gomez is, but they don't necessarily blame him for all that happens. All of the characters seem willing to share the blame and to take the burden back home with them.  They’re not a group who are happy with the way things went on their tour of duty in Iraq. A Marine platoon tasked with road repair and route clearance, under Donovan they fill six hundred and forty-seven potholes. Each one, all six hundred and forty-seven have been re-seeded  with bombs or an improvised explosive devices by insurgents. Route clearance involved driving in a small armed convoy to the pothole site, finding and rendering harmless the bomb or bombs, and filling and repaving the pothole. All while avoiding hidden bombs, ambushes, secondary attacks and secondary explosives. 
Corporal Zahn, whom Donovan is meeting up with as the book opens, after their war is over, is still suffering from undiagnosed PTSD resulting from bomb blasts and related trauma. They’re both in New Orleans, Donovan in grad school, and Zahn visiting some of his friends from high school
Doc Pleasant,  Hospitalman Third Class Lester Pleasant is from a small town in Cajun country in Louisiana, and is nearby.
Dodge, or Kateb, the son of a Baathist, translator for the unit, trying to finish his graduate thesis on Huckleberry Finn

The book's title refers to the potential blast zones the Marines are reminded repeatedly to keep clear, five meters from the armored vehicle, twenty-five meters from their more lightly armored selves outside the vehicle.
Pitre's first book has interesting characters with compelling stories, and his writing is nuanced, tight, and respectful of the characters. It was a joy to read.
It's only because I recently read Phil Klay’s Redeployment that I’m not proclaiming this the best book I've read about the Iraq war. If you're going to read two books about the Iraqi war, this should be one of them. If you're only going to read one, go for this one if you prefer novels to short stories, or just go for Redeployment.

Flight: volume 5 edited by Kazu Kibuishi

Flight: volume 5 edited by Kazu Kibuishi, 363 pages.
The fifth of eight volumes of graphic short stories by a wide variety of cartoonists, graphic artists, writers and visual artists contains a nice mix of stories. There are some stories that continue through the series, like the Saga of Rex by Michael Gasgne.
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Flight: volume 6 edited by Kazu Kibuishi

Flight: volume 6 edited by Kazu Kibuishi,  283 pages.
The sixth of eight volumes of graphic short stories by a wide variety of cartoonists, graphic artists, writers and visual artists contains a nice mix of stories.
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The Reivers

The Reivers by William Faulkner, 305 pages

When I read a bunch of Faulkner's books decades ago, this was one of my favorites, probably because it seemed more lighthearted, among the least entangled with the ugliness of racism, poverty, and despair found in his more serious novels. Boon Hogganbeck and Lucius Priest decide, in 1906, when Lucius was eleven, to borrow grandfather McCaslin’s automobile for a long-weekend trip from Jefferson Mississippi to Memphis. This was all made possible by the absence of Lucius's parents and grandparents due to a family funeral. Along with Ned McCaslin, a black man who works for Lucius's grandfather and who is also a blood relation to the McCaslins, Edmonds, and Priests of Yoknapatawpha County, Boon and Lucius travel on bad roads to encounter a stolen horse (to match their stolen auto) several prostitutes, a knife fight, several horse races, and a jealous constable.
Faulkner's last book before his death, The Reivers won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize.

A God in Ruins

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, 468 pages.

The sequel to the intensely original and equally brilliant  Life after Life reinforces the contention that Atkinson is the best writer going (and I’m sure someone besides me and some of my colleagues are contending this; they gotta be, she just is. I'd be willing to reluctantly accept "among the best . . . ", anyway). This second book tells the tale of Ursula’s younger brother, Teddy. Teddy was a wonderful child, his mother’s favorite, his Aunt Izzie's favorite, his sisters' favorite, and a decent young man. The story jumps back and forth between Teddy’s childhood, his time as a bomber pilot during the war, his later life with Nancy and daughter Viola, and time with his grandchildren, Sunny and Bertie. Each part of Teddy's life is beautifully drawn with heartbreaking detail. 
His time as a pilot of a Halifax bomber spent (at times in vain; the girl in the war office tells him that statistically speaking there's almost no chance for any of the crews to live through their allotted missions) trying to keep his crew alive- caused him to vow that should he make it through the war he would live the remainder of his life as a good and kind person.

He tries to do that, to live a quiet uneventful life,  but as with sister, Ursula, events and episodes in our lives are never as simple as we think.  Viola, Teddy’s angry and self-centered daughter, and his grandchildren are great characters as well, living full lives, deserving books of their own. I'm glad that I read the author's note explaining how this story relates to Ursula's in Life After Life after finishing the book.
Read them both, they are quite the thing for fans of artful and heartfelt storytelling, or fans of anything, really. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

A God in Ruins / Kate Atkinson 468 pp.

Kate Atkinson's writing is so good it makes me want to jump up and down cheering like a sports fan.  She has a fluid, immersive quality that engages me completely in a way few novelists do.  That quality is especially evident here in the story of  Teddy Todd, the brother of Life after Life's Ursula Todd.  His story begins between the wars and lasts into our current century, with an important chunk spent piloting Halifax bombers over Germany during the war.  But Atkinson shows us the story with linear time fractured (she uses the word fractals in the novel) into kaleidoscopic bits.  We see key moments in Teddy's life as he might remember them himself - one thought leading to another, back and forth through time.  Far from being confusing, this works beautifully in Atkinson's skilled hands, as though there were no better way to write a novel.
And if that weren't enough, in Teddy Atkinson has given us a wonderful 20th century man and an almost lovable character.  His decency towards the men in his command, his wife, daughter, and grandchildren is practically sexy.  While he and his wife don't have a bad romance, they do have an intriguing one.

The Coroner's Lunch

The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill  272 pp.

This is the first book in the mystery series starring Dr. Siri Paiboun, the chief medical examiner in Laos following the communist takeover in 1975. Dr. Siri is conscripted into the position at the age of 72 because the "only doctor with a background in performing autopsies had crossed the river" to Thailand. Business is booming with a poisoned official's wife, the bodies of three torture victims, a looming international incident with Vietnam, and the mysterious deaths of officials in charge of  forest clearing project in a northern Hmong region. Things get really serious when there is an attempt on the doctor's life. In spite of it all, Siri handles his job and combats the bumbling bureaucrats with intelligence, sarcasm, wry observations and the assistance of his two helpers, Geung and nurse Dtui. At an age when he thought he would be living quietly on a pension, the doctor is investigating political coverups, dealing with tribal spirits, and finding a bit a romance with the woman who makes his lunch. This was my introduction to the Dr. Siri series but I have enjoyed Cotterill's work through the Jimm Juree mystery series.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Eat more better

Eat more better: how to make every bite more delicious / Dan Pashman 340 pgs.

This is a brilliant book about how to make all eating experiences as good as they can be.  Not at all high brow, but very practical tips on making small changes that lead to an overall eating experience.  There are a few recipes here but more tips on how to assemble and consume food.

Dan Pashman is the creator of that features potcasts and videos about his work.

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That Should Be a Word

That Should Be a Word: A Language Lover's Guide to Choregasms, Povertunity, Brattling, and 250 Other Much-Needed Terms for the Modern World by Lizzie Skurnick, 150 pages

In That Should Be a Word, Skurnick offers up a plethora of neologisms to fit all manner of situations in today's world. Some of these are a bit too specific (such as "Twiticule," or to make fun of someone on Twitter; or perhaps "Whoogle," to look up a person online), but I can definitely see the merit in adding some of these to the collective lexicon. My favorite is "Slocab" (the words you can't think of when you really need them), and considering how often this situation arises in my life.

My only complaints with this generally fun book are its organization (the words are organized by general topic, and there's no alphabetical list ANYWHERE), and the fact that most of these words are useful to only a certain yuppie-ish segment of the population. That said, it's worth a gander if you're a wordie (you know, like a foodie, but with words). Did I just make up a new word there? Hmm...

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Code Talker

Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Code Talkers of WWII by Chester Nez with Judith Avila   320 pp.

This book is just what the title says. It is the memoir of the last of the Marine Corps Navajo Code Talkers who were instrumental in helping the U.S. defeat the Japanese in the brutal war of the Pacific during WWII. Chester Nez was born in the Checkerboard area near the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico. As a child he herded sheep and was a witness to the U.S. Government's Navajo Livestock "Reduction" in which 90% of his family's sheep and goat herd were burned alive by government agents. Nez was sent to boarding schools where the students were punished for speaking their native language. It was at one of those schools where young men were recruited for the Marine's secret project. Nez was one of the original twenty-nine Code Talkers who developed the unbreakable code based on everyday words used in the Navajo language but so complex only other code talkers could understand it. Navajo was chosen because it is not a written language and is extremely difficult for non-native speakers to learn. The talkers worked in pairs and lived through many battles, always having to stay in harm's way to relay coded critical messages and often working 36 hours without a break. The important part these men played during the war was kept classified for over 20 years. The story of Chester Nez at times heartbreaking and at others heartwarming. It is much more than just a war story.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss and Tell

Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham, 330 pages

Ten years after graduating from Neptune High, teen private eye Veronica Mars is back in the family business, digging up dirt and fighting the class war of Neptune, one bored millionaire's infidelities at a time. Mr. Kiss and Tell finds Veronica trying to track down a rapist who assaulted a young woman in Neptune's finest hotel. This the second of the Veronica Mars books to be published after conclusion of the three-season TV show and fan-funded movie, and while it still has plenty of the character (and characters) of the smart and snappy show (seriously, watch it if you haven't; it's awesome), it doesn't have quite the same zing that the first book. I kept waiting for one of Thomas' trademark twists, but finished the book unfulfilled. That said, it's still worth reading, particularly if you're a fan of the series.


Bettyville / George Hodgman 278 pgs.

George Hodgman is one of those guys who never felt like he fit in.  He was gay and grew up in a small town.  He never doubted the love of his parents, however, the awesome Betty and Big George.  Now Big George is gone and Betty may not be able to live by herself anymore.  George returns home to Paris, MO from New York City and tries to figure out what to do while he cares for Betty.

This book is full of fun anecdotes and stories of the family.  As you read, you feel for everyone involved.  At first it seems like George is sacrificing to help his mother but then you realize  he is also helping himself quite a bit.

Plenty of local color and interesting "place dropping" for those of us in Missouri.

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Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale, 253 pages

Frank Abagnale dropped out of high school and spent a sizeable chunk of the 1960s on the lam, impersonating everyone from a Pan-Am co-pilot to a prosecuting attorney to a pediatrician while passing fake checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Catch Me If You Can (which was the inspiration for the 2002 movie of the same name starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks) is Abagnale's memoir of his life as a charismatic con man, and is just as charming and entertaining as Abagnale himself must have been to all of the marks he scammed.

If this book has any fault, it's in the ending. Those familiar with Abagnale's story know that he eventually was apprehended and became a successful consultant to the FBI on forgery and fraud. This book, however, doesn't go into exactly how that happened, which I'm sure would have been a great story, considering how disliked he was by the FBI agents who were tracking him. Otherwise, though, this was a fun book.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Anne of Windy Poplars

Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery, 278 pages

The fourth book in Montgomery's series about red-headed rascally orphan Anne Shirley finds Anne a teacher at a high school in the small town of Summerside on Prince Edward Island. The book covers three years and details many of Anne's adventures and interactions with Summerside's more colorful characters. To me, this book pales in comparison to the first couple of books in this series, in part because so much of the story is told in letters to Gilbert Blythe, who is absent for the entire book. The previous interactions between Anne and Gilbert were always a highlight for me, so it would have been nice to get his reactions to some of Anne's stories. That said, the crochety old women of Summerside were quite amusing, doing their best to make up for the lack of Gilbert.

Zen and the Art of Faking It

Zen and the Art of Faking It by Jordan Sonnenblick  264 pp.

Eighth grader San Lee starts the school year at another school yet again. His dad is in jail for fraud and his mother is struggling to keep them housed & fed while paying off his father's legal bills. San hasn't decide how he wants to re-invent himself once again for the new school. When he answers too many questions in World History about Buddhism because he'd learned about it at a previous school, he unintentionally finds his new persona as a Zen Master. What starts out as a way to impress his new found crush, a girl who goes by the name of Woody, San finds himself deeper and deeper in a role that he can't quite fulfill while trying to avoid getting beat up by Woody's stepbrother or losing Woody's friendship. But along the way, Zen changes his life without San realizing it. This was entertaining and the parts about Buddhism were accurate. Unfortunately the cd version I listened to  had lots of skips in it.

The Sellout

The Sellout by Paul Beatty, 289 pages.

Beatty's mad, satirical novel about race and identity, set in modern day Los Angeles, stumbles and stomps over taboo topics and skewers the views of people of every description. The book's narrator, Mr. Me the younger, nicknamed Bonbon by his sometimes semi-girlfriend, tells the story of how he ended up before the Supreme Court (the case is, of course, Me vs. the United States) after his plans to resurrect the his defunct hometown of Dickens, California, results in the reintroduction of segregation and slavery. Along the way he recounts the various crazy social experiments he was subjected to by  his father, recounts the family's running battle with Foy Chestnut, and explores Me's lifelong connection with the town's favorite son, Hominy Jenkins, understudy to Buckwheat in the  Little Rascals. 
 Not for the easily offended, it's a weirdly great book.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, 323 pages.
This incredibly popular book, called in some reviews the next Gone Girl, is a well-written and competently done mystery.
While lacking the last seven or eight extra layers of surprise that GG had, The Girl on the Train is still nimble and surprising.
Rachel's marriage to Tom collapsed under the weight of their inability to have children, their fighting and her drinking. She's lost her job and her home, too. Now she's riding the train all day, making up stories, and messing up everything around her. While on a weekend bender, she witnesses something, she's not exactly sure what, and wakes the next morning bruised and bloody.
While the whole thing works pretty well, there is that one frequently found flaw, not quite enough possible suspects to keep the surprise covered up all the way through to the end.
The characters are fresh, lively, and compelling. A fun read. The audio, read by Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey, and India Fisher, is great.
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Monday, May 18, 2015

The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian

The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian / Sherman Alexie 229 pgs.

Arnold Spirit Jr AKA Junior is a 14 year old cartoonist and Native American living on a reservation.  He is the smartest kid in his class and decides to leave the school on "the rez" and attend a nearby all white public school in hopes to be able to better himself.  Everyone on the rez kind of knows there is nothing good happening there but they also resent Arnold for leaving.

This book, in some ways, is your typical coming of age story but few of us have experience on a reservation.  The realities of the life Arnold leads include poverty, alcoholism, bullying and violence.  The death rate is higher on the rez than in town where Arnold goes to school.  These topics are dealt with in a realistic manner that gives the book some heft.  An interesting read for all ages.

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The Blondes

The Blondes by Emily Schultz, 384 pages

Imagine what would happen if a certain (and somewhat arbitrary) segment of the worldwide population suddenly became susceptible to an uncontrollable disease. What would happen to society? How would we, as a race, respond? That's exactly what happens in Schultz's The Blondes, in which blonde women (whether naturally blonde or bottle blonde) of all ages suddenly begin contracting a rabies-like disease, causing them to become viciously violent to everyone they encounter. This book is told by redhead Hazel Hayes, who finds out she's pregnant on the first day of the outbreak, and explains the pandemic (and ensuing biocontainment measures) to her unborn child while attempting to avoid those with the disease.

I'm still not entirely sure what I thought of this book. I liked Schultz's wry observations and cynical look at post-9/11 security measures, though I would have liked a little wider view of the pandemic. But I can definitely see how it might appeal to fans of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, and the fantastic graphic novel series Y: The Last Man. If you liked any or all of those, give this one a whirl.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Without you, there is no us

Without you, there is no us / Suki Kim 291 pgs.

Suki Kim has spent some time in North Korea as a journalist and as an English teacher.  This memoir talks about her 2 semesters teaching at a brand new university that catered to the male offspring of the ruling class.  Like many teens, these boys are trying to figure things out like girls, their future, etc.  Unlike other teen around the world, they are living in one of the most oppressive regimes in the world where everyone is watched very carefully and lives are very scripted.  Kim is a virtual prisoner on campus where she too is under the watchful eye of "minders" who have to ok all off campus trips and movements.  Even though the facility is new, the pressure of being so restricted takes a toll on her.  Her students are an enigma to her, they love her but talk horribly about the U.S. and how evil American's are and how many victories North Korea has had over the U.S.  At the same time they lie with no hesitation and make up stories about their wonderful childhoods, food they ate and the perfection of the political system and the dear leader.  This book is a bit draining to read.  It is hard to comprehend how difficult it would be to watch every word you speak in hopes of not being deported.  Of course for the citizens, they must do an even better job and if they don't, their fate is much worse.

Not uplifting!

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The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion  227 pp.

This was one of those books that had been on my "to read" list for a long time. Then when I thought about reading it the timing was horribly wrong. The time was finally right. This is a book focused on the sudden death of Didion's husband, author John Gregory Dunne. At the time their daughter, Quintana, was lying in a hospital in a coma. The couple returned home from visiting her to have dinner when Dunne suffered a massive heart attack and died, not so different from my own husband's death as he got ready for bed one night. Didion writes of the surrealness that surrounds you during times like that, odd things you remember and the details you forget. How one can function on autopilot for many things and be lost at sea for others. And how you will see or hear something that makes you think "I need to tell (the dead spouse) about that" before realizing once again that you can't. While coping with the grief of her husband's death, Didion also had to deal with not one, but two nearly fatal illnesses suffered by her daughter and did it with great strength and solidarity. The important point I took away from this book is the difference between grieving and mourning and how grieving is active and temporary but mourning is a lasting process that changes as time passes but never really goes away completely.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

So you've been publicly shamed

So you've been publicly shamed / Jon Ronson 290 pgs.

I just can't get enough of Jon Ronson, his books are great and his style of writing is so relate-able...the topics he chooses are always interesting.  If you are wondering how to survive a public shaming, read this one and follow all the research done by Ronson and the variety of recent public shamings that will have you scratching your head or maybe clapping in agreement.

How do some people's lives get completely ruined?  How are some able to avoid the curse?

Another interesting book from Ronson.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Not My Father's Son

Not My Father's Son: a memoir by Alan Cumming  304 pp.

Actor Alan Cumming (Masterpiece Mystery, The Good Wife) chronicles his life with the main focus on his abusive father and his experience with the television show "Who Do You Think You Are?" He alternates between the past, growing up on the Scottish estate where his father was a supervisor, to the present and the discoveries he made about his family and ancestry. Through the television show he learned the truth about the mystery surrounding his grandfather's death in Malaysia. While this was happening he and his brother investigated the truth of whether Alan was actually fathered by the angry, abusive Alex Cumming. This is not so much a biography as it is a family saga and an insight into the effects of abuse on children even after they are adults. In addition, Cumming's commentary on what he learned about the "torture" women have to go through for the sake of fashion (and the horror of chemical depilatories) when playing a transgender character in a mini-series are wonderful.

The brilliant history of color in art

The brilliant history of color in art / Victoria Finlay 120 pgs.

A wonderful book that gives so much history of the color "revolutions" in art.  When a new pigment is discovered, the artist of the day want to integrate it into their work.  Color has such an interesting history and has made fortunes and lost them for dealers and creators.  Finlay does a great job of providing interesting details but not so many that the book bogs down.

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The Wonders

The Wonders by Paddy O'Reilly, 279 pages

Fame is a fickle beast, as the titular characters of The Wonders find out. Leon had received two unsuccessful heart transplants when a doctor and engineer came together to install a mechanical heart (complete with a see-through, titanium-ribbed enclosure) in his body. Kathryn received an experimental treatment for Huntington's Disease that cured her of the chronic illness, but left her covered from head to toe in black wool. An avant-garde artist, Christos didn't have any life-threatening disease, but chose to use his body for his art and underwent painful surgeries to give him metal wings. Over the course of the book, all three become world famous, performing in a sleek, modern, and exclusive version of a freak show as The Wonders, but as they learn, fame and fortune come with a high price.

O'Reilly presents a modern-day fable about the cult of celebrity, the price of fame, and what it means to be human. It's an engrossing, thought-provoking read, and one I'd recommend.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Ghettoside: a true story of murder in America

Ghettoside: a true story of murder in America / Jill Leovy 366

A powerful book that examines so many issues that are surrounding us today.  Why is there so much black on black crime?  What amount of resources are devoted to solving homicides in poor neighborhoods?  How can we change the system for the better?

Jill Leovy has written about homicides in LA and here focuses on a few crimes and the impact they have on the neighborhood, the families, the public servants.  This is a sociological study on the one hand and the story of a specific incident and the family involved.  I'm not sure which has more impact but this is one of my favorites of the year so far.

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Where Shadows Dance

Where Shadows Dance: a Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery by C.S. Harris  342 pp.

This is an installment from a mystery series I was unfamiliar with. I picked up the audio book to try it out.  While the characters were interesting, the story was a bit over the top. On the eve of the U.S. declaring war on England in 1812, a young British diplomat is discovered to have been murdered when his body was bought by an anatomist from the "resurrection men" who stole it from the cemetery.  The anatomist contacts St. Cyr who is known for solving mysteries. While the body count rises, St. Cyr prepares for his wedding to the headstrong daughter of his enemy. The whole story involves French spies for Napoleon, diplomats from various countries, the kidnapping of St. Cyr's fiancee, but is full of too many convenient incidents. When St. Cyr's fiancee, Hero Jarvis, is kidnapped, not only do the kidnappers let her roam freely about the cottage where she is being held, they also conveniently drink too much while leaving a butcher knife handy and a gun sticking out of a coat pocket. Even though I enjoy historical mystery fiction I think I'll pass on the rest of this series.  

Saturday, May 9, 2015

H is for hawk, by Helen Macdonald

When Helen Macdonald’s father, a photojournalist, dies unexpectedly, it sends her into a type of grief that skitters along the edge of madness.  In her forties, single, and a fellow at Cambridge, she gives up her job, her home, her friends, and retreats into an intense relationship with a young goshawk she names “Mabel.”  She has been fascinated by hawks and the natural world since girlhood, passions she shared with her father.  An experienced falconer, she has trained many hawks, but never a goshawk which has a reputation for being moody and hard to train.  “They unnerved me.  They were things of death and difficulty: spooky, pale-eyed psychopaths that lived and killed in woodland thickets.”  Interwoven with this gorgeously written account of her own grief and her life with Mabel, is a second thread.  T. H. White, most famously the writer of The once and future king, upon which the musical Camelot, is based, was a favorite author when she was a child.  He also tried to train a goshawk and wrote about it in The goshawk.  A deeply troubled man himself, a closeted sadistic homosexual, his story alternates with her struggles to come to terms with her sorrow through her relationship with Mabel.  A unique book and very special.  300 pp.

The girl on the train, by Paula Hawkins

This popular thriller is ideal to take on a plane trip – no matter how bumpy the ride or annoying the airport, it will take you mind off of everything but the fast moving plot.  Like Gone girl, the narrator, Rachel, and most of the characters are unlikable and flawed.  Rachel has been divorced by her husband after just too many drunken days and nights.  She’s lost her job, but pretends she is still working to avoid being kicked out by her flat mate.  Each day as she rides the train into London and back, she has the opportunity to gaze at her own former house along the tracks, now shared by her ex-husband with his second wife, Anna, and their baby girl.  The train always slows at this point and she also fantasizes about another couple who live a few doors away and who she frequently sees – they seem perfect and in love.  Then one day she sees something disturbing going on…..  Will the police believe her?  323 pp.