Monday, January 05, 2009


Written in 1948, a non-fiction account of the author's only son, Johnny, and his diagnosis with and death from a brain tumor. What I found most intriguing was immersing myself in a cancer parent's world sixty years ago and how different it was. Johnny was one of the first treated with a precursor of chemotherapy, developed from the chemical weapon mustard gas. Parents weren't allowed to spend the night in the hospital--this 17-year-old boy would call his dad last thing every night to say goodnight. Pathology reports took weeks without computers and faxes to send information. Doctors would not give any information to Johnny's mother, only his father. Darn good thing none of our doctors tried that! A small but beautiful book about a boy and his graceful last year of life. Recommended.

ALL SOULS/Michael Patrick McDonald/B-
Another non-fiction, about the author's family and his years growing up in Boston's South Side. It was well-written (I would give it an A for style and prose and scene-setting) but depressing. Four of the author's brothers died, in prison or shot by police or drug overdoses or suicide, and one sister fell (or jumped) off a building while high and suffered permanent brain damage. Unless you're interested in a sociological account of political incompetence, gang violence, and the destroying nature of drugs, I wouldn't recommend it.

IN THE WOODS/Tana French/A+
Another new crime writer to love! Hooray! French's first novel is set in Ireland where a police detective investigates the murder of a young girl on an archaelogical site. But it's complicated (naturally) by the fact that Detective Rob Ryan was once Adam Ryan, a 12-year-old boy who went into the woods with his two best friends and came out alone, catatonic and with someone else's blood in his shoes. The new murder site contains a link to that old disappearance and Ryan sets the stage for trouble when he remains on the case by lying about his past. He's never been able to remember what happened that afternoon when he was 12, but working this murder begins to unlock his memories. It's not an easy or light book, but I was drawn right in and impressed by French's character work. I especially liked Cassie Maddox, Ryan's police partner, who is the main character in French's second novel (which I'm taking with me to Hawaii this week.)

AN INCOMPLETE REVENGE/Jacqueline Winspear/B+
Maisie Dobbs' latest case takes her to Kent and the hop-picking fields. It also reveals more about her past and the gypsy blood I didn't know she had. While clearing up a land deal involving vandalism and mysterious fires, Maisie realizes that the village is holding a secret from the war that continues to reverberate almost twenty years later. I liked this one much better than the other recent entries in the series; it was, of course, well-plotted and well-told.

UNABOMBER/Robert Graysmith/C
I was looking for an in-depth study of Ted Kacynzski and his life and psychology, but ended up with a minimum of human interest and a maximum of technical detail. I'm not really interested in the schematics of each bomb he made--not to mention I can't understand them. But there was just enough personal storyline to keep me going. I liked the accounts of his adolescence, his short teaching career, and especially his interactions with his family. But it wasn't the biography I was looking for.

Carter writes beautiful prose and twisty plots about upper-class African-Americans who keep coming up against the facts of their skin color in white society. But not really. What he really writes about is people--difficult, complex, ambitious, and interesting people who wind up in even more interesting situations. One snowy night, Lemaster and Julia Carlyle come upon a body in the snow. It turns out to be Julia's former lover, Kellen Zant, an economics professor at the university where Lemaster is president. Julia thinks it's only the emotional landmines she has to watch out for her, but sooon discovers that Zant left her clues to something dangerous he was working on before his death. Now the people who came after him are after her, sure that she will decipher what he's left behind, a secret that involves her husband and may change the course of the next presidential election. But all Julia wants it to be left alone--until she realizes her troubled daughter is at the heart of the secrets.

EXTRAS/Scott Westerfield/B+
The newest in the UGLIES series, EXTRAS benefits from a new point of view character. Aya Fuse lives in a city that functions on reputation, determined by how many people connect to your website (or the future equivalent of such). Trying to kick a story that will rocket her out of extra-hood and into the high life, Aya infiltrates a group of girls pulling amazing tricks. But the real story comes in a train tunnel and with the alien-looking creatures who lead them to what looks a lot like a missile silo. Set several years after Tally Youngblood and her friends changed the world, Aya is a refreshing voice and when Tally shows up, it's fun to see someone else's take on a character who told her own story for three books.


Katydid said...

I loved some of the ideas in Extras. I thought it had some great parallels to today. (I thought the actual explanation of the Extras was goofy.)

Sherise said...

Oh shoot, I thought I could finally recommend a book you hadn't read yet. I mostly loved In the Woods, except for the fact that the author left one of major plot threads totally open and unfinished. That bugged. I completely and unabashedly loved The Likeness (sequel to In the Woods)--can't wait to hear your post-Hawaii impressions!