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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Voodoo River

It wasn't all that long ago that I first discovered Robert Crais when I read his more recent book Suspect.  (See my post of  4/26/13.)  Voodoo River (#596) is an older Elvis Cole novel that the cashier at our local movie theater passed along to me as a good read - she always has a book with her for the down times and I always ask her about what she's reading.  She was absolutely right about this one!


Elvis Cole is a private investigator in Los Angeles.  A potential client asks Elvis to meet for lunch, and when he does, he discovers that she is the popular singing star of a hit TV show known for its family-friendly values.  She has made no secret of the fact that she herself was adopted, but now she's anxious to have Elvis track down her birth parents.  She doesn't want to meet them, she just wants the information discreetly unearthed.  However, when Elvis arrives in the bayou country of Louisiana, he finds that he is not the only one asking about Jodie Taylor.  Their questions are stirring up a hornets' nest, especially when Cole confronts Jodie and learns that she knows far more about what's going on there than she's letting on.


This one is a page turner, perfect for reading on a plane!  It's nice to see that Elvis and his partner Joe Pike have each other's backs, even when it comes to a bit of romance!

Almost True Confessions

Almost True Confessions (#595) was the perfect book to take on vacation - a light, fluffy, and if you're into that kind of thing, sexy murder mystery set in posh New York zip codes.  Jane O'Connor knows her stuff.  She is, after all, also the author of the famous Fancy Nancy children's series.


Rannie Bookman is an experienced copy editor who has lost her job due to the unfortunate butchering of a classic Nancy Drew anniversary edition by an underling.  Currently between jobs, Rannie is struggling to keep herself and her teenaged son in their rent controlled apartment so Nate can continue at his pricey private school.  When a friend at her former publishing house asks her to discreetly copy edit a  hush-hush manuscript by an anonymous celebrity writer, Rannie jumps at the chance.  Who knew that by the time she's finished, there would be a pile of bodies, and she would be trying to stay one jump ahead of the murderer?


A fun read about the world of the rich and famous.

Free Men

After hearing author Katy Simpson Smith speak at this year's BookMania! event, I expected to love her historical fiction novel Free Man (#594).  I did not.  I had saved it for a vacation treat and was disappointed.


The novel centers on the actual murder of a group of merchant traders in the American South shortly after the Revolution has been won.  Murder Creek in Alabama was named to commemorate the event. 


Ms. Smith picks up these unsolved murders and builds her story about a lost white man, a black slave escaping from a Florida plantation and a disaffected Creek Indian as the hypothetical murderers.  Add to the mix a French nobleman living with a Creek tribe who is sent to track these three and deliver justice.   It should be a killer (pardon the pun) tale, and the book certainly has its moments, but the ending is so flat that it spoiled everything that went before it for me.  I started out by thinking I'd pass this book along to my husband to read while on vacation as well, but in the end, I didn't even bother.  Not recommended.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The End of Your Life Book Club

Will Schwalbe's memoir, The End of Your Life Book Club (#593) was passed on to me by a friend who assured me I would love it.  In it, Mr. Schwalbe chronicles the time he spent with his mother, Mary Ann(e) Schwalbe, a truly remarkable woman, in her final months as she lives with pancreatic cancer.  Reading the same books with her to discuss while they wait through endless doctor's appointments and rounds of debilitating chemotherapy allow them to spend quality time together while exploring life issues and values.  He realizes later what a unique opportunity it became to ask her questions about her tireless work in education and connecting with refugees through her work on international committees.  Always undergirding her missions was a deep love of reading, which she passed along to her children.


Mr. Schwalbe centers his chapters in his memoir around the books they read at that point in time.  A number of the books which he listed in a separate appendix, I've also read and enjoyed, but I'm afraid many of them were either way too esoteric for me, or in the case of Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog, pretentious twaddle.  Both Schwalbes loved it.  There's no accounting for taste, I guess.


While the memoir was both interesting in many ways, and a son's touching tribute to his mother, I could not say that I loved this book.  Possibly because my own experiences with dying relatives have been so far removed from the privileged cocoon in which Mary Ann(e) spent her last few months.  People of my acquaintance are much more likely to fret over whether they will still be able to afford to keep a roof over their heads when the medical bills start pouring in, or if their surviving spouse will lose their home, than the fact that they won't be able to go to Geneva one more time, or spend the summer in the British Isles.  It must be nice.  And obviously the Cambridge where Will grew up in his bulbous shingled house was a world removed from the Cambridge of ordinary working folks like my parents.  I couldn't help but wonder if we were all invisible to families like the Schwalbes.  I guess we were.  The End of Your Life Book Club left me in the end feeling very unsettled.

Monday, September 5, 2016

A Fatal Inheiritance

A Fatal Inheiritance (#592) by Cora Harrison is the latest entry in her intriguing mystery series featuring Mara, the Brehon of the Burren in sixteenth century Ireland.  She has the responsibility of administering the law in her kingdom which is increasingly at odds with how the Church, based in Rome and the English under a young Henry VIII wish to see it done. 


In her latest case, an older, exceedingly unpleasant woman has been strangled and left tied to an ancient rock pillar representing the Old Gods.  In the isolated valley where the murder occurred, there is a lingering belief in the power of these Old Gods.  Mara must investigate who had the means, the motive and the opportunity to commit such a murder, and use the students enrolled in her law school as her assistants to give them experience and a chance to use their growing knowledge of the law in a practical setting. 


It's also a good excuse to get away from the bustle at Ballinalacken Castle, where her husband, King Turlough, has ordered a grand feast to celebrate her upcoming fiftieth birthday, the burden of which, of course, falls on her!  Still, Mara can't help but feel a twinge of conscience that her recent ruling in Clodagh O'Lochlainn's favor in granting her disputed property may have played some part in the woman's death.  An uncomfortable case to deal with all around.


The window into the history of Ireland at this time period always reveals some surprising similarities to women's issues today, and questions of how the law should be most fairly carried out.  New additions to this series are always a welcome read!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

When I was growing up, I read and re-read my favorite books and stories all the time.  The pages of the books I owned automatically fell open to the sections I loved best.  As an adult, I rarely give myself the luxury of going back to re-read books that have made a huge impression on me - mostly because the next book is sitting there, waiting for me to open it.  There never seems to be enough time for everything...  So I was delighted when my book club decided to read something "upbeat" for our first meeting of the season, and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (#591) by Helen Simonson was chosen.


I enjoyed it even more the second time around, as did several of my friends.  Critics at the time when the book came out six years ago compared Ms. Simonson's writing to Jane Austen's with her eye to the details of what's accepted and what is mere lip service in a tight knit English community in this almost accidental romance between a stiff retired British widower, Major Pettigrew, and the widowed owner of the local village shop, Jasmina Ali. 


Jasmina struggles with acceptance although she was born and raised in England, both with the villagers on a social level, and even more powerfully, the cultural traditions of her husband's Pakistani family, forcing her to make untenable choices.  Ernest Pettigrew is embroiled himself in a family feud revolving around a valuable gun he feels should be coming to him after his brother's death.  He must deal with unpleasant relatives himself including his son Roger who wants to use the sale of the gun for his own advantage..


It's such a treat these days to read a story with characters you feel you know and can easily relate to.  And there is a happy ending here, too, even though not everyone is neatly paired off.  I really hated for this book to end this time around, too. If you haven't read Major Pettigrew's Last Stand yet, there's no time like the present to treat yourself!


Cannot wait to see Helen Simonson at our 2017 BookMania! event! 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Jesus Before the Gospels

Someone at one of my book clubs pressed Jesus Before the Gospels (#590) by Bart D. Ehrman on me and told me I had to read it.  Of course, she didn't warn me that her copy was filled with her own underlining and notes, so to me, it was totally unreadable.  The first few pages I skimmed were interesting enough that I did get a clean copy from the library.




Dr. Ehrman has subtitled his book How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior, which pretty much tells you what this book is about.  Being relatively new to this kind of study myself, I have often wondered why it took so long to write down stories about Jesus - it took at least forty years before any records by his followers were committed to writing.  That's an awfully long time to remember things so precisely.  Have you ever, as a child, played the game of Gossip where everyone sits in a circle?  The first player whispers a sentence to the person next to him or her, who in turn passes it on the next person in the circle, until finally the last person hears it and recites aloud what he has heard to the original player.  Hilarity generally ensued, the message being so distorted by the time it arrived at its final destination.  If that can happen in just a few minutes delay with a limited number of players all in the same room, what then was changed before Jesus' stories were copied down?  How much of what we know of His story is in fact "Gospel Truth"?




Dr. Ehrman cites a number of interesting studies in making his points.  The book is easy to read for laypersons, but I must admit that about halfway through, I began to find it repetitious.  Although he provides much food for thought here, I was also taken aback when at about that same point in the book, he casually mentions as he is making a point, that he used to be a "committed Christian".  What does that make him today, and what is his motivation for writing this book?  As the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, perhaps it's a situation of "publish or perish".  His book does offer insights into why and how people remember what they do, but I still came away from reading this with reservations.