Tuesday, August 4, 2009

July Books

LEFT TO TELL/Immaculee Illibagiza/B+
An autobiographical account of the Rawndan genocide. Illibagiza was a college student when civil war erupted into full-fledged genocide. She spent months hiding in a bathroom with six other women until finally they were able to get to the French troops and (relative) safety. She lost virtually her entire family (except an older brother who was out of the country when the violence began), yet Illibagize write with serenity and an assurance of God's love and care. Difficult to read, but worth it.

AMONG THE MAD/Jacqueline Winspear/A-
I enjoyed this much more than the most recent offerings in the series, a darker and leaner story about the soldiers damaged by the Great War who are now left without help in the midst of the Depression. Just before Christmas, Maisie is on the scene when a wounded veteran pulls a hand grenade on a crowded street. After the suicide, a note is received at Scotland Yard mentioning Maisie's name. She's pulled into the investigation to try and stop the letter writer, who is threatening terrorism if his demands of help for veterans are not met. It's a race against time, and an exploration of madness and illness and it reminded me why I have stuck with this series.

What happens when a Hmong child with seizures encounters western medicine? In this particular non-fiction account, disaster. Lia Lee begins suffering symptoms of epilepsy as a toddler. Fadiman writes an open-eyed, non-sentimental account of both sides of a story that included removing Lia from her parents for a time and ended with her in a vegetative state. She also gives relevant background on the Hmong and how and why so many refugees ended up in the U.S. Highly recommended.

Cassandra Follows, a successful memoir writer, is disappointed by the reception of her first novel. She returns to Baltimore to probe the story of a former classmate, Calliope Jenkins, who was suspected of killing her infant son. Calliope spent 7 years in prison refusing to speak before finally being released. Cassandra is determined to discover the truth, but she discovers that memory is a tricky, unreliable thing, and what she has always believed to be true might be no more than a story. Not as good as her previous stand-alones, but Lippman would be hard-pressed to write a bad book.

PALACE COUNCIL/Stephen L. Carter/B+
A compelling political thriller set between 1954 and 1974, COUNCIL follows Eddie Wesley, a Harlem writer who finds the body of a white lawyer clutching the talisman of a secret society. Eddie's old girlfriend, Aurelia, is trying to discover why her husband is travelling the world and desperate for an heir. Then Eddie's sister vanishes and the story really takes off. It took me a bit to get into this one, but Carter is such a fine writer that I just keep finding myself back in the story.

ROOTS OF EVIL/Sarah Rayne/B+
Lucretia von Wollf was a notorious silent film star who died bizarrely. Fifty years later, a body is found brutalized in the same way in the now-derelict studios where Wolff died. Lucy Trent, Wolff's granddaughter, has to cope with history come back and the clues that today's violence migh have everything to do with a mysterious child, Alraune, who might never even have existed. Dark and disturbing, but I found it worth the reading, especially the historical sections set in pre-war Vienna and Auschwitz.

The true story of Victorian detective Jack Whicher who was called into the 1860 case of a 3-year-old boy found murdered in his family's privy. Whicher scandalized and upset society by focusing on the family and ultimately settling on the boy's older sister as the killer. But evidence was mislaid and deliberately covered up and Whicher ultimately walked away without an arrest or conviction. (Years later, the sister confessed and spent twenty years in prison.) A wonderful account of the earliest detectives and the society in which they worked.

Harold Quarles is almost universally hated. So which of his enemies killed him and strung him up in his own barn? Inspecter Rutledge, still recovering from his WWI traumas, has to work through a plethora of motives and grudges to find the killer, all the way back to another war on another continent twenty years before. Like Maisie Dobbs, I keep coming back to Rutledge despite some less than perfect books. And, like Maisie, this outing was better than the previous few.

I think I'll write a separate entry about this, since as a mother of a cancer child, I have some opinions. I'm glad I read this particular book, but I feel no need to rush out and read more Jodi Picoult.

A trip through Europe told with Bryson's trademark wit and eye for unusual details. Whether remarking on the parking habits of the Italians or the depressing weather in springtime Sweden, Bryson is never politically correct and always amusing. Short chapters cover separate areas, so it's an easy book to dip in and out of.

The true story of Joan Root, a world-famous wildlife filmmaker with her husband, Alan, before their divorce and her new life as a conservationist. I had to read it--Joan was born and lived her entire life in Kenya, where she was murdered in her home in January 2006, just six months before my first visit. Her murder is the end result of her passionate defense of Lake Naivasha, but her life as a whole is a wonderful tale of connection with the land and animals of Kenya. Recommended.

If you're a fan of Bourdain's show No Reservations on the Travel Channel, I'd recommend this book, which propelled him to public notice and blew open the secrets behind closed kitchen doors. He's often profane, and his style is mostly abrasive, but he tells mighty fine stories and made me far more interested in food than my cooking habits would lead one to expect. It was worth reading for "What do you know about me?" story alone (illustrating the perils of interviews).

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