Books: The Sandcastle Girls

April 17, 2015

The Sandcastle Girls was our book club’s selection last month, but I found it difficult, immediately after reading it, to figure out what to say about it. There is so much I could say about the awful tragedy recounted in the book, both at a personal level for characters in the book and for the millions of people affected by the genocide of the Armenian people.

Then again, what is there I could say that would really do justice to the subject? Chris Bohjalian does it far better, bringing to life an ugly chapter of history that has been largely forgotten by most of the world. The stark reality of human suffering is depicted in more grim detail than I might have liked, but the fact that people do such horrible things to one another is reason to tell them, not to ignore them.

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Books: Interrupted Aria

March 20, 2015

Author Beverle Graves Myers combined her love of opera, Italy, history, and mystery in this mystery set in 18th century Venice and featuring an opera singer. Since I have no interest in opera myself, I wouldn’t have gone looking for a book where opera features so prominently.But I did go looking for historical fiction mysteries, and when a more recent title by this author popped up in a list of books at the library, I was interested enough to learn more.

Since I always prefer to start a series at the beginning, I found out that Interrupted Aria was the first of Myers’ Tito Amato mysteries. The reviews at amazon.com were mostly very positive. And the idea of a mystery solved by a castrato opera singer during the Baroque period is so different from the majority of mysteries out there that I was intrigued. It didn’t hurt any that the book was set in Venice, where I spent one day during my travels around Europe during Christmas break the year I spent studying in Spain.

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Books: Calico Joe

February 23, 2015

This is not really the kind of book I was looking for to listen to on my iPod. I used to listen to books on tape while riding my exercise bike, but changing technology has put an end to that. I hadn’t thought I had any interest in strapping an MP3 player to my arm as so many people do at the Y, because I had no interest in listening to music while exercising. (The classical music I enjoy just doesn’t have the driving beat that goes with pushing yourself physically.)

Then recently it occurred to me that these days you can listen to books on an MP3 player. Our library participates in a service that makes more titles available to me than just what is owned by our own library. Surely there must be enough out there to motivate me to get on the bike so I can listen to another installment of a gripping story.

It turns out there is less out there than I had hoped, at least of the sort of story I enjoy. I don’t mind a certain amount of violence in mysteries and thrillers (pretty hard to have a murder mystery without some violence) but not as much as a lot of books have these days. I have no interest in most romances or any vampire stories.

But I like John Grisham’s writing. Most of it, anyway – I did not enjoy A Painted House. The description of Calico Joe indicated it was about baseball, which I’ve had little interest in for the last forty years, but as a young child I loved it. I borrowed books from the library about children playing baseball, I slowed my steps passing the baseball diamond on the way home from the pool if there was a game going on, and I practiced hitting a softball in the back yard (hard to do, though, without anyone to pitch it to me). Besides, there was some mystery involved in the story of Calico Joe.

I did enjoy the book. It is well-written, giving out information bit by bit about what really happened when narrator Paul Tracey was 11 years old in 1973 (when, as it happens, I was also 11 years old). It’s about family, and about behavior that can destroy family relationships. It’s about the need to tell the truth, and about the pride and fear and stubbornness that can make it so hard to let the truth be told.

And of course it’s also about baseball. Enough memories of my onetime love of the sport remain that I enjoyed even the descriptions of games. I knew nothing of most of the players mentioned, but Grisham is a good enough writer that my ignorance didn’t get in the way of appreciating the story.

But it’s not such a gripping novel that I felt compelled to ride my bike just to hear what happened next. I did feel compelled to ride it enough to finish the book before having to “return” it to the library, but I really want to be exercising every day that time permits. The library director tells me that soon many more titles will be available, so I look forward to an expanded selection.


Books: Blackout/All Clear

February 22, 2015

Note: These are two separate books, Blackout and All Clear, but they form one single story in two volumes. There is no attempt to wrap up the story in Blackout in any way – it simply ends with a note that the story will continue in All Clear. So I was very glad that it didn’t take long for the library to get in the second book so I could continue with the story.

I had enjoyed Connie Willis’ previous book involving time travel, Doomsday Book, so I was eager to read more. (As a matter of fact, I had read Doomsday Book in part because I knew there were later books on time travel and I prefer to read books in order.) Blackout and All Clear were published almost twenty years after Doomsday Book, and while a few of the same characters appear, it’s clear that Willis’ writing – while good in the earlier book – has definitely grown and deepened over the years.

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Books: Les Misérables

January 17, 2015

One of the books in my want-to-read-someday list has long by Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. I had heard and read about the characters and Javert and Jean Valjean, and the theological lessons about law and grace one could see reflected in their very different lives. I wanted to read it for myself.

But it’s such a very long novel. I wondered how I would ever manage to finish it. Then after having read Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame during Christmas break a year ago, I decided that this winter during Christmas break I would tackle Les Misérables.

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Books to read in 2015

January 4, 2015

Someone on another blog has a plan for reading 26 books in 2015, and I decided I liked the idea and I’m going to plan to do it also. It’s not that I won’t read at least 26 books without such a plan, or that I won’t read books that would easily fit on this list in any case. I could probably identify books I read in 2014 that fit at least half the categories in this list.

But sometimes I’m not sure what I want to read next, and having a plan like this can help me decide. Sooner or later, it’s bound to get me reading something I wouldn’t have read otherwise. And maybe getting through a few of the books in my stacks of going-to-read and going-to-finish-reading.

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Books: Doomsday Book

December 29, 2014

I was trying to think of something to get my younger son for Christmas. I remembered that he had enjoyed some books about time travel, but rather than another book in a series we’ve already read (from the library), I decided to look for another author neither of us had read before. One of my first hits in Google was Connie Willis.

I’m not sure which book I looked at initially, but from the description I discovered that it was not the first novel in which Willis had historians of the future going back in time to study their subject first-hand. So I looked through the list of books mentioned, and decided to start with Doomsday Book, which fortunately was available through the library.

If I liked it, I’d invite my son to read it. Then if he liked it I’d consider buying some of her books. With Christmas coming up so soon, I had to find something else to get him (how’s this for someone who particularly likes both science and superheroes?). But having discovered Willis, I was eager to read her books just because I like time travel books so much myself.

I was already in the middle of a historical fiction novel I’m reading for the book club, but it was slow going so I set it aside (knowing I had all Christmas break to read it), and picked up Doomsday Book. I put it down a few times because I needed to cook meals or other necessary stuff like that (though I did kind of get behind on the laundry). I didn’t quite finish it within 24 hours, as one reader on amazon.com had, but I came close.

I realize that not everyone finds it such a page-turner. Several reader reviews complain that it is much too long and that very little happens, or that it is full of time-travel clichés and too-obvious foreshadowing. I suppose those criticisms have some validity. Read the rest of this entry »


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