Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ripping Great Adventure!

Never, I repeat, NEVER, begin a Preston/Child book in the late evening on a work night.

Riptide by my favorite adventure author duo, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, swept me away. These guys are always edge-of-your-seat great, but this little gem kept me up late on a night I really needed to be in bed. I kept thinking I would come to a place where I could put a bookmark in it and return to it the next evening. Wrong!

From its sinister beginning to its eerie denouement and explosive climax, this account of the search for and salvage of a cursed treasure hoard holds the reader breathless. Such is the creaft of the authors, that they could take the telephone book and sell it for a movie.

The plot is predictable: Lonely island surrounded by fog on which a booby-trapped labyrinth of tunnels, pits, and sinkholes hides an immense pirate treasure which attracts the greed of an expert salvage team in possession of a secret code which will enable them to defeat the "curse" and become obscenely rich.

The characters are stock: Computer nerd, sexy foreign archealogist, angst-ridden hero, fanatically-crazed preacher, the girl who got away, rich treasure hunter who stops at nothing, slavish sidekick who does the dirty work.

But when Preston and Child toss all the ingredients together, the results are always fresh and evocative. The whole is much more than the sum of its parts.

I will never forget the sounds the island makes as the sea comes in--or the island itself--poor, doomed character that I know will die and take all with it (except of course, the hero who always survives). The island with its mantle of fog and its nether world that does not accept the rules of modern technology reminds me of the island in King Kong and takes me back to that simple morality tale where all of man's might fails when nature moves.

The difference is, Kong was subdued, the island is not.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Play It Again Bernie

I love Lawrence Block. I don't know why. He's like a male Evanovich without the sexual angst, though he doesn't quite have her timing. Nonetheless he makes me laugh and that's a special thing in these somewhat somber days.

In The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart, Block brings back his gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr what? Solve a case? Fall in love? Commit larceny in a lovable way? Who cares? I don't read Block for the mystery or the romance or because I have any latent philosophical affinity for crime. I read him for the fun and he never disappoints.

In this parody of old mysteries, I finally stopped trying to keep up with the convoluted plot and just followed Bernie to the Bogart film festival he attends every night with his newest romance, Ilona, a mystery woman from Anatruria. He is hired to steal documents, his employer is murdered, the suspected murderer is murdered, Ilona disappears then reappears with a boyfriend who is the heir to the throne on Anatruria and in need of the documents Bernie was to steal. (I think.) There's a fat man and a midget and a punk bodyguard and Raffles the cat and, always in the background, the many characters Bogie played in his lifetime in film.

Forget the plot--Block weaves Bogart's dialogue in and out of the conversations, Bernie begins to become Bogie, and the fun is all in revisiting those wonderful old Bogart classics and reliving his characters in a savvy new way. The author obviously had fun writing the book and I appreciated the joy of reading it.

Mr. Block, I love your writing. "Here's lookin' at you, kid."

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Thunderstruck, But Not Quite Electrified

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson is not one of those grip-you-by-the-collar books that causes your kids to scream and kick your shins because you haven't fixed breakfast, lunch, or dinner and midnight looms, but it is a good read. Uncharacteristically, I spent four leisurely nights with Mr. Larson, enjoying the carefully crafted plot of this nonfiction tale.

As he did in The Devil in the White City, he tells two stories and moves them toward an intersection that creates a single unified whole. In Thunderstruck, Marconi is the inventor who can't seem to get his concept of wireless transmission off the ground (no pun intended, but I'll let the sentence stand.). Dr. Crippin is the kindly, well-liked physician who has murdered his domineering, abusive wife and run away with his typist.

Marconi's struggle to market wireless and Crippin's attempt to escape the law culminate in a surreal ocean voyage in which the Captain of Crippin's vessel is using his wireless to transmit information about the fugitives back to Scotland Yard and, via the newspapers of the day, to the world. As the Law races to catch the ship and board, the Captain is sending out daily tidbits that include conversations with the fugitives, their manner of dress, their reading material for the day, and other intimate details of the voyage. Worldwide, the public snapped up every morsel transmitted, and Wireless became the fad of the day. Marconi was saved even as Crippin was damned.

Larson is at the top of his craft in using information gathered from letters, transcripts, newpapers and other sources to create dialogue of such immediacy that the reader believes he has slipped into fiction. But his true master stroke comes in withholding details of the murder until after he has created a sympathetic picture of Crippin and his sweetheart. Therein lies the doubt. Crippin insisted he was innocent even as he went to the gallows. The readership of the day was uncertain, and Larson places us, today's readers, in their place.

Great read for cold nights by the fire.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Almost Borning

I loved the her book "Lovely Bones". It was well written and kept you thinking. Her new book "Almost Moon" was slow moving and I found a little confusing. The saying "You can't judge a book by it's cover" should say "You can't judge a book by it's author". This is not the first time I bought a book just because of the author, I have done it a lot of times, but with this book I missed judged. I am not saying it is a bad book, just not her best.

The book is about a daughter whose mother has dementia/Alzheimer and does not remember her from one minute to the next. She goes over to her mom's and finally has had enough, there is no what to put it nicely, she puts her mom out of her misery. After that the book goes down hill I think; the author goes back and forth from the daughters childhood, to marriage, to the present.

I will still read what this author writes, I will just start taking my husband's advise and check them out instead of buying books all the time.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Oh, Harry!

Well, friends and neighbors, she did it! She tied up all those loose ends in a neat little package, but not before adding even more subplots to make her job difficult. I'll not tell all because we still have several reserves on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but there are some observations that I can make that shouldn't give anything away.

It's long.....but, what else is new? The books have gotten progressively longer as the plot has become increasingly convoluted. Nonetheless, most readers are confirming to me that they enjoyed this last meander into J.K.Rowling's wonderful world and were reluctant to see the journey end. Some of the library kids have literally grown up with Harry and have a really emotional investment in his story.

She has to use the infamous deus ex machina to get herself off high center and pointed toward the end. There is a really long part of the book where our three favorite friends are wandering around trying to determine how to go about hunting a horcrux while the author is trying to figure out how to pull it all together and end the book. She finally just places one in their way and then everything takes off for the reader and, I think, for her.

She has set up a difficult conundrum that the best of us find difficult to resolve in our own lives. She has made Harry realize that if he kills, he becomes a killer. He fears that he will become You-Know-Who if he destroys him. Now how do you finish a book when the hero can't kill the villain? Her solution is beautiful.

She has grown as a writer as she has journeyed along with Harry. The final book has flaws, but we forgive them because we love the characters and we care about her. We have watched her struggle with her writing as she has spun out this wonderful tale, and we applaud her maturity in this last book of the series.

When the time came to lay Harry to rest, she did it gently and gracefully and we are grateful that her ending was appropriate and satisfactory, whether it was what we expected or not.

Here's to you, Ms. Rowling. Thanks for a wonderful trip, and may you live long and comfortably on your royalties.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns

This is an excellent second novel. I ran onto the Kite Runner and never bought it until I had exhausted all my other books and was going to spend the day at the hospital. I am so glad that I bought it because I would never have thought to read or even look forward to A Thousand Splendid Suns, which is a line from an Afghan poem.

This is an excellent second novel by a new author, Khaled Hosseini. It is full of emotion and the characters are as true to life an any breathing person. You are taken in just pages into the novel. You get to see a part of Afghanistan that is not torn apart by war and see that not all Afghans are what we see on the news. The two main characters in the book, Mariam and Laili become a part of you and you cry right along with them and for them.

I really loved this novel. I cried and laughed my way through the entire book, just as I did with the Kite Runner. I suggest you read them both.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Lean Mean Thirteen!

It's in!

Late--I know. A certain library vendor is not getting another preorder on Evanovich. But at least it's finally here.

Will Joe triumph over Ranger? Will Ranger steal Steph? Will Stephanie make up her mind? I won't get to read it for weeks--it's that booked up, but I'll make a fearless prediction: Nothing will be resolved in this book, but it'll be rip-roarin' fun!. We have two copies in print and one on CD, so get in line and don't tell me anything until I've read it myself!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Stolen Child Steals The Heart

After reading The Stolen Child, I had to find Keith Donohue's biography (no easy task) to find out how old he is. Surprise! He's just a kid! He's not even forty! I was startled to discover he was so much younger than I because, as a baby boomer born in '46, I listen for the voice of my generation, and Donohue has it--he's just too young to have lived it. Like a good novelist, he tricks us into belief.

The plot of The Stolen Child is simple, based on a W.B. Yeat's poem of the same name. A child of the '40's named Henry Day is stolen by hobgoblins and one of the captors takes his place. Henry and the changeling grow up, each telling his story in alternating chapters, crossing paths until one day they meet. There is humor and pathos, but primarily a thoughtful retelling of the changes that occur when a child is taken from his natural setting and is forced to begin a new life.

The beauty of the book, and the poignant sweetness, is that about mid-way this Baby Boomer (who had been blithely reliving her life through the events that swirl around Henry and the changeling) entered emotionally into the story. I, too, am a changeling, as are my many compatriots born in the late 40's. How many lives have we led, and how foreign do we feel in each of them? And, for me, how impossible is it to go home and be that solitary kid on the rock hill who dreamed away the long days?

Who were you before the divorce? And who are you now? Who will you be once you've married again? And can you ever drive past the house that held that other life and not feel the ghosts of another time watching you pass? How do you move on?

Donohue, kid that he is, leads his characters home and, in so doing, holds out to all of us--lost children that we are--a handful of hope.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Mother Sings Me To Sleep


Mother by Linda Ann Rentschler absolutely put me to sleep--literally. The first night I tried to read a few chapters, I couldn't keep my eyes open and finally gave it up and went to bed. Let me tell you: that never happens to me. The book reads like a first year fiction writing class assignment--improbable plot with manipulated ending, a dull (slightly irritating) heroine, too much exposition and too little dialogue.

Mary Sullivan grieves to the point of reader nausea over the death of her mother and just happens to meet a young woman in a luncheonette on the day before the evening that Cathy (the young woman) loses her own mother in a tragic car accident. Cathy ends up on Mary's doorstep, looking for comfort. She gets the address from a policeman. Small town? Really small town?

The two women bond instantly and Mary leaves her husband and two sons plus myriad commitments to go to college with Cathy and take a course that will help her become acceptable to a professor psychic who will help both women contact their dead mothers. Are you with me here?

The best parts of the book emerge when the husband and two sons are onstage. They are perfectly drawn and provide humor and delightful dialogue. The scenes in which they star are funny, poignant, and right on target--so the gal can write. I just wish she had used a little of that creativity on the plot and main characters.

The ending has an unexpected twist but the foundations are laid too late in the book to make for a believable construction. Don't wait on the movie, folks. Wait for her to write two more books.

She's got talent, she might get better.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Heart-Shaped Box: A New King?

Ok, let's just get it out on the table at the very beginning. Joe Hill is Stephen King's son and, like most little boys, he's trying on Daddy's shoes. Unlike most little boys, however, he finds himself with a really good fit. Aging rock star buys a ghost delivered in a heart-shaped box and promptly finds himself the vengeful spirit's target for death. With this no-punches-pulled beginning, the author spins out a suspensefully satisfying tale for his readers.

The Heart-Shaped Box has those classic King attributes: hard-core prose that goes poetic after the reader is hooked, improbable situation that just gets stranger as the pages turn, the buzzing of bees (where does that come from?), slightly ruined anti-hero that the reader can't give up on, wounds and bleeding and an unlikely heroine. It also introduces an author who not only dots his i's and crosses his t's but who also minds the swooping curls of his p's and q's.

Joe Hill is not a lazy writer who depends on deux ex machina for the salvation of his plot. Implausibe as the situation is, he carefully leads his reader to a logical ending, neatly tying up the frazzled ends even as he treats us to one final surprising twist. It's a good read.

For you young readers who have just discovered Stephen King and fret that he is in the twilight of his writing years, fear not. Another generation has taken up the pen and 'quits himself righteously.

The future is secure.

Monday, April 30, 2007

The Wheel of Time

Is Rand the Dragon Reborn?
Why can't Matt survive without the ruby dagger?
What caused Perrin to become "Wolfbrother"?

Come join Robert Jordan and discover the answers in the Wheel of Time series.

The journey begins in book 1, "The Eye of the World" where we are introduced to these three young men of the Two Rivers. Become caught up as they are whisked away into adventure by Aes Sedai Moiraine and a Warder named Lan, along with the young woman Egwene and their village Wisdom, Nynaeve. As they are hunted by the Dark One's Myrddraal and Trollocs they discover they are each more than what they ever knew they were.

Jordan takes us to a world with as much power and intrigue as Tolkien's Middle Earth, with captivating characters we are drawn to love and hate and immerses us in a realm of magic beyond one's imagination.

Ysabel for Beltane

If you aren't into Celtic myth and Beltane, don't let that deter you from reading this book. I am not normally a fan of fantasy and, had I known that this book would revolve around the love-that-transcends-the-ages theme, I would have missed a really good read because I would not then have chosen this title to review. Fortunately, the lead character, a 15 year old, i-pod-carrying, cell-phone-using, nice-guy boy named Ned got my undivided attention before it dawned on me that I was in for a fantasy.

Ned is on holiday with his hot-shot photographer dad in Aix-en-Provence, France and encounters a love-triangle that has played itself out life after life after life. The unexpected twist is that he can sense the auras of the gorgeous Ysabel (who has taken over the body of his dad's administrative assistant, Melanie) and her two lovers, the Celt and the Roman (who was really a Greek in their first life).

The plot is like the lovers, old-old-old and Saturday-matinee-silly, but the play is the thing. There is a double mystery to solve (How to get Melanie back, and why is Ned able to sense these 2,500 year-old lovers?) and all the characters are interesting. There are no real villians (except maybe the unfortunate and ineffectual Druid), only passionate people who love too deeply and too well. The violently tragic history of Aix-en-Provence, provides the theme that binds the characterization and plot. It is a barbarism vs. civilization game in which both the barbaric and the civilized are allowed their positive points and the realization that "You can't go home again," is poignantly underlined.

Great for adults looking for a romp of a read--acceptable for young adults--no sex, not much "adult" language (why do we call junior high curses "adult" language?), and recounting of historical violence rather than ripping off heads and swimming in gore.

Fantasy Fans--Gotta Have It!
Everyone Else: Give it a try.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Priest Fainted

No, and yes. No, This isn't a book about a priest. Yes, it is about breaking rules. From the Picasso-esque dust jacket to the rich retelling of Greek myth this book is not at all what it seems, and exactly what it seems. This is a woman's book, specifically a mother-daughter book, a journey of discovery and emancipation that leads the reader through hopeful (sometimes strained) retelling of masculine myth in feminine terms, sprinkled liberally with basil, garlic, olive oil, and tomato. And in the end, the heroine finds herself remade in feminine terms--her own person.

The plot is not linear. The characters are not stereotypical. The pace is leisurely. Not a quick read, but as fulfilling as a rich stew on a cold day, this book will have a very small , but devoted, circle of readers

Monday, April 16, 2007

Is it a Bird? Is it a Plane? Is it an MQ-1A Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle with Hellfire C Laser-Guided Weapons

Cold days and wet weather gave me a little indoor time and, ignoring the dust bunnies hopping in and out of the den, I settled in to finish Tyrannosaur Canyon by Douglas Preston. What fun! This one is a definite for the shelves, and we will watch for his other books, but how do I classify it?

It's a mystery with the critical clue given in the prologue to the book and not revealed until the end, but the plot is straightforward. The bad guys are the bad guys and the good guys are exactly what they seem to be--good guys. No surprises. No unexpected twists. Just a thrilling good ride.

It is a thriller. Like a good Saturday matinee, it has cliff-hanger after cliff-hanger (Literally! The plot is set in the canyons of the desert southwest!), and one night in particular I found myself reading through the night and into the morning, looking for a place to put a bookmark. Nonetheless, I figured out early on that Preston wasn't going to kill off any of his good guys after the initial murder, and though the threats were real, my anticipation was in how they were going to survive rather than if they were going to survive.

It's an adventure. Dinosaur hunter, power-hungry scientist, CIA, top-secret G-men, fossils, Anasazi ruins--and all of it in my favorite northern New Mexican landscape--Delight! However, it's too much thriller to go on the adventure there is that element of mystery...

It does have its flaws. There are times when I had to suspend incredulity for a time to get past the plot devices that seemed a little strained (When a special-ops group is so critical to world security that the leader can break all laws and has no rules, how can an ordinary army guy thwart the mission with impunity?), but the read was such a romp that I really didn't care.

Preston's characters are excellent; even the villains are fully-fleshed with their good traits. One particularly nice touch is the killer's surprise that perfectly legitimate activities make him more money with less effort than crime. The monk, Broadbent and Sally will appear later in other books by Preston. He leaves them teamed up and ready for the next adventure.

Me too!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Good Night, Mr. Vonnegut, Wherever You Are

There was a disturbance in the ether sometime yesterday, though I did not feel it, did not know it had occured until about 7:05 am this morning when my radio alarm woke me to the news that Kurt Vonnegut had died. The literati of the world have lost a friend. And humanists, both secular and Christian, have lost their voice.

I picked up his last book, A Man Without A Country, in an airport on a trip to Seattle this January, though at the time, of course, I didn't know that it was his last book. I think he knew, though. It is his valediction, his letting go. In these pages, he no longer warns his readers that our ability to exist on this earth is contingent on our prudent use of natural resources. Like the street corner prophet we no longer believe, he tells us the end is near. He says, "And nobody can do a thing about it. It's too late in the game."

However, Vonnegut to the end, he does not leave us with a despairing final opus. He points us back to those things that make us human: altuism, mercy, the crafting of peace. Marveling at our determination to post the old testament words of Moses in public buildings, he asks why there is no outcry for the display of the Beatitudes of Christ. In this warlike time, meekness, mercy, and peace are out of fashion for most of us, but Vonnegut has never given up on these attributes that are the focus of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

I had thought I would place the book in the library when I finished it, but I found I could not part with it after all, and so I must point Vonnegut's following to the 800s section on the shelves, where his novels take their place with the works of his literary peers. Of the choices there, I recommend particularly Cat's Cradle. Not for the faint of heart, the book satirizes all elements of society, stripping civilization down to the cold hard bone--and reminding us that we find our true selves in the marrow of bone, not in the fragility of flesh.

Mr. Vonnegut, I know you do not believe in life after life, but I hope you have been pleasantly surprised. You always loved a good laugh.

Monday, April 9, 2007

It's a Conspiracy!

Why is it when the house is full of winter dust and the yard is lost in leaves that all our favorite authors come out with new titles?

John Grisham's Innocent Man is HOT! Even though we have multiple copies, the list of reserves is long. I haven't gotten to read it yet, and that's only half the story. If I don't get my leaves raked and mulched, I may never get to read it! (And Hennessy Hank predicted an early spring--hah!)

I want to try the Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz. She sounds like a contender for Evanovich sisterhood, though who can equal Janet E? And, of course, I've got to read Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill just to see if he is following in his dad's footsteps. I'm wondering if there is another King maturing in Stephen's household.

In the meantime, I have The Priest Fainted languishing on my book table, balanced precariously on top of Tyrannosaur Canyon and a persistent little voice in the back of my brain that keeps insisting that I need to reread the Harry Potter series before we get Rowling's final chapter.

What's a reader to do?