31 December 2010

More reading to do soon

A few more titles from the last few pages of the 2010 Indie Bound Book calendar:

  • Restless, by William Boyd
  • The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, by Dinaw Mengestu
  • The Girls, by Lori Lansen

And some from the 12 December 2010 issue of The Seattle Times,  page H4, "Best Crime Fiction of 2010."

  • Rock Paper Tiger, by Lisa Brackmann
  • The Weed That Strings The Hangman's Bag, by Alan Bradley
  • Faithful Place, by Tana French
  • Spies of the Balkans, by Alan Furst
  • This Body of Death, by Elizabeth George
  • The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, by Tarquin Hall
  • Moonlight Mile, by Dennis Lehane
  • I'd Know You Anywhere, by Laura Lippman
  • Still Midnight, by Denise Mina
  • The Devil's Star, by Jo Nesbø
Also, we went to the movies today to see True Grit,  a remake of the old John Wayne western. This one, directed and produced by the illustrious Coen Brothers, stars Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. I'm not going to try to start reviewing movies, don't know enough for that, but I mention this because one of the previews we saw was for an upcoming movie of Lincoln Lawyer,  made from the novel by the same name, by Michael Connelly. I instantly remembered reading Lincoln Lawyer,  and looked forward to finding it in this journal. It's not here, which means either I read it before I started keeping this (October 2005), or (likely) I forgot to enter it. In any event, Mrs. L. thinks she and I both read this book and at least one other my Connelly. I retrieved a book list from Connelly's web site and expect to pursue some reading in that direction as well.

Border Songs

Mrs. L. read Border Songs first. She read about it in a Seattle Times book review, and when she was reading it, kept telling me that it was very good. I agree. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it was a "can't put it down" read, and I look forward to more from Jim Lynch.

We found it exceptionally interesting because the book is set in an area about 150 miles north of us. Blaine, WA is the town you will drive through if you take I5 north through Washington and enter Canada. It is the home of the border crossing, the Peace Arch, the symbol of Canadian-American friendship.

The friendship between our countries has fallen on hard times in recent years. In the US, we've become prey to xenophobia, and  many foreigners that enter the USA illegally do so through Canada. Furthermore, British Columbia has apparently developed quite an underground marijuana-growing industry, and a lot of this product crosses the border at or near Blaine. US citizens are less pleased with their neighbors to the north, many of whom may see us as violent, under-educated bigots bloated with too much wealth and power.

This story centers on a young man who has grown up in Blaine, a town where the Canadian border is very real, but at the same time very artificial. Brandon Vanderkool joins the US Border Patrol at the urging (and string-pulling) of his father, Norm. Brandon is no ordinary BP agent. He is severely dyslexic, stands six-foot-eight, and immediately shows a terrific talent for noticing the tiny inconsistencies in the world around him that betray smugglers and illegal border crossings.

Brandon's job brings into focus the nature of the tensions between Canadians and Americans in this small international community. The characters are beautifully drawn and believably human. The story is plotted with mastery, and we enter a world we are painfully reluctant to leave at the turning of the last page.

As if all this were not enough, Lynch has included a wonderfully sensitive portrait of the natural history of the Pacific Northwest, with especial attention to bird life. In addition, we are allowed to see nature through the eyes of a most unusual observer, Brandon Vanderkool.

If you haven't already, I urge you to treat yourself to a reading of Border Songs.

23 December 2010

Indie Bound Daily Book Calendar

Last Christmas my sister-in-law Diane gave me a daily tear-off calendar from IndieBound.org,  which represents the American Booksellers Association, an organization of independent book stores.

Each page of the calendar contains something about a work of literature, often in the form of a question with the answer printed upside-down in tiny print at the bottom of the page.

I've had daily tear-off calendars before, often with cartoons on each page, but I've never had one that kept my attention as this one has. As it nears the end of 2010 and the pad has grown very thin indeed, it seems I've begun to notice books that I want to read much more often on its pages. In the last week these books have come to my attention:
  • Ghostwalk, by Rebecca Stott
  • Travels With My Aunt, by Graham Greene
  • The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, by Barry Udall
  • Fall on Your Knees, by Ann-Marie MacDonald
I look forward to reading every one of these. I haven't picked up a book by Graham Greene in a long time; the other authors are all new to me.

20 December 2010

Diaspora, by Greg Egan

I became bogged down in the thick swamp of exposition at the beginning of this novel. No doubt there are people who will disagree with me, but this is no way to write. I gave up in the first ten pages.

A Quiet Life, by Kenzaburo Oe

I'm having a rough time with this one. I read A Personal Matter,  and was impressed. Now, wading through this novel, I find it hard to keep going.

No doubt this is a personal failing, but I couldn't finish this book.

15 December 2010

A Home for Scared People, by Chris Onstad

I cannot say enough good about Chris Onstad, Achewood, the characters, the stories, the genius. I have worn out the word "genius" by talking about him.

One indication of Onstad's skill (genius): I am much older than him, born during the Eisenhower administration. The Korean War and I are contemporaries. Achewood is more than a little contemporary, hip, and wrapped up in popular culture, which description would make lesser work not only inaccessible but completely undesirable to me. The world of Ray Smuckles, Roast Beef, Molly, Téodor, Cornelius, Phillipe, Nice Pete, Todd (a squirrel), Lie Bot, Chucklebot and Pat is not only attractive, it is addictive. Every time Onstad releases a new (free) web comic I experience a strong release of serotonin.

Therefore, it was not a difficult decision to purchase a new copy of A Home for Scared People, and I am happy that I did. It is a nicely done little book, hardbound and high quality, and contains many pages of original prose dealing with the background of some of the characters. In particular, the relationship between Ray and Beef is examined in detail, from its origins in high school.

We should all enjoy such friendships.

How Onstad keeps body and soul together I suspect has a lot to do with the efforts of his wife. One day, if there is any justice in the universe (there may not be), he will be rich and famous in his own right. In the meantime, I strongly encourage everyone to support him in every way possible. The world is better for his art.

13 December 2010

Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson

I listened to the audio book version of this, on 9 CDs, read by Shelly Frasier.

Set in the present, even recent past. Cayce Pollard lost her father Win when he disappeared near the World Trade Center on 11 September, 2001. Win was loosely connected to the CIA.

Why did I like this book so much. I was drawn into its world and did not want to leave.

Mirror World (England). What an attractive idea, it describes the feeling of being in a foreign land so well. Those little things I used to notice about Canada when I went there as a child.

Contemporary Russia. Oligarchs.

Pilates. Starbucks

Cayce has a sort of allergic reaction, to certain brand names / logos. One that is mentioned, and used against her in the plot is The Michelin Man, Bibendum.

"The footage" is a film that's being revealed one little segment at a time via anonymous Internet postings. YouTube is not mentioned, and indeed may not have existed at the time this was written, or if it did it was such a minor whistle stop on the Info Railroad that no one would have known what it was.  I was attracted by the retro-Internet world of people on a forum, Hotmail, Ethernet connections in hotels. Saying "hello" when answering a cell phone, being surprised at discovering who is calling -- pre caller ID?

I really loved this book, was sorry when I played the last CD. I'm thinking about getting the print version to read and see if it makes a similar impression.



06 December 2010

Prayer of the Dragon, by Eliot Pattison

Inspector Shan finds himself in a remote village with his friends Lokesh and Gendun, the aged lama. A man is dying, but if he lives he faces a horrible primitive execution.

In this mystery, we are again treated to the world of modern Tibet, overshadowed by the iron shadow of the Chinese occupation. Shan must straddle the chasm between two cultures, one ancient and spiritual, the other new, cold, and materialistic.

Yet another element is introduced into this novel, that of the American Navajo. Two Navajo characters, seeking for the ancient roots of their own culture, join the cast.

I enjoyed this book but wonder if I actually needed to read yet another of these Shan mysteries. It was reassuring to read Bone Rattler, and know that Pattison could apply his excellent writing skill to another setting, and different characters.