Something terrible happened in Chicago more than four decades ago. On a Civil Rights march led by Dr. Martin Luther King, a young black woman was murd...moreSomething terrible happened in Chicago more than four decades ago. On a Civil Rights march led by Dr. Martin Luther King, a young black woman was murdered. No murder weapon or forensic evidence was found but a young black man from her neighborhood was arrested and charged with the crime. After being tortured by police, he confessed and was tried and convicted. But did he do it?
Meantime, another young man from the neighborhood disappeared after going to the police with what he claimed was evidence regarding the killing. He was never seen again. Now his aunt who loved him dearly wants to hire V.I. Warshawski to find her missing nephew - much against the wishes of the man's embittered mother.
Taking on this impossible task, V.I.'s life is further complicated when her young cousin shows up in town to work on a local politician's campaign for the Senate, and she is having serious doubts about herself and the choices she has made in life. Then a nun, who was marching with the young woman who was killed and may have had evidence to help in the investigation, dies horribly, in spite of Vic's attempts to save her.
This is a many-layered story that exposes V.I. Warshawski and the father whom she adored, warts and all. The obstacles she faces here, physical, mental, and, most of all, emotional, are enough to make a normal person curl up into a fetal ball and wait until the storm has passed, but, of course, V.I. is made of sterner stuff and she sees the investigation through to its bitter end even though it may mean heartbreak for her and dishonor for her family.
Paretsky's Warshawski character has grown over the years that I've been reading these books - and I've read them all. She is a complicated and prickly person with strong beliefs and strong feminist ethics. She is not afraid of shaking up the establishment and making enemies. She may not be the person you would choose for your bosom buddy, but if you were facing trouble, she is definitely a person you would want on your side. Paretsky makes her a real person and that is the mark of a very good writer. (less)
How is it that, having been an avid reader of mysteries for much of my life, I had never picked up one of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books? A gr...moreHow is it that, having been an avid reader of mysteries for much of my life, I had never picked up one of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books? A gross oversight on my part that I have now rectified. I have finished the first one of the series.
I've been reading quite a few serious books this summer - "The Maytrees," "Falling Man," "Absolute Friends," and "A Thousand Splendid Suns" to name the most recent - and I was ready for a drastic change. This book certainly offered that.
I was captivated by the personality of Stephanie from the very first chapter and I found it hard to put the book down. I just couldn't wait to see what happened to her next. As a result, I read the book within 24 hours and most of it in one sitting.
This, of course, was the book that introduced Stephanie, her family and friends to the reading public. We get to know her as a very smart woman who has had some hard knocks but is still standing. She has a loving, if annoying and sometimes embarrassing, family.
And she has loyal friends from the "burg" where she grew up. One of those "friends," Joe Morelli, plays a very large role in this adventure and apparently in the Plum adventures to come in the series.
This book has everything one can ask of a mystery. The plot and the pacing are brisk. The protagonist is attractive and both tough and vulnerable. The repartee is engaging. All in all, a thoroughly satisfying read. On to "Two for the Dough."
UPDATE 01/26/12: This was the selection of my local Mystery Book Club this month and so I reread it - or at least most of it - to remind myself of its plot. I found it just as enjoyable the second time around. (less)
Typical Evanovich, typical Stephanie Plum. In other words, it's a hoot. One disastrous misdirection after another. All the usual suspects are here - J...moreTypical Evanovich, typical Stephanie Plum. In other words, it's a hoot. One disastrous misdirection after another. All the usual suspects are here - Joe Morelli, Ranger, Lula, Grandma Mazur, as well as another rogues' gallery of quirky skips that are bound to give Stephanie fits. And finally, all's well that ends well.
It was fast read. Evanovich does keep those pages turning. It would be a great vacation read. A good beach book. It's not going to tax your brain and it will give you plenty of chuckles and a few laugh-out-louds.(less)
So what's with Evanonvich's sudden obsession with farts? And why is it that only one of her characters performs this most human of functions? It seems...moreSo what's with Evanonvich's sudden obsession with farts? And why is it that only one of her characters performs this most human of functions? It seems like on every third page of this book Lula lets go another big one. Always Lula. Obviously, it is supposed to be hilarious. Now if RANGER let go a big one, that would be truly hilarious! Oh, I forgot. Ranger is perfect. He doesn't fart.
And herein lies my problem with this book. Yes, it is another quick, funny trip through the whacked-out landscape of the underbelly of Trenton as seen through the eyes of Stephanie Plum. It has all the touches we've come to expect. Stephanie and Morelli are on the outs so there isn't much hot sex this time - only implied and/or interrupted hot sex with Ranger and/or Morelli. But everything else is here - the crazy skips, the wacky friends, the insane Grandma, the longsuffering Mom and Pop Plum, the exploding cars. Still, I found it oddly unsatisfying.
Analyzing it, I decided that the source of my discomfort is the fact that Lula has become the butt (pun intended) of all jokes. She seems to exist as nothing more than a cartoon character, someone at whom we are supposed to laugh knowingly and indulgently, secure in the knowledge that we would never do anything that buffoonish.
She is a fat, black, loud former prostitute who lives to eat fried chicken and have sex. In other words, she is a cardboard stereotype of the kind that we see in so many movies and sitcoms. I understand that these entire books are peopled by stereotypes and that we are not meant to take them seriously. And yet...I am particularly offended by Lula. Not because I am a fat, black, loud former prostitute who lives for fried chicken and sex, but maybe, mostly, because I am not.
I believe most sincerely though that most fat, black, loud former prostitutes have more to them than this series would indicate, and would it kill Evanovich to give this character a little depth?
Oh, well, I suppose I'm spitting in the wind. As long as these books continue to sell millions of copies and wind up on the top ten of the New York Times best sellers, why should Evanovich change her formula? I probably wouldn't either. (less)
As a long-time fan of Nevada Barr's character Anna Pigeon, one who has read every single entry in the series, this was a difficult read for me. The su...moreAs a long-time fan of Nevada Barr's character Anna Pigeon, one who has read every single entry in the series, this was a difficult read for me. The subject matter of human trafficking - especially the trafficking of children (babies, even) - for use as sex slaves is so outrageous, appalling, and upsetting for me that I found myself skimming very lightly over some sections of the book simply because I couldn't bear to read the words. About half-way through the book, my only goal was to get through it and to move on to something else to cleanse my mind.
The novel finds Anna in New Orleans, staying with a friend from the Park Service, while she is on administrative leave to recover emotionally from the traumas she has experienced in the past year. After this "vacation", she's going to need more administrative leave.
The book opens with multiple murders in Seattle. A man and two children are found dead in a burning house. The wife and mother is suspected of the murders and the arson, and the hunt is on for her. The woman is, of course, innocent, and believes that the two children in the house were not hers but that her kids are alive and have been kidnapped. She follows a tenuous trail to New Orleans to try to find and rescue them.
I don't want to spoil any of the surprises or plot twists in the book, but I will just say that I found some of the writing uncharacteristically awkward and clumsy and the denouement curiously unsatisfactory on several levels. Anna is one of my favorite fictional characters and I have avidly followed her career over the years, but I hope the next book finds her back in her element out in the wide open spaces of a national park, protecting the wild life. The REAL wild life. (less)
This book has been on the best-seller list for 75 weeks and counting, and now having read it, I think I can see why.
First of all, it is a very good b...moreThis book has been on the best-seller list for 75 weeks and counting, and now having read it, I think I can see why.
First of all, it is a very good book, but it is absolute catnip for book clubs and reading groups. Just the kind of (ultimately) uplifting story that appeals to many such groups. I had resisted reading it for a long time but then it was recommended to me by a friend and curiosity overcame my resistance.
The book is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early '60s and the plot revolves around the closed society that Mississippi was in those days. The black and white races were separate and unequal in just about every way. White society in the state was ever-vigilant about keeping the black race down, and yet in many instances the two lived very intimately together as the black "help" cared for their white families.
Stockett's story concerns a restless white woman, Miss Skeeter, who wants to be a writer and who is dissatisfied with the way things are. She was raised by her family's black maid, Constantine, but this anchor for her life has now disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter what has happened to her. Perhaps it is that longing for the woman who was her true mother that first causes Skeeter to reach out to the maids of her friends.
From one of those maids, Aibileen, she gets the germ of an idea for a book. It will be a book about life in Mississippi from a maid's perspective and it will tell the story in the maids' own voices. It is a time of much upheaval and conflict around civil rights and when she pitches her story to a publisher, the editor decides to take a chance on it because of the interest raised by current events - but Skeeter must get at least 12 maids to participate and tell their stories. She only has one, Aibileen.
How Skeeter and Aibileen come to trust each other and work together to procure the participation of other maids and then write the story makes for fascinating reading. The book is narrated in three voices - those of Aibileen, Skeeter, and Minny, Aibileen's best friend and her opposite in almost every way.
Stockett is from Mississippi, as I am, and I have to say that I think the voices of her characters are pitch perfect and that she has written honestly and from the heart about the way things were in Jackson, Mississippi in those years. Things were not good.
In reading this book, I kept thinking about the old PBS series "Upstairs, Downstairs." If "Gone With the Wind" was the story of upstairs, then this book is the story of downstairs. Yes, I know the settings of the books are separated by 100 years, but really, not much had changed in Mississippi in that time. Thankfully, it has now, though not as much as it should. (less)
Alan Bradley's eleven-year-old, soon-to-be twelve-year-old, detective, the delightful Flavia de Luce is back in her fifth case and she is just as irre...moreAlan Bradley's eleven-year-old, soon-to-be twelve-year-old, detective, the delightful Flavia de Luce is back in her fifth case and she is just as irrepressible as ever.
The village of Bishop's Lacey is busily preparing to open the tomb of its patron saint, St. Tancred, and no one is more excited about the prospect of peering into the crypt than Flavia. She contrives to be present at the opening but the proceedings are cut short when Flavia discovers the body of the church organist, Mr. Collicutt. The man had been missing for several weeks and obviously has been dead for all that time. Almost as inexplicable as being found dead in a saint's tomb, Collicutt is wearing a gas mask! What does it all mean? Who would want to kill the church organist? And how did the murderer(s) transport him into a closed crypt? Flavia, of course, is determined to find out.
And so we get to follow the young detective around the village as she interviews people without them knowing they are being interviewed and gathers clues for the denouement. We learn quite a lot about the village and about how villages conspire to keep secrets. We also learn that it is very hard to keep secrets from a precocious and curious child.
As Flavia and her bicycle Gladys make their rounds and we are privy to Flavia's thoughts, we begin, perhaps, to get a glimmer of who the culprit might be, but there appear to be no clear clues. Moreover, we are made to wonder about the efficiency of the Bishop's Lacey constabulary when Flavia discovers a major clue that they had totally missed in their searches. Good thing for Inspector Hewitt that she is on the case.
One thing that endeared Flavia to me in this episode of her adventures was her rescue and adoption of a Buff Orpington hen named Esmeralda. As an admirer of that wonderful breed, I fully understood her impulse to save the hen!
Overall, this was another fun read from the pen - or word processor - of Bradley, but there were loose ends that annoyed me. Things like the detective/horticulturist who inexplicably turned up in town and befriended Flavia. What is he doing there? He didn't really seem to have much of a purpose in this story. Perhaps it was only meant to introduce him and he'll play some more significant role in a future book.
And what about the shadow hanging over the de Luce family home and the father's finances? Is he truly broke? Will the estate be sold? Nothing was resolved about this. We were just left hanging. Again, perhaps it is being left for a later book. Still, I do find it irritating not to have some resolution.
Flavia is such a charming creation, and yet she is eleven-years-old. She seems to have an extraordinary amount of freedom for even a precocious child of that age. And she seems to have no friends of her own or a similar age. And does she ever go to school?
Ah, well, fiction does require a suspension of disbelief at times and a willingness to enter into the spirit of the thing. Wandering the byways of Bishop's Lacey and exploring ancient cemeteries at two o'clock in the morning with Flavia de Luce and Gladys when the rest of the village is asleep in bed is really quite a hoot!
I finished this book a couple of days ago and I've been thinking about how to write about it since then. It's very hard for me to review it, because w...moreI finished this book a couple of days ago and I've been thinking about how to write about it since then. It's very hard for me to review it, because when I started reading it, I really, really liked it. I thought it was going to be a "five star" read. I liked the characters, especially Lisbeth. I was a bit more ambivalent about Mikael, but overall, I found him appealing, also. The book was well-written and showed the writer's journalistic background in the tautness of its prose.
Then a bit over halfway through, the book suddenly turned dark. Very dark, as in serial torturer/rapist/killer dark. The kind of dark that, frankly, I don't do. Why would I put myself through the agony of those images? True, I love a good murder mystery, but for me, a "good" murder mystery usually features an unappealing victim or a detective who is so attractive to me that he or she overcomes my reticence about reading about abhorrent matters. But I don't care to read about the torture and killing of innocents, including animals. Life is too short to put myself through that.
So what can I say about this book? The writing is good. "The Girl," Lisbeth, is someone that I felt a great empathy for - the outsider who was essentially asocial and had difficulty relating to others. The girl with the photographic memory who could remember page after page of intricate financial information. The hacker for whom no computer is a locked door. Yep, she was interesting and I wanted to know more about her.
When I started reading this book, it reminded me of the Enron debacle and I really thought it was going to be more of a "financial thriller." I wish it had been. If it had stuck to that storyline, I think it would have been a terrific book.
Larsson had a real talent for fiction and it is very sad that he died so suddenly and so young. It would have been interesting to see that talent grow in future books, but, in this one, apparently his editor was in love with the book and couldn't bear to cut it. It could have been substantially shortened to good effect. (less)
V.I. Warshawski, Sara Paretsky's Chicago private detective, is one tough woman. Those bad guys who try to intimidate her soon learn that such tactics...moreV.I. Warshawski, Sara Paretsky's Chicago private detective, is one tough woman. Those bad guys who try to intimidate her soon learn that such tactics only strengthen her resolve. She takes a licking and keeps on ticking, and she never, ever gives up on a client.
The opening of this latest book finds V.I. at a club in Chicago where a performance artist who bills herself as the Body Artist is doing her thing. Her "thing" involves appearing naked on stage and allowing members of the audience to draw or write on her body. Everything proceeds about as you would expect in the circumstances until a young woman who is obviously a talented artist starts to draw. What she draws is a woman's face surrounded by flames and by an enigmatic symbol. Her drawing seems to enrage a young Iraq War veteran in the audience who reacts violently before his friends can calm him. A few days later, the woman who drew the picture lies dying in the alley near the club, after having been shot. She is cradled in her dying moments by V.I. Warshawski.
Soon, the police go to arrest the young man who had been disturbed by the drawings. But when they get there, they find him unconscious with a gun that proves to be the murder weapon on his pillow. He remains unconsious and is taken to the hospital under police custody. Did he try to commit suicide or was he deliberately poisoned, causing his coma? And did he kill that woman or has he been framed? If the latter, why?
The man's parents believe he would have been incapable of shooting the woman and they hire V.I. to prove that. As she digs into the case, she finds that the woman who died had an older sister who died in Iraq while working for one of the contractors there. Was there a connection between this older sister and the suspect in the sister's murder?
Things get more and more complicated when Warshawski uncovers evidence that the death in Iraq may not have been what it first seemed and she finds that the dead sisters came from a dysfunctional family that has suffered multiple tragedies. Were they all somehow related?
This is a complicated story that seems ripped right out of today's headlines about the Iraq war and the role of contractors in it.
Paretsky and her alter ego Warshawski have a strong interest in and concern about issues related to women, especially violence against women, and that concern is woven through this story. Paretsky skillfully keeps the reader guessing until very near the end and then she brings all the disparate strands of the story together to create the complete picture.
The problem is that the bad guys here are very rich people and very rich people tend to buy their way out of trouble. In the end, Warshawski is able to serve her client well and bring about a kind of justice, but not enough. One is left not really wanting the book to end and wanting very much to know what Warshawski's next case will be.
I have admired and enjoyed the writing in two earlier books by Michael Chabon that I have read - The Yiddish Policemen's Union and Gentlemen of the Ro...moreI have admired and enjoyed the writing in two earlier books by Michael Chabon that I have read - The Yiddish Policemen's Union and Gentlemen of the Road. I've never gotten around to reading what is supposedly his best book, the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, but I will one day. I had high hopes for Telegraph Avenue as well, but I have to say I was a little bit disappointed in it. It was a difficult read for me.
Reading the book was a chore mainly I think because so many of the musical references were unfamiliar to me. I think I got the gist of their meaning in most instances, but not without more work than I like to do when I'm reading for pleasure.
The action of the book takes place in Oakland, California, and has its roots in the Oakland of the 1970s during the heyday of the Black Panther movement and of blaxploitation films. I am old enough to remember those days and the cultural vibe of the period, but, as for the vinyl records of the period that are at the heart of protagonists Archy Stallings' and Nat Jaffe's story, well, they are less familiar.
Nat and Archy own a second-hand - they would say "vintage" - record store in Oakland on Telegraph Avenue, called Brokeland Records. Archy is black, Nat is white and a Jew. Telegraph Avenue is a place of cultural diversity where people of many backgrounds come together to create a unique community.
That community and the record store are threatened by the possibility of the coming of a big box store, a chain enterprise of a former star footballer named Gibson Goode. This big store would have its own vintage record department and would likely drive the already marginal Brokeland out of business.
A local landlord and entrepreneur and a city councilman have an interest in the plans and Archy and Nat hope to get their support for stopping the building of the big store.
Things get really convoluted with the plot as we learn that Archy's absentee father, a former blaxploitation kung fu film star, may have information that could be used to blackmail the councilman and the old man (Archy's father) may be in danger because of it.
Meanwhile, we learn that Archy himself is an absentee father. Fourteen years before, he got a girl pregnant and she went home to Texas to have the baby and live with her grandmother. Now, both the mother and grandmother are dead and the son has turned up in Oakland looking for his father.
I think part of my problem with the book was that I didn't like its main characters very much. Both Archy and Nat seemed like jerks to me and I couldn't work up too much empathy for their troubles.
On the other hand, I really liked their wives, Gwen Stark and Aviva Roth-Jaffe.
Gwen and Aviva are partners, also, in a midwifery enterprise. They deliver babies for their clients, who are mostly poor and disadvantaged, either in their homes or in the hospital. These are strong women, strong characters who give the book coherence and social relevance. I found their stories much more compelling than those of the male "main characters." Is that merely sexist of me? Maybe.
Chabon had obviously done his research on the vintage jazz vinyl record artists. Some of the names referenced throughout the book were familiar to me, many of them were not, but I assume the references were legitimate. He also recreated what seemed to me at least to be the true historical atmosphere of excitement and occasional violence that existed in the Black Panthers in the Oakland of the 1970s.
Chabon is a very talented writer and many passages in the book really grabbed me. Unfortunately, those would often be followed by long passages that sort of pushed me away again. While I didn't NOT enjoy the book, I just didn't enjoy it as much as I'd hoped to. (less)
Anna Pigeon is one of my favorite characters in the mystery genre. I identify with her. Not that I am petite and tough as nails but that we both are m...moreAnna Pigeon is one of my favorite characters in the mystery genre. I identify with her. Not that I am petite and tough as nails but that we both are most at home outside where we can feel ourselves a part of Nature and a larger design. Anna's career with the National Park Service has taken her from one end of the country to the other, and where she goes, adventure always follows. This time, she is returning to Isle Royale National Park in the middle of Lake Superior, where she once had an encounter with "A Superior Death." But that was summer. Now it is winter and she is back to observe and participate in the ongoing study of wolves on the island. She soon suspects that there is something very wrong here. She's right, but before she solves the mystery of what it is, there will be blood on the snow. This is typical Nevada Barr. Suspenseful. A page turner. (less)
I can't say that I enjoyed this installment of the Stephanie Plum mysteries as much as I did the first, but still it was a fun read. The characters of...moreI can't say that I enjoyed this installment of the Stephanie Plum mysteries as much as I did the first, but still it was a fun read. The characters of Stephanie and of Joe Morelli are very appealing and you just know there is a future together for them! Stephanie's family, too, especially Grandma Mazur, is a hoot.
In this story, Stephanie deals with a very, very sick individual, a sociopath who enjoys hurting people. The fact that he is Joe's cousin adds another kink to the tale.
Stephanie's other "friend," Ranger, doesn't figure too heavily in this story, but he's still there on the fringes - a potential rival with Joe for Stephanie's interest.
In the end, the bad guys are taken down and it is Stephanie triumphant once again - just as we expected all along. (less)
This third Plum mystery had me chuckling throughout and often laughing out loud. Stephanie is a smart, funny woman who's maybe not as tough as she thi...moreThis third Plum mystery had me chuckling throughout and often laughing out loud. Stephanie is a smart, funny woman who's maybe not as tough as she thinks she is, but she's learning. As she says, she tries not to make the same mistake more than three or four times. Eventually, she may get to be really good at this bounty hunter business. As long as she has Ranger backing her up and Morelli looking after her welfare, probably nothing too terrible will happen to her - other than finding dead bodies strewn all over Trenton.(less)