Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Jake News and May Books

First the happy-making news: Jake's biopsy results were negative. No cancer of any sort, either a rhabdo relapse or lymphoma. I was in the mall food court at the time and when the surgeon identified himself on the phone I thought, "This had better be good news or my favorite teriyaki place will be ruined forever." Now it just makes a good detail to a happy story. The lab will continue to run tests for the next few weeks to see if they can identify an infectious cause for the lymph nodes' growth, but Jake is out of the woods and life can go on as planned: namely a trip to London, book three revisions, and family trip to Utah. And, yes, blog book reviews :)

Thirty years after his train trip from London to Tokyo and back (chronicled in The Great Railway Bazaar), Theroux retraces his steps through the newly-independent states of the former Soviet Union, through India and Vietnam and Singapore and Cambodia and on into Tokyo, returning by train across the length of Russia. He's an astute observer and an evocative writer, but every book of his I read I wish I was immersed in Bill Bryson's more generous viewpoint and willingness to find humor in every situation. Nonetheless, Theroux is a talented travel writer.

WISE MAN'S FEAR/Patrick Rothfuss/A-
The second in the Kingkiller Chronicles, this book covers the second day of Kvothe's recounting of his former brilliant life to a writer. That sounds like it would be a short book, but Kvothe's past is filled with epic journeys and strange cultures and his enduring love for a girl who can't be pinned down. Kvothe grows up a lot in this recounting, from student to destroyer of bandits and there's a long interlude involving a beautiful Fae from which Kvothe emerges with rather specialized sexual skills. And the story isn't entirely in the past, for evil is intruding in Kvothe's carefully disguised hideaway as an unassuming innkeeper. I have a hard time seeing how Rothfuss will finish this story in just one more volume, but I for one wouldn't mind it going on for several more books :)

A wonderful debut to a new mystery series featuring Maggie Hope, an American in London who gets a job in the Cabinet War Rooms as one of the prime minister's secretaries. With the education and skills to be a codebreaker, Maggie is swept into the secrets of her parents' mysterious deaths and a plot to kill Churchill that comes much too close to home. Maggie is endearingly individual and the background of wartime London is beautifully realized. Already bought the second book and the third won't be far behind.

BEFORE I FALL/Lauren Oliver/B+
High school senior Samantha Kingston has the perfect life, until it comes to an end on an icy February road. But life isn't quite done with her yet: Sam lives the last day of her life over and over, trying to decipher the secrets of her death and the purpose in reliving her last day. As she makes different choices, Sam sees how one person can affect many. I liked this contemporary YA much more than I expected to. Though Sam and her friends are not my kindred spirit kind of teen girls, I appreciated being inside Sam's head as she works her way through life and death questions.

The second in His Fair Assassin series, this book focuses on Sybella, though Ismae and other characters from Grave Mercy play an important role. Sybella is much wilder and more damaged than Ismae, but she has learned from early childhood to control her behavior. The convent that serves the God of Death has sent Sybella on her most dangerous assignment--into the heart of her family's twisted court. Sybella must protect herself from her father and brothers while trying to decipher just what it is Death expects of her. This is my favorite new YA series of 2013, with its mix of folklore and historical setting in late 15th-century Brittany.

The latest Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James mystery sees Gemma running the murder case of a London barrister found in a seedy hotel. While Duncan is on parental leave with their new foster child, Gemma encounters a byzantine case with a second murder, ritual elements to the crime, and a musician whose past as a bullied and near-abandoned child weaves him into the case as a possible suspect. Definitely read the series in order if you enjoy excellent British police procedurals.

Murphy uses the eight assassination attempts on Queen Victoria's life to illuminate the changing role of the monarchy during her sixty-four year reign. He also illuminates social history and the treatment of the mad as he details the crimes and the men who committed them for every reason from true mental illness to a desire for a secure future in an institution to the angry and shortsighted. Interesting if not exactly a page turner :)

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