Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday-Top Ten Characters I'd Like to Be BFFs With

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  I love this week's topic.  I get friend crushes all the time!  Sometimes real people, sometimes celebrities, sometimes TV characters, and yes, book characters!  So who would I hang out with in my fictional life?

1.  Hermione Granger, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
I love Hermione in all of the books, but this is the book where she starts fighting for the rights of the house elves, one of the best social justice themes in the series, in my humble opinion.  She's smart, fiercely loyal, strong yet vulnerable.  And she could teach me some really good spells!


2.  Jo March, Little Women
I imagine that it had something to do with growing up in the 1970s rather than the 1870s, but when I read Little Women the only female character I really felt a connection to was Jo.  Sure, I loved Beth and cried when she died, and I understood Meg and Amy, Jo was the one who seemed like she could step out of the pages and make it in a post-sexual revolution world.  I love her selflessness and her independence and her ambition.

3.  Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh
Winnie the Pooh has a characteristic that most children's fiction today seems to lack-gentleness.  We seem to have entered any era where even children's literature has to be ironic and slightly cynical or sarcastic.  There are great examples of cute stories (sometimes so sweet they make my teeth ache), but few with the same kind of gentle spirit that Winnie has.  Christopher Robin is such a good friend to Pooh, and even though he goes away he always comes back, which is a great trait in a friend, I think.

4.  Lisbeth Salander, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
And now, for something completely different.  Christopher Robin might be my comforting friend, but when I have ass-kicking to do it's Lisbeth I'd want by my side.  Sure, she's damaged.  Sure, she's violent.  But she is also a genius, and she can be vulnerable.

5.  Jen Lancaster, Bitter is the New Black
OK, so Jen is a real person, living in my city even.  But her memoirs read a little like fiction, and she is quite a character.  Witty, sarcastic in my favorite sort of way, not afraid to laugh at herself-I have this recurring fantasy of getting on the El and the only seat left is next to her, and my own wit and insightful comments about the other passengers on the train cause her to instantly know we are meant to be best friends for life.  Even if she is a Republican.

6.  Temperance Brennan, Deja Dead
Important to note that while I enjoy the Dr. Brennan character on the show Bones, it is the book character I would want to be friends with.  She is much more normal than her TV counterpart, and I could definitely give her some advice about the men in her life.  Andrew Ryan loves you, Tempe-make it work!


7.  Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis, Bad Love
While I have not enojyed the last couple of Alex Delaware novels as much as the others, but as a character team goes, Alex and Milo are one of my favorites.  I'd do a ride along with them.  The way they banter back and forth, I'd never have to talk.


8.  August Boatwright, The Secret Life of Bees
August Boatwright was a was the oldest of the three sisters that took in Lily Owens after she ran away from home in Sue Monk Kidd's novel.  If I was ever in trouble, and needed to run away, I would want to run directly to August.  The fact that August was played by one of my friend crushes, Queen Latifah, in the movie version of the book, doesn't hurt my overall warm feelings for the character.


9.  Laura Ingalls, Little House on the Prairie
When I as a girl, I thought it would be so much fun to live on the farm with Pa and Ma and Laura and Mary.  While I now realize how terribly hard my soft 20th Century self would have found life on the prairie in the 1800s, it still seems idyllic to me.


10.  Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
Ok, so really I'd just like to have been able to go to Narnia with them and fight the White Witch, but they seem like very nice kids, too.

Monday, November 29, 2010

All Together Dead, Charlaine Harris

OK, I admit it-I have a Charlaine Harris addiction (to my new Literary Blog Hop friends-don't judge!)  There is just something about her writing style that I find really charming.  Maybe it's the southern thing, maybe it's the down-home characters (well, at least the ones that aren't vampires or demons).  I realize that there is very little substance, but I sure like her style. 

I just finished the seventh book in the Sookie Stackhouse series, All Together Dead.  It follows Sookie on her trip to the fictional city of Rhodes to accompany the vampire Queen of Lousiana to the vampire summit.  Apparently the queen feels like having a mind reader along might just keep her from being sent to vampire jail for allegedly killing her husband, the King of Arkansas.  Sookie soon discovers that there is a plot afoot to disrupt the summit and kill the vampires involved.  The only question is, where is the danger coming from?

Really I could probably copy and paste every other review of the Sookie Stackhouse books I've ever written here and it would apply.  Her new love interest, Quinn the were-tiger, is dreamy.  The plot takes twists and turns that are at times surprising, but it is formulaic enough that it met my requirements for mindless escapism.  Overall, if you like the Sookie books, you're going to like this one too.  If you think books about vampires and weres and demons and fairies and mystical bodyguards from another dimension are the ninth circle of hell, then this is definitely not for you!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Literary Blog Hop-Contemporary Classics?

Literary Blog HopWelcome, literary hoppers!  I'm excited to participate in the Literary Blog Hop hosted by The Blue Bookcase this week, since I am not working and actually have time to string together coherent thoughts in the Question of the Week.  More on that in a moment.  And now for a word from our sponsor:

This blog hop is open to blogs that primarily feature book reviews of literary fiction, classic literature, and general literary discussion.
How do I know if my blog qualifies as "literary"? Literature has many definitions, but for our purposes your blog qualifies as "literary" if it focuses primarily on texts with aesthetic merit. In other words, texts that show quality not only in narrative but also in the effect of their language and structure. YA literature may fit into this category, but if your blog focuses primarily on non-literary YA, fantasy, romance, paranormal romance, or chick lit, you may prefer to join the blog hop at Crazy-for-books that is open to book blogs of all genres.

Now, on to the main event...can a contemporary novel be considered a classic?  Not that I want to necessarily align myself with the Catholic Church, but I think that a novel can only be called a classic once its merits have stood up against scrutiny and it's been thoroughly vetted by readers over a rather significant period of time, much like candidates for sainthood are in Catholicism.  In order to be a classic, I believe that a novel must do one of two things-it must either present such a clear cultural snapshot of a time and place that it comes to represent that time and place, or it must have themes that continue to resonate long after the actual time period in which it was written.  It must either be completely time-bound or have that indefinable quality of timelessness (or both, a la Jane Austen-completely captures Victorian England and presents timeless themes).

That said, the Catholic Church may take years to do it, but we all know Mother Theresa is going to be a saint.  I think that the most we can do as contemporary readers is determine the authors and novels we believe will be classics, and hopefully live long enough to see if we are right.  I think it is safe to say that if the critics get to pick, then I'm pretty sure the Jonathans (Franzen and Safran Foer) will be there.  This is easier done with children's books, since their generations are shorter.  Harry Potter has already been through a few generations of kids, and it continues to captivate them.  The Giver by Lois Lowry is another example, though that one is a crossover, since I know just as many adults as children who love that book.

As for adult novels, here are a few I hope will stand the test of time.  First, anything written by Margaret Atwood, but especially The Handmaid's Tale.  While I would love to envision a day when a woman's reproductive status does not define who she is, I'm gonna put my money on needing feminist writers like Atwood well into the future.  I also think that Toni Morrison's books will hold up to the passage of time.  While most people find Beloved her best work, I think that Paradise is a masterpiece of narrative structure.  Her fluid sense of time creates this wave of connection that really forces you as a reader to become engaged in a way that straightforward narratives do not.  A Thousand Splendid Suns is so powerful, and so moving, that if Hosseini's work is not remembered in 50 years it will be a tragedy.




Underlying this week's question, and most questions about English language fiction, is that the novels we read and find so powerful today only get into our hands because someone on an editorial staff in some publishing house decided that we get to read it.  While I think there is plenty of variety (and diversity) in the publishing world in general, I do notice a decided lack of authors of color or female authors in most of the discussions of "serious" contemporary authors.  I am not disputing the masterfulness of Franzen or Safran Foer or McCarthy or McEwan-I just think it makes sense to be mindful of the other voices not being heard as loudly.  Stay tuned for more on that topic later in the month, when I explain my theory of reading as social justice.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My First Top Ten Tuesday!

Since I have started participating in the Literary Book Hop hosted by The Blue Bookcase, I have found so many goo d, grown-up, literary blogs I can hardly contain myself.  Apparently that is exactly what I needed to get my own blogging back on track-I'm feeling inspired.  And since I, like many of us, enjoy lists, I was especially excited to find Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This weeks Top Ten Topic is favorite holiday books.  Sadly, I know very little about holiday themed books for adults, since I find most of them incredibly cheesy.  Sentimentality for the sake of sentimentality is not really my thing.  However, I'm also a teacher, which therefore gives me an out to focus my list on children's books! (With the exception of Dickens-I mean really, it's Scrooge!)

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas-do I really need to explain?


A Christmas Carol-again, pretty self-explanatory, no?

Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins-This is one that I use with my students every year.  They love the story of the goblins, and how Herschel tricked them into lighting the menorah. 


The Polar Express-Chris Van Allsberg's trip to the North Pole is a delight! 


The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe-OK, not technically a holiday book, but it has Father Christmas in it, and I got the entire set for Christmas in 1981 when I was in sixth grade, so it feels like Christmas to me.  I read all seven books before going back to school in January.  If I could go back to one time in my life and relive it, it might be that week, wrapped in my quilt reading about Narnia on my bed, safe and warm with my parents in the next room.

 Little House in the Big Woods-The Christmas chapter is one of my favorites.  I'm not sure anything brought home to me at 8 how different my world was from Laura's like reading about how excited she was to get an orange for Christmas.


Well, I guess my Top Ten turned into my Top Six, but I'm alright with that.  I've gotten a peek at next week's theme, and I'll be able to make up for it then!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a novel of world war two as experienced by Henry, a Chinese-American boy, and Keiko, his Japanese-American first love.  IN 1942 Seatle, Henry and his family live in the Chinatown section of the International District.  Keiko and her family live in Nihonmachi, the Japanese section.  Henry's father, born in China, is a fierce Chinese nationalist, with a hatred of all things Japanese because of their invasion of China.  He tries to instill this hatred in Henry, but all Henry can see is how his obsession with the war in China keeps them from developing a real relationship.  Keiko is a second generation American who doesn't even speak Japanese.  Henry and Keiko meet and strike up their friendship as the only two Asian students at an elite prep school.  Because they are on scholarship, they are made to work in the kitchen, serving the white students their lunch.  Their shared "otherness" bonds them in a way that simple friendship can't describe.  Henry is devastated when the order comes from President Roosevelt to inter all Japanese-American or not-in camps well inland.  Henry promises to wait for Keiko, but his father, who mostly disowned Henry after discovering he had a Japanese friend, intercepts Henry's letters to Keiko, and her letters from the camp, and they grow apart.  In 1986, Henry, now in his 50s, finds himself drawn back to the Panama Hotel, where the discovery of items left behind by Japanese families on their way to internment camps brings his old feelings to the surface.

I'm feeling lukewarm about this book.  On the one hand, it brings a new perspective to the history of Japanese internment, with its focus on the interplay between Chinese and Japanese, and how Chinese American's had to identify themselves so as not to be mistaken for Japanese, since most Americans of the time (and probably still) couldn't or didn't care to understand the differences.  On the other hand, it felt like stories I had read before, most notably Snow Falling on Cedars, about a white boy falling in live with a Japanese girl, and the ways that the community responded to the internment of their neighbors.

That said, I was moved by the story, and horrified as always by the way that fear and false patriotism were used to justify the blatant racism of the era.  Since 9-11 I have watched in dismay the way that Muslims have been treated in some parts if the country, and I sometimes think it is only our shameful history of Japanese internment that has kept detention centers and mass deportation from becoming a reality.    I don't know whether this particular novel does much to add to that conversation that has not already been said, but it was an enjoyable read.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Nice to Meet You, Literary Blog Hop- Charmed, I'm sure!

Literary Blog Hop
Welcome, lovers of literature, to my first adventure in Literary Blog Hopping.  I've been remiss in my blogging of late-I blame those pesky little things called working and going to school.  Darn that need to make money anyway!  But I digress...The Literary Book Blog is hosted by the The Blue Bookcase, and is defined as...
How do I know if my blog qualifies as "literary"? Literature has many definitions, but for our purposes your blog qualifies as "literary" if it focuses primarily on texts with aesthetic merit. In other words, texts that show quality not only in narrative but also in the effect of their language and structure. YA literature may fit into this category, but if your blog focuses primarily on non-literary YA, fantasy, romance, paranormal romance, or chick lit, you may prefer to join the blog hop at Crazy-for-books that is open to book blogs of all genres. 
If you're interested in my cogitations about whether I am "literary" enough for this hop, you can find them in my post Does It Matter What We Read?
 
This week's question is:
Is there such a thing as literary non-fiction? If so, how do you define it? Examples?
While I admittedly don't read a ton of non-fiction, I can say with certainty that the answer is yes, there can be literary non-fiction.  If you consider the many definitions of literature, they often contain a reference to the aesthetic or structural nature of the work.  Non-fiction writing can be transcendently beautiful, incredibly heartbreaking, lyrical and gritty-the best non-fiction doesn't just inform you about the chosen topic, but about life and love and pain and joy and sorrow.

There are a few examples I can think of for the subcategory of literary non-fiction.  Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, considered by many to be the first in the true crime genre, comes to mind.  The writing is spare, the mood evocative-sounds literary to me.  There's also Maya Angelou and Alice Walker, both of whom wrote about their lives in a way that transcends mere navel gazing and speaks volumes to larger truths. 

An author not as well known but whose books I believe fit in this category is Rick Bragg.  His memoir of his mother, All Over But the Shoutin', is one of the best non-fiction books I've read (which is a much smaller number than my fiction total).  It is a loving, almost reverent look at his childhood with his mother at the center.  Growing up poor in rural Alabama, Bragg took his experiences and used them as a journalist to bring humanity to stories on issues such as urban poverty.  This line from the book, describing the small town where he grew up, is an excellent example of why he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1996: 
"This is a place where grandmothers hold babies on their laps under the stars and whisper in their ears that the lights in the sky are holes in the floor of heaven. This is a place where the song 'Jesus Loves Me' has rocked generations to sleep, and heaven is not a concept, but a destination."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Does It Matter What We Read?


This week I discovered the Literary Blog Hop, hosted by The Blue Bookcase.  Unlike Crazy-For-Book's Friday Book Blog Hop, which is open to every book blogger regardless of what type of books they review, the Literary Blog Hop is open only to:

"This blog hop is open to blogs that primarily feature book reviews of literary fiction, classic literature, and general literary discussion. If your blog does not fit this description, it may be removed from the Linky List. 

How do I know if my blog qualifies as "literary"? Literature has many definitions, but for our purposes your blog qualifies as "literary" if it focuses primarily on texts with aesthetic merit. In other words, texts that show quality not only in narrative but also in the effect of their language and structure."

All of the blogs that I have read as a result of finding this hop have been high quality, well written blogs.  I was thrilled to find them, and look forward to many long mornings having coffee with them.  I think that the idea of genre-based or topic-based blog hops is also a great idea.  I have enjoyed participating in the Friday Book Blogger Hop on Crazy-for-Books, but there are sometimes so many blogs that it can be hard to wade through them all.

Here's the issue:  As soon as I read the above definition, I started wondering if my blog would "measure up".  I mean, I have certainly read books that would be considered literary for the purposes of the hop (The Lacuna, Night, I'll Take You There) but I also read popcorn mysteries, fantasy and paranormal, and the occasional women's fiction.  I consider that I have a very eclectic mix of reading experiences, and I don't think I need to explain or justify why I read Toni Morrison one week and Charlaine Harris the next.

This led me to think about the reasons people read, because I think that the kids of things that people read are related to the reasons that they read.  Here is what I came up with in my own admittedly short thinking on the topic.

Edification:  Reading is famously seen as a window to the world, and one of the many reasons people read is to learn about cultures, eras, and experiences different than their own.  For some people this means reading non-fiction.  For some this means reading really high quality fiction that accurately and sympathetically represent the vagaries of the human experience.  Research has shown that one of the best ways to improve vocabulary and higher level thinking skills is by wide-reading. 

Entertainment:  Let's face it-humans love a good story.  From the earliest days of humans sitting around the fire telling stories of the hunt people have shared stories as a way to pass the time.  Most of the people I know who are readers read because it is an enjoyable activity, something that they choose to do despite the draw of flashier media like television and the internet.  Speaking for myself, there is nothing I like more in the world than to sit in a comfy chair with a cup of coffee and a good book.  Which leads to the next reason for reading...

Escapism: When I choose to read Stephen King or Jonathan Kellerman instead of Joyce Carol Oates or Salman Rushdie, it is generally because I am looking at reading as a relaxation activity, one that allows me to turn my brain off and get lost in a story.  The demands of school and work can fill a person's brain with so much noise that reading anything of substance can be a challenge.  I suppose some people find reading really challenging material relaxing, I just don't happen to be one of them. 

So...what the heck does any of this mean?  Does it matter what you read, as long as you are reading?  As an educator, I would say no-I'm thrilled if my students find texts that engage them (though I have issues with the Disnification of certain children's literature, though more because I am anti-branding, churning out the newest generation of consumers).  Of course, as an educator I also believe in life long learning, as cliche as that phrase has become.  For myself, I try to find a balance.  Of the hundreds of books on my shelves waiting to be read, there is a shelf that is dedicated to what I think of as substantive reads.  They will come off of the shelves during Christmas break, and during the summer, when I have less work and school stuff on my mind.

What does this mean for my future as a Literary Blog Hopper?  I figure I'll give it a try.  I'll try not to be too hurt if my link disappears into the ether.  Ultimately, as much as I enjoy blogging and the dialogue that can happen as a result, my reading life is for me.  

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The End of the World is Hilarious

What do you get when you cross an angel, a demon, a witch hunter, a sixteenth century prognosticator, the Antichrist, and the Four Horsemen on motorcycles?  You get the hilarious end-of-the-world vision of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett known as Good Omens.

Good Omens opens with the birth of the Antichrist in a rural hospital in England.  The demon in charge of his arrival, Crowley, thinks that all has gone according to plan when he sends a newborn home with a demonic nanny.  His adversary, and friend, the angel Aziraphale, does his level best to convert the boy to the side of good, supplying an angelic gardener to counteract the demonic nanny.  What neither of them realizes however, is that the Satanic nurse present at the birth made a mistake, and sent the real Antichrist home with another family.  They realize their mistake at the boy's eleventh birthday-the date at which the end of the world was supposed to begin.  When they realize their mistake, the search for the real Antichrist (a normal 11 year old named Adam) ensues.  As strange things with an eerie resemblance to the Book of Revelations start happening all over the world, the forces of good and evil start gathering for the war between Heaven and Hell that is to come, unless four children, a witch hunter, and the descendant of the only prognosticator to correctly predict the events to come can head off the ineffable plan of the Almighty.

Gaiman and Pratchett do a fine job of skewering the whole idea of good and evil.  Their basic premise seems to be that good and evil need each other-that the whole point of being good or being evil is to have the opposite side to fight against.  This point of view could be seen as an allegory for all kinds of human institutions-competing religions, political ideologies, classes...In addition, they seem to be making a case for atheism, or at least for the existence of God being irrelevant to the daily lives of humans.  As Crowley and Aziraphale discuss towards the end of the book, what was the point of creating the Tree of Knowledge if God didn't expect his creations to eat from it?  Why give humans free will and the run of an entire planet if you didn't expect them to make their own way?  At one point the ineffable plan is defined as a way for God (a word which is never used for the ultimate creator in the book, by the way) to test his creations to see if they work as he devised them-not in his (or her or its) glory, but the way you would test pilot an airplane after you put it together to make sure it would fly.  In the end, humanity doesn't need angels or demons to create moments of transcendent glory or moments of horrific cruelty.  We do alright on those scores without divine intervention.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tyger Tyger Burning Bright

I've always been a fan of historical fiction.  Honestly, I think that if history class was taught with high quality historical fiction people would remember more of it that "In fourteen hundred ninety two Columbus sailed the ocean blue" and "I can not tell a lie." At any rate, I'm glad to have discovered a new-to-me author of historical fiction, Tracey Chevalier.  In Burning Bright she paints a lively picture of life in England at the turn of the nineteenth century.  The story centers on Jem, a country boy brought to the city by the death of his brother and the lure of the circus, and Maggie, a poor city girl from a rather shady family hustling to make ends meet.  Two more different people are hard to imagine, but they strike up a friendship that feels completely believable.

After Jem's brother falls from a tree, breaking his neck, his family is left devastated.  His father, a chair-maker, come to London from the small town of Piddletrenthide (which is an actual place-I looked it up) after being offered a job by the owner of a traveling circus that came through on their way back to London for the season.  They move into the area of London known as Lambeth, and discover that their neighbor is none other than William Blake, poet and artist.  The year is 1792, and France is in the throes of a revolution.  This makes the monarchy in England very nervous, and there are soon bands of men roaming the city forcing people to sign loyalty oaths to king and country.  This provides a backdrop as Jem, his sister Maisie, Maggie, and the rest of their families struggle to maintain their moral footing.

While Blake is an important character in the arc of the novel, the most vivid characters are the ordinary people living in Lambeth.  Chevalier takes on issues of class, poverty, prostitution, the treatment of girls and women, and the political climate of the period in a way that I felt I was living in that place in that time myself.  Isn't that what we ask of historical fiction?  The parallels between the uber-patriotism of the Londoners during Blake's time and the unthinking, unquestioning patriotism that was a hallmark of the Bush era were not lost on me.  It seems that anytime the government feels threatened, dissent and free-speech are quashed, and a certain amount of unreasonableness ensues.  Like I said, maybe if history was taught using historical fiction we as a people would be less likely to repeat it.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

A Surprise Michael Crichton

It all started with The Barber of Seville...I was taking my class to a local university to see a Lyric Opera special one-hour performance of the show, and when I got on the bus I realized that there was nowhere to sit!  This meant leaving my students in the care of the other teachers and following the bus in my car.  By the time I found parking and entered the theater, it was dark, the performance had started, and I couldn't find my class.  I was not too pleased at the thought of sitting in the lobby for an hour waiting, until I remembered that I had passed a used book sale in the student commons.  Suddenly, an hour of boredom turned into a stolen hour of reading.  Huzzah!

The book that I chose was a beat-up paperback copy of Airframe by Michael Crichton.  I had been fairly certain that I read all of Crichton's books, so reading this novel was a surprise in more ways than one.  Airframe is the story of TransPacific flight 545.  One a flight from Hong Kong to the US, something happened that caused the plane to rapidly climb and descend, called porpoising.  The incident left 3 people dead, 56 injured, and the cabin in shambles.  It also left Norton Aviation, makers of the aircraft, with a lot of questions, a rabid journalist on their tail, and a company-saving deal with China in jeopardy.  Casey Singleton, part of the quality assurance team and the public face of the investigation into the accident, must navigate not just the waters of public opinion and outrage, but also something shady going on in her own company, as she rushes to find answers.

Like many of Crichton's books, Airframe is full of interesting scientific and technical jargon presented in a way that the average reader can understand.  I now know more about airplane construction and instrumentation that I certainly ever expected to.  I don't know how he does it, but in Airframe Crichton takes a story with very little actual action and makes it exciting.  Sure, there is the occasional union action or airplane ride to liven things up, but a lot of this book is basically people talking about aircraft or business deals, and I still couldn't put it down.

I also found myself in the rather strange position for a liberal American of feeling sorry for a large corporation.  You know an author is good if they can make a large non-human institution sympathetic.  Crichton's chosen protagonist, Casey Singleton, is very easy to  like, and the interesting cast of characters that surround her make the company feel more like a rather dysfunctional extended family than a workplace.  When the unscrupulous producer from a prime-time news show takes her limited knowledge of airplanes and tries to turn it into a story about the Norton "deathtrap", I actually felt angry on behalf of the makers of the airplane.  Now, I'll be the first to say I think that some media outlets have gone way too far to create stories out of nothing that distort the truth, but I'm not usually feeling that way in defense of a major corporation.  While I've become increasingly sure over the years I have read his books that Michael Crichton and I probably disagreed about every major political issue in the last few decades, somehow I am sucked into his world in spite of myself.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Hard Cache, by Charles B. Neff

 When retired police detective Magnus Torval travels to Washington state with his fiance, all that is on his mind is meeting up with friends and marrying the woman of his dreams.  That is, until he stumbled over a dead body while fishing in the wilderness.  After handing the body, and the case, over to the police in tiny Swiftwater, he tries to go about the business of getting married.  But the mystery surrounding the death of a Ukrainian antique dealer, the suspicion around his best friend, a prominent church leader, and the connection of both to a terrible event that happened when the two friends were Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan, draw in not only Torval, but the murdered man's son, who is a local policeman, and a young Ukrainian woman who is visiting for the wedding.

This was a perfectly enjoyable, if somewhat awkwardly written, mystery.  The author is a college professor who has also written non-fiction texts, and it shows in his fiction writing.  The dialogue is just a little too clunky, the descriptive paragraphs are a little off-kilter.  That said, the story itself is engaging.  The characters are a unique group of people-you truly get a little bit of everything from this crowd.  I especially enjoyed the way the modern day mystery was tied into the Soviet/Afghan War.  The history of that region became of interest to me when I was following the oppression of women there under the Taliban, and has become increasingly important to me since we are fighting a war over there now.  This book, while fiction, gave me a little more insight than I had before about what it might have been like from the Soviet side of the story.  All in all, this was an enjoyable way to spend a few days.

(This was the first book I was asked to review by a publisher, and I got it for free.  I know there is probably some official FCC language I am supposed to use for that, but I can't find it, so FCC, if you are one of the 50 people who looks at this blog a day, I'm sorry!)