Wednesday, August 24, 2011

July Books

INTO THE WILD/Jon Krakauer/A
In August 1992, Alaskan hunters found the body of Christopher McCandless in the wilderness outside Denali National Park. The Emory University graduate had starved to death after months spent wandering the U.S. with no car, few possesions, and no contact with his family. Fabulously powerful, and heart-wrenching for a mother in particular to read, I absolutely recommend this book.

MY LOBOTOMY/Howard Dully/B-
In 1960, 12-year-old Howard Dully was given a transorbital lobotomy--in which an ice-pick type of instrument was inserted through his eye socket and swirled around to sever connections in the frontal lobe. More than forty years later he tries to understand what led his stepmother to insist on the procedure for a boy who exhibited little more than typical misbehavior. Chilling and somewhat sad.

An earlier, short novel of Rendell's that somehow I had managed to miss. Gray Lanceton was once a promising novelist but then he began an affair with a bored, rich married woman. The affair ended when Gray refused to murder Drusilla's husband but he remains haunted by her. And while he's preoccupied with his mother's illness in France, Gray doesn't realize that the clouds of revenge are gathering. Beautifully Rendell.

The finale of Marr's Novels of Faerie, this fifth book in her series mostly ties up the stories of Ash, the once-mortal Summer Queen, and her collection of friends and lovers in both worlds. I still feel that the strongest book of Marr's is Ink Exchange, and I thought the emotional payoff of this book was rushed and not perfectly fulfilling.

Greg Mortensen is the bestselling author of Three Cups of Tea recounting how he came to build schools in Afghanistan. But are key parts of his story fabricated? Krakauer investigates Mortensen's story of falling ill in an isolated village, of being kidnapped by militants, of vows made to locals to return and help and finds more than just inconsistencies. And there's also trouble in the finances of Mortensen's foundation that stem directly from his refusal to account for his own spending. Penetrating account of good intentions gone very wrong.

A collection of speculative short fiction by a writer's group friend who just--get this--won the Nebula Award for Best Novella this year! He was also nominated for a Hugo for the same story, which anchors this collection, titled "That Leviathan Whom Thou Hast Made." Eric's (sorry, it's awfully hard for me to call a friend by his last name) stories span a wonderful range from hard sci-fi to fantasy and they're all marked by a precise use of language and a well-honed sense of plot and structure. Now if a publisher would just pick up on his novels!

THE RED QUEEN/Philippa Gregory/B+
Margaret of Lancaster is cousins to England's Henry VI and very aware of her position and her responsibility to her family. This novelization of Margaret's life takes the reader from her early first marriage to Edmund Tudor and the birth of their son, Henry, to the rebellion and crowning of the Yorkist king Edward and the turbulence of court life when two families vie for the throne. Margaret works tirelessly to bring her exiled son back to England, which is perhaps the only sympathetic strand in her nature. Not as emotionally deep as my favorite historical fiction, but a good look at the end of the Wars of the Roses.

A CLASH OF KINGS/George R.R. Martin/A-
The second in Martin's epic fantasy, this book throws us into the heart of the war for a divided kingdom. Robb Stark, the Young Wolf of Winterfell after his father's death, takes the battle south against the Lannisters who he belives hold both his sisters hostage in the capitol. But there are other kings fighting for their claims and across the sea a young queen with three dragons at her command. Pick up the first book and immerse yourself in this world.

No one does psychological mystery like Bolton and this book is no exception. Young detective Lacey Flint stumbles across a woman who was stabbed just moments before and winds up the center of an investigation of a possible 21st-century Jack the Ripper copycat. Taunted by name, Lacey races to help the lead investigator anticipate what's coming next, but women continue to die. And Lacey may know more about the killer than anyone can guess.

HELL IS EMPTY/Craig Johnson/A+
The newest Walt Longmire mystery sends Walt into the blizzard wilderness of the Wyoming mountains on the trail of escaped convicts. Along the way he has the help of a former acquaintance, but there are mysteries upon mysteries here, including the motive of the lead convict who is wilfully walking into a place he can't get out of. Although I missed Johnson's expanded cast of characters, this is an outstanding book that goes as deep into the mysteries of life and death as it does into murder. A&E has filmed a pilot for series, but don't wait until it airs--pick up The Cold Dish and start at the beginning.

Eugene Wren is an art dealer on the famed Portobello Road in London who one day discovers an envelope filled with money. Advertising in order to return it brings Eugene into contact with various characters, most of whom have ulterior motives. Rendell's tale is less a mystery and more a beautifully drawn character study; every characters shouts off the page from Wren's wealthy but secretive nature to those living one check away from homelessness to those trapped in a world of old hurts and turmoiled minds.
Novelist Sykes writes a brief personal account of a childhood spent longing to attend Oxford and meet a Brideshead Revisited sort of lord, through to her days in her spare and nearly-medieval college rooms. A charming look at the impoverished but connected  British upper-class and an inside peek at the allure of Oxford. My grade reflects my desire to read more of her years there then she gives us.

At age 18, Sam Pulsifer accidentally burned down Emily Dickinson's house and killed two people. The story gives a short overview of his time in prison, then picks up as the now-suburban husband and father is tracked down by the son of those he killed. See, Sam has never told his wife about his past. And even worse, more writers' homes are going up in flames. Forced to return to the parents he's stayed away him, Sam finds them utterly changed. Without any sort of inner compass, Sam doesn't know what to do next. I couldn't really like Sam--or any of them--but the story idea was unique.

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