Books Read in June

I hit publish, when I mean to save this as a draft. I’m still reading, so I’ll be adding more books to the end of this.

The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien (read via Overdrive’s free lending program). Vietnam essays for a former vet. War stories. Graphic, but not gratuitous. Horrible. Beautiful. Sickening. Poignant. Dark. Glittering prose.

The Ship Who Sang– ironically found at a secondhand bookstore in Davao City Philippines. Ironic, because I read this book in my high school Spanish class in Yuma, Arizona 40 years ago. We had a regular little reading club in that class, illicit, underground, behind the teacher’s back. We sat in the back of the room, four or five of us, and passed around a paperback book we read together. Sometimes it was just a good story one of us was enjoying and wanted to share with the others- like this one. It haunted me, and I wanted to read it again later, but couldn’t find it for ages, and I had never paid attention to the author. I read all the Dragons of Pern books (In Japan, 25 years ago when I had two kids and we were stationed there), but it was another five years later before I discovered the internet and the search possibilities and learned that The Ship Who Sang was written by the same author, Anne McCaffrey. I’m glad to have satisfied the itch. It was mostly as I remembered it, although not so new, shiny, ground-breaking, and amazing. Still, fun.

In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, by Jean Shepherd, who wrote the short story that was made into the Christmas movie about the boy who wants a b.b. gun for Christmas more than anything else but everybody just tells him he’ll shoot his eye out. It’s a collection of those short stories, reminiscences about living in an Indiana steel mill town during the Cold War. I didn’t care for the little gimmick used to connect the stories- he’s at home visiting an old friend who is a bartender and they spend a few minutes ‘remembering when,’ and then he picks one of those stories to tell in the next chapter. It felt forced. But the stories- well, they feel real. The language is, at times, er, highly colourful. Americana, pretty funny stuff, with a bit of a bite to it. The fictional town of Hohman is Hammond as it was. Hammond as it is today is a town you should avoid at all costs as an outsider. It’s dangerous. Knowing that, the book is rather sad.

 

Once Upon a Crime, by Michael Buckley (juvenile, part of a series called The Sisters Grim)- surprisingly cute. I say surprisingly, because we have an impossibly precocious wise cracking, mature 7 y.o. and her 11 y.o. sister who already had her first kiss and is also constantly out-thinking the bad-guys. The world is the currently popular clash of Fairy Tale and Real life. The Ever-afters, as they are called, include characters like the wizard from Oz, Oberon and Titiania, descendants of the three pigs, the big bad wolf trying to be good, and mobster Fairy Godfathers and more. It is witty and well done for the genre. The two girls are the last descendants of the Grimms, who in this version, have been helping the Ever-afters for generations, helping them cope with the real world and acting as detectives for the Everafter people, who can’t just call in the police when one of them goes wrong. Their parents disappeared in the first book, and now they are living with their grandmother. Juvenile- I would guess intended for the 10-13 crowd, but, like I said, kind of cute if you can’t overlooking the wise cracking , smarter than everybody else kids and the first kiss at 11 stuff- the first kiss happened in a previous book, it’s just referred to here. It’s not like it’s a whole romance, but it’s not the ooh, you have cooties thing it should be at 11, either.

Death in High Heels by Christiana Brand, who is not as good as Marsh or Christie or several of my other favourites, but she is good.

Null ABC by John Joseph McGuire, that’s a link to a free kindle download. Vintage speculative fiction, very 1950s men were men and women were women story set in the future world where the elite are illiterate and the literate are wage slaves who have to wear a badge denoting their literacy, and it’s a shame to be able to read. Corporations have their own police forces, politics mob violence and heroics abound. Fun.

Dead Men’s Hearts, (a Gideon Oliver book), by Aaron Elkins, I just discovered Elkins, I think (there’s something vaguely familiar about his detective, so I think I might have read one other book by him a long time ago and I remember liking it very much. His lead detective is happily married, and that’s always a nice touch. Here’s his Amazon bio:
“I’m a former anthropologist who has been writing mysteries and thrillers since 1982, having won an Edgar for Old Bones, as well as a subsequent Agatha (with my wife Charlotte), and a Nero Wolfe Award. My major continuing series features forensic anthropologist-detective Gideon Oliver, “the Skeleton Detective.”

Lately, I’ve seen myself referred to as “the father of the modern forensic mystery,” and, by gosh, I think I am! Before “Fellowship of Fear,” the first Gideon Oliver, published in 1982, you’d have to go back 70 years and more to Austin Freeman and his Dr. Thorndyke series. Between the two good doctors (Thorndyke and Oliver), there was only Jack Klugman’s “Quincy,” so far as I know, and he was a TV character.

The Gideon Oliver books have been (roughly) translated into a major ABC-TV series and have been selections of the Book-of-the-Month Club, the Literary Guild, and the Readers Digest Condensed Mystery Series. My work has been published in a dozen languages. Charlotte and I live on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, our marriage having survived (more or less intact) our collaboration on novels and short stories.

Although I’ve been a full-time writer for some time now, I also remain active in real-life forensics by serving as the forensic anthropologist on the Olympic Peninsula Cold Case Task Force.”

Heads You Lose, by Christiana Brand, I usually like Brand, but I did not especially love this one. I literally knew who did it before the crime had even been announced, it was that obvious, and it really wasn’t a very reasonable motive.

Green for Danger by Christiana Brand- really interesting because it was set in a WW2 operating theater, hospital community where Brand had much personal experience.  I had strong suspicions of how it was done early on, but not so much who.  That’s because the who was another  really irritating resolution to the mystery. But the war setting and comments (she used some of dialogue from real life episodes, she said).  It was also a 1945 movie, which I would love to see.

 

The Secret Zoo

Mr Monk in Outer Space (these last two I quit reading before I had finished 3 pages. Awful writing. The Mr. Monk reads like journeyman level fan fiction, but I am sure it is gratifying to those who read it.)

 

1493 for Young People by Charles Mann: Fantastic. Highly, highly recommended. Global geography, loaded with history, it tells the story of the Indians in America as well as people in Asia and Africa, and it’s fair. Yes, the colonies brought death and destruction, but quite often it was entirely unintentional, or accidental, or based on misunderstandings, and he also mentions the Indians wiping out 2/3 of the colonials in a surprise massacre. He refers to many countries and trade routes as well as the crops and flora and fauna of different regions all over the world and how Columbus’s travels changed them all without anybody realizing what was happening. He also gives a lot of scientific detail about the various diseases that were traded, and how earthworms changed the terrain in North Ameria, and so on. Chapters V and VI basically cover the same time period (very roughly, because he jumps, and there’s a lot at the end of chapter VI about the current erosion issues in China)- mainly focused on China and the places where China did her trading for silver.

Chapter VII is about potatoes, potato blight, and the potato beetle, largely, but not exlusively, sticks to the 1700s and 1800s, roams from Peru to Prussia to China to Ireland and the US.

Chapter VIII is about rubber trees, the 19th century, the industrial revolution, Brazil, New York, England, the science and chemistry of stabilizing rubber, Charles Goodyear (who figured it out but died in debt), Asia, monocultures and their problems.

It’s a great overview of world geography and trade routes rather than a deep look at one one country or region, and I am personally tickled at how often the Philippines comes up.

Steelheart, Firefight (books 1and 2 of The Reckoners series), by Brandon Sanderson There is a third, I’m starting it soon. These are a lot of fun. If you like Monster Hunters, International (that first one is free), you’ll love these. Super powers stuff with a twist- the super powers mostly make people horrible, evil, jerks. The Reckoners are fighting them in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian world. A bit pop-fiction, the main character is 18 or so, there’s a comic book flavor to them, but they are fun and you’ve got the good people must stand and do the right thing vibe going that I love. A bit hokey in places, which goes with the territory. Fun reads.  I read Mitosis as well, a very short story that was interesting filler, and had a bit of a bridge between Steelheart and Firefight, but it is too short to be worth 1.99.

Ghengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, by Jack Weatherford- the first half, up the death of Ghengis Khan, was fascinating, really interesting, and easy to keep going. After his death I lost interest and had to really work to finish the rest of the book. I don’t know if this was just me, just the power of Ghengis Khan’s personality, or the book itself.  Still highly recommended.

The Winter King, by Bernard Cornwell, an Arthur story.  Cornwell’s writing is engaging, but I didn’t really care for this retelling, and there were details in the narration I could have done without.  I will try one of his other books about a different era of history, though.

Fellowship of Fear, by Elkins- this is the first Elkins mystery I ever read years ago, and I remembered liking it, but all I remembered about it was a detail about forensic anthropology, amusingly told in a little anecdote.  In this one Gideon Oliver is widowed, his first wife died two years before. He begins a relationship with woman he meets in the course of the story, and there is far more detail about the physical side of that relationship than I ever care for in my reading.  So annoying.   They mystery itself was interesting, and I like the detective, so I’ll try one more, but I’m hoping for no more voyeuristic experiences.

 

Striding Folly, Dorothy Sayers- short stories, the last one being one of my favourite Lord Peter stories, involving himself as an established husband and father of 3 young ruffians. It’s hilarious.

The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham- one of the earlier Campion stories.  So fun.

1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles Mann- the full version, as opposed to the ‘for young people’ version above.  I loved this one, too.

Hidden Christmas, by Timothy Keller- Keller’s writing is clear, accessible, and his ideas luminous. I will be reading more Keller, and you should, too.

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One Comment

  1. Amy
    Posted June 23, 2017 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the reviews! I was just wondering if the Jean Shepherd book was good. We stopped at a visitor’s center in Hammond on our way to Michigan last weekend because we needed a place to eat our picnic lunch. (It wasn’t a Common Room-approved road trip rest area with a lot of space to run and stretch your legs, but there’s nothing like that so close to Chicago in an area with all those ports. It was an inconvenient time to be hungry.) The flag pole out front had a statue of Ralphie with his tongue stuck to it. My children have never seen the movie, but the youngest ones all had to have their pictures taken pretending they had their tongues on the flag pole. Actually, I’m afraid the 2 year old probably did lick the flag pole, but I’m trying not to think about it. Apparently Hohmon is the name of a busy street in downtown Hammond.

    I read The Things They Carried in high school or college and remember being moved by it.

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