Thursday, November 01, 2007


Trying something new, an easier way to indicate how I felt about a book. I'll give each book a letter grade. (Hey, I said it was new, I didn't claim it was original!)

DARK STAR SAFARI/Paul Theroux/B+: The writer, who taught in Africa during the 60s, makes a trip from Cairo to the South African Cape, almost entirely by land. He took buses and taxis and hitched rides in trucks. He was shot at by bandits in northern Kenya, went part of the way by river with a drug runner in Malawi, and visited the places he'd lived and worked. Only one thing kept this book from being an A for me--his superior attitude to the angels of mercy and charity groups that abound in Africa. I think he makes valid points about their usefulness or lack thereof, but he doesn't offer any alternatives so I tended to roll my eyes when he went off on that tangent.

THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE/Laurie R. King/A: A book club book that I recommended. The first in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series. 14-year-old Mary literally stumbles over the great (and retired) detective while walking the Sussex downs one day. She ends up Holmes' student, then assistant, then partner. There are several cases in the book that weave together into an overall story of revenge and trust. Obviously I love it or I'd never have suggested it to my friends.

HEART-SHAPED BOX/Joe Hill/B: Hill is actually the son of Stephen King and, in his father's footsteps, his first novel is supernatural horror (though the horror is mostly psychological in nature.) The book opens when an aging rock star buys a haunted suit on the internet. But it seems he was targeted for this particular ghost. It took me a good 50 or 60 pages to get into it, but then it moves right along and I was surprised and pleased by the character development. A good vacation read.

THE GOOD HUSBAND OF ZEBRA DRIVE/Andrew Taylor/B: Another Mma Ramotse book, about the traditionally-built African woman with her own detective agency in Botswana. I read these books for the pleasure of a quiet hour--not a lot happens, but it's always fun to spend a little time with the characters.

THE MEANING OF NIGHT/Michael Cox/C+: I wanted to like this book. It's set in Victorian England, it's got secret births and mistaken identities and true love and betrayal. Unfortunately, the structure and style made it hard to read. It opens with a murder, goes along chronologically for a few chapters, and then the bulk of the book is one long series of what happened in the past to bring this about. But I finished it, so that's something.

E=MC2/David Bodanis/A-: Our couples' book club book, "a biography of the world's most famous equation". The best review I can give this book is simple: it helped me understand what the equation means. That's no mean feat for a science idiot like me. Bodanis is a great writer of science for the masses--I especially liked the stories of people he included.

DARK ASSASSIN/Anne Perry/B: Although I once bought everything Anne Perry wrote, in recent years I've confined myself to borrowing them from the library. In this latest in the Monk series, William Monk is back in the police force as part of the River Police. His first serious case involves tunnels being dug for the new London sewers and a young woman who may or may not have jumped to her death. Perry is great at Victorian atmosphere, but her plots and characters have seemed to stagnate a little.

THE DANTE CLUB/Matthew Pearl/C-: Another book that had a great story buried somewhere beneath the layers of too many words and too much self-consciousness. The Dante Club is a group of Boston poets and publishers who are committed to the first American translation of Dante's The Inferno. But the publication is imperiled when a series of gruesome killings begin in Boston, mirroring the torments of Dante's Hell. The club rushes to discover the killer before Dante is completely corrupted. The author is a Dante scholar, and I think that ruined the book. Too much information, too little pacing, too slow moving.

NOCTURNES/John Connolly/A-: A book of short stories from a new-to-me author. I picked it up because it was October and the stories were spooky. I loved the variety of his settings and characters, from witches in an English village after WWI to a contemporary serial killer. I loved his style, I loved his subjects and the way he wrote about them, and I will definitely pick up his novels.

NOBODY DON'T LOVE NOBODY/Stacey Bess/B: Book club for tonight. Bess taught for 7 years at the School With No Name in Salt Lake City, a school for children in the Family Shelter. Her book talks about the children and their experiences. Moving, makes you think, didn't quite go all the way for me. Bess tended to repeat herself too often and I felt like saying, "I'll be more inclined to serve if you quit telling me that I should!"

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