Sunday, May 31, 2009

Some of My Past Reviews

Bowman's Store: A Journey to Myself
by Joseph Bruchac

Bruchac's autobiography holds the reader's interest to the end. It's a well told story that could be read and enjoyed by young adults, as well as their parents.

'Bowman's Store' resonated with me because of my own history. I was told that my great-grandmother was French Canadian. I never saw a photograph of her - or even knew one existed - until a cousin showed me a picture from one of her own family albums. There is no mistaking the ethnic background of the woman with the intricately beaded collar and sober mien; no doubt about that of the unknown child at her side. This discovery came long after my mother's death. There was no one left to whom I could address my many questions - no answers to be had.

The silence seems impenetrable. What were my great-grandmother's origins - and by extension - mine? I can't reach her. She's carefully hidden from view by the traditions of shame that were felt by later generations. The same kind of silence experienced by Joseph Bruchac.

Posted by Picasa

Ghost Riders
by Sharyn McCrumb

McCrumb's books are noted for the blend of history and mysticism - but in this one, history figures more prominently. As is true of most of her 'mountain books', there is a prevailing feeling of calm. Bloody killing, maiming, Civil War reinactors, history, mystery and a ghost story - all are there, but still there is that feeling of calm inevitability. (Perhaps I'm misusing the word `mystery' since this is not a traditional mystery at all).

The front of the hard cover edition has two compelling photographs - a man and a woman - each with intense eyes. Zebulon Vance and Malinda Blalock. They appear to be inordinately handsome people for the era. Exactly who are they and why are they pictured? These are photographs - after all - and this book is a novel, as its sub-title points out.

Do an online search on those names and find out for yourself - there is a lot of material on the two. Sharon McCrumb has taken the liberty of imagining herself into the heads of actual characters - one of whom attained a considerable degree of prominence, but her account is faithful to the facts as presented in my online `research'.

McCrumb highlights, by inference, the feelings and events that led to some of the fabled mountain feuds. One can even find a parallel to the long simmering hatreds of the Middle East. It is one thing to be part of an organized army in a war won by one side and lost by the other. It's quite another to fight for a cause which makes near neighbors and relatives your enemy. The Civil War is often characterized this way - `brother against brother - North versus South' - but for some people it was more personal than that. I really didn't know, until I read it here, that there was a strong pro-Union movement in the mountain country of Tennessee and North Carolina. For these people, `brother against brother' was not an abstract term and the hatred engendered lived on.

I loved 'Malinda' and her matter-of-fact approach to the dreadful crises that the war brought to her life, the unique way in which she handled them. If you look at the picture of the older Malinda, holding a picture of her husband in her hand, you can see where the author got her inspiration for Malinda's character in the book. (If your copy doesn't have the photos - you can find them online in Google Images).

If you're interested in history, you'll enjoy this book - but even if you're not - it will hold your attention.

Computer graphic by S. Bailey©

An Isolated Incident

by Susan R. Sloan

The surprise was not the killers's identity - I knew/suspected who the murderer was in this fine story right from the beginning, based on the description of the victim's feelings in the first chapter. (I'm not usually that good at figuring out solutions in mysteries, either).

What was surprising was the way the story appeared to be a standard, well-written mystery - very straight-forward... until the last few chapters when the lives of the leading characters unraveled and changed drastically. Even though I was sure I knew who the killer was - the ending was so oblique and so dark that I was taken off-guard. In fact, my initial reaction was - "Huh"? I turned out the light - and started to go to sleep when the meaning hit me! Migod! I did NOT go to sleep right away - and books seldom affect me that way. After the shock wore off, I kept thinking - 'Yeah - but the DNA will tell the truth - won't it'...........?

A mystery that makes you think & feel? What's this??

Reading this over, it looks like I've written a mystery right here, in my effort to not divulge too much - but hey - aren't reviews supposed to pique your interest?

Total Recall (A V.I. Warshawski Novel)
by Sara Paretsky

I've read all of Paretsky's books and am a long time admirer. This is up to her usual standard. Her plotting and her characters are carefully conceived, the setting well realized. Viva Paretsky! Now if she would only turn these mysteries out with greater frequency....

Isle of Dogs
by Patricia Cornwell

I've read most of Patricia Cornwell's books and find her a compelling writer. I started this book and couldn't finish it - and I seldom give up. Some professional reviewers have given positive reviews of this book. I can't help thinking that it's out of respect for the author.

As mentioned, I've not been able to put down some of her other books. Despite that, I've often wished she could 'lighten up' a bit. The angst and paranoia of her lead characters becomes a bit wearying at times. (Surely there must be a ray of light somewhere in their lifes). However, this book is not the way to go. The humor sounds forced and false. It doesn't flow naturally nor does the plot hold the interest.

In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead
by James Lee Burke

This is the first of Burke's books that I read - and what drew me was the title! While browsing one day, I spotted "In the Electric Mist with the Confederate Dead". Good grief - any author who would think up such a title had to be an 'original'. The book lived up to expectations. It was intriguing, original with an almost poetic turn of phrase. I mean - this guy is good. Don't be turned off by the esoteric words in this review - Burke knows how to grab you by the throat! A good read!

Cold Flat Junction
by Martha Grimes

I've read Grimes before and find her non-Jury books have many of the qualities of fantasy. It seems most evident in this one. First, we have a precocious & engaging twelve year old girl - Emma - with a very active imagination. She constantly builds a colorful & active daydream world - and she's well aware that these are day dreams - a world she constructs as she would have her real world if she had a choice. As the book progresses, it's as though the it IS her daydream. Consider - a twelve year old girl who is left alone, in charge of the day to day operation of a country hotel, who takes taxis & trains as most twelve year olds ride a bike, who 'interviews' adults in a most mature way and is awarded the attention and respect normally reserved by adults FOR adults.

There is an unreal, dreamy quality to the described background scenes though the characters peopling these scenes are well realized - it's almost as though they move against a surreal background. The climactic scenes read like a young girl's fantasy - triumphantly unbelievable. Trust me - I WAS Emma, with that same active imagination at that age and the ability to construct elaborate, ongoing adventures for myself while well aware that they were indeed my own construction.

I agree with [those] who comment that the story line is slight - it's the way it's told that holds your interest. It's an unusual book. I'd like to hear what the author has to say about it.

Acts of Malice
by Perri O'Shaughnessy

This book is my introduction to "O'Shaugnessy" and it's a winner. I read a lot of mysteries - some of which I never finish - why bother. This one held my attention all the way through. The authors' 'sense of place' is remarkable. The reader 'sees' the Lake Tahoe locale. It's well written and plotted though the reader also sees what's coming. In this sense, it's more a tale of suspense than mystery. Despite this, the finale was particularly gripping.

As a fan of Elizabeth George, Ruth Rendell, James Lee Burke on the heavy side and Sue Grafton, Robert Parker, James Crais on the more flip side, I found the romantic involvement of the characters perhaps too prominent but as it turned out - it was quite integral to the plot. (We mystery readers tend to be picky-picky about the genre).

I would recommend this book - this 'writer', (two writers, actually - sisters who are probably well attuned to each other) to other mystery fans. I haven't yet read another of this series but I've already picked up a couple. Stay tuned.

Dead Sand (Lewis Cole Mystery Series)
by Brendan Dubois

"Dead Sand" is the first book by Dubois that I've read but it won't be the last. What a treat to stumble across a new-to-me mystery writer who is literate & conjures such believable characters, peopling a well-plotted book.

The author creates a real sense of place - a term much bandied about & often not really true. This one 'puts you there'. I highly recommend it.

No comments:

Post a Comment