Friday, August 28, 2009

Guest Blog - Kathy Reichs

This spring I read a Kathy Reichs’ procedural mystery for the first time. I enjoyed reading it and have read several since then. Reading her mysteries also led to me watching the Bones television series.

The first difference that you notice between the books and the series is that in Bones, Tempe Brennan is not a woman in her forties with a daughter in college and an ex-husband. There are lots of other differences. In fact the series is almost unrecognizable. Kathy Reichs says of the series that she thinks of it as Tempe when she was young. It is entertaining but don’t base your ideas about the novels upon the series.

Just a few weeks ago at the local library, I picked up Deja Dead, Reichs first novel. I was delighted that I was acquainted with most of the characters and enjoyed reading her award winning first mystery. When I began reading Death du Jour though, I ran into a personal stumbling block. When it was discovered that the twin babies’ hearts had been cut out of their chests, I reevaluated whether I wanted to keep on reading the book. In Reichs' novels there are often grotesque and unlikely reasons for the deaths of several people. In one book the reason for the killings turns out to be a rite involving cannibalism. Part of the way into Death du Jour, I thought, “if this is going to be a book about Satan worship, I don’t think I am going to read it.” Does the fact that I put the book aside tell you anything?

I haven’t given up on Reichs but I am going to approach her with caution. I feel that there are too many books and television programs that are looking for something new and unusual and reach for something shocking instead. I am quite happy with an average old mystery where the person who dies is the rich old uncle or the innocent person who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and saw something that condemned her to death.

In the meantime, although Bones is not a lot like the novels, I am still enjoying viewing the reruns.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover

Cammie Morgan, spy-in-training, is back in Ally Carter’s Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover. Along with her three best pals at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women (i.e., spy school), Cammie must try to stop a potential kidnapping. This time, though, the intended victim appears to be one of their own.

Macey, one of Cammie’s bffs, is on the campaign trail with her father who is running to be the next vice president of the United States. Macey becomes a target for the media, as well as another nefarious group. Cammie must help her friend, deal with the sudden return of her Aunt Abby, and try to figure out Zach, spy-in-training and boy of her dreams—not a small feat for a high school junior.

Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover is as light and entertaining as the previous two entries in the series. What girl (and 30-ish woman) doesn’t fantasize about being a brilliant spy? And what girl (and 30-ish woman) isn’t utterly confused by all male behavior?

Of course, Cammie and her gal pals still frustrate me with their sometimes lack of spy-itude. For being so brilliant and so well trained, they sure make some dumb moves and get caught off guard on a few-too-many occasions. But I will forgive them because they are high school juniors.

Carter clearly sets up the next book in the series, and I will willingly join Cammie for another adventure.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Holocaust by Bullets

In fall 2007, while living in Paris, my mother and I visited the Mémorial de la Shoah. The Jewish Holocaust museum was hosting a temporary exhibit called “The Holocaust by Bullets.” The exhibit featured a French Catholic priest’s project to collect the memories of “witnesses” to the massacres in Ukraine. The eyewitnesses, who must have been children at the time, are now extremely old, and Father Patrick Desbois is racing against time to record their accounts.

The exhibit had an overwhelming amount of information to process, and I struggled—and still struggle—to reconcile the country I love with such unthinkable brutality.

Last week, I happened upon Father Desbois’s memoir: The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest's Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews. He details his experiences recording the witnesses’ testimonies all across Ukraine. He talks about his grandfather’s own internment during WWII, his research team, and the process that team uses to record the testimonies.

Father Desbois’s story is interesting, but I was most intrigued in the witnesses’ accounts. I felt impatient reading about his life when what I really wanted to read was more transcripts. Despite attending the exhibit, despite reading countless memoirs and biographies about Holocaust victims, I continue to be surprised by the depths of “man’s inhumanity to man.” Father Desbois interviews one woman who as a child was “requisitioned” by the German army to walk across corpses in mass graves. Multiple eyewitnesses recall how the graves moved for three days with the wounded buried inside.

Holocaust by Bullets is not an easy read, but Father Desbois’s project is vital as very few eyewitnesses to the Jewish Holocaust remain.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I’d heard that Mary Ann Shaffer's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was a must-read for the summer, so I jumped into the long library queue. Once I actually got my hands on a copy, I had no idea what to expect.

Guernsey is written in epistolary form—not my favorite literary devise. Most of the correspondence involves Juliet Ashton. A successful wartime (WWII) columnist, Juliet unexpectedly becomes involved with the titular Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Intrigued by the organization, Juliet exchanges letters with members of the society.

Through these letters, Juliet discovers more about the society, the German occupation of the island, and the fate of many inhabitants. Meanwhile, she also corresponds with a girlhood friend, her publisher, and a would-be suitor.

Despite the seriousness of the subject matter—German occupation, prison camps, wartime casualties—the book has a light tone. It is a fast, entertaining, and easy read. Although Juliet is the main character, I—like Juliet—was more interested in the fate of one of the island’s inhabitants, Elizabeth. To be perfectly honest, I would have preferred to read a straight story about Elizabeth than Juliet’s letters. On the other hand, my interest in Elizabeth shows Shaffer succeeds in many respects.

Although far from a literary masterpiece, Guernsey is a book group favorite, and I can see why. It is an effortless read but also fodder for much discussion.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Guest Blog - Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer

If I had not recently read Archer’s book A Prisoner of Birth, I probably never would have picked up Paths of Glory. When I read the jacket teaser, I was hooked. I am not at all familiar with mountain climbing. In fact I have felt mystified when I have heard news that another mountain climber has died on his way up or down a mountain. Why put your life at risk for something that seems of no real merit.

Of course, I had heard of Sir Edmund Hillary who was the first man to stand on the top of Mount Everest, but I had never heard of George Mallory. I soon began to learn more.

Archer started doing the research and writing of Paths of Glory while he was in prison. As he said, he didn’t have much standing in the way of reading all day long. After doing extensive research, he wrote a fictionalized version of Mallory’s life.

I will not spoil it for you by telling you that Mallory might have reached the top of Everest in 1924 and died during that attempt. It is a matter of record that he was last seen only about 600 feet below the summit. Mallory and his climbing companion, Andrew Irvine, never returned from their effort to "stand on the top of the world." In 1999 a search party found Mallory’s frozen body. The label on the back of his shirt clearly said, “George Mallory.”

I spent a lot of time reading the book wondering what was fact and what was Archer’s imagination. The book is engaging and easy to read, but I wondered if Mallory really was arrested while climbing the Eiffel Tower one night. After reading odds and ends on the internet about Mallory, there seems to be no doubt that he was a charming man who had a gift for climbing, a burning desire to "conquer" Everest, and an extremely supportive wife.

You can’t go wrong reading this novel/biography. It took me longer than I expected to read it simply because I had to stop and look up information on the internet, including some interviews with Archer. Archer may be of questionable character in real life but he certainly knows how to tell a story. My one disappointment was that Archer did not include a bibliography. I would have enjoyed being able to look at some of his sources.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Censoring an Iranian Love Story

The premise of the Shahriar Mandanipour’s novel Censoring an Iranian Love Story is intriguing. The narrator is an Iranian author, and the book alternates between the narrator’s thoughts, the story he is writing, and the story he wishes he could write. Everything the narrator thinks and writes is influenced by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, which must approve (and will censor) the novel before it can be released for publication.

The narrator’s protagonists are Dara and Sara. Dara is a former political prisoner. Sara is a university student. They develop their relationship over banned books and try to navigate a romance under the restrictions placed by the Ministry.

As it progresses, the novel deconstructs. The line between the narrator and the story he’s writing, or wishes he was writing, blurs. Considering the restrictions Mandanipour, himself, is under as an Iranian writer, the novel is quite remarkable.

After living in eastern Turkey for a year, I was fascinated by the novel and often panicked by the possibilities. I struggle to thrive in a conservative Turkish society. I can’t even imagine life under the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, and I hope I am never forced to find out.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Dark Summer

I’ve been reading Iris Johansen’s thrillers for years. I find, though, that I am liking her books less and less as time goes on. I don’t know if my taste in reading has matured or if Johansen’s writing has deteriorated.

In Dark Summer, Devon Brady, a veterinarian, is thrown into turmoil when she meets Jude Morrock and his dog, Ned. Devon reluctantly joins forces with Morrock in order to protect Ned from danger.

Ned is not the only dog in the novel. In fact, the book is full of animals. I can admit that I am not a huge animal lover, but I am certainly not an animal hater, either. I enjoy my sister’s dog/child. And I love my pet hamster, Handsome. However, I almost quit reading the book after the first few chapters simply because there was just too much animal love, adoration, and focus.

Like any good thriller, Dark Summer has action, violence, and sex. It follows the prescribed formula I am used to, but for some reason, the story left me cold. Maybe, though, the book isn’t at fault but a too-picky reader.