Sunday, March 31, 2013

Bonnie - Iris Johansen

Finished up the third book in this trilogy.  It was a Christmas present that I've now finally read after getting through the first two.  A nice wrap up of the story line.  I still found the book to be mostly dialog with very little storytelling.  Everything happens in a very short time (a week?) and like with most mysteries, I scanned a lot of it to get to the conclusion.    I never really cared very much for any of the characters, they were not very believable with their super deductive reasoning and convoluted relationships.  And the bit of "supernatural" was sappy to me.  That's it for the first quarter!

Published: 2011  Read: March 2013  Genre: Mystery

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Quinn - Iris Johansen

This is the second book in a trilogy about a forensic artist who's daughter disappeared.  The first book told about Eve, the artist and her husband, John Quinn, a former special forces type guy and her friend, Catherine, CIA agent.  We all have friends and relatives like that don't we?

Anyway, this book is about John and fills in on his life and relationship with Eve.  All three are still chasing bad guys with implausible timing and deductive reasoning.  No matter.  This time the dialogue is better and there's a bit more story in between.  I finished it up in a couple days in the desert at night while camping, much better than TV or chores and a pleasant escape for a few hours!  On to the third (and final) volume next month.

Published: 2011  Read: March 2013  Genre: Mystery

Traveling Mercies - Anne Lamott

I had heard of this author in passing and was given this book to read from a friend.  It's a memoir of growing in faith, surviving bad choices and loving every day of life.  The author writes about her growing up in California with a writer-father and lawyer-mother who were at odds with each other a lot of the time.  She has a quirky sense of humor and consults with God on her situation, thoughts and feelings just about every moment of the day.  Some quotes I marked:

[About priorities] "How much longer am I going to think about my hair more often than about things in the world that matter?"

[About her friend Nina, I liked this because "Howard" was my last name] "She loves God in the guise of kindness and nature, although she calls God "Howard," as in "Our Father, who are in heaven, Howard be thy name".

[When stuck in traffic] "I do believe that God is with us even when we're at our craziest and that this goodness guides, provides, protects, even in traffic."

She's an imperfect person in an imperfect world, surviving on faith in God and sharing love with others.
I will be seeking out her other books.

Published: 1999  Read: March 2013  Genre: Memoir

Saturday, March 16, 2013

My Detachment - Tracy Kidder

I've liked Tracy Kidder's writing since I first read  his book "The Soul of a New Machine" back in the 80's about the dawn of the computer age and got hooked on computers.  His "Mountains beyond Mountains" that told the story of Dr Paul Farmer's humanitarian efforts was a great read too.

This book is a memoir about his time as a lieutenant in the Army in Vietnam. He was an intelligence officer and didn't get into fighting so his memoir is not so much about the horrors of war.  Instead, he reflects on what he learned about being a leader, though he admits to having been a poor one. His story recalls for me how very young most of the soldiers were in that war, much like today's.  Through the story, I learned a little about his life and his time in college before joining ROTC, mostly to impress a girl he desired but never really possessed.  There's a dreamy quality to the narrative, a note of regret and nostalgia for his youth and in the end, a recognition that there are parts of his personality that have not changed. It gives the title double meaning. A brief peek into an author who reveals others so well.

Published: 2005  Read: March 2013  Genre: Memoir

Monday, March 11, 2013

Mrs. Kennedy and Me - Clint Hill

Another suggestion from one of my reading groups that I devoured in a couple of evenings in March.  I delayed posting this review until after the reading group discussed it.

Clint Hill was the secret service agent assigned to Jackie Kennedy from her first days as the first lady of the United States until a year after her husband, President Jack Kennedy's death.  He was adopted at 3 months of age by a loving Lutheran family and grew up in North Dakota with no experience with the rarefied lifestyle of the Kennedy's.

His gentlemanly demeanor and tremendous respect for the woman and her role were evident and a welcome respite from the gossipy, mud-slinging stories of other memoirs.  This man is one class act and unfortunately a dying breed.

I was struck by how much time she spent away from the White House.  I had not remembered her children that had died in infancy nor realized that her last child died only 4 months before her husband was assassinated. I did recall our nation and the world's fascination with her and her lifestyle and the Kennedy family.  Hill's story captures that feeling and takes me back to that time.

I clearly remember where I was the day Kennedy was shot and the reactions of my mother and other adults at the time.  Reliving those events from the author's perspective brought emotions of sadness and longing for what seemed a time when the presidency was magical and full of promise.  I wonder if young people today will have a similar view of the Obama presidency.  Maybe it just reminded me of a time when I felt I had passed from one phase of childhood to another, when I realized my parents could be shaken and hurt by something much larger than I could imagine.

Published: 2012  Read:  March 2013  Genre: Memoir

The Island of the Mighty - Evangeline Walton

I've had this first book of this fantasy tetralogy on my TBR list for a long time and can't remember where I heard of it.  I picked up this volume in a used bookstore in Sedona last fall where it was sold as a collector's item and it being the first one of the series to be read, I was able to begin the collection.

The stories are "a retelling in novel form" [NY Times Review] of the old Welsh stories dating from medieval times called the Mabinogion. This volume tells of a time when family lines descended from women (the mother right) and kings and rulers had magical powers to read minds and change their shape as told in druidic legends.  This story explores the power of love and hate, sibling rivalry and the consequences of our actions.

The fascinating perspective to me is that the author wrote this book in 1936 and it received little notice until it was rediscovered in the 1970's and became a hit, presumably when fantasy novels were promoted to the youth of the time.  I gather from the reviews that it was unique in interpreting the ancient stories and making them accessible to the public.  The author J.R. Tolkien made use of the legends in creating his stories of kingdoms of long ago.

Walton was a Quaker, well-educated and a serious student of the Welsh mythologies who moved to Tucson, Arizona in 1946. She had been treated with silver nitrate tincture for an illness as a child which left her with a gray cast to her skin, adding to her appeal to sci-fi fans.

I wanted to read the series too because I have ancestors who were Welsh on both my father and mother's side and I'm speculating that these stories may provide some insight into myths they may have grown up with in their country.

The pronunciation of the characters names are a mystery to me; Math, (with an upside-down "v" over the "a'), Gwydion, Arianrhod, LLew; I will need to find some audio recordings of Welsh to understand what they might sound like. I even had a great-great uncle named Llewellyn.

Look for my future reviews of the rest of the series as the year goes on.

Published: 1936 (as The Virgin and the Swine) 1970   Read: March 2013  Genre: Fantasy


Friday, March 8, 2013

Lost in America - Sherwin Nuland

subtitle: A journey with my father

I picked this up at Goodwill (one of my favorite used book stores) and discovered I'd read it before (2003) though I couldn't remember it.  Dr Nuland is a writer I greatly enjoy, having read his book How We Die and others when I was studying gerontology.  This story of his relationship with his father, a Russian Jewish immigrant in the late 1800's is heartbreaking, honest and revealing.

His father came here to escape persecution in Russia as a young man (19-20) and made a life in Brooklyn working in the garment district.  He never learned to write English other than his name and spoke a very altered version when necessary.  He was ill all of the time Sherwin knew him and he was an embarrassment and source of shame to his son growing up. His father had a strained relationship with his mother-in-law and sisters-in-law, who lived with the family for most of Sherwin's youth and created a seething tension in the household.  Despite the sorrows of their lives, there is a theme of fierce love and devotion to the children, (Sherwin and his siblings) that had to have contributed to his later success as a medical student at Yale and a career as a surgeon.

The book starts with an account of the severe depression the author suffered as a young adult and he explores how his relationship with his father shaped his later personality.  In a TED talk, he discusses how he was treated for the depression.  I recommend this book as insight into family, depression and their impact on who we are.

Published: 2003    Read: (again) 2013  Genre: Auto-biography