Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy

The Death of Santini
The story of a father and his son
2013
*
1 star - cringe
ALR Blue


The only reason I even made it halfway through this book is that it was the last of my library books and we are currently recovering from Snowmageddon, which dumped over 30 inches of snow on our little town in about 24 hours (hence no library access).

I've read, and enjoyed, Mr. Conroy's novels and so I figured his memoirs would also be a literary pleasure. Not so. It's an uncomfortable "throw your family under the bus" cringe worthy mess. 

What Mr. Conroy fails to do in this book is to either reveal anything about himself or to provide real insight into what the circumstances of his family were. Yes, there are recitations of events, but they lack depth and character. After 150 pages, I learned that his father was repeatedly abusive, physically and mentally, that his mother was her own kind of twisted, and that his grandmother was similarly suffering from the familial mental health issues. So how could such a gifted author address these complex and desperate issues in such a clinical fashion? The mind boggles. 

My recommendation is to skip this one and read one of his novels instead. Just assume they are autobiographical novels. You'll learn much more about Mr. Conroy and his family from those books than this one.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher

Academ's Fury
by Jim Butcher
2005
*****
5 stars - Woowee! What a ride!
ALR Green - some scary insect creatures and a dog-like warrior species, also big, giant soldier beast


Seriously? Just look at the cover art. Poor kid all fighting hands reaching out of the wall while fire burns his feet. 

This is book two of Jim Butcher's Codex Alera (whatever that means) and you must know by now that this sword and sorcery isn't my usual genre, but, damn, these books are good! Let's see, basically, there are a bunch of different factions trying to get their claws into the realm while in the meantime, something called the vord has been awakened from its slumber and is ready to take over the world with its insect like minions, along with the zombie recruits that are created when fuzzy insects go down their throats at night (I wouldn't kid you).

Skulking around the capital are a bunch of dog-like warrior types who appear to have their own agenda regarding who should be running things.

Then there's our hero, Tavi, he of the " OMG there are hands reaching out of the wall." I guess he's a teenager and he's somehow studying at The Academy even though he doesn't have any fury power (did I forget to mention that some folks can summon earth, wind, water, whatever to do their bidding?). Nevertheless, he's a clever guy, and he's doing OK. That is, until, well, can't be giving things away, now.

As in the previous book in the series, this is one big honking edge of the seat action fun ride. Mr. Butcher is a master of pacing. There are three main stories going on, each with its own set of characters and intrigue. Mr. Butcher takes the reader between them at precisely the right pace so that you never forget where you left off with each one. Also, all of the stories are interesting and have great characters. How does he do it? I don't know. Don't care. Looking forward to the next book in the series.

Oh, and even though Tavi, the main dude is a guy, there are plenty of great female characters as well. Only a little mushy stuff and what there is of it is Disney rated.

Monday, January 19, 2015

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
1960
1961 Pulitzer Prize
****
4 stars - at last
ALR Green - one sick dog gets put down, no other animal scenes


Finally, a Pulitzer worth reading. Are there really folks out there who haven't heard of Atticus Finch? 

This story takes place over the period of a few years and is narrated by Scout Finch, daughter of Atticus. During the events in the book, Scout is somewhere between 5-9 years old. Her brother, Jem, is four years older.

Jem and Scout are being raised by their widowed father, Atticus, in a small community in southern Alabama. Atticus is an attorney and the big thing in the book is that he is assigned to defend a black man who is accused of raping a white woman. 

That brings me to one of the best things about this book. The trial and the events both before and after are very serious business, but remember that this book is narrated by a child and for once the author does not attempt to give the child the wisdom of an adult. So as Scout watches events unfold, she is curious, bored, frightened, amused, but never really grasps the full extent of what her father has taken on. Which leads to the second best thing about the book. The trial is just one of many things that happen in Scout's life. Some events are big, some small, but her life moves on and it was quite satisfying that the author avoided turning the book into a single topic. 

Atticus does get to do some grandstanding in court, but we only hear that because Scout is there.

OK, I really do have more wise words, somewhere, but I'm still struggling with a head cold and the effort of coherent thought is exhausting me.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Burning Man by Alan Russell

Burning Man
by Alan Russell
2012
****
4 stars - good stuff
ALR Green - nice police dog named Sirius


I am, unfortunately, suffering from an astonishingly debilitating head cold which has left me unable to sit up and have coherent thoughts for any length of time, so this will be brief.

Nice policeman, Michael Gideon, and his K-9 partner, Sirius are on the case and solving crime. Good enough that I'll read the next book in the series. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Search by Nora Roberts

The Search
by Nora Roberts
2010
****
4 stars - for dog lovers
ALR Green - a merry pack of search and rescue dogs


On Friday, as I was stretching my legs at work by wandering around the building, I took a moment to check out the book exchange shelf. Well, what should I see, but a book with a dog on the cover. Now Nora Roberts is not typically an author I'd seek out, but this book promised to feature a main character who trained search and rescue dogs, so why not?

It was everything I needed to cleanse my pallet from an unfortunate string of bombs. As expected, the story and the characters were stock romantic mystery fare. Ho hum. Who cares? But the dogs! Dogs everywhere! Dogs doing search and rescue, dogs playing fetch, even a puppy! Woo hoo! 

To Ms. Roberts' credit, she seems to know her stuff regarding dog training and search and rescue. So in addition to happy dogs romping and frolicking about, there were passages about behavior modification in dogs and how S&R dogs do their jobs. Wonderful! 

Um, almost forgot, there is actually a story independent of the dogs. Something about a woman who escapes from a serial killer, moves out to an island and sets up a dog training business, meets a furniture maker who is rough around the edges, falls in love, gets tangled up in a new string of killings, etc., etc. But did I mention there are dogs?

The Teacher of Cheops by Albert Salvado

The Teacher of Cheops
by Albert Salvado
translated by Marc Brian Duckett
1998
**
2 stars - maybe something got lost in translation
ALR Blue


From my reading around the world list (can't believe I'm still on the A's). This was the only book from the country of Andorra (located between between France and Spain and sporting a population about the same as my home town).

I have no doubt that there are plenty of authors in residence, but I imagine it is no small feat to reach the level of popularity that is required to publish translations. However, this was a particularly arduous read for me and were it not for the relatively short duration (200 pages) and the fact that it is the one and only book from Andorra on the list, I would have stopped sooner.

The Teacher of Cheops is an historical novel taking place in Egypt during the reign of Pharaoh Snefru. The central character, Sedum, was born a slave, but through some rather devastating circumstances, finds himself a free man and accountant to the Pharaoh. 

The author waffles between historical fiction and philosophy. There are some interesting references to day to day life in ancient Egypt, but they are few and unsatisfying. Meanwhile, our hero, struggles with survival within the political morass of a world devoted to their one leader, Pharaoh. 

Sedum's life seems perpetually joyless and he is always watching his back. Punishment for crimes, both real and alleged, is horrific and it is impossible to avoid getting entangled in intrigue. When he meets the teacher, Sebekhotep, there are increasingly painful philosophical ramblings. 

I had to purchase this book and it took several months for Amazon to find a copy for me. It is now headed to the library for their monthly book sale where it can hopefully find a loving home with a reader more appreciative of the story.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau

The Keepers of the House
by Shirley Ann Grau
1964
1965 Pulitzer Prize
*
1 star - BORING! Ugh!


I'm finding Pulitzer Prize novels seem to fall into two general categories of awesome and formulaic. Yes, you heard me, formulaic. As in as predictable and dull as a bad cozy mystery or romance novel. I survived 150 pages into this one before I bailed.

I suspect the main draw of this book is that it was written in 1964, when the US was waking up to the fact that African Americans deserved the same rights as Anglos, and the book happens to be about mixed race couplings. OK, the premise isn't bad.

Wealthy plantation owner takes on a black mistress, fathers children. His white daughter and granddaughter come to live with him (daughter from deceased white wife of plantation man). My guess is that white granddaughter grows up with mixed race siblings in relative isolation and then at some point everybody figures out how cruel the world can be. But since it took 150 pages (half the book) to set things up, I wasn't going to hang around to see what happened.

The dust jacket promises "...a novel of immense power that builds slowly..." Well, the slow part was correct. I would have been more forgiving if the scenes of the countryside were more evocative or if the characters had been just a wee bit interesting, but none of those elements were present. 

Plus, the book suffers from a quirk which really annoys me. Very little reference to time or place so I was never really sure what state we were in or what year it was. 

I'll keep working my way through the Pulitzers because every few years there is a real gem, but I will make sure to always have a sure thing waiting for me if I am, once again, disappointed.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Two Nopes

A Killer Stitch
by Maggie Sefton
2007
**
2 stars - just too cozy for me
ALR Green - nice rottweiler who mostly chases squirrels in the yard


It just goes to show you that there is a cozy mystery series for just about every area of interest. This one happens to be the fourth Knitting Mystery. Yup. Knitting Mystery. Why not? It even includes a pattern for a scarf at the end.

I selected this specifically as a pallet cleanser just in case any of my other books were too intense. It achieved that goal and it is a perfectly fine cozy, but just a bit too Disney for my taste.

Kelly Flynn is an accountant, living in Colorado, who also happens to frequent the local yarn shop where ladies gather to work on their knitting. When they learn that a local alpaca rancher is found murdered, Kelly sets out to find the real killer. She does this by chatting up her fellow knit club pals. That's really all it takes.

Mostly, this book isn't about the murder or the mystery, it's about a bunch of women hanging around, making sweaters, and supporting each other. That's not a bad thing, but it isn't enough to make me want to come back for more. Plus, I was annoyed by the persistent breaking of confidences in the circle of women. Sure, by telling tales that they had sworn to secrecy, they ultimately find the killer. It was nevertheless a bit discomfitting to observe the number of times some personal tidbit was passed along to another willing set of ears, all in the name of helping out a friend.

Too bad Carl, the Rottweiler, didn't get more attention. In fact he never even got a walk, despite the fact that the main character (his owner, Kelly) is quite active and athletic. Poor Carl's role was comprised of going out and coming in, with the occasional head scratch.






Snow Crash
by Neal Stephenson
1992
*
1 star - stylistically not for me, but read on as it might be for you



Dang! I really wanted to read this, but the writing style was just too painful for me. Here's the opening paragraph:

The Deliverator belongs to an elite order, a hallowed sub-category. He's got espirit up to here. Right now, he is preparing to carry out his third mission of the night. His uniform is black as activated charcoal, filtering the very light out of the air. A bullet will bounce off its arachno-fiber weave like a wren hitting a patio door, but excess perspiration wafts through it like a breeze through a freshly napalmed forest. Where his body has bony extremities, the suit has sintered armogel: feels like gritty jello, protects like a stack of telephone books.

Hey, I'm no stranger to the whole noir style of writing, but seriously? Four analogies in one paragraph? But I persisted, hoping this was just a fluke. Nope. The prose is so analogy laden that it was hard to track the plot at times. I'm afraid I survived less than 50 pages.

And that pisses me off. Why? Because this book, written in 1992, promised to be a very interesting take on technology to come. Hiro Protagonist (ouch) is a pizza delivery boy by day, Metaverse warrior prince by night. He lives in a world where people spend a lot of their time in fantasies constructed by computer programs. Complex communities made of bits and bytes that bears a remarkable resemblance to the social media / gaming community of today. That's totally cool. The dust jacket promises that Hiro is going to get caught up in a search and destroy mission that takes place entirely in, what we now know to be, The Cloud. All of that in 1992. 

So if you enjoy the noir style of writing, this would be an interesting read. If not, just wait for the movie.