Friday, December 28, 2007


Hooray! My router must be working. So I'd better get these November books in before December is over.

SWITCHING TIME/Richard Baer/B+: Written by a psychiatrist, detailing the true story of a patient who suffered multiple personality disorder. I picked it up for personal reasons and I'm glad I read it for those same personal reasons. If you're interested in how fractured the human mind can become trying to protect itself, this is a fascinating book.

ONE GOOD TURN/Kate Atkinson/A-: A follow-up to CASE HISTORIES, this book features former private detective Jackson Brodie, now rich and retired. He's followed his girlfriend to Edinburgh for a theater festival and runs straight into criminal activity. Beautifully written and a whole host of fascinating characters and motivations, this book delivers a compelling story and a resolution I didn't see coming.

MOCKINGBIRD/Charles Shields/A: The biography of Nelle Harper Lee, highly recommended for anyone who loved TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Lee has become famously reclusive as she's aged, but this book pulls together her public statements and the private papers of others to give a fascinating portrait of the writer. It can't answer the question everyone has--Why did she not write another book?--but it gives enough clues and facts to provide an interesting theory.

MESSENGER OF TRUTH/Jacqueline Winspear/B+: I didn't like this 4th book in the Maisie Dobbs series nearly as well as the previous 3. Still a great period piece (Britain in the early 1930s) and with a good mystery at its core, but Winspear resorted to some tricks that I can't stand. Like having Maisie think that she knows what happened, but hiding it from the reader. In my book, that's false tension and it weakens any story.

A MONSTROUS REGIMENT OF WOMEN/Laurie R. King/A+: My re-reading of this book right after the previous Maisie Dobbs reinforced how much I love Mary Russell. This is my favorite of the Russell/Holmes series, in which Mary has to confront her feelings for Sherlock Holmes while also dealing with a charismatic female spiritualist and the possible murders that have occurred in her inner circle. King is a master at hinting and letting the reader feel the latent tension and attraction between Holmes and Russell. Love, love, love this book.

LIFE IN THE YEAR 1000/Danny Danziger/A: A wonderful book about life in England at the turn of the last millennium. It's structured around the Julian work calender, going month by month to give an overview of medieval life in English villages and towns just before the Norman invasion. Written for a general audience, I recommend it for anyone with an interest in history.

THE POE SHADOW/Matthew Pearl/A-: Surprisingly, I went ahead and read this after my disappointment with his first book, THE DANTE CLUB. Even more surprisingly, this book was far and away better than the first. Quentin Clark, a Baltimore attorney and admirer of Edgar Allan Poe, is shocked by the poet's death in his city. He's also convinced there's more to that death than meets the eye. He risks his career, his friends, and his engagement to find out the truth behind Poe's death as well as the truth behind Poe's creation of his most memorable character, Auguste Dupin.

AFRICAN WOMEN/Mark Mathabone/A-: Mathabone writes stirringly about the lives of his grandmother, mother, and sister in apartheid South Africa. From the indignities of being bought by husbands to the struggles of mothers to keep their children alive and safe, this is a wonderful book about the difficulties so many women in the world face today. Made me feel both blessed and guilty--and desirous of helping other women.

THE MAN EATERS OF TSAVO/J.H. Patterson/B: Written a hundred years ago by the colonel detailed to British East Africa (now Kenya) to oversee the completion of the Uganda railroad. During this time, dozens of Indian workers were killed by two lions in a short stretch of the railway near Tsavo. Patterson recounts the attempts to hunt down the lions, including the famous story of Charles Ryall's sitting up all night in a railway car only to be carried away and killed by one of the lions. The book also includes Patterson's memories of hunting other African animals, liberally sprinkled with photos. An interesting look at another time and different mores--and it was hard for me to accept the enthusiastic accounts of killing animals for no reason other than sport.

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