Tuesday, October 6, 2009

September Books

A novella about revenge and mistaken identity during the French Revolution. A good sense of place and the tensions of the time, but the writing didn't really get me into the characters, not enough to really care about them. Only for fans of Perry.

A DARK HORSE/Craig Johnson/A
My sole complaint with this book is that I've now caught up with the series and have to wait for Johnson to write more! Sheriff Walt Longmire goes undercover in this story, trying to clear a woman who insists she murdered her husband. (The fact that he burned her beautiful horses to death inside a barn provides a convincing motive.) But Walt finds no shortage of motives in the man's life, and now his own is in danger since he isn't the most convincing insurance agent around. Write faster, Craig Johnson!

Loved this book. If those three words aren't enough--then here are some more. Steven Alper thinks 8th grade, drumming in the All-City Jazz Band, and figuring out girls are his biggest problems. Then his five-year-old brother, Jeffrey, is diagnosed with leukemia. Here's why I love this book: it's honest, it's funny, and it's as real in depicting one family's struggle to endure as any book I've read. I loved it, my once-cancer child (now in 8th grade himself) loved it, and his little sister (who knows something, along with her other two brothers, about being the forgotten child in the middle of chemo and radiation) loved it. Read it!

Hilary Tamar is a profesor of law at Cambridge. He (or she?) keeps in close touch with former students. One of them is worrying about letters from her aunt, detailing an obnoxious new (spiritualist) neighbor, while another is trying to advise a bank director on which of his subordinates is up to his neck in fraud. When the obnoxious neighbor is murdered, the two cases blend together until only Hilary Tamar can bring all the pieces together. The strength of this book is its wit, language, and a tone. The characters and plot serve in the background, but it was a fun read for a day or two.

Sara Selkirk, world-famous cellist, has come to Bath after a spectacular collapse in a full concert hall. Now she gives lessons to a local police officer, which gets tricky when she discovers a body in the Roman baths. The director of museums seems to have lived a blameless life, so why did someone knife him in the back? Sara, like all good amateur sleuths, goes places she shouldn't and asks questions that get her into trouble. A decent mystery except that I didn't particularly like Sara, especially by the end of the book. Still, I'll likely go on to the second in the series.

To keep out of the way of manic wedding plans, Gregor Demarkian escapes Philadelphia for a small town caught in the media's eye. As a trial looms over the issue of intelligent design vs. evolution, an old woman has been attacked and lies in a coma. Gregor has no shortage of enemies, but a great shortage of reasonable suspects. But when has reason been necessary for a murder? I enjoyed this for the reason I enjoy all Haddam's books--the ability to bring various, extraordinarily different, characters to vivid life and help me understand them all. Plus, Gregor finally marries Bennis :)

AMMIE, COME HOME/Barbara Michaels/A
A re-read of a classic Gothic ghost story. Ruth Bennett is trying to entertain her niece, Sara, by holding a seance in her historic Georgetown home. But something dark is awakened that night, and its focus is Sara. Now it's a race to find out the history and the truth before Sara is consumed. Though published in the 60s, this book holds up amazingly well with very little to date it, at least in the characters and their behavior. Highly recommended for the spooky months of autumn.

A CARRION DEATH/Michael Stanley/A-
Detective Kubu (a nickname meaning hippopotamus) is called from the capitol of Botswana to the Kalahari reserve when human bones are discovered. They're from a white man--but no white men seem to be missing. Kubu's investigation leads through the boardroom of a powerful diamond and cattle company to the grubby schemes of a blackmailer. At the heart is the story of twins whose father died in Botswana and who have returned from England to stake their claim to his company. Kubu is a wonderful detective and man, and this Botswana mystery creates a vivid portrait of the country, one more complex and layered than others. Some of the passages took me right back to my visits to Africa and I will definitely read more of Detective Kubu.

In 1954 Mississippi, Jack Branch is the last member of an old plantation family who's teaching at the local high school. In his course on evil, he's shocked to discover that one of his students is the son of the Coed Killer--a man who was killed by a prisoner before he could come to trial. Jack encourages the boy to write a paper about his father, hoping to eradicate the past and help spring the boy to a brighter future. But old attitudes die hard and Jack isn't as disinterested as he thinks. This is one of Cook's best books, about the good deeds we do and the complicated motives that lurk beneath.

At the turn of the last century in New York, Lily Bart is teetering on the edge of society. Twenty-nine, single, and poor, she is trained for nothing but being decorative. She uses those skills to try and ensnare a rich husband, but when she comes close, her independence rebels and ruins her chances. The story (entirely mirth-less, I assure you) follows Lily down her increasing slope of lost chances, vengeful friends, and not-quite-strong-enough lovers. It gets an A because it's a brilliant satire of a gilded society that uses people ruthlessly and casts them away when they're no longer needed.

A BROOM OF ONE'S OWN/Nancy Peacock/C
I picked this up solely for the title (fans of Virginia Woolf will know why.) This writer of several literary novels (none of which I've read or even heard of), spent much of her life as a housecleaner to support her writing habit. In these essays, she combines the writing life with the cleaning life. It was okay, but the stories of insensitive clients and their bad habits began to wear thin quickly.

THE GARGOYLE/Andrew Davidson/B+
The story opens with the unnamed narrator burning in a fiery car crash. During the painful months that follow in hospital, he meets a mental patient named Marianne Engel who claims that they are lovers from medieval Germany and that she's been waiting for 700 years to find him again. Marianne tells hims stories about their lives before, woven between the narrator's recovery. He really starts to worry about her when she claims that God has granted her an end to her long centuries of life when she finishes carving a certain number of gargoyles. And that number is getting smaller each week . . .I'm not sure if I exactly liked this book, but it was powerful and skillfully structured between past and present. It is occasionally graphic, particularly when the narrator describes his previous days as a coke-addled porn star and filmmaker, but his relationship with Marianne and his disfiguring burns alter him. A story not easily forgotten, at any rate.

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