Thursday, April 29, 2010

Caughtby Harlan Coben
Dutton Adult, March 2010

I was conflicted about this novel. It is a page turner and the plot twists are nonstop. I read it quickly over two days. The characters are weak one dimensional stereotypes. Some of Coben’s earlier novels are much more engaging. I won’t give away any spoilers in this review. The setting is suburbia and the upper middle class milieu, a place where Coben is very comfortable. There is a murder early on and the book is peppered with up to the minute references – pedophilia, cyber crimes, reality TV stings, facebook postings. The central character is Wendy Tynes, a TV news reporter who investigates the crimes. When Coben writes dialogue, it is first rate and credible. Conversations between Wendy and her teenage son are very believable. Because the plot develops so quickly character development is sacrificed and I think by the end of next week, I will be unable to remember anything about this book. If you are looking for a page turner to read on an airplane this book will serve that purpose. Coben has written much better.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Black Echo

The Black Echo (Harry Bosch)by Michael Connelly
(Paperback) Grand Central Publishing December 2002
This is the first in the series of Connelly's Harry Bosch crime novels.  I had read a couple of the later books and thought I'd go back to the beginning and read the first.  It is an engrossing read.  The main character, Bosch is a disillusioned LAPD detective, moving down the ladder of success.  His single minded approach to investigations has caused his career to get permanently off track and he has been transferred to a back water district as this novel opens.  A Vietnam vet, Bosch discovers the murder victim is an army comrade from his tunnel rat days in Vietnam.   A joint LAPD/FBI investigation ensues.  One of Connelly's strengths is slowly peeling the layers of the onion as the investigation unfolds.  The time frame, the 80's, is pre cell phones, fax machines, and other digital tools and that  allows for a more leisurely approach to the case.  Bosch's character is really developed with the background material from his Vietnam years and a believable romance develops between Bosch and the FBI agent assigned to the case.   I won't give away any plot spoilers but this story holds together very well until the last 30-40 pages when the coincidental events pile on.  I think this is an excellent first novel in the series, it leaves you wanting to know more about the main character after rewarding you with a good read.  I continue to think Connelly is the best author writing police procedurals today.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Mapping of Love and Death
The Mapping of Love and Death (Maisie Dobbs, Book 7) 
by Jacqueline Winspear
Harper Collins, 2010
This is the seventh in the Maisie Dobbs series and not the strongest one so far. Dobbs is a detective/psychologist who is based in post WWI London. All of these novels contain flashback scenes to the trench warfare of the first world war. I like the historical detail that Winspear brings to her novels. The small touches that paint the portrait of the era are very well done. She is able to powerfully evoke the time and place. This novel carries on that tradition very well. What I have found weak in this novel and the previous one ( Among the Mad) are the plot aspects of the crimes. She investigates the war time death (soon to be noted as murder) of an American cartographer serving with the British army in France. Details of the army cartographers work in the war are reliably well presented. Plot aspects of the murder are fairly weak and tenuous. In this crime you are asked to buy into some fantastic coincidences that are at best hard to follow and at worst silly. Despite these plot issues Winspear is able to create characters I care about and advance their stories through the series. Familiar character recur and their life stories are enriched. Plot spoilers ahead!!! In this novel Maisie develops a serious believable love interest, Billy Beale's family troubles are continued, Maisie's mentor Maurice succumbs to a long standing illness, and Maisie's Scotland yard connections are continued.
Since these novels are set in the 1930s, the spectre of the rising of Nazism in Europe is never far from the story line and promises rich material for the future of this series. There is palatable fear that Maisie's friend Priscilla who lost three brother in the first war is primed to sacrifice sons in the approaching second war. So I guess I read this series not so much for the crime novel but for the period piece that Winspear is so good at creating.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New York: The Novel
New York: The Novel

By Edward Rutherfurd,  Doubleday 2009

I read this book a couple of weeks ago and I thought I’d review now while the book was still fresh in my mind. Rutherford is often presented as the successor to James Michener in his ability to produce a multi generational historical novel. I had read his novels about Ireland and England (Sarum) and enjoyed them, so I was looking forward to New York and not put off by its 800 plus pages. The history of NYC from the founding of the city by the Dutch with the American Indians through post 9/11 New York is all chronicled here. All the major ethnic groups (Dutch, English, Indians, Africans, Italians, Irish, and others) get a character in the narrative. The “melting pot” of America is seen through the successive generations of family characters presented. The events in the early history of the city right up to the American Revolution were very well presented and you actually cared about the characters. I liked the presentation of the Dutch settlement of the city, almost hard to accept the descriptions of lower Manhattan and reconcile them with present day NYC. The first half of this book was markedly better than the second. From the nineteen century forward I think the character development lagged the story. The historical events were all there – civil war draft riots, the panic of 1893, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, events in 1929, WWII, 9/11 – but the people involved in them seemed pretty one dimensional. I did like the chapters around constructing the Empire State Building, maybe because there was new information for me. The author in his desire to leave no event untold (and to keep the book with fewer than 1000 pages) sacrificed character motivation and plot complexity. Horrific events like the Triangle Factory fire are presented with no emotion and little detail. I got a feeling that Rutherfurd was checking the boxes and ensuring all events got a mention and in many cases not much more.
This book is not in my opinion as good as some of Rutherfurd’s previous efforts. I’d have a difficult time recommending this to all but the most motivated reader of historical novels.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Brava, Valentine: A Novel

Brava, Valentine: A NovelBy Adriana Trigiani
February, 2010

This is definitely a beach read. If you have not read Very Valentine, Trigiani’s first book in this trilogy you really should before reading this one. I note that I said in my blog title I don’t read romance but this novel is sure close to a romance if not one. What I do like about her writing are her characters. The characters are stereotyped but to me very funny. Valentine is the unmarried, career minded daughter in an extended Italian-American family. No angst here, her writing is respectful and loving towards this culture. I find myself smiling and sometimes laughing at the family dynamics. The Thanksgiving dinner scene is a train wreck. I love her humor. I enjoyed the descriptions of the hand made shoe industry – who knew- that you could go and have shoes made just for you! There are descriptions of clothes, interior design and other aesthetic items, all lost on me! The novel includes tough topics, death, infidelity, racism, lost loves, economic distress but as in any good, unchallenging read all is right in the end. I will no doubt read the last part of the trilogy when it is published. I’d recommend this if you like authors such as Maeve Binchy and Jan Karon then you’ll surely like Trigiani’s books. If you like them there are plenty more to read.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Darkness More Than Night
A Darkness More Than Night (Harry Bosch)By Michael Connelly Warner Books, 2001
If you like police procedurals/mystery thrillers this is a pretty good one, although not without flaws. This book is part of Connelly’s Harry Bosch series. Bosch is an LA detective who becomes the prime suspect in a film industry related murder. Terry McCabe, a retired FBI profiler, directs the investigation. The plot is dense with twists and turns that engage the reader. No need to have read earlier Bosch novels, but if you have it does give more depth to the story. Main characters are well developed and their motivations ring true. The fact that McCabe would immediately suspect Bosch in the murder strains credibility, but if you read this genre you must accept some of these plot directions. Some literary references to the paintings of Bosch’s name sake, Hieronymus Bosch, again seem implausible and slightly overdone but do support the plot. One of the reasons I like Michael Connelly novels is that his character development is among the best, but in this novel his female characters are one dimensional. McCabe’s wife Graciela is portrayed only as an anxious, worried character. His former partner Jaye Winston again presents with motivations that are murky at best. The ending is known about three quarters through the book, but the author continues to provide suspense as the murderers are apprehended.
On rereading this review it sounds overly negative. I did like this book and within this genre I continue to think Michael Connelly is among the best. A good read!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour

Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour

 by Lynne Olson, 2010 Random House
I liked this book a lot. The author did a great job of describing war time London and the Americans who were there. Much of the history was told from the perspective of the US ambassador, Gil Winant, the American correspondent Ed Murrow and Averill Harriman, the Lend Lease administrator. The US/British alliance was far from a sure thing in 1940-41 and each of these men made important contributions to getting the US to stand in support of Britain before Pearl Harbor and cementing that support after the US entered the war. The author did a great job of describing wartime London and the travails of the people who lived there. Some of the descriptions of what Londoners endured throughout the war were really heartbreaking. The amount of detail and research that went into this book was stunning and added significantly to the richness of the story. There are memorable vignettes of the Americans who served with the RAF, Eisenhower, Montgomery, and many other minor characters from the time that come to life in this book. You end up with good insight into Churchill's emotional, single-minded focus on winning the war, and Roosevelt's much more reserved, cold, political approach. What will stay with me from this book is the portrait of Gil Winant, a man I'd never heard of, who made such important contributions to the eventual Allied victory, and continues today to be almost unknown among his countrymen. This is very readable history with something for everyone - romance, politics, war, suspense and heroes.
Take a look at the author discussing the book with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.