Thursday, August 7, 2014

Half Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls

Walls took all of the stories she could find about her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, and cobbled together a narrative that is no more than the sum of its parts.  Lily was quite a character, but she never really comes to life.  Perhaps her granddaughter wasn't the right person to understand how a woman of her time (she was born in 1901 in West Texas) came to be a mustang breaker, horse racer, schoolteacher, pilot, rancher, driver, college graduate, wife and mother of two.  Lily's daughter Rosemary was Lily's sidekick in a number of her adventures, but Rosemary and Lily never really seemed to understand each other either.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Grave Peril, by Jim Butcher

Chicago's ghosts are in a tizzy, and the border with the Nevernever is very tenuous. Harry is called in to exorcise a ghost who is sucking the breath out of newborns, and is subsequently drawn into conflicts with ghosts, vampires, and faeries galore as he tries to discover the root of the problems with the supernaturals.  Everybody he is close to is in danger.  If Harry weren't funny from time to time, I would give this Picaresque series up.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Cop Town, by Karen Slaughter

Atlanta in the 1970's seems to have been a tough place to try to be a female police officer.  Sexual harassment was the norm, race relations in the city and the department were tense, and the glass ceiling was very very low.  In this book, Slaughter pits three women officers, rookie Kate Murphy, cop-in-her-blood Maggie Lawson, and seasoned, undercover Gail Patterson against the old-boys network and a serial cop killer -- hard to say which is more dangerous.  Slaughter does her usual fine job, and her sketching of the new characters is assured.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Devil's Workshop, by Alex Grecian

Grecian can be kind of tough going, but here he goes completely over the top.  Five horrific killers are set lose on Victorian London, each introducing his own form of bloody and sadistic mayhem.  Walter Day and Neville Hammersmith are off trying to catch them, and blunder about rather badly.  The police procedural gets second billing to romping around in the minds of pyschopaths.  Claire's pregnancy is another fairly frustrating thread that ultimately makes you wonder how mothers and babies survived in the new modern era.  Walter and Neville are going to have to finish the story in the next book, but I'm not sure I'll go there with them.

What Alice Forgot, by Lianne Moriarty

After a whack on the noggin at the gym, Alice forgot ten pretty important years of her life; the years when her three children were born, her marriage fell apart, her sister fought a losing battle with fertility, and she became a completely different person.  The book deals with the infertility issue with empathy, the way that the accretion of bad in a marriage can overcome the good with insight, and the transition from free spirit to supermom with humor.  Quite a lovely book.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

44 Scotland Street, by Alexander McCall Smith

Smith wrote this book to be published as a serial in the The Scotsman over a six-month period.  He introduces a moderate sized cast of characters who mostly live in an apartment building in a changing part of Edinburgh.  Pat is taking a second gap year after college to find herself and shares an apartment with Bruce, who can't quite get over how attractive he is, and works for hapless Matthew, who owns an art gallery. Dominica, older and worldly, is a neighbor full of good advice.  Bertie is a precocious 5 year old, being over parented by his mother Irene.  Angus Lordie, a portrait painter, and Big Lou, a coffee bar owner, also play important roles.  I think I could happily read more books in the series.

China Dolls, by Lisa See

I found this book fascinating; a history of West Coast Chinese American performers, before and after the second World War, as they seek fame and fortune in night clubs, carnival side shows, movies, television, and the Chop Suey circuit. Three young women are central to the story:  Grace Lee, from Plainstown, Ohio; Helen Fong, from San Francisco; and Ruby Tom, from Hawaii.  Applying for jobs as dancers at San Francisco's Forbidden City nightclub, they become friends. Ambition, love, secrets, and betrayals keep their friendships rocky.