Cites & Bytes @ Bailey

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Recently Read and Heard....

It's been a while since I did a Recently Read, so I am sure I am forgetting something... but here are some stories that have entertained me over break and during some travels here and there. One I haven't included is our family tradition of listening to Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory each year on the way to the in-laws. It's exactly the right length and never fails to touch us.

Pale as the Dead and Bloodline by Fiona Mountain. I thought I had hit pay dirt with this mystery series... a genealogist detective, historical research, in a cozy English setting, all good for me. Pale as the Dead was good, centered on Elizabeth Siddal and the pre-Raphaelites with an earnest contemporary backstory about romantic commitment. Bloodline was sort of wan and dealt with rotten people who wanted to breed a super race. There are tons of specialist mysteries, everything from Amish detectives to scrapbooking detectives... if you are interested in
genealogy mysteries, here's a list... and another... and another.

N is for Noose by Sue Grafton (audiobook.) I used to read this alphabetic series faithfully but fell out somewhere around L or M. I keep buying them but haven't had time to read them. In this entry, detective Kinsey Milhone is hired by a deceased policeman's widow to find out what had been bothering him before he died. As usual, Kinsey gets beat up but prevails in the end and I got to play my favorite game of guessing whodunit. Good job on sustaining the series, though... it doesn't seem to have been diminished over the course of the alphabet.

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. This book, recommended by Kathy Frampton, was quite amazing. It was very well written, moving, full of dark and disturbing characters that seemed like the stuff of nightmare. A young boy's mother dies, his father remarries quickly and has another child. In the course of reading some mysterious books and his mother's favorite fairy tales, the boy is drawn into an alternate world that has a tremendous psychological impact on him and presents, in fact, a life threatening adventure during the course of which he matures and makes peace with his circumstances. The beginning of the novel is quite sad and we all know how frightening fairy tales can be. I think graduate students in children's literature (and maybe psychology?) will be examining this novel and its trip through the rabbit hole for many years to come. Really good read.

The Lighthouse by P. D. James (audiobook.) P. D. James creates a sealed room mystery on a slightly larger scale... an island retreat that caters to the wealthy, powerful, and celebrated seeking privacy and calm. Characters are finely drawn and very interesting. Adam Dalgliesh, James' detective, takes a bit of a back seat in the solution of the murders on the island as he is mysteriously taken ill soon after arriving. His young assistants take over the case as Dalgliesh hovers near death and frets about his lady love. Not my favorite work by James, but an entertaining listen.

The Innocent by Harlan Coben (audiobook.) Another mystery, another entertaining listen, although I must confess my husband finished listening to it without me and I only have secondhand knowledge of the conclusion. Perhaps he was annoyed by my habit of predicting and second guessing the author... (I believe in interactive media and will often argue with the television set and shout at certain conservative radio hosts.) A man who has served time for manslaughter (a college fight that went wrong) finds himself accused of killing a nun (a nun with a boob job!) and discovers his own reality unraveling in a wild tale of strippers, gangsters, incriminating video, and a wife who isn't who she said she was. Very engaging and fast paced... especially when he started getting cell phone pictures of his wife in a motel room with another man. I think this was the book, though, where I was thinking it is a mistake to put too many technological details into your story as it so easily dates it. Good fun.

The Diamond by Julie Baumgold (audiobook.) We are in the process of listening to this historical tale of the Regent Diamond, very interesting as the trail leads from India to the court of Louis XIV, sort of a genealogy of a giant gem (I'm going to get a side job writing alliterative headlines for Variety.) The tale is being spun by Comte de las Casas, who accompanied Napoleon into exile on St. Helena. A side comment: Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Also, having recently been to Versailles, it is easy to picture the corruption in its lovely setting. This is a very good story so far... makes me want to jump into the car and go somewhere to hear the rest.

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. Jane Smith recommended this inspiring book and I would like to recommend it for the freshman read next summer. A portion of the sale of each book goes to support the building of schools and other worthy projects... imagine the impact that buying 1,000 of them could have! Reading this just prior to Benazir Bhutto's assassination and also prior to seeing the movie, Charlie Wilson's War, made the book even more meaningful. This is the true and remarkable story of one man's efforts to build a school in Pakistan to honor his late sister's memory. That one effort spins into a foundation that builds schools, bridges, water treatment facilities, and so on. This should be required reading for all foreign service personnel, all political and military leaders, etc. Mortenson is a humble sort of character, full of flaws, who sees the truth and importance of providing education for children, especially girls, and the social change that can and will result. Our failure to address these social needs provides a vacuum for the rise of extremist education and the radical indoctrination of future generations. I'm really glad I read this... I hope you will do so also. It's a beautiful illustration of what a small amount of money and a large amount of thoughtful care can do.


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