Saturday, June 05, 2010

May Book Report

Sorry it's been so quiet around here. I always forget how the knitting world jumps into high gear in June in order to be ready for the big seasons of fall and winter. It's unfortunate that this happens to coincide with the end of school for my kids -- things seem to get extra-hectic around this time.

I'll be heading out to TNNA on Friday for the annual "yarn convention," as my family calls it. I hope to run into some of my favorite fiber people there, and I'll try to bring back some previews of what we have to look forward to this fall.

In the meantime, here's my book report for May:

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. This is a book I might not have read but for the fact that I saw a review of it in the New York Times book section, then had the chance to score a free copy from Amazon's Vine program. The book consists of a set of interrelated chapters that are really short stories. Each story/chapter is written about one particular character who is connected to an English-language newspaper being published in Rome. Rachman does an excellent job switching perspectives, while building a cast of interesting and interrelated characters. His sadness at the economic crises now facing print-only newspapers is palpable. Definitely worth a read.

Elegy for April: A Novel by Benjamin Black. I read the first book in this detective series, set in 1950s Dublin. The main character is a medical examiner named Quirke, who grapples his own family dysfunction and alcoholism while stumbling over complex murders. This particular book left me unimpressed; the author was trying to make the book more meditative and more of a character study than a mystery novel per se, but I found it a bit plodding. It was another Vine selection, so at least I had the satisfaction of not having paid for it.

Silvermeadow, by Barry Maitland. I am enjoying the Brock/Kolla detective series, and this installment is set in a huge shopping mall (think Mall of America set in the English countryside). A girl disappears and her body is found in a trash receptacle that originated at the mall. Brock and Kolla get subsumed by the odd and all-encompassing character of the behemoth mall, untangling a mystery that is more complicated than they first suspected.

The Scent of Rain and Lightning: A Novel by Nancy Pickard. Another Vine selection -- but one which I enjoyed and raced through. I first encountered Pickard's writing a while back, in a series of mystery novels that booksellers would probably call "cozies." Later I discovered some of her stand-alone novels, and have enjoyed them. This novel takes place in Pickard's native Kansas, set on a cattle ranch. The main character, Jody, is the daughter of a rancher who was murdered when she was three. As the story opens, the man convicted of her father's murder has been released from prison. His son, now a lawyer, doesn't believe he's guilty of the murder and is trying to figure out who did. A solid & engrossing mystery with a great sense of place.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. This book was my Mother's Day gift, and I very much enjoyed it. It's a look at King Henry VIII's court through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell. Long, but it never drags. My only nitpick is that I found Mantel's use of antecedents for the pronoun "he" to be maddeningly obtuse. She has the habit of referring to Cromwell simply as "he" or "him," but immediately following paragraphs in which she uses "he" to refer to another character. Otherwise well-written and well-researched, and a darn good read.

Death in the Garden by Elizabeth Ironside. A mystery set in both 1920s and present-day Britain. The main character, Helena, inherits a house from her great-aunt, at which time she discovers that her great-aunt was tried for the murder of her husband and acquitted. She isn't sure whether the great-aunt was guilty of murder and just got lucky with the jury, and before she can comfortably use the house, she decides to find out what really happened -- at least enough to satisfy herself about her great-aunt's guilt or innocence. The first twenty pages or so didn't immediately pull me in, but after that, the story starts to move quickly, shifting back and forth from the current time to the 1920s.

Finding Chandra: A True Washington Murder Mystery by Scott Higham and Sari Hurwitz was based largely on a Washington Post investigative series looking back at the Chandra Levy disappearance. Levy was a Washington, D.C. intern who disappeared, seemingly into thin air, in May 2001. It's hard to remember the pre-9/11 world, but that summer seemed to be nonstop coverage of Levy's disappearance. When reporters discovered that she'd been seeing a married Congressman named Gary Condit, media interest became insatiable, and Condit's shady behavior -- trying to conceal his affair to save his political career and marriage -- just added to the speculation fueling the media circus. Currently, a suspect -- a Salvadoran immigrant who was previously convicted of attacking two joggers in Rock Creek Park -- is awaiting trial for Levy's murder.

Higham & Hurwitz do a good job of piercing through the sensationalism and summarizing the case, with unflinching attention to the missteps of the Washington police and Gary Condit, without which Levy's murder might have been solved sooner. They treat all the characters in the case with a fair bit of compassion and sensitivity. The book leaves you wondering about the effect that the media can have on a high-profile police investigation, as well as the arrogance of politicians who think the ordinary rules don't apply to them.

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer. I thought I couldn't get any more outraged and contemptuous for the administration of George W. Bush, and then I read this book.

Krakauer tells the story of pro football player Pat Tillman, who left the NFL in the midst of a promising career to enlist in the Army Rangers following the 9/11 attacks. The Bush administration was intrigued by Tillman from a public relations standpoint -- NFL standout gives up lucrative career to fight terror! -- but interestingly, Tillman himself was unconvinced that the war in Iraq and Afghanistan was necessary and desirable. Tillman was killed by friendly fire in the hills of Afghanistan. This would be a tragic and senseless death under any circumstances, but what makes the story particularly galling is the way that the Bush administration and the upper echelons of the Army hush up the real facts about Tillman's death, instead spinning a made-up story about how Tillman was killed defending US soldiers from an ambush. Particularly disgusting is the manner in which Tillman's family is treated. Seeking to find out what really happened, they are fobbed off, have their spiritual. values mocked and are repeatedly lied to.

The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron, was another Vine selection that I chose because I read a good review of it in the NY Times. The book is set in Maine, and the main character is a game warden, Mike Bowditch, who discovers that his ne'er-do-well father is accused of a double murder. Bowditch knows his father is a petty criminal and a drunk, but just can't believe he's a cold-blooded murderer. He decides to do what he can to uncover the truth and clear his father's name. This was a quick read, with a creative setting and plot, lots of twists and turns, and interesting characters.

That's my book report for May; don't forget to comment and tell me what books you've read lately that you have liked.


Unknown said...

Thank you so much for your reviews. I always use it to find good books to read. You never fail me.

anne marie in philly said...

regina hebert will have her "nature buttons" booth in aisle 15, so be sure to drop by and say HI. alas, I will not be with her this year. have a great time, and pix please when you return!

Ali P said...

Thank goodness for your reviews..the Cromwell book looks tasty as does Poacher's Son. I actually had "Garden" in my hands at Cost Co last wek and didn't oick it up. Regrets, I have a few..!
I am suck an avid reader that I am finding it very hard to find good books nowadays. Thanks for the reviews, babe.

Geek Knitter said...

I just finished Desnise Mina's "Redemtion." Chilling and satisfying all at once.

17th stitch said...

Thank you for the reviews! I've really expanded my reading of mystery novels based on your recommendations. The last novel I read that I just LOVED was "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms" but it might be too high-fantasy for your taste. It does include a mystery...

Kathleen Dames said...

Wolf Hall is on my bedside table - looks like it may jump to the top of the queue. Thanks for the review!