Monday, June 21, 2010

Book Reports

With all of my medical problems lately, plus two vacations in one month, I've been doing almost nothing but light fiction reading.  I've read a few really good ones, though.  Here's a brief (ha!) report:

Void Moon, Echo Park, and The Brass Verdict, all by Michael Connelly.  As I've mentioned before, I really like Michael Connelly's detective fiction.  I didn't like The Brass Verdict, though.  The hero was not heroic and I found the plot a bit contrived.  It wasn't awful, but it was a disappointment.  Echo Park was good, but dark like some of his others (especially The Poet).  Void Moon was excellent.  It was told from the perspective of a criminal, but Connelly makes her likeable enough to make you root for her, even while you are not necessarily rooting for her to pull off her crime.  He did it by means of both characterization and plot, or at least situation.  I thought it was ingenious!  It had a good story and some other elements I liked a lot.  I might even read this one again some day, and that's saying something for this kind of book.

Raising Your Spirited Child, by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.  I've been hearing about this book for years, but never read it because I never considered Samantha to be unusually "spirited."  But, I figured, it might be worth a look.  A look is about all I gave it - I mostly skimmed it.  I don't think it's a bad book, but I just found nothing in it that applied to my daughter, or that I didn't already know.  I guess one thing I learned is that I was right that Samantha's temperament is pretty average.  She didn't fit into any of the categories in the book, and in many cases, she had such a mixed set of traits within the category that pegging her down was impossible.  For example, she does not stick with difficult tasks, but she has a really long attention span - these are contradictory elements within the "persistent" temperament.  Is she the persistent type, then?  My answer was "no" to that one, and all the others were similar.  It's possible things will change when she is older, though, and I would consider reading this book again.

The Great Bridge, by David McCullough.  (Wow, two non-fiction books in a row!)  McCullough is the author of the hugely popular, recent biography of John Adams and other well-respected books.  Adam has been reading this one, about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, out loud to me for at least four months.  We are about 50 pages from the end, but I can safely say now that this is a wonderful book.  It reads like a work of fiction, with heroes and villains and even a bit of a climax and resolution (I think).  This book is not good as a straight history; if so, McCullough would need to essentialize more than he does.  But the amount of detail that he includes is what makes it read like a story, with virtual characterization and plot.  Sometimes it is actually too much detail for me, but Adam can't get enough.  (He tends towards empiricism while I tend towards rationalism, so he is much more comfortable in an ocean of facts than I am.)

McCullough's translation of facts to story is amazing.  The example that comes to my mind occurs when McCullough was describing the dedication of the bridge builder's wife.  When the builder became ill and couldn't write, McCullough tells us how she had to transcribe his dictation onto paper as instructions for building the bridge.  There were massive amounts of these instructions.  The author tells us how she would get so weary that she would forget to sharpen her pencil.  Or maybe the point was that the builder would dictate in such a frenzy that his wife didn't have time to stop and sharpen her pencil - I don't recall exactly.  What I do remember is that when I read that, I thought, "how in the world could the author know that, about sharpening the pencil?" and I realized that he must have copies of those transcriptions, and that he must have noted the thicker lines of her writing.  Whatever the implication he drew, I was amazed at that detail that he must have noticed and then considered to write that passage.  The book is full of great things like that.

McCullough also seems to have a great respect for the achievement of the men who built the bridge.  That's me reading between the lines, but I think it's there.  I haven't yet read any of McCullough's other books but I definitely will now that I've tasted his storytelling ability.

The Long Lavender Look and Cinnamon Skin, both by John D. MacDonald.  I'm getting a bit tired of this author.  He has some good plots but the cynicism I noted before is starting to turn me off.  I'll try at least one more before I give up on him since he has other good qualities.  I don't recall either of these two books very well; neither made a huge impression.

I tried to read Fletch, by Gregory Mcdonald on the recommendation of a friend, but I couldn't stand the glib, supposedly witty banter, and gave it up in less than 30 pages.

Straight, In the Frame, and Dead Cert, all by Dick Francis.  I continue to love Dick Francis.  His characters are so admirable and his stories are always interesting.  I actually liked Straight, a more (most?) recent one, the best of all I've read so far.  Usually, the quality of an author's writing deteriorates over time, especially when the author is as prolific as Dick Francis.  But I heard or read somewhere that Francis' son collaborated with him towards the end of his career, and that might account for my love of Straight.  Or, maybe Dick Francis just remained good up until the end.  I only learned last month that he died earlier this year.  Too bad.

The Targetby Catherine Coulter.  Oh my god, this book was so bad.  I picked it up from the library at my gym.  I should have put it down by page 30, but it tricked me by starting off ok and getting worse and worse.  Seriously, I can't believe this book was published.  I was constantly confused about who was talking during the dialog, or whether characters had entered or left scenes, and that's just the technical details.  The story was obvious and trite and corny and the dialog was embarrassing.  When I was telling Adam about how bad it was, he said, "Why do you waste your life reading books like that?  You should have stopped as soon as you hated it."  I said, "I know."  But then I went on and kept telling him about how awful it was.  He interrupted and said, "Stop telling me about it right now.  Now you're wasting my life with a bad book.  Your punishment for reading it is never getting the satisfaction of venting to me about it!"  I thought that was hilarious.  But I guess Adam forgot I have a blog and I can vent to anyone and everyone as much as I want, so there!

Getting Through to People, by Jesse S. Nirenberg.  I accidentally bought two copies of this book because, quite some months apart (which is longer than my memory works) it was recommended by Jean Moroney and then by Dr. Ellen Kenner.  Those are some good creds!  However, I liked this book, but I didn't love it.  I'm looking for help with assertiveness, and this book was more focused on persuasion and breaking through others' barriers to listening.  Most of it was really worthwhile stuff but it just wasn't exactly what I was looking for.  I'm looking forward to reading Asserting Yourself, by Sharon and Gordon Bower, another recommendation from Ellen Kenner, to see if it is what I'm looking for.

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini.  I suppose I'm the last person in the world to have heard of this book.  Was there a movie, too?  I had never heard of it but I picked it up at the gym.  Despite my trepidation about a story set in Afghanistan and a weak ending, I really enjoyed it.  I loved the main character's father, even though I'm not so sure that was what the author intended.  (As with most modern fiction, all the characters were mixed.)  But, really, I just enjoyed the story of redemption.  It was the book version of a good chick-flick - very emotionally charged.  When it is well done, as this book is, that can be a really good thing.


  1. I read McCullough's "1776", and I think your observations apply to it also. He translated the year of our nation's birth into a real page-turner. Being only one year in a continuum of years, of course it does not have the sense of resolution of a work of fiction, but it is made dramatic nonetheless.

    I didn't appreciate what a tenuous situation our country was really in, with inexperienced troops facing the well-organized British army.

    But reluctant heroes like George Washington rose to the occasion, gained the experience and savvy, and the rest is history.

  2. Hah! Very funny how you found a way around my "punishment"! :) :) :)

  3. Jeff, Adam listened to 1776 on tape and also loved it, so I think that will be next on my list. I might even listen instead of read!

  4. Thanks for this! My husband and I just got kindles and I'm just itching to fill mine up with some good reads.