Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Yes, I'm late.

No, I'm not sorry.

(Okay, I really am, but I'm trying to play it cool here and pretend that February didn't just vanish into a black hole of weird cancer treatment alternate reality.)

DREAMS FROM MY FATHER/Barack Obama/A-: This was for book club. Written years before he thought of running for president, this is aan intriguing look at growing up in America and abroad with a white mother and an absent black African father. I was particularly interested in Obama's account of his first trip to Kenya to meet his father's family, having spent time there myself. I admire him as a man and a person and I'm glad I read this book. (But that's not inspiring me to pick up the political books--I'm just not into partisan politics of any variety.)

IN A DRY SEASON/Peter Robinson/B: I wanted to give this a higher grade. I might have, if I'd rated it earlier. But as time has passed, I've grown more so-so about the book as a whole. Being a fan of Reginald Hill, you'd think I'd be overjoyed at finding a different series about Yorkshire policemen. But Inspector Banks left me a little cold--too much drinking, too much feeling sorry for himself after his wife has left, not enough reason to like him. The story was a strong one--a body from WWII is discovered when a flooded town dries up--but I preferred the past chapters to the present which doesn't bode well for other Banks stories. I may read another one, but I won't go out of my way to do it.

THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN/Simon Winchester/A: This book, on the other hand, I loved. It's the true story of the making of the Oxford English dictionary and its most unusual contributor--an American Civil War surgeon held in a British institution for the criminally insane. It weaves the story of the doctor and his descent into insanity and murder with the complicated personalities that launched the most important dictionary in history. And I learned a new word that I adore: chance-medley (an accident or casualty not merely happenstance but indicating tragedy as a consequence.)

A PALE HORSE/Charles Todd/B: I love Inspector Ian Rutledge and I love the evocation of Britain just after WWI, but I'm beginning to tire of Todd's stories. This one was particularly hard to follow as Rutledge kept literally moving from one place to another and back again, following two different crimes. I wanted to yell: "Pick a place and stay there until you learn something!" This was atmospheric, but the story was forgettable and I'm starting to weary of Rutledge not moving forward. I think the problem is sticking only with Rutledge's POV--I feel like I know him pretty well by this point and I'm not getting a chance to know or care about the other people in the books.

THE CRAZED/Ha Jin/D: Sometimes I love literary books, sometimes not so much. This one was the latter. A Chinese graduate student in literature spend afternoons sitting by the bed of his professor who has had a stroke. The stroke leads the older man to share all sorts of stories and opinions that might be better left unsaid. Throw in the Tianmen Square protests, and it could have been more interesting than it was. But the language itself fell flat for me and I didn't care about a single person in the novel.

TOUCHSTONE/Laurie R. King/A+: After reading A PALE HORSE, I read this one and thought, "This is how it should be done." This stand-alone by the Mary Russell Holmes author, is also set in post-WWI Britain (1926) with an American FBI agent trying to track down an anarchist bomber among the British upper classes. Told from multiple viewpoints, I was invested in every character, whether I liked them or not. A satisfying main plot, as well as the fascinating subplot of a former British soldier who can feel far more than he wants to since an injury in France. Plus an ending that blew me away (pardon the pun). A heartbreakingly beautiful story.

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