Re-reading The Day of the Jackal, Frederick Forsyth's 1972 Edgar winner for Best Novel, was perhaps even more satisfying than reading it for the first...moreRe-reading The Day of the Jackal, Frederick Forsyth's 1972 Edgar winner for Best Novel, was perhaps even more satisfying than reading it for the first time (can it really have been 36 years ago?) I would never quibble with the committee's choice on this one.
As most people probably know, the book deals with a plot to assassinate Charles de Gaulle, President of France, by a group opposed to his policies on Algeria. Not only does the reasonably well-informed reader know that, historically, de Gaulle was not assassinated, but Forsyth actually makes a point of telling us this early in the book. So, in a most important sense, we know from the outset how the book ends. And yet, it is one of the best examples I've read of page-turning, heart-stopping, breath-holding suspense writing.
Using the third-person omniscient form, Forsyth takes us into the minds and actions of the plotters, the police, and the Jackal himself. As the Jackal's preparations are being made, the French policeman, Lebel, is making his own preparations to foil the hired assassin. The police (including a number of quasi-police agencies with few qualms about methods) are well aware of the plot to assassinate de Gaulle -- several unsuccessful attempts have been made -- and they quickly surmise that the plotters have a hired killer. But finding the Jackal is not so easy, and he always seems to be one step ahead of them until the last shattering moment.
One thing that struck me in this reading of The Day of the Jackal was that, while one part of my brain was firmly on the side of Lebel and his need to stop the assassin, another part of me was admiring the Jackal's ingenuity and cool head, and almost wanted him to "win." And all this with no attempts made by the author to excuse or rationalize the Jackal's career choice -- in fact we are told very little about the Jackal's past beyond one brief reference to his having grown up poor. Forsyth puts the reader in the very unusual position of watching two consummate professionals doing their jobs in opposition to each other; even though we know which is the "good" or "right" side, our inwards groans at a setback for the Jackal are as heartfelt as those for Lebel, at least until the last few chapters.
If you are too young to have read this book when it first came out, or even if you did read it then, do yourself a favor and read or re-read it. (less)
Carl Sandburg said (in another context) "it pays to have a good forgettery." In this case, a good forgettery allowed me to reread Ken Follett's EYE OF...moreCarl Sandburg said (in another context) "it pays to have a good forgettery." In this case, a good forgettery allowed me to reread Ken Follett's EYE OF THE NEEDLE (British title, STORM ISLAND) with every bit as much enjoyment as when I first read it 30 years ago. Also, having recently reread THE DAY OF THE JACKAL, it was fun to compare these two similar, but different, thrillers.
Both books feature multiple points of view -- quite a few of them in Follett's case -- and on both sides of the good guy/bad guy divide. Both involve historical events that we know turned out OK, and ask us to imagine a scenario where things could have gone quite differently. The difference in Follett's book is that nearly all the characters are more fully developed. I still found it difficult to work up much sympathy for The Needle, though, and when I found critics (both film and book) talking about his "falling in love" with Lucy, I thought only that they must have a very different idea of love than I have.
The stronger character development in Follett's book makes a lot of artistic sense, since, unlike JACKAL, EYE OF THE NEEDLE must build suspense over a period of four years, from the period just after the Phoney War in 1940, to just before D-Day in 1944. Without the character interest, this might have made for a less engaging story; and the behavior of The Needle, David, and Lucy in the final chapters would not have been as believable.
Reading this now, when Follett has again been on the bestseller lists with WORLD WITHOUT END, his sequel to THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH (both set in the Middle Ages), one notices how he brings his interest in medieval culture and history even into a World War II thriller. For example, he parallels Godliman the medievalist's search for Henry II's travels with Godliman the intelligence agent's search for The Needle. I haven't seen the movie of this book, but probably will before long. I am reserving judgment on the casting of Donald Sutherland as The Needle -- somehow it just doesn't seem right to me.
In any case, THE EYE OF THE NEEDLE was quite deserving of the Edgar, even though it had some stiff competition, particularly Tony Hillerman's LISTENING WOMAN.
My goodness! I haven't laughed so hard at a book since Hector was a pup! It's difficult to tell much about this book without spoilers, so suffice it to...moreMy goodness! I haven't laughed so hard at a book since Hector was a pup! It's difficult to tell much about this book without spoilers, so suffice it to say that it's more of a "novel of suspense" than a "detective story" and is told in the first person from three points of view -- a cat, a dog, and a vicar are the three main characters. The setting in 1957 helps to make it a wonderful escape. I suppose this book mightn't be everyone's cup of tea but it certainly was mine. (less)
Book reviewer and Salon.com co-founder Laura Miller fell in love with Narnia in the second grade when her teacher handed her a copy of The Lion the Wi...moreBook reviewer and Salon.com co-founder Laura Miller fell in love with Narnia in the second grade when her teacher handed her a copy of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Several years later, Laura, by then a lapsing Catholic and a junior-high student, read that C.S. Lewis's intent in writing the Chronicles of Narnia had been a recasting of Christian doctrine for children. She felt snookered and angry and did not revisit Narnia for many years. During those years, the Christian aspect of the Narnia books has come still more to the forefront, to the point that most discussion of the books seems to focus on that aspect alone; not to mention the Christian-evangelical-produced films released recently. From numerous tomes by evangelicals to the hatred professed by fantasy writer/atheist Philip Pullman, it seems that no one can any longer view the Narnia books other than through the lens of one's own belief or unbelief. Laura Miller, still a skeptic, manages to take a much more balanced look at the series in this excellent book.
A few years ago, Miller decided to revisit Narnia, wrote a column on Salon.com about it, and thereby started a fascinating conversation with other Narnia-lovers which led to the book. She combines memoir, biography, and literary criticism in the wide-ranging work. She explains that the Chronicles are not, in fact, allegory, as sloppy thinkers are fond of calling them; compares and contrasts Lewis and his friend Tolkien (who didn't think much of the Chronicles for his own reasons); references Northrop Frye and Ingmar Bergman as well as George MacDonald and Charles Williams. If you don't care for fantasy and never wished to visit Narnia, this book will not change your mind and you might as well skip it. But for anyone who has ever enjoyed the books -- whether you reread them regularly or not, whether you are a believer or a skeptic -- The Magician's Book will enrich your thinking about reading in general and The Chronicles of Narnia in particular. Highly receommended.(less)
Susan Hill's Simon Serailler novels are shelved as mysteries in libraries and bookstores, and here on my virtual shelves as well. Having read the firs...moreSusan Hill's Simon Serailler novels are shelved as mysteries in libraries and bookstores, and here on my virtual shelves as well. Having read the first (The Various Haunts of Men) and the fourth (this one), and some reviews, I think they are actually domestic fiction about a family, one of whose members happens to be a policeman.
I enjoyed both books, and will probably seek out the middle two and any sequels. But I enjoyed them as domestic fiction more than for the mystery. I learned from some of the other Goodreads reviews that each of the four books has Simon dealing with a serial killer, which stretches credulity given that the series is set in a relatively small cathedral town. I read a lot of police procedurals, and serial killers seem to crop up a lot, partly because in most real-life homicides the police know more or less "whodunnit." The need for proof can make tales of homicides which are domestic, gang-related, or committed during the commission of another felony interesting; but it's still a little more difficult to come up with plausible scenarios for detective work under those circumstances. So, nearly every writer of police procedurals has to have an occasional serial killer to deal with. But I'm just tired of them.
In a sense, though, the serial killer is not really the focus of The Vows of Silence. In fact, more people die in the book from accident, suicide and natural causes than by the hand of the killer. Although some chapters put us inside the killer's head, the victims are given equal time and their deaths are described more empathetically than is sometimes the case. Serailler seems to take a long time to come to a solution, but he has a lot of personal concerns to deal with, and in the end, those are the portions of the book I will remember. Recommended, but not as a mystery.(less)
I had somehow missed hearing of T. Jefferson Parker until I saw that he had won the Edgar for Best Novel not once, but twice. The first, in 2002, was...moreI had somehow missed hearing of T. Jefferson Parker until I saw that he had won the Edgar for Best Novel not once, but twice. The first, in 2002, was for Silent Joe. It's a standalone novel of Orange County, California, and one thing that came immediately to mind as I read it was "No wonder they went bankrupt!" The Orange County of Parker's book (and evidently this is his preferred setting) is rife with political corruption, greedy developers, racial tension, gang violence, and people with secrets.
In a way, this is a coming-of-age novel -- a genre I've grown to dislike immensely. But in Parker's hands, with the added attraction of a mystery to solve, it's more than just bearable. Silent Joe Trona, the narrator and protagonist, is a young man who grew up burdened with a horribly disfigured face, the result of his father throwing acid at him when he was a baby. After spending the first five years of his life in a very nice orphanage, Joe is adopted by Will and Mary Ann Trona and learns what a happy childhood can be. Will was originally a sheriff's deputy (with a wealthy wife) and later becomes a county supervisor. Joe has followed in his footsteps and works in the county jail by day, but nearly every night he acts as a combination chauffeur and bodyguard for his father. There is a lot of moral ambiguity involved here as Joe sees money changing hands, evidence that Will is cheating on Mary Ann, and other odd things -- and yet he still hero-worships his father. One night they are trying to retrieve a kidnapped child and things go horribly wrong; Joe spends the rest of the book trying to solve his father's murder and makes some surprising discoveries along the way.
Plot, setting, and character - this book has it all and was richly deserving of its award. It won't be long in my project to read all the Edgar Best Novel winners till I'll be reading Parker's second winner, California Girl and I am looking forward to it. But I must say that, based on this novel, Parker's Orange County is a place I will visit every now and then, but I wouldn't want to read several of his books in quick succession.(less)
Continuing my self-challenge to read all the Edgar Award winners for Best Novel, I’ve come to 1996’s winner, Dick Francis’s Come to Grief. I’m sure it...moreContinuing my self-challenge to read all the Edgar Award winners for Best Novel, I’ve come to 1996’s winner, Dick Francis’s Come to Grief. I’m sure it will make my 10 Best list for 2009.
It seems odd to me that Dick Francis, who normally sticks to standalones, has won two of his three Edgars for Best Novel with books in his all-too-brief Sid Halley series. Come to Grief is the last of them, an unusually-structured book which, while losing none of the suspense Francis excels at, also adds new depth to the character of steeplechase-jockey-turned-private-eye Halley.
As the book opens, a trial is about to begin -- the trial of Halley's longtime friend and fellow jockey Ellis Quint, now a TV presenter, for a series of horrifying and unusual crimes. Sid Halley is one of the chief witnesses for the prosecution. In the rest of the book, we see how Halley reached his conclusions (in flashback) and then learn along with him why there is more to the story than he at first realized.
Come to Grief has several elements that suggest Francis may have planned to continue the series with some new twists and some new continuing characters, but so far, sadly, he has not done so. Highly recommended. (less)
The fifth in the Chet and Bernie series, the adventures of the Little Detective agency as told by Chet, the partner who happens to be a dog, is the be...moreThe fifth in the Chet and Bernie series, the adventures of the Little Detective agency as told by Chet, the partner who happens to be a dog, is the best yet, but I think that about every new entry in this series. I listened to this book (read by Jim Frangione, who does a great job) while walking my own dog, and likely got a reputation around town as a nut because I so often found myself laughing out loud. I think any dog owner will recognize the traits of dogdom in Chet's "voice."
Although the dog tells the story, he has no special powers beyond those any dog of his size and training might have. We have often noticed how much effort our dog puts into trying to communicate with us -- and how often we probably fail to understand him. Chet is the same, so sometimes he "gets it" before Bernie and can't make him understand. And at other times, like any dog, he just gets distracted or confused.
A Fistful of Collars finds Bernie and Chet hired to make sure all goes smoothly on a film shoot in their area of the San Fernando Valley. The star seems to be wrestling with some private demons which turn out to be connected to a cold case which turns into a hot one. The climax is very scary! As usual, the characters and setting measure up to the plot. I hope Chet and Bernie continue catching perps for a long time to come. Highly recommended.(less)
This book was not quite what I expected after skimming a couple of reviews; I think it was even better.
Michael Hainey's father, a Chicago newspaperma...moreThis book was not quite what I expected after skimming a couple of reviews; I think it was even better.
Michael Hainey's father, a Chicago newspaperman, died in 1970 when the younger Hainey was six years old and his brother two years older. Little was said about him after that, or about the manner of his death -- just that he had had a heart attack at 35. As Michael grew up and became a journalist himself, various parts of the story did not add up. When he reached the age at which his father had died, he began to investigate in earnest, After many difficulties, he learned the truth -- or rather, many truths.
After Visiting Friends kept me fascinated from beginning to end. It's not only the story of a great family history investigation, but a meditation on fathers and sons, and the larger topic of family. With side trips to Nebraska and California, it's also a great Chicago story. Very highly recommended.(less)
I recently responded to an offer of an ARC of Warning Signsfor review, and I'm glad I did. The medical thriller is not a subgenre I've read much of, s...moreI recently responded to an offer of an ARC of Warning Signsfor review, and I'm glad I did. The medical thriller is not a subgenre I've read much of, so this book broadened my reading horizons and I'll certainly check out Ms. Lyons' first book, Lifelines.
Reading this book is much like watching a really good episode of ER or Chicago Hope, without the annoying commercials and with a lot more character development. Four women who work at Angels of Mercy, a teaching hospital in Pittsburgh, are the central characters; one is an ER doctor, one a nurse, one a resident and the last a medical student. Each has her own past conflicts and present demons, including both personal and professional concerns. The story is told in third person with the point of view shifting among the characters, which helps build suspense.
The main focus of Warning Signs is a series of unexplained illnesses and deaths of young, healthy women who enter the hospital with disturbing neurological symptoms and die before a diagnosis is made. What's worse, Amanda, the medical student, is experiencing some of the same symptoms. I thought I had the mystery figured out fairly early, only to find at the end that Ms. Lyons had another twist in store.
Warning Signs is due to be published January 27 in mass-market paperback. I would definitely recommend looking for it if you enjoy a fast-paced story with engaging characters and great hospital atmosphere.(less)
Why have I not encountered Sally Wright's writing before? I recently got a copy of Watches of the Night, her fifth mystery featuring college archivist...moreWhy have I not encountered Sally Wright's writing before? I recently got a copy of Watches of the Night, her fifth mystery featuring college archivist and ex-WWII scout Ben Reese, and I'll definitely be seeking out the first four and hoping for more.
The time setting of this book is one that is not often encountered. The "contemporary" section is set in 1961 and 1962, with the flashbacks going back to 1945. Each segment is given a date, which prevents confusion. The geographical settings range from southern Ohio and Kentucky to Scotland, England and Italy, with side trips to NYC and the Hudson Valley, in the "present" day, and along the front lines in Belgium and Germany during the war. Each setting is evocatively described, with a feeling for the history of a place as well as its climate, topography, and flora.
The protagonist, Ben Reese, and his friend and co-investigator, Kate Lindsay, are just the sort of people one would like to know in real life. Other characters (helpfully listed in the front of the book, along with a drawing of a pivotal location in the story)are also well drawn, and even the villain has a believable backstory.
The story begins when Ben's friend Kate receives a shocking package, delivered by a conscientious employee of the Dead Letter Office. Sixteen years after his death, her husband's eye has been sent to her in a bottle of alcohol. Who could have sent it? She enlists Ben's help in finding out. This is one of those books where the reader knows what the villain is up to before the detectives do, but that in no way detracts from the suspense. Ben's WWII training stands him in good stead as the book reaches its thrilling climax. I highly recommend Watches of the Night.(less)
The year is now 1958, the place is still Texas. Otis Millett and his PI partner, Kristin van Dijk (Baby Shark) are enjoying a rest at the home of thei...moreThe year is now 1958, the place is still Texas. Otis Millett and his PI partner, Kristin van Dijk (Baby Shark) are enjoying a rest at the home of their friend Henry Chin when a phone call takes them back to Fort Worth. Otis has to identify the body of his wife, who has been found shot to death. Dixie and Otis had not been together for 10 years or so, but never divorced. Dixie had been a well-known stripper, but now appears to have been working in a bank -- a bank recently robbed with a moonlighting cop killed in the robbery. It appears Dixie was killed for double-crossing the other bank robbers. Otis wants to find Dixie's killer, and the police want to find the copkiller and the location of the loot from several bank robberies. Kristin agrees to impersonate Dixie's next of kin to draw the killer out. There is danger around every corner, but Kristin can hold her own in a bar fight, a shootout, or a car chase. As usual, the book is not for readers who prefer their violence offstage. I'm usually one of those people, but there's something about Baby Shark -- her voice, her insights into herself, her willingness to give the bad guys a chance to back down before she shoots to kill -- that keeps me coming back even as the body count increases. BABY SHARK'S JUGGLERS AT THE BORDER also gives us more insight into Otis Millett, one of my favorite characters in mystery fiction; and the villain of the piece is one of the more intriguing I've come across. So, go down to the bookstore and pre-order your copy now.(less)
One of the best books I've read (or listened to) in quite a while. I don't want to post any spoilers so I can't say much about the plot other than tha...moreOne of the best books I've read (or listened to) in quite a while. I don't want to post any spoilers so I can't say much about the plot other than that the book relates the experiences of two young women serving in the British war effort in WWII. It is harrowing, heartbreaking, inspiring, educational, and at times funny. Richly deserving of its many awards and award nominations, and definitely worth a visit to the "Young Adult" section of your library or bookstore. The readers in the audio version were both excellent. (If you are a parent, wondering about recommending this to a child, I would say a tough 12 or 13 year old could take it, perhaps. There are descriptions of torture, so be forewarned.)(less)
This is the best yet in the Ceepak series. Grabenstein is the best author I know at mixing humor with straight-up, scary, mentally challenging detecti...moreThis is the best yet in the Ceepak series. Grabenstein is the best author I know at mixing humor with straight-up, scary, mentally challenging detective fiction.
In HELL HOLE, Sea Haven PD officer Danny Boyle and his partner and mentor John Ceepak investigate the apparent suicide of a returning Iraq war veteran. There are jurisdictional issues, political ramifications, the return of incompetent crime scene investigator "Slobbinsky," and Ceepak's and Danny's lives are endangered more than once. To add to the complications, Ceepak is dealing with some personal problems and there's no chaplain in sight. Also, a new character is introduced: Sam (for Samantha) Starky, a new "summer cop" doing the same job Danny had in TILT-A-WHIRL.
The plot and setting are as well-done as usual in Grabenstein's books, which is to say, excellently well. The description of the restroom at Exit 52 on the Garden State Parkway made me want to buy a gallon jug of Lysol. But what I'll remember longest about HELL HOLE is the continuing character development of Ceepak and Boyle.
Ceepak, as we have seen before, holds himself to a very high personal standard. In HELL HOLE, we are shown, not just told, the circumstances that led him to choose that high standard for himself. As an Army brat and a veteran, I can attest to the truth of Danny Boyle's observation about the motivations behind some of our best soldiers.
Danny Boyle, as one would expect from a 20-something, has changed and grown even more during this (so far) 4-book series. From the good-hearted but clueless young man of the first book, he has become someone who is observant, competent, and takes initiative, without becoming simply a Ceepak clone. Danny will always like to have a good time, but he knows when it's time to get serious. He still tends to think of himself as a bit of a screw-up, but he, too, is holding himself to a high standard.
I can't close without saying something more about Sam Starky. I hope she gets a full-time job with the Sea Haven force. She comes across in this book as a charming combination of Jersey girl and mini-Ceepak, and I'd love to see what Chris Grabenstein does with her character.
I highly recommend this and all the Ceepak novels.
With three critically-acclaimed standalones ( To the Power of Three, Every Secret Thing and What the Dead Know) now behind her, Laura Lippman return...moreWith three critically-acclaimed standalones ( To the Power of Three, Every Secret Thing and What the Dead Know) now behind her, Laura Lippman returns to the Tess Monaghan series with Another Thing to Fall. Those of us who have been following Tess's adventures for years should be grateful, and I am, but I wish I could have liked this book more. In it, Tess is brought into the world of television production (with which Lippman is familiar because of her husband's involvement with The Wire). It's a world where no one is quite what s/he seems, and one where most people are so focused on their own concerns as to be fairly clueless outside them. Problems are dogging the set of a Baltimore-location TV series in production, and Tess is hired as a bodyguard for its lead ingenue. This is one of those books with multiple points of view, including perpetrator(s), victims, and not-so-innocent bystanders as well as that of the detective. These are useful in explaining motivations, but can be a little confusing. At the end of the book, it seemed to me, Tess hadn't done all that much detecting, rather she learned much of the truth by having it flung at her,and probably that's why I found the book a little disappointing. On the other hand, although we didn't get to see much of Crow, both his teenage protege Lloyd and Tess's awesome friend Whitney Talbot featured largely in the plot, and that was enjoyable. Even a so-so Laura Lippman book is much better than average, and I also liked her insights into the ambivalence of a troubled city being "invaded" by television and movie crews with their promises of money and fame.(less)
As you'll see from my recent reading lists, I've been reading several books on food and sustainability. By the time I got around to The End of Food, m...moreAs you'll see from my recent reading lists, I've been reading several books on food and sustainability. By the time I got around to The End of Food, much of the information in it seemed very familiar, given that I've also spent some of my reading time during each of the past several years on the subject. In fact, I more or less skimmed the book, since it needed to go back to the library. But I would recommend it to someone who is just getting started on this subject. Perhaps you saw the documentaries Food, Inc. and King Corn and would like to know more context and history. This would be a good reference.
Roberts has done a lot of research and puts it together clearly. Although he doesn't make much effort to be entertaining, his work is quite readable. Beginning with our ancestor Australopithecus, not even a hunter-gatherer but simply a gatherer (and scavenger of carcasses left by larger hunting animals), Roberts traces the history of how humans have fed themselves up to the present. I learned that for hundreds of years in Europe, the daily condition of the vast majority of people was hunger, and famines were not unusual. This only really ended with the widespread importation of food from North America, South America, and Australia. Most of the food-growing and stockraising practices we are beginning to question were not thought up by Satanic profiteers, but arose from the laudable effort to feed more of the world's people. This doesn't mean that change is not necessary, and Roberts explains why.
If you want to read one book which will give you the information to think intelligently on the subject of food production and distribution and its effect on the world today, and then make up your own mind about how you want to change your own habits, I would recommend this book. If you'd like a little more guidance and philosophy, I'd recommend The Way We Eat, which I'll also review here.(less)
Like Parker’s earlier Edgar winner, Silent Joe, California Girl is set in Orange County and brought home even more than the earlier book that Orange C...moreLike Parker’s earlier Edgar winner, Silent Joe, California Girl is set in Orange County and brought home even more than the earlier book that Orange County is not Los Angeles.
There are a lot of ways one could describe California Girl. It’s a story about two families, the Beckers and the Vonns, and how they intersect and affect each other’s lives. It’s definitely a story of the changes in America, and specifically Orange County, from the 50s through the 60s and onward. Richard Nixon and Charles Manson make brief appearances, as does Timothy Leary. It’s also the story of three brothers – a clergyman, a journalist, and a cop – trying to love and support each other and be honest men in spite of their own human frailties and the compromises they sometimes have to make.
I have a hard time reading Parker’s books. They evoke corruption so well I almost have to hold my nose – even this book, which was not really about corruption, has a character who makes a fortune from a cleaner made of rotten oranges. Parker’s world is not a world I want to visit often. Although his characters enjoy the beauty and good weather of Southern California, they are also surrounded by urban sprawl and commercial ugliness (not to mention some extremely right-wing characters and others who are just generally unpleasant.) In some ways Parker’s books remind me of Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti novels. But although Brunetti goes on beating his head against the wall of bureaucracy and corruption that confronts him at the end of nearly every book, he has the many compensations of Venice to console him. Parker’s Orange County doesn’t seem like a good place to live, but it’s a place we need to know about, and the stories he tells about it are worth hearing. So even though in many ways I didn’t “like” this book, I would highly recommend it. (less)
I seldom read biographies, and still less often, autobiographies, making exceptions only for those subjects who truly fascinate me or who I believe ha...moreI seldom read biographies, and still less often, autobiographies, making exceptions only for those subjects who truly fascinate me or who I believe have much to teach. Huston Smith falls squarely into both categories.
Many years ago, my husband and I took a class on World Religions being given at the local high school by a professor from the nearest state university. The text was Smith's The Religions of Man, since revised, enlarged, and retitled The World's Religions. So I was familiar with Smith, and the title of this book attracted me. I pulled it from the library shelf and realized it was an autobiography, but sat down to read a few pages; immediately I knew I wanted to read the whole book.
Smith is 90 years old -- he and his friend Pete Seeger share a birthday -- and grew up in a remote village in China where his parents were Methodist missionaries. He still belongs to a Methodist church - I believe, from things he says in this book, that it's San Francisco's Glide Memorial -- but has not only studied, but practiced, other religions. His quest for learning took him first to Shanghai, then to a small college in Missouri, and then to Chicago for grad school. Subsequently, besides teaching in several universities, he travelled all over the world and even to the doors of perception. (He tells of taking mescaline with Timothy Leary.) The tale of his experiences is fascinating in itself, but what makes this book truly worth reading are the nuggets of wisdom, well expressed, that Smith has gained from his studies, his practices, and his life. As a bonus, the appendix to the book is a lecture, "A Universal Grammar of Worldviews," that Smith gave at Pacific School of Religion four years ago, and which contains both knowledge and wisdom. Highly recommended.(less)
This was only the second of the Edgar Best Novel winners so far that I knew for certain I had read before. But, I decided it would be worthwhile to re...moreThis was only the second of the Edgar Best Novel winners so far that I knew for certain I had read before. But, I decided it would be worthwhile to reread it, and how right I was. Martin Beck, the protagonist of this series, is the spiritual ancestor of Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander. He pretty much bears out any stereotype you may have about gloomy Swedes. But he's a heck of a policeman. One thing I don't recall noticing when I first read this book back in the 1970s was how it is set in a definite time -- 1967, with protest demonstrations worldwide about America's involvement in Vietnam. The book opens with such a demonstration in Stockholm, with most police detailed to keep order. Shortly, however, Beck is called to a crime scene -- someone has shot all the passengers and the driver of a city bus. And one of the victims is one of his own homicide detectives. The solution of the case leads to the solution of a "cold case" from the early 50s, and owes more to good, solid, routine police investigation than to any stunning intuitions on the part of Beck or his colleagues. (As is my wont, I had forgotten "whodunnit" long ago so that I enjoyed not only the writing, but the mystery.) I very seldom reread mysteries, but the Sjowall and Wahloo series is well worth a reread, or a first read if you haven't encountered them yet.(less)
I've now read twenty-eight of the Edgar Best Novel Award winners, and one thing I've noticed is that the selection committee seems to favor the stand-...moreI've now read twenty-eight of the Edgar Best Novel Award winners, and one thing I've noticed is that the selection committee seems to favor the stand-alone novel over the series entry. Out of the 28 there have been 17 stand-alones as against 11 series novels (one of which, Ed Lacy's ROOM TO SWING, probably shouldn 't count as it did not become part of a two-book series until several years after the award). After what seemed like a zillion international thrillers all in a row, it was fun to read Dick Francis's series book, WHIP HAND, and to know that there are three more books in the Sid Halley series for me to enjoy.
WHIP HAND is the series' second book, continuing the story of Sid Halley, an ex-jockey turned PI with an artificial left hand. With the help of his judo-instructor friend Chico Barnes, Halley investigates primarily racing-related questions, at least in this book. However, he also goes after a conman who has involved Halley's ex-wife in a scheme that might send her to prison if the true perpetrator isn't found. By the end of the book, Halley has not only solved all the mysteries, but has learned a good deal about himself.
WHIP HAND is told in the first person by Halley. A lot of people don't like this POV and even say they won't read a book that uses it. I can't really imagine this book told any other way being as effective as it was. We learn so much about Halley's psyche that helps to illumine the character changes he goes through during the course of the book. Having the story told in third-person omniscient, for example, would just not be as powerful. I did find it difficult to read the portions in which violence is directed at the narrator, but they too were necessary to show the character's feelings.
As this is only the second Dick Francis book I've read, I'm still learning some of the ins and outs of British horseracing. I'm happy that Francis is so good at slipping bits of information into the story without stopping the flow of the plot. I expect I'll know a lot more before I'm done reading Francis. (less)
Biography is not generally one of my favorite genres, and autobiography even less so. But, wishing to mark Tony Hillerman's passing, and having heard...moreBiography is not generally one of my favorite genres, and autobiography even less so. But, wishing to mark Tony Hillerman's passing, and having heard good things about his autobiography, I decided to give Seldom Disappointed a try, and I was seldom disappointed in it.
Hillerman begins with his childhood in rural, Depression-era Oklahoma. His love for his parents and siblings was well-deserved and reciprocated, and he tells many amusing boyhood tales. Hardships, including his father's death, are met and overcome as a family, strengthened by faith.
I had not known of Hillerman's war service until I read his obituary, which mentioned that he had been awarded a Silver Star. He tells the story of being an infantryman in Europe during the difficult fighting of 1944 and 1945 with the modesty we have come to expect from the "Greatest Generation." He also continues, as he does throughout the book, to point out instances of good fortune and how events that seemed bad at the time led to life-changing experiences.
The post-war years found Hillerman finishing college, meeting and marrying his wife Marie, beginning a career in journalism, and forming, with Marie, a family of one biological child and five adopted ones; then moving into academia and finally writing his first novel, The Blessing Way. Throughout, Hillerman comes across as a person I would have been glad to know, and have been privileged, along with many others, to know through his work. I would recommend reading his novels first, but if you've read all of them and would like just a bit more Hillerman, read this book.(less)
This 1974 Edgar Best Novel winner was a re-read for me -- I've read and enjoyed all of Tony Hillerman's novels featuring Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Sgt. Jim...moreThis 1974 Edgar Best Novel winner was a re-read for me -- I've read and enjoyed all of Tony Hillerman's novels featuring Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Sgt. Jim Chee, alone and together. And, by the time I was 7/8 of the way through it, I had remembered the motive and the perpetrator; but Hillerman's writing maintained me in a state of suspense until the last page.
In this, one of the earliest of his Navajo novels, the character of Lt. Joe Leaphorn is just beginning to be developed. We hear nothing at all of his home life, which becomes important in the later books, and his childhood and college experiences are brought in only as they serve to illuminate his ideas and reactions to events in the story. We do learn that Leaphorn is conscientious almost to a fault, and that although he may no longer "believe" in the Navajo religiou in the same way that Jim Chee does, its ideas of harmony and balance still inform his thoughts and way of life, and sometimes bring him into conflict with the rules of his chosen profession.
DANCE HALL OF THE DEAD deals with the Zuni religion, taking place just before and during the major festival of the Zuni year. When the young boy who has been chosen to enact the Little Fire God is brutally murdered, and his Navajo best friend disappears, Leaphorn must join members of a number of other law enforcement agencies who may have jurisdiction or interests in the matter. In the process of finding the missing Navajo boy, he will learn more about the Zuni and about himself. He will also spend a good deal of time outside, giving Hillerman the opportunity to transport the reader to the Four Corners area that is the setting for his books.
It's difficult for me to discuss the plot of this book much without inadvertently adding a spoiler, and I wouldn't want to do that, in case there is anyone reading this who hasn't yet read Hillerman's fine books. If you are one of those (probably rare) people, I'd urge you to find a list and read them in order of publication. I can't recall ever being really disappointed in one of them, and right now I'm tempted to start re-reading them all in spite of my looming TBR shelves and all the other enticing books out there. This was an excellent choice by the Edgar Best Novel judges. It is just as relevant and exciting now as it was 35 years ago. (less)
Anatole Broyard was the New York Times' daily book reviewer for quite a few years. He lived an upper middle class (though usually overextended) life,...moreAnatole Broyard was the New York Times' daily book reviewer for quite a few years. He lived an upper middle class (though usually overextended) life, raising his and his wife's two children in Southport, Connecticut. Shortly before his death, his wife insisted that he tell their children his secret. They learned that his family background was not solely French, but Creole and of mixed race. By the "one drop" rule that had applied in some Southern states, he was black, and had been "passing for white" since his high school graduation. For Broyard's daughter, Bliss, this revelation explained a great deal about her father and his family, but raised many more questions. This book is her attempt to answer them.
Bliss spent many years researching her family history, seeking out relatives near and distant, and in the process learning a lot about black, and specifically Creole, history, and about the history of "passing" in America.
One Drop was fascinating, if a bit overlong, especially in the middle of the book, where I learned rather more about Reconstruction in Louisiana than I needed to understand the family's story. I can certainly sympathize with the author, being a genealogist and family historian myself; it's sometimes hard to draw the line between the historical background the reader needs in order to put the ancestors' stories into context, and an exhaustive treatment that would be better saved for an actual history text.
Anatole Broyard was a complex person to begin with, and his experience of "passing" probably increased that complexity. Although he obviously loved his children very much, his all but repudiation of his birth family affected them negatively. One of the saddest parts of the book was Bliss's feeling, mentioned more than once, that to her father, friends once chosen were to be loved unconditionally; but family members had to earn, and keep on earning, his love.(less)
This was a great follow-up to Vicki Lane's first book, Signs in the Blood. Once again a contemporary mystery is taking place alongside one from the pa...moreThis was a great follow-up to Vicki Lane's first book, Signs in the Blood. Once again a contemporary mystery is taking place alongside one from the past, but this time the two are related. An almost Tennessee-Williams-like Southern Gothic storyline contrasts nicely with the eminently sane protagonist, Elizabeth Goodweather, and the life she has made in the Carolina mountains. Trenchant descriptions of the artist's quarter in Asheville add comic relief. I will definitely keep reading this series.(less)
I put this book on the "sustainability" shelf although it's more about UNsustainability. It's a while since I read it, but I do know that it helped me...moreI put this book on the "sustainability" shelf although it's more about UNsustainability. It's a while since I read it, but I do know that it helped me cut way down on my consumption of fast food! (Even before I saw Super Size Me!)
My real concern about fast food is what it may be doing to people in the lower socio-economic groups of our nation. In my previous life in the big city, I rode the bus a lot, and many of my fellow riders fell into this category. I overheard many conversations that showed the influence of fast-food advertising on them; as we'd pass billboards showing the latest sandwich from Burger King or MacDonald's there would be serious conversations about how they "had to get one of those." One could argue that fast food is perpetrating racial and economic genocide on certain populations by habituating them to salty, greasy, high-calorie foods. Everyone should read this book.
The culmination of Gomes' trilogy which started with The Good Book, this book was pretty much preaching to the choir as far as I was concerned, so of...moreThe culmination of Gomes' trilogy which started with The Good Book, this book was pretty much preaching to the choir as far as I was concerned, so of course I liked it. Also, Gomes uses hymns to make his point a lot of the time, which was great. As a gay, liberal Christian, chaplain at "Godless Harvard," and consistently rated as one of America's best preachers, Gomes has a lot to offer. I particularly liked his differentiating between optimism and hope. My one quibble would be that he has a little too gloomy a view of the state of mainline churches in the US. If you read Christianity for the Rest of Us or simply go out and look, you can find many vital churches preaching and living out "The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus" already.(less)
This book was easy to read but not necessarily easy to relate to for me in many ways. As one of God's "frozen chosen" I don't think I ever expected th...moreThis book was easy to read but not necessarily easy to relate to for me in many ways. As one of God's "frozen chosen" I don't think I ever expected the kind of religious ecstasy that Rev. Weems was brought up to count as the norm (in a Pentecostal tradition). However, I think many of us do go through periods of spiritual dryness, in whatever way we think of it, and I tend to agree with her way of handling it - by just keeping on showing up, doing the practices, and remaining open to the holy. In college I had a roommate who was Reform Jewish, and she had a saying she had learned, "We will do, and we will hear." Notice that the doing comes first. I need to remember that saying often, and Rev. Weems' book expands on it in a Christian context.(less)
Jeff Cohen's new series starts out well with this light-hearted mystery that kept me guessing till the end. His new amateur sleuth, Elliot Freed, owns...moreJeff Cohen's new series starts out well with this light-hearted mystery that kept me guessing till the end. His new amateur sleuth, Elliot Freed, owns a struggling movie theater in New Jersey. The shtick is that the theater only shows comedies -- double features of a classic comedy followed by a modern "comedy" (Elliot doesn't think much of the contemporary ones). One night during a showing of Young Frankenstein a patron dies. Then Elliot's college-age projectionist disappears and a trove of pirated DVDs shows up in the theater's basement. Add Elliot's propensity for one-liners, his romantic troubles, and a mysterious Lexus that attacks Elliot on his bike ride home, and you have a very good story indeed.(less)
This illustrated history of costume through the nineteenth century uses illustrations from two older works. This is both a plus and a minus, since som...moreThis illustrated history of costume through the nineteenth century uses illustrations from two older works. This is both a plus and a minus, since some aspects of costume are thus not illustrated. Still, it would be a great addition to a reference shelf, especially for theatrical types, but also for those of us who feel a need to look up places and artifacts in the fiction we read.(less)
I have another book on this topic called A String and a Prayer which makes me wonder why the topic of prayer beads calls for punning titles. Both are...moreI have another book on this topic called A String and a Prayer which makes me wonder why the topic of prayer beads calls for punning titles. Both are good, but this one is probably a bit better. It has a lot of history of the Catholic and Anglican rosaries, and describes prayer beads from other faiths as well. There are clear directions for making and praying with both types of rosaries, as well as a number of examples of prayers one might use. (less)