Friday, July 31, 2015


Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, 867 pages.
Stephenson, author of such science fiction classics as Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, and Anathem tends to write books that are rather epic in scope. This novel starts with a contemporary setting and a rather believable apocalyptic event. As the nations of earth come together to try and save the human race by getting enough people off the planet and into some sort of  a sustainable future, Stephenson has what seems to be a complete story. But people in this world do what people do all the time, and soon jealousy, naked self-interest, and bad luck have the human race on the very edge of extinction. The last third of this book is somewhere between an extended epilogue, and a stand-alone story, though it wasn't til this point that I finally realized the significance of the title.
Stephenson is a very good writer, with a fair supply of style and a lot to say about science, people, and the ways in which life can become very complicated.

Great characters and interesting plot arcs keep the story going even after you think you had gotten to the end. A fun, entertaining tale that integrates the science into the tale seamlessly.
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The Glasgow Trilogy

The Glasgow Trilogy by Malcolm Mackay
The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter, 316 pages
How a Gunman Says Goodbye, 360 pages
The Sudden Arrival of Violence, 391 pages

In a stark and spare manner these three books explore the relationships between characters who are gunmen, enforcers, mid-level criminal management, or members of the Glasgow police as they go about their daily lives. Their daily lives are filled with betrayals, rumor, and violent reactions. Very few of the characters enjoy the killing and the violence that they face or mete out on a daily basis, it's all just part of the job, part of maintaining a strong image in a world where the perception of weakness can bring about tragic changes of circumstance.
Mackay is a master of conveying the mood of a scene, the setting and all of the action through his character's observations and internal monologue.
Through the trilogy an aging gunman, Frank, tries to accept that his recent hip replacement may mean the end of his life in organized crime. His protege, Colum, must decide if the life he has been living will be all he ever knows.
Reminiscent of Ted Lewis's Get Carter series and Richard Stark's Parker novels. Fans of well-written, fast-paced crime fiction will enjoy these. They are excellent.
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Let's be less stupid

Let's be less stupid: an attempt to maintain my mental faculties / Patricia Marx 200 pgs.

Patricia Marx once hung up the phone with a friend because she could not find her phone.  If you can relate with that last statement, this book is for you.  Marx decided to do something about her memory "problem" and undertook every activity she could find to enhance it.  This experiment lasted four months which she bookended (hey, did I just make up a new word?) with cognitive testing and an MRI to see quantify improvement.  But this book is no "how to".  Marx is a former writer from Saturday Night Live.  She has a sense of humor but does not have a lot of practical advice for the rest of us.

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The Residence

The Residence: Inside the private world of the White House / Kate Anderson Brower 309 pgs.

A look behind the scenes at the White House.  How does that place run?  Mostly flawlessly due to the crew of household staff that makes sure the needs of the President and families are met while they reside in the White House.  This book is full of personal stories from the staff who prides itself on its ability to respect the privacy of the people who live in and visit the "first residence."  If you are looking for gossip, you won't find it here but there are great personal stories from a variety of workers who have "seen it all" over their tenure.  Stories date back to the Kennedy's.  A must read for those looking for a more personal side of the first families.

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

A God in Ruins

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, 468 pages

A God in Ruins examines World War II through the experience of Teddy Todd, an RAF pilot who was involved in many of the bombing missions in Germany. Like Atkinson's phenomenal Life After Life (a companion novel to this one), A God in Ruins jumps back and forth in time, telling Teddy's story both during the war, and in the years after, branching out into the lives of his wife, daughter, and grandchildren. I love Atkinson's always-surprising way of telling a story, and she doesn't disappoint here, offering up twists and turns, as well as plenty to ponder about war, humanity, and destiny. Well worth a read.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Audrey at Home: Memories of My Mother's Kitchen

Audrey at Home: Memories of My Mother's Kitchen by Luca Dotti  256 pp.

This is a loving memoir of Audrey Hepburn (with recipes) written by her son, Luca. In spite of her rail thin physique, Hepburn was a great lover of food and cooking. In spite of the quantities she ate, she did not gain weight as a result of suffering near-starvation during the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands during World War II. Included in the book are hundreds of photos, many never before published. Fifty recipes with detailed directions are included. There is a variety of favorites of Hepburn, her family, and friends. Because she retired from acting to raise her children, there is very little about her movie career. The focus of the book is the post-Hollywood Audrey Hepburn as a wife, mother, and later an ambassador for UNICEF. This is a sweet, quick read (lots of pictures).

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Axe Factor

The Axe Factor by Colin Cotterill 294 pp.

After spending so much time on Anna Karenina I needed something light and fun. This is the third book in the Jimm Juree mystery series that takes place in southern Thailand. These books are full of quirky characters humorous situations. Jimm is a free-lance journalist who lives with her unusual family at the run down resort her mother runs. Jimm is given an assignment by the local newspaper to interview the wealthy, successful mystery author, Conrad Coralbank. Coralbank takes a "personal" interest in Jimm and they begin a relationship. In the mean time the nurse at the local health clinic enlists Jimm's help in finding the missing clinic doctor. The doctor has been missing since attending a medical conference sponsored by a supposedly upstanding corporation. Injected into the story are blogs by a mysterious "CC" detailing axe murder & dismemberment. Anonymous threats arrive at the resort targeted at Jimm. Jimm believes Coralbank's housekeeper is the one making threats but Coralbank has an extensive weapons collection and the initials fit. Jimm begins investigating with the help of her sister Sissi, a former transsexual beauty queen and expert hacker, her bodybuilder brother, Arnie, and her retired policeman grandfather. In an exciting ending Jimm comes face to face with the killer and her rescue seems unlikely. There is lots of humor in these novels. In this one each chapter is titled with poorly translated "English" signs aimed at tourists (“Please Leave Your Values at the Front Desk”).

Go set a watchman

Go set a watchman / Harper Lee 278 pgs.

Set 20 years after the incomparable To Kill a Mockingbird, Jean Louise Finch visits her father, Atticus.  Jean Louise lives in New York City but is still dating Henry Clinton when she comes to town.  Times are changing and the NAACP is actively pushing civil rights.  The one thing that Jean Louise thinks she KNOWS for sure is her father's commitment to fairness and equality.  This trip is eye opening for Jean Louise because she feels the shift in her small little Southern town of Macomb.  Attitudes are changing and things she thought were sure things in her life are less certain. Jean Louise goes through as many changes on this one trip as have happened in the 20 years since we last saw her as Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird.

There has been a lot of talk about this book and the author.  Is this a legitimate publication, is Lee being taken advantage of, Is Atticus a closet racist instead of the admirable man dedicated to equal justice?  I'm not sure reading this will give you all the answers.  I see it more as the evolution of the relationship between father and daughter, the discovery that everything you thought was black and white when you were a kid may have a lot more gray involved.

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Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy  938 pp.

No spoilers since people are still reading it for the last discussion. Anna Karenina is, at first glance, the story of Russian noblewoman who has an affair and ultimately leaves her husband for her lover. A second storyline involves Konstantin Levin, a landowner who marries a princess who was jilted by Count Vronsky, Anna's lover. Because of the title it appears that the main focus of the story is Anna and her illicit affair but a large portion of the book concerns Levin, his farming, marriage, his dying brother, and the political situation in late Nineteenth Century Russia. The crux of the entire book is Russian society and it's inconsistencies, prejudices, arrogance, and failure to acknowledge the rapid changes taking place in the world outside of their own closed culture.  

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

H is for hawk

H is for hawk / Helen Macdonald 300 pgs.

Helen Macdonald's father dies and it is like a punch to the gut.  She isolates herself and wallows in grief.  During that time, she adopts a goshawk, Mabel, and pretty much turns everything else off in her life and spends time communing with the bird.  An experienced falconer, she has never trained a goshawk before.  They are supposedly difficult as detailed in a book she read from childhood, The Goshawk by T. H. White.  White's struggles are distant but familiar.  She revels in reading about his mistakes but makes a few of her own.  A bit of a memoir of grief, a bit of an adventure story and a little history, this book has something for almost everyone.

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Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, 256 pages

We all know the basics of this story: mad scientist Dr. Frankenstein creates life in the form of a humanoid monster, built from scavenged pieces of corpses. Hideous and misunderstood, the creature turns murderous, leaving Frankenstein guilt-ridden and insane with the terror he has wrought. But this tale is different from the multitude of iterations in pop culture, and it's interesting to read the original and see how time has changed the story. There's no Igor, for one; for another, the creation of the monster occurs in a much more mundane locale than a lightning-struck tower on a cliff. I'll admit that there were bits of this story that strained believability (how a creature could go from incapable of communication to eloquently speaking on Milton's Paradise Lost in just two years is beyond me), but in all it was a good story with plenty to ponder on the ethics of science.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The children's crusade, by Ann Packer

When the patriarch of this family, a pediatrician by training, returns from Korea where he served on hospital ships, he stumbles across a lovely piece of property near San Francisco dominated by an ancient oak tree.  In time this property will become very valuable as Silicon Valley develops, but it is an almost wild area at this time and very affordable when he buys it, hoping to someday build a home and live there.  He meets a young women working as a clerk when he takes his father’s watch into be repaired.  They fall in love, soon marry, and his dream of living in a house on this land surrounded by his own children becomes a reality.  Penny, his wife, is less contented as the years go by.  The three R’s, Robert, Rebecca, and Ryan, are joined by the unexpected James as the family grows.  Robert will become a physician like his father, Rebecca a psychiatrist, Ryan a teacher, and James – well, James is a problem from the get-go.  A wild child full of energy and lacking inhibitions, he pushes Penny over the edge as a mother and she retreats to a shed she has converted to an artist’s studio.  Eventually she moves a bed in as well and her virtual divorce from the family’s life is complete.  The main action of the book occurs after the father, Bill, has died three years previously, Penny has long since decamped to Taos NM, and James unexpectedly comes back to the area after years as a wanderer.  He wants to sell the house.  Old injuries are revisited, and the family dynamics are explosive.  432 pp.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Quidditch Through the Ages

Quidditch Through the Ages by Kennilworthy Whisp (AKA J.K. Rowling), 56 pages

Created as a book to benefit the British charity Comic Relief (not related to the U.S. charity of the same name), Quidditch Through the Ages is the "reproduction" of a book housed in the library at Hogwarts, the wizarding school of the Harry Potter books. In that series, Harry enjoys reading the book, though its contents are only vaguely mentioned. This book fills in the gaps, letting the voracious Harry Potter readers see what their favorite boy wizard is reading. And it's a lot of fun. Rowling created a history of the broomstick-played game, filled with plenty of the humor that permeates the lighter moments of the larger series. Quick and funny, this is well worth reading for serious Harry Potter fans.

Saffy's Angel

Saffy's Angel by Hilary McKay  152 pp.

This is one of a list of contenders for the Treehouse Book Club. Saffron (Saffy) Casson is one of a family of children of artists, all named after colors. Her sisters are Cadmium (Caddy) and Rose, her brother named Indigo. When Saffy accidentally learns she was adopted, she is upset and convinced she is no longer a real part of the family even though she is the daughter of her adopted mother's twin sister who died in an automobile accident. Saffy has dreams of a mysterious place that she later realizes are memories of her home in Siena, Italy which she hasn't seen since she left at age three. When the children's beloved grandfather dies, each child except for Saffy is mentioned in the will. However a handwritten note with the will bequeaths Saffy her "angel" but nobody knows where the angel is. Eventually Saffy remembers the angel and, with the help of a friend, travels to Siena to find it. They do not find the angel but reconnect with the woman who lived upstairs from Saffy and her mother. While this is happening, big sister Caddy is unsuccessfully learning to drive, Rose is making bizarre artwork out of food and other household items, and Indigo is trying to conquer his fear by sitting on the edge of a high window in the house. Eventually the whereabouts of the angel is discovered by Saffy's siblings who finally make her realize she is indeed a part of the family.   

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Wind Blows away Our Words: a Firsthand Account of the Afghan Resistance / Doris Lessing 171 p.

Because I am a sucker for Doris Lessing, I will even read a 1987 account of the war in Afghanistan, meant to be an urgent plea for aid to the mujahidin, valiantly fighting invading Soviets without equipment or food.  To say the least, a lot has changed in 28 years and this short read should have felt like a complete waste of time.  But Doris Lessing wrote it, so it was thoughtful and prescient and I learned all sorts of things that other writers couldn't have put together in 1,000 pages.

Lessing's writing has such a fearless quality.  I suspect she always wrote exactly what she thought, without regard for who might be offended.  Her impressions of the situation of Afghan women refugees in Pakistan are, as a result, far more nuanced than anything else I've read.  I don't always agree with her, and I think in person I might even have disliked her, but I am never sorry to have read what she puts on the page.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

I'll Drink to That

I'll Drink to That: A Life in Fashion, Straight, No Chaser by Betty Halbreich, 272 pages

Forty years into a career heading up the personal shopping department at Bergdorf Goodman, Betty Halbreich details her life before joining the tony department store in this, her second memoir. She discusses her upbringing as a privileged girl in Chicago, her failed marriage to a hotel heir, and her transition to the working world, the latter of which took place when she was already in her 40s. Yes, parts of Halbreich's life seem a bit charmed (the description of her mother's gift-wrapping station at Christmas is enough to cause injury from eye-rolling), but the frankness with which Halbreich relates her story make this book appealing rather than insufferable. Add to that her dedication to making women FEEL good when they dress, and it makes me wish I had the bank account to visit this 86-year-old straight-shooter at work.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

French Coast

French Coast by Anita Hughes, 287 pages

Serena's got it all: a great job at Vogue, a handsome fiance who's running for mayor of San Francisco, and devoted parents whose love for one another is the yardstick by which she measures all happiness. A dream interview falls in her lap when she's assigned to travel to Cannes to interview the longtime editor of French Vogue, for whom she will also co-write a memoir. But a decades-old scandal involving her father is unearthed while she's in France, throwing her parents' relationship into a new light and scaring off her fiance, who's more devoted to his political career than their relationship. Can a new friend and a mysterious man help return happiness to her life?

This is classic chick lit, so we know almost from the outset how this book is going to end. Hughes creates a high-fashion, glamorous world that Carrie Bradshaw would find quite comfortable, and throws in a few little twists and turns for good measure. That said, a few of her stylistic choices rankled me, particularly in the passages involving Yvette, the editor of French Vogue, who was always introduced to a scene the same way: by describing what she was wearing, and having Yvette tell Serena what she'd been doing before opening the door. Also, the transition into Yvette's memories is rough; the first time Hughes slipped into the past, I had to go back and reread a few paragraphs to figure out what had happened. However, if you're looking for a light read for vacation, this wouldn't be a bad choice.

Monday, July 13, 2015

John Hughes: A Life in Film

John Hughes: A Life in Film by Kirk Honeycutt, 215 pages

When filmmaker John Hughes died in 2009, he left behind a legacy of fantastic movies, including Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, and National Lampoon's Vacation. This coffee-table-book-sized biography tells the story behind the making of these and most of Hughes' other movies, focusing on Hughes' career and his films' impact on the industry. While it's certainly interesting to find out about the writer and director's process on set, this biography reveals next to nothing about the intensely private filmmaker's life away from movies, probably because none of Hughes' family members or close friends agreed to be interviewed for the book. If you want a rehash of Hughes' movies, this book is for you. If you were hoping for something more personal, skip it.

Ms. Marvel 1 & 2

Ms. Marvel, vol. 1: No Normal and Ms. Marvel, vol. 2: Generation Why by G. Willow Wilson, art by Adrian Alphona and Jacob Wyatt, 256 pages total

As much a fan of graphic novels as I am, I tend to shy away from superhero stories. But when presented with the origin story of a kickass heroine whose alter-ego is a Pakistani-American Muslim teenager from New Jersey, I was intrigued enough to bite. And I'm glad I did. Kamala Khan is a geeky teenage girl struggling with her identity and being perceived as that weird outsider for her religion, the color of her skin, and her odd clothes. When she develops superpowers after a weird mist envelopes her hometown, her identity struggle multiplies exponentially. These first two volumes find Kamala trying to find a balance between her two identities, with plenty of crime-fighting thrown in for good measure. Yes, some parts of these volumes are typical of superhero comics, but I see this as being a lot closer to Buffy than Batman. I'm intrigued to see what's up next for Kamala.

The Crane Wife

The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness, 310 pages.
George Duncan runs a small print shop in London. He's originally from the U.S., but has been living in London for a long time. He's divorced, with a grown daughter and a grandson. He is a pleasant man and people think well of him, but he is lonely and his life is pretty empty. Until he finds a wounded crane in his backyard one night. Soon, as in the Japanese folktale upon which this novel is based, a strange, magical, and beautiful woman enters his life.
Well-written and engaging, this is another great book by Ness. He's written (or co-writtten) A Monster Calls, and The Knife of Never Letting Go.

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Sunday, July 12, 2015


Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, 272 pages

Nimona is a shapeshifter who offers her services as a sidekick to the villain Lord Ballister Blackheart, whose quarrel with the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics and their champion, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, is legendary across the kingdom. When their first foray into villainy as a team goes sideways, Lord Ballister quickly realizes that there's more to Nimona than meets the eye, especially when it comes to her murky past and her powers. Nimona and her abilities also attract the attention of the Institution, especially when she uncovers some of their nefarious doings and she and Ballister use them to their advantage. But as Ballister and Nimona hurtle towards their final showdown with the Institution, their friendship is tested as he tries to understand her better while also protecting her from the Institution. As the inside flap copy says, "Explosions will be involved. Science and sharks will be, too." And that is the truth.

I loved Nimona. Originally published as a webcomic (see, it starts off as almost silly and fun before moving towards a darker story with a deeper meaning. I loved that Noelle Stevenson (also the writer of the awesome comic Lumberjanes, which I will totally get around to reading beyond the first issue someday) plays a bit with the good vs. evil archetype. Ballister is not your typical villain, despite being portrayed to the rest of the kingdom as such, and Ambrosius and the Institution (especially the Institution) aren't exactly heroes either. She makes a point about nothing ever being that black and white, while also skewering traditional capes-and-tights comics a bit, too. So be like Ballister and accept Nimona into your life. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, July 9, 2015


Mislaid / Nell Zink 242 pgs.

Peggy and Lee aren't really the perfect couple.  He is gay and she is a lesbian but they manage to have two kids before Peg can't take it any more.  She takes her daughter and runs away, hiding in plain sight not far away.  She adopts an African American identity to escape detection.  Her daughter is raised unaware that she has a father and older brother and without the benefit of electricity or indoor plumbing until she and her mother move to a housing project.

If this all sounds strange, trust me, it is.  But the book is great and Nell Zink is going on my list to always read.

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Rock with Wings

Rock with Wings by Anne Hillerman  322 pp.

Anne Hillerman continues writing stories of the characters created by her late father. In general she does a good job, unfortunately in this book there are a few too many "criminal" activities going on and some feel unnecessary. Navajo police officers and husband and wife, Bernadette Manuelito and Jim Chee attempt to take a much needed vacation to Monument Valley. Plans go awry when Bernie has to return home because her alcoholic sister has disappeared. Chee ends up filling in with the local police station tasked with providing security and keeping a motion picture crew in line. When a member of the film staff goes missing Chee finds her and the two of them literally stumble across a new grave. In the meantime, Bernie goes back to work and is offered a bribe during a traffic stop. Chee's former partner, the retired Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn is still recovering from a gunshot wound to the head. He is frail and unable to speak but aids his old partner and Bernie by doing research for them on the computer. In a convoluted plot involving money laundering, blood stains in a hotel room, solar power, endangered species, skinwalkers, and murder, Hillerman manages to tie it all up in the end. I listened to the audio book version and was disappointed in the narrator. The books by Tony Hillerman were read by the imcomparable George Guidall. This one was read by Christine Delaine who did an acceptable but not great job of it.

Luckiest Girl Alive

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll, 341 pages

Ani FaNelli seems to have everything going for her: she's a successful journalist, she's got a rich, All-American fiance and a fashionable life in Manhattan, and, to all appearances, her main stressor is shaving off those last few pounds for her dream wedding. But underneath that veneer is TifAni FaNelli, survivor of horrendous violence her prestigious high school. When a film crew decides to make a documentary about the horrific violence, Ani has to face her past while attempting to maintain the perfect life she's created.

I really enjoyed the premise of this book, as well as the format (which is told via alternating now-and-then chapters). My main complaint with it, however, is the lack of character development. We don't get to really know any of the supporting characters, andI really didn't like Ani/TifAni, who apparently never developed past the fake, mean-girl persona she strived for as a teenager. As an adult, she's vapid, self-centered, and nearly anorexic in her attempt to slim down for her wedding, and while I get that the events that happened when she was a teenager probably stunted her emotional growth a bit (and I'm sure that's what Knoll is trying to illustrate) nobody in her life tells her how ridiculous this is. I never thought I'd be calling for a stereotypical romantic-comedy best friend, but geez, she really needs one. I would have loved to see a bit more personal development for her, and character development for the supporting roles. But for a debut novel, it's not bad. I'll be curious to see what else Knoll comes up with in the future

Monday, July 6, 2015

The storied life of A. J. Fikry

The storied life of A. J. Fikry / Gabrielle Zevin 260 pgs.

A great book for readers...each chapter starts with a short story review by the fictional A. J. Fikry who is a book seller who talks a lot about books.  The story opens with A. J. in mourning, missing his wife who died in a recent car crash.  He is drinking himself to death while simultaneously trying to survive.  But things change one night when his store is broken into and instead of thieves, something is left.  A baby is perhaps, just what A. J. needs to move on with is life.

I enjoyed this well written story.

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Saint Mazie

Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg, 325 pages

Structured as a faux-biography of a fictional woman, Saint Mazie tells the life story of Mazie Phillips-Gordon, the proprietor of a movie theater in the Bowery during the first half of the 20th Century. The story is told through Mazie's journal entries, interspersed with snippets of interviews with fictional historians and the descendants of those who knew Mazie when she was alive; the approach makes the whole book feel a bit like the transcript of a Ken Burns documentary on a single, extraordinary woman, and the effect she had on those around her. The story starts with Mazie as a teenager, and takes us through the end of her diary in the late 1930s, giving us insight into her thoughts and fears, as well as what was most important to her. As much as it's the story of this one woman, it's also the story of New York during the '20s and '30s. Attenberg does a great job bringing that era to life, and bringing Mazie to life. What a great book.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, 349 pages.
This was our April book discussion title, so this post is a little late. But, then there are still some titles from January that need to be blogged about. Our Wednesday night U-City book group had a really good discussion about this title because (as my feeble memory will have me believe) everyone agreed that the writing was beautiful, the characters crisp and lively, and the situations unique utterly believable.
Most of the book, which the author calls an allegory of 9/11, takes place during the course of one day in Manhattan, in August,  1974, as Phillipe Petit walked a tightrope  wire between the Twin Towers.
As the book opens Ciaran and his brother Corrigan have taken different paths out of Ireland, but both have ended up in Manhattan in 1974. Corrigan is now a monk of an indeterminate order, he has followed Christ and gone to live and work among the poor. When Ciaran visits him there, he finds him in the projects, where he has befriended Tillie, Jazzlyn, and the other local prostitutes. Tillie and Jazzlyn and their family story become central to the story as the tale ripples outward, in this beautifully written tale.
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Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly

The Burning Room . by Michael Connelly, 388 pages.
The twenty-somethingth Harry Bosch novel finds detective Bosch winding down his career (still) in the Open-Unsolved unit, teamed with a new partner, Lucia Soto. Harry, a man who doesn't trust many people, has to decide whether or not to trust his new young partner as they attempt to solve the case case of a man who was shot nine years ago, but only now succumbed to the wound. There's another case hidden behind the one they're looking at and Harry has to determine how far he can go and keep his job.
There's a lot of familiar ground covered here, but it's still a decent story.
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Friday, July 3, 2015

The Witch of Exmoor / Margaret Drabble 281 pp.

Recently stuck for a while in the Raleigh airport, I was thrilled to find a used bookstore. It was packed with a huge variety of titles, unlike a typical airport shop which offers ten different titles, eight of them by James Patterson. And so I serendipitously picked up this paperback by Drabble, an author of whom I was vaguely aware but had never read. (She is the sister of A.S. Byatt, but apparently they are estranged. At the moment I vote for Margaret.)

Frieda Haxby, a successful author and academic in her mid-sixties, is the Witch. She baffles and angers her three adult children by choosing to spend her later years alone in a mansion on an isolated and wild stretch of coastline. Frieda was at best a mediocre mother, and her children are primarily concerned with her sizable inheritance and whether she will fritter it away in her apparent madness. Much of the narrative concerns these three prosperous families in mid-nineties England, and their individual and collective musings about fate and the power of social class and environment on human development. Yet it's very entertaining, with loads of biting dialogue and very astute social observation, as well as plain good humor. There is mystery as well: who is living in son Daniel's attic? when Frieda disappears from her home, has she been murdered? and what happened to Frieda's sister, dead thirty years earlier? Drabble uses an omniscient narrator who talks directly to the reader in a way that could have been gimmicky but that I found delightful. A cynical and sharp tale with just a bit of sweetness at the center.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The folded clock, by Heidi Julavits

The author kept a diary as a child, as many do, and returned to it years later hoping to get insight into what she was like at that time.  She was disappointed.  Most entries began, “Today I….” with a brief notation of a mundane event.  She decided to see if she could do better as an adult – and this is the result.  Each entry begins the same way it did when she was a child, but the dates are non-linear and it skips all around a year’s entries.  The book received great reviews.  I read most of it, put it aside for more anticipated books that showed up on my reserve list (A god in ruins – yay!), and found I could no longer remember a bit of what she had to say.  Perhaps just my aging mind, or perhaps a diary best enjoyed by the author rereading it in her declining years.  I think the fault is mine, however.  223 pp read of 289.