Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Hanukkah is over, Christmas is today, and New Year's is let this be an all-inclusive wish for a great 2010.

My next review is going to be Sue Grafton's U is for Undertow, coming soon!

In the meantime:  a very hopeful restauranteur's sign, during the big snow of December, '09.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Looking for a good read?

Then check out the latest edition of the Book Review Blog Carnival at the link at the end of this post.

And I'm not saying this because a couple of my reviews are mentioned.  Really.  I'm saying it because there are informative reviews by bloggers who love books--you might find your next great read at this link!

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Romantic and haunted: In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke

It seems to be my month for dystopian novels, and In a Perfect World is the second one to be reviewed here in a short time, the previous one being Margaret Atwood's excellent The Year of the Flood.  In some ways, In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke reflects the tropes of romance literature:  a stewardess, unlucky in love, has a chance meeting with a dashing pilot, falls in love, and gets married.  The reader knows from the outset that this romantic set-up is soon to be ironically twisted.  If the first line of the book, "If you are READING THIS you are going to DIE!" can be dismissed as the poisonous ranting of a rebellious stepdaughter's diary, the fact that a famous music star (I'm no spoiler; read the book if you want to find out who) dies of a mysterious illness dubbed the Phoenix Flu in the first few pages cannot.  This flu becomes a pandemic, and like Daniel Defoe's historical novel, A Journal of the Plague Year, Kasischke's novel chronicles, through the experiences of one family, the ravaging of family, neighbors, and society the disease causes.

The novel deftly manages the downward arc of a crumbling society and the character arc of Jiselle, the aforementioned stewardess, as she progresses in her role as caretaker of the children of a largely absent father.  The other character to experience significant development is Sara, the teenage rebel.  The background against which that development occurs is what makes it moving, as the story itself--a stepmother winning the heart of a rebellious daughter--is somewhat predictable.  The husband, the dashing pilot, is very much a figure out of romantic fantasy, crossed with the hard truth that he is virtually never home.

The writing is mostly excellent, although there are a couple of false notes.  At one or two points, descriptive passages strike one as overly precious; but of course, this language is ultimately a set-up for the more serious situations that follow.  Around the middle of the book, there is a bit of an inconsistency involving a radio; Jiselle listens to it during a power outage at one point, and then a couple of chapters later, she cannot listen to radio during one of the many outages because all the household's radios are plug-in.  The working of the radio or not, however, is not pivotal for the plot, but rather a setting and mood-establishing item.

The ending of the book is quite powerful and well written, and overall the story is moving and even haunting.  It deals powerfully with themes of love, loss, and survival.  Overall, I can recommend this book despite minor imperfections.  The Kindle edition is $8.79; the paperback price is $10.07.

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Nine Dragons: Michael Connelly takes on Hong Kong

In Nine Dragons, Michael Connelly's latest, detective Harry Bosch, a recurring character in Connelly's novels, is assigned to investigate a liquor store shooting, a case that kicks of a series of events that eventually takes Bosch from Los Angeles to Hong Kong.   Bosch had previously encountered the victim, the store's owner, about 12 years previously.  Bosch has been carrying a matchbook from this same liquor store since that time.  On the inside cover of the matchbook is the phrase, "Happy is the man who finds refuge in himself," but he carries it because it holds memories of a kindness the murder victim had shown him at that earlier time.

This previous encounter gives Bosch a personal stake in the outcome, but as the plot progresses and expands the stakes become much higher and  the geographical scope of the book broadens to include Hong Kong.  I don't want to spoil any of the several plot twists and surprises by explaining how this happens.  Bosch is always an interesting and highly individualized character, although some of Connelly's earlier books, such as The Narrows and City of Bones, have probably done more to paint his portrait.  Nine Dragons does contain some important additions to that character development.

Connelly's prose, to me, has two main virtues:  it combines clear, methodical exposition (often mirroring the methodical thought processes of the main detective character) with an amazing amount of dramatic tension.  That tension is not created by rushed or breathless prose, but by the careful adding of new elements to an intriguing mystery which involves the main character (and hence the reader) in an intensely personal way.  The writing and Harry's new adventures in Hong Kong, particularly in some of the seedier neighborhoods, make Nine Dragons one mystery that shouldn't be missed.

Nine Dragons is $9.99 for the Kindle, and lists for $27.99 for the print edition.

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