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- (8/31) The Hours by Michael Cunningham.
- Remarkable novel (and don't take my word for it -- it won the
Pulitzer) that weaves together three distinct and yet totally and
absolutely identical stories. The first is of Virginia Woolf, while in
the process of writing "Mrs. Dalloway"; the second is of a young mother in
the late 1940's, reading "Mrs. Dalloway" for the first time, only a few
years after Woolf's suicide; and the third is of a middle-aged woman in
the 1990's named
Clarissa,who is planning a party that evening for her dying friend
three stories share several common elements throughout -- themes and
symbols (yellow roses, names, emotions) -- but remain pretty much singular
until the very end when they come smashing together very suddenly and
terribly. A sad novel, as "Mrs. Dalloway" was (and as was Virginia Woolf
herself), but absolutely wonderful from start to finish. If you've
never read "Mrs. Dalloway," my
recommendation is that you NOT run right out and read it for
the first time and
then grab this and read it right afterwards. Read "Mrs.
Dalloway," wait 5 years, and then read "The
Hours." The distance is necessary, the order imperative -- neither one
will affect you as it should if you violate this.
- (8/30) The Burglar in the Rye by Lawrence Block.
- Quite possibly the best of the series so far, this one has
Bernie breaking into a hotel room to steal some letters and, as usual,
stumbling across a dead body in the process. Lots and lots of great word
play -- this book was a delight from start to finish.
- (8/27) The Pearl of Ruby City by Jana Harris.
- This novel looked pretty promising when I picked it up, but
turned out to be pretty weak. It's about a young girl, Pearl Ryan, who
aspires to be a doctor but currently is just a laundress in a small mining
camp in Central Washington (during the 1800's). When the local mayor dies
suddenly, everyone says it was typhoid. But Pearl thinks he was actually
poisoned. I really couldn't have cared less. The astonishing thing is
that Jana Harris is a creative writing professor at my alma mater! Thank
god I decided to major in lit instead of writing.
- (8/25) The Dark Room by Minette Walters.
- When Jinx Kingsley, daughter of a millionaire, is found
unconscious in the wreckage of a mysterious car accident, everyone assumes
she tried to commit suicide. Too bad for them all, she can't remember a
damn thing. While she's recovering, the hospital administrator takes an
interest in her and soon comes to believe, along with Jinx herself, that
that was no suicide attempt at all -- it's was attempted murder. Very
suspenseful and well-written, as usual for Walters. Recommended!
- (8/22) The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe.
- Bizarre but fascinating Japanese novel about an entomologist
on holiday who encounters a remote seaside village and is taken captive
and forced to join a woman at the bottom of a vast sand pit. Trapped
there, they must shovel almost constantly to keep the advancing sand dunes
from crushing their house (and making the village above collapse or slide
down the hill?). Sand, sand, all around, and even in the stuff you
- (8/20) Shooting the Boh by Tracy Johnston.
- Extremely entertaining account of Johnston's
river/rapid-rafting trip down Borneo's mostly-unexplored Boh river. A
lot like "Into Thin Air," except with boats instead of ropes, bees instead
of blizzards, and foot rot instead of frostbite. A lot of fun!
- (8/17) While I Was Gone by Sue Miller.
- In 1968, Jo Becker ran out on her marriage, moved into a house
full of bohemians, and changed her name. It was a time of freedom like
she'd never experienced until the night she came home and found her best
friend lyind dead in a pool of blood on the living room floor. Jo
eventually left her first husband, married a wonderful man, and had three
daughters. Now, middle-aged and settled comfortably into a great life,
one of her old housemates has moved into town and is stirring up memories
and feelings Jo had nearly forgotten. What happens next forces her to
reevaluate not only her past, but her present as well. Very good.
- (8/14) The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King.
- Surprisingly good short novel about a girl who wanders off the
path on a day-hike with her mother and brother and ends up lost in the
woods for about 8 days. I like stories about survival, but this one had
an interesting twist -- to keep her motivation going, she listens to Red
Sox games on her walkman every night and dreams of Tom Gordon (pitcher)
all day long. Sure, there's the usual King hokeyness (she's being stalked
by a Thing), and it's not like "lost in the woods" stories are all that
original, but I still couldn't put it down and was glad I'd picked it up
when I was done. I'd suggest waiting to read it for at least a week after
seeing "The Blair Witch Project," though.
- (8/12) The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver.
- Kingsolver's first novel, about a young woman (Taylor Greer)
her lifelong home in Kentucky to head west. Halfway through the Cherokee
Nation, a strange Native American woman hands Taylor a baby and leaves.
The child (whom Taylor names Turtle, after her hold-on-and-don't-let-go
nature) has been abused and is small and silent at first. But eventually,
as they both struggle together to figure out what the heck is going on in
their lives, both Taylor and Turtle learn the importance of putting down
roots somewhere and with someone. This is often cited by friends as being
their favorite Kingsolver novel and I can understand why, though I think I
still like "Animal Dreams" the best. Kingsolver rocks, people. You need
to read these books!
- (8/11) I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.
- Recently back in print after decades of being unavailable,
this sweet novel is about a family who live in some castle ruins in
England. The protagonist is a young girl, Cassandra, who is teaching
herself to "speed write" by keeping a journal on the events of her life
during the course of about 9 months. Through her entries, we watch
Cassandra grow up, fall in love, and change completely from a green-armed
naive teenager to a full-fledged world-wise adult. Witty and wonderful.
- (8/8) Black Notice by Patricia Cornwell.
- I was on the waiting list for this before it was even
published and therefore was one of the first people to get it from my
local library. Woo hoo! It's the latest in the series of Kay Scarpetta
(medical examiner/lawyer) mysteries and while I enjoyed it very much, it's
got some weak points that I don't remember from others in the series.
Perhaps she isn't being edited as tightly as she used to be, now that
she's a huge success. Eh, who cares. I'm so close to the characters in
these books now that they could speak gibberish and I'd still be glad to
see them. If you haven't stumbled across this series yet, I envy you.
You're in for a really good time. Oh, incidentally, this one is about
a badly decayed body discovered inside a huge crate unloaded from a
ship originating in Belgium. Murder! Mystery! International
- (8/7) I Know Some Things: Stories about Childhood by Contemporary
Authors edited by Lorrie Moore.
- Lorrie Moore is one of my favorite short story writers of the
modern time, which is why I picked this book up when I saw it. Inside are
a variety of wonderful stories written by several of my OTHER favorite
short story writers (Jamaica Kincaid, Toni Cade Bambara, and Alice Munro).
- (8/6) Bringing Out the Dead by Joe Connelly.
- Novel about an EMS medic who is haunted by the death of a girl
he accidentally caused. He is so obsessed with her that he sees her face
on almost patient he has. He drinks on the job, too, which didn't endear
him to me much. This wasn't really all that great. I kind of skimmed the
end. I was unable to really care about the main character, though I felt
sorry for him. Eh.
- (8/4) Short List by Jim Lehrer.
- Funny political satire featuring The One-Eyed Mack, lieutenant
governor of Lehrer's fictional Oklahoma government. In this one, when the
governor (a dolt) has a stroke seconds before he is to give the keynote
speech at the Democratic convention, Mack is talked into taking his place.
His speech impresses so many (especially his plea for help in finding a
mummy -- long story) that he ends up on the Short List for Vice-President
of the USA. What happens to him as soon as he ends up on the list is
where the satire comes in. The press starts digging up ridiculous things
from his past, his friends are all revealed to be crooks, and he is
interviewed over and over by a bunch of wacko government types. A quick
one, but lots of fun.
- (8/4) Here on Earth by Alice Hoffman.
- I had a really hard time putting this book down, even though I
was mostly horrified every time I picked it up. It's about a woman (March
Murray) who returns to her hometown with her teenaged daughter one autumn
order to attend a funeral. Once there, she discovers her long-lost lover
from her own teenaged years is back in town (and has actually pretty much
BOUGHT the town). She is immediately sucked into an affair with him, even
though she's married to a really wonderful man in California. The lover
is a total jerk -- manipulative, abusive, angry, etc. -- the result of a
childhood of abuse and neglect. But she's completely blind to all of it
and eventually becomes completely blind to her own daughter as well. I
was horrified mostly because it looked like she was going to get sucked
into him so deeply she'd never escape. I was worried Hoffman would turn
things and try to make me be sympathetic towards him because his life had
been so hard, and I certainly wasn't about to let her play me that way. I
don't have any patience for people who are violent because they've been
violated. Fortunately, Hoffman's attempt to teach me a lesson about
forgiveness was so weak, I didn't have to bother with it. I'm pretty sure
she wasn't sure how to feel about him either, at the end. This was a
gripping and very well-written book -- but I wouldn't recommend it to
anyone who isn't in the mood for a trip on an emotional rollercoaster.
- (8/2) No Immunity by Susan Dunlap.
- Part of a series (my first) featuring
medical-examiner-turned-private-eye Kiernan O'Shaughnessy. This one's a
runaway virus one ('nuff said). Not fantastic, but enjoyable. Excessive
use of the word "defenestration," though -- as though Dunlap had just
learned it, thought it was incredibly cool (which it is, but still), and
wanted to use it lots and lots. I'm very protective of words
I really like. You must use them correctly and in appropriate situations,
or suffer my wrath. That Susan Dunlap had NO BUSINESS using the word
"defenestration"! No business at all!
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