Sunday, December 16, 2012

Obviously, I haven't posted in a while.  However, that does not mean I haven't been reading.  Let me catch you up:

Under the Banner of Heaven, John Krakauer, Nonfiction.  Krakauer's exhaustive research and retelling of true events makes for a breathtaking, thought provoking examination of the Mormon religion.  The nation's newest and fastest growing religion started in New York with the vision of one man, and the charismatic Joseph Smith inspired millions to follow his beliefs.  One of the religion's tennents is the receiving visions directly from God, and Krakauer examines the devastating results of one follower's vision in this well told story of religious zealots and the lengths they will go to follow their convictions. An interesting look at Mormonism and a thoughtful read - Krakauer's thoroughness is impressive.

Tell The Wolves I'm Home, Carol Rifka Brunt, Fiction.  One of the best books I have read this year.  Tell the Wolves I'm Home is the story of a young girl, June, dealing with the loss of her uncle Finn to AIDS early in the epidemic.  His death not only brings the end of her life with him, but opens a whole new world that she never could have anticipated.  Through tokens, art, and messages left for her while he was still alive, he welcomes her into his entire world - and the meaning of love.  June struggles with growing up, her sister's torment, and grief, but as a reader we are treated kindly by Brunt's beautiful writing.  It seems like she has selected each word carefully, but then dashed off a sentence that is able to crush a reader with its weight.

Back to Blood, Tom Wolfe, Fiction.  Set in the sultry heat of Miami, Wolfe's latest novel follows the exploits of a young Cuban cop and all of the parts and people of Miami that are connected to him in some way - and his web is wide.  Nestor Camacho rivets the people of Miami - and polarizes them - with a daring, high wire rescue of a Cuban refugee trying to make ground in America.  Through Nestor's actions, he inadvertently casts the man back to Cuba, and opens a debate of race and who rules Miami, but by the novel's end I'm not really sure if Mr. Wolfe knows, or has an opinion.  Back to Blood takes us into the lives of Nestor's beautiful ex-girlfriend, who dumps him for a blowsy sex therapist, who councils one of the richest men in Miami, who buys art from a Russian who is passing off the forged works of another Russian who is found dead by the classic east coast go-getting newspaper boy in a blazer, who is joined by Nestor Camanco after the newspaper guy writes a story about Nestor's rescue.  Oh, and there is some sex and Cuban coffee thrown in.  Got it?  Me neither.

Come Home, Lisa Scottoline, Fiction, Mystery.  If you had rebuilt your life after a messy divorce, found the man of your dreams, put together a new family, and started fresh, would you risk it all to find if your ex-husband had possibly been murdered?  Jill would, and does, in Come Home, after her ex-stepdaughter shows up on her doorstep, drunk and unannounced, sobbing about her father's murder.  The story seems insincere from the outset, with the ease that Jill takes back her role as mother to a young, unstable woman, to the detriment of her current relationship with her fiancé and daughter.  The story is convenient and unbelievable at times, and the ending seems out of proportion with the rest of the story.  Still, Scottoline is an engaging writer and it was an easy read.

Michael Connelly, The Black Box, Fiction, Mystery.   Harry Bosch is on the case of a twenty year old murder that he had to abandon in the heat of the LA race riots years ago.  He was one of the first on the scene of a female, white, Danish reporter in an abandoned alley in LA.  Why was she there?  It is this question that has kept with Harry for years, and why he is anxious to solve this mystery.  Connelly's treatment of Bosch in this novel seems very personal.  As his time in the squad is running out, and the new supervisor is looking to get rid of dead weight in the department, Bosch feels the pressure to solve mysteries not for number's sake, but for the victims that have been forgotten.  This novel takes Harry on a decades long ride back to the Gulf War, into California farm country, and into a secret brotherhood bound by threat and blood.  Thanks to Connelly's masterful, weightless storytelling, it is great ride for the reader, too.

Laura Lippman, And When She Was Good, Mystery. Lippman's latest is an examination of prostitution, told from the perspective of a upper-middle class woman who happens to be running her own brothel.  When another madam in a nearby town is discovered dead in her car, and her line of work is revealed, Helen gets nervous.  When she finds out she knew this other woman in her past life, she gets very nervous.  Even though Helen has been very careful with her business, running prostitution in the fairest, safest, and most lucrative way she can manage, it is illegal, and Helen has always watched her own back.  We find out why when Lippman delves into Helen's, formerly known as Heloise, past.  Raised by an abusive father and uncaring mother, moving onto an abusive relationship, and buying her freedom with her body, Helen has had her fair share of the hard life.  She constantly reinvents herself, and when her life and the life of her son is threatened, she knows it is time to do so again.  Lippman's other characters have felt more real to me - maybe because for most of the novel I felt that Lippman was defending Helen by making excuses for the life she was leading.

Notorious Nineteen, Janet Evanovich, Fiction.  Stephanie Plum is back!  Yay!  Evanovich's hilarious, down to earth, and hard-hit heroine is back at it, with her faithful ex-'ho sidekick Lulu, and they are bringing down the criminals on the lam again.  Or at least trying to.  The latest escapades of Stephanie and co. find her haunting the halls of a hospital, getting naked on a nudist beach at Atlantic City, and swathed in Pepto-pink as a maid of honor for a woman she has never met.  The whole time she is tracking down the men (and woman) who will bring her next much needed paycheck.  Even though she and Morelli are more serious than ever, Ranger shows up  enough (mostly when her cars blow up, which is more often that you would think) to keep her guessing her commitment to the kind hearted cop Morelli.  With the help of her 90+ grandmother, a old midget friend, and of course, Lulu, Stephanie keeps the residents of the 'Berg resting easy by getting her man - or woman - every time, one way or another.

The Twelve, Justin Cronin.  If apocalyptic, blood-drenched vampire fantasy novels aren't your thing, I get it.  If they are, or if you are willing to give one a try, start with Cronin's writing, because you are in for a treat.  The Twelve is a follow up to The Passage, the first two of a thrilling trilogy from Cronin. The Twelve shows us how the rest of the world has been coping since the outbreak of the virus that has overtaken most of the country, turning its victims into blood thirsty killers who either drain their prey or turn them into the monsters they have been trying to outrun.  Many characters carry over from the first novel, but after their holdout in California was raided, The Twelve follows them scattered across the country, yet never forgetting each other.  Cronin's sense of adventure and morality shine through in the humans who have so far escaped the virus, as he takes us from one encampment to another, and what one man has made for himself with other's pain and the downturn of civilization.  With each twist and turn of the story, Cronin sets the stakes for the survivors ever higher.  I can't wait for the final installment.

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