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Thursday, March 30, 2006

March, updated 3/31

Bannister, Jo. Echoes of Lies. The first in the Brodie Farrell mysteries.

Bannister, Jo. True Witness. The second book in the series. Have now read all 5 in the series - working backward. Bannister has published one a year starting in 2001, so this year should produce another one. I've enjoyed all of them.

Oyeyemi, Helen. The Icarus Girl . I chose this book based on the title and the cover. Oyeyemi completed the book before she was nineteen. Impressive. And, hopefully, a promise of things to come. The Greek myth of the title is subjugated to the myths of Nigeria, but does surface in a compelling blend of mythology. Jessamy, an eight year old girl with a vivid imagination, a burning intelligence, and some emotional difficulties, is an intriguing protagonist. The psyche, the myth, the doppelganger...

Grabien, Deborah. Matty Groves. Thought I'd like this because it was a mystery connected to old ballads, but I'm not even going to bother with a link.

Robinson, Peter. Close to Home. Rayna Gillman recommended this author, and I'm glad I remembered his name when I went to the library because I forgot my list. Had actually read one of these before and liked it (but didn't remember until I started the book), so it was good to catch up with Inspector Banks and Annie. And just in case it did turn out to be good, I got 3 while at the library and have 2 more to read! Since the Banks/Annie relationship is over--although they continue to work together--I will be interested to see if Banks has better luck with Michelle (who, like Annie, has her own baggage).

Jenny White. The Sultan's Seal. I liked this one because of its view of the Ottoman Empire in the late 1800's. White is an anthropologist and has written several non-fiction works, but this is her first novel and a very skillful one. Her characters have substance, both personal and cultural, and the novel gives an intimate look into a complicated society divided between its own tradition and the English influence. There is a mystery, but the mystery of a divided culture is the most important aspect.

Reichs, Kathy. Deadly Decisions. I'm not much interested in biker's or biker murders. Not my favorite Reichs' novel.

Robinson, Peter. Playing with Fire. Follows Close to Home with Inspector Alan Banks. Dysfunctional families, fire, murder, and art forgery. Good mystery.

Bannister, Jo. The Fifth Cataract. The Clio Marsh series. Not nearly as interesting.

Picoult, Jodi. The Tenth Circle. Although I was interested in the graphic novel approach and love Dante's Inferno, this novel just failed to seem anything other than contrived. Picoult fans will probably disagree, but jeez the family members here are so self-involved that they really have a peculiar flatness. After finishing and thinking back on it, nothing really hung together for me. Picoult offers up the idea of self-deception, but I'm not sure but what the characters were exactly what they seemed. The graphic novel was the best part; the text was a graphic novel that didn't translate. The issues are important, but the novel is trivial. And it will make the best seller list.

OK - just read several reviews, mostly glowing, but Library Journal gives it a rather ambiguous thumbs' up, with the comment "...but something here just missed its mark. Still, this best-selling author is going to be in demand."

Kirkus Reviews: "Picoult fumbles in this 13th novel of, predictably, a family in crisis.... Picoult, who is so often an inventive and compelling storyteller, relies here on convention and sentimentality."

Maybe that is my main problem - I expected more from Picoult. Much of my reading is of the bon-bon kind and when they fall short, I'm not really disappointed. Here, however, I fully expected something more.

Robinson, Peter. Strange Affair. Back to a mystery that is pure escapism and fun. I enjoy seeing the characters getting on with their lives. The three I've read this month were in chronological order and the most recent in the series. There are, however, about 12 more.

Tope, Rebecca. A Dirty Death. Some interesting elements.

Darnton, John. The Darwin Conspiracy. Five or six years ago, I read Annie's Box: Charles Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution by Randal Keynes, Darwin's great-great-grandson who discovered a writing box owned by Annie that contained some of her treasures and notes by Darwin. (They have since shortened the title and changed the book cover) It was fascinating to read details of the Darwin family life documented by Darwin's notes, letters of friends and family, and accounts published at the time. This novel is an interesting fictional theory, and the author's bibliography is impressive as he lists over 30 well known books on Darwin including Annie's Box and Darwin's own published works (The Voyage of the Beagle, Origin of Species, etc.) Darnton, who won a Pulitzer for his journalistic work, has written a fictional account about the reasons Darwin waited 22 years to write On the Origin of Species. My only problem with this novel is my own lack of knowledge; although he used Keynes' work, little of what composes his theory connects with what I remember of the book. I would like to know if there is evidence for the theory, or if he just used the research to lend factual detail to his fictional account...

de los Santos. Love Walked In. ChicLit with one character who appealed to me. Here is a separate entry on this novel...just because I was initially enchanted by Clare.

Rendell, Ruth. 13 Steps Down. I enjoy Rendell's novels even though they almost always make me uneasy and anxious from the first page. Her characters are studied as if they are bugs under a microscope, and thye are more likely to be scorpions than butterflys. No mystery, we know who does what, but an explication of sorts. Psychological suspense.

Muller, Marcia. Cape Perdido. Not a Sharon McCone mystery, but one that deals with environmental issues.

I finally abandoned Ghostwriter on page 313. I liked the way the stories tied together, but didn't like a single character. Also decided that Arthur and George was not for me. Not even the Conan Doyle character could entice me back. Unusual for me to abandon books (maybe 1/50 books will not be finished), I will plod through some stinkers, but I kept finding myself reading (or doing) anything else as they gathered dust. Reluctance that strong must mean something. The books have one thing in common, they fail to engage my interest (and hey, I'm pretty easy), but the authors also have a certain disengagement from their own characters. It wouldn't surprise me that readers who like one, would like the other -- and both Michell and Barnes have plenty of followers out there.

Still reading The World Is Flat and am learning all sorts of things. This book is difficult for me in some ways because the computer and software workings are beyond my ken. And so is economics, for that matter. Friedman, however, balances the technical with break-downs that technodunces such as myself can almost grasp and with enough purely human examples that are both easily understood and interesting.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Cornelia and Clare

I'm reading Love Walked In. A strange choice for me as far as title, but I was first attracted by the cover of a child with brown Mary Janes, and brown knee socks - one gathered around her ankle, the other higher, yet not up to the knobby knees, the brown school uniform, the ivory windbreaker. The picture is from her shoes to about midchest, but doesn't show her face. I liked the cover, but almost put it back because of the title. The author's name, though, is Marisa de los Santos. OK - great cover and lovely name. I really like that name. Pick up the book and look at the back cover and there is de los Santos's picture. Hmmm. I like the way she looks; her eyes are bright and have a hint of smile. And she is an award-winning poet with a Ph. D. in literature. So the cover, her name, the photo, and her credentials said, "Try it."

The first chapter- "Cornelia" - almost lost me. Oh, Romance. I didn't think this would be worth the effort. Foreshadowing is an excellent technique, but should be sotto voce, not loud or direct. The second chapter, however, was "Clare" and here is the beginning of interest. Clare is in the fifth grade and sort of "collects' orphans: Anne Shirley, Sara Crewe, Mary Lennox. Oh, yes, I know these orphans. And More: Heidi, Pippi, Tom and Huck, David, Pip, Estella, Oliver, the Boxcar Children! Why even Heathcliffe and Hareton and Jane Eyre. Harry Potter, the Baudelaires, Scout and Jem.

Well, I'm in for the count with Clare. Then it's Cornelia's chapter again...hurry, let's get back to Clare. First, though, a side bar. Cornelia's life imagery centers on old movies. Clare's on her reading. She sorts things and people into categories and discovers that girls "seemed to fall into two categories: girls who used sweetness and girls who used pluck. Little Women contained both kinds of girls." We all know that - Beth and Jo. Sweetness and Pluck.

Cornelia again.

Back to Clare. Clare decides her only choice is pluck and comes to realize that "just because someone can't notice that you're being mean, doesn't mean you're not..." and makes a list of "People who had let life make them hateful. The characters no one wanted to be." Here she puts "Miss Havisham, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker, Miss Minchin, Uriah heep, Voldemort, and Snape."
Finished, and as much as I love Clare, the novel is strictly ChicLit. At first, I was eager to get throught the Cornelia chapters and back to the Clare chapters, but toward the end, there was little separation. Predictable novel inspite of attempts to provide twists.

However, I like this poem by de los Santos:

Milagros Mourns The Queen Of Scat
Cebu City, Philippines

It is the same each time. Daylight a broad blade
across the floor, then thin, then gone, the door

shutting behind her, the dimness undisturbed.
This church is cool if anyplace is cool

and almost empty. A few prayers, soft moths,
hover above a few bent heads. She kneels,

a series of flinches. Milagros misses
--sharply--grace, her body's old amplitude,

misses, too, a woman, an American,
she knew only as a voice, a story

in a magazine, photographs. In one,
a man beside her holds a trumpet,

and she makes singing look like laughter. From one,
her eyes gaze out, swimming, behind glasses.

The Virgin, blue vertical, occupies
a corner, hands lifted slightly and turned

up, as if to demonstrate their emptiness.
Her face is inward as an almond. The singer

also had a son, Milagros remembers,
and wonders, suddenly, about the soul

and those long intervals, bridges of pure
sound, spontaneous, leaping free from words.

Voice of cold evenings, fur-collared coats,
glittering towers, snow. Voice of dancing.

Voice a refusal of death. She heard it
and felt the atoms of her body shimmer,

along with all the struck, shimmering atoms
of the air. Voice like pomelo, mango,

jackfruit, papaya, voice like slow ripening,
gold juice, orange meat. Voice changeful as water.

Milagros knows it is her own voice, the one
she never used. When she walks home, her feet

will displace dust into the air; her dress,
a long fall of cotton, purple and yellow

batik, with a square neck, will swing below
her clavicle. She will buy warm, dense rolls

and eat one as she walks. She will shout
and shake a stick at dogs. It's time to leave.

Milagros stands. Slight exahalations rise
from the candles, each one breathing miracle .

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Back to something I enjoy...

The 3 are still in progress, but I'm not really wanting to read them. Last night, to treat myself, I started the first in the series about Brodie Farrell and Daniel Hood by Jo Bannister. I like these little mysteries and have read 3 , but I now have the very first one and the second. Often have to read series backward, and while I might rather start at the beginning, it rarely presents a problem.

Will continue trying on Arthur & George and Ghost Writer, but they may have to be abandoned. A & G came to the point where George is going to be falsely accused and it said "they were the last normal 24 hours of his life." Mmmm. The harassment he has already endured is stressful to me, I'm not sure I need more. Ghost Writer is in separate stories, but beginning each new one is not compelling. The World Is Flat is fascinating, but often technical; it is also mine, not the library's, so I'm comfortable reading a chapter at a time without the sense of being rushed.