What I'm Reading Now: 12 September 24: even briefer edition

Even busier this week.

In the meantime, I snatched some time to read Death of a Fool and False scent, both by Ngaio Marsh, and the Red pole of Macau, by Ian Hamilton. Red pole is another Ava Lee mystery, also quite enjoyable, and it took Ava into some interesting territory as far as character challenges went. Very good.

No post next week; we'll see about the week after

What I'm Reading Now: 12 September 17: brevity edition

I haven't read much this week, and things are going to be rather busy this week and the next.

All I can recall reading is assorted true crime, mostly by Ann Rule. I also read In cold blood by Truman Capote. It's considered the pioneering work of the true-crime genre: one of the first (and possibly the best) explorations of not just the crime itself, but the lives of everyone involved: the victims, the perpetrators, and investigators of a crime-- in this case, the murder of the Herb Clutter family. It's very well written, and if you're a true-crime reader, you should check it out.

I may have more to review next week, depending on how busy life gets.

What I'm Reading Now: 12 September 10

Jim & Casper go to church: frank conversations about faith, churches, and well-meaning Christians-- Jim Henderson & Matt Casper (non-fiction)
The ritual bath-- Faye Kellerman
The nine tailors-- Dorothy L Sayers
Operating instructions: a journal of my son's first year-- Anne Lamott (memoir)
Vanished--Liza Marklund
Not in the flesh-- Ruth Rendell
Just send me word-- Orlando Figes (history)

Jim & Casper go to church: Picture a Christian (a former pastor, even) paying an atheist to go to church with him a few times - a dozen churches in total. Picture said pastor wanting said atheist not to convert during the church-visiting experience. Picture some very blunt questions being asked, including :"Is this what Jesus told you guys to do?" Jim (the pastor) and Casper (the atheist) do exactly that, and the North American church through an atheist's eyes is not at all what I expected. There's respect on both sides, and food for thought for both as well. Definitely worth reading.

The ritual bath: A woman leaving the ritual purification bath at a yeshiva is raped. The yeshiva is not in Israel, but in a bad part of the Los Angeles hills, and LAPD Detective Peter Decker runs into culture shock every time he walks through the yeshiva gates. Between that, the serial-rape cases he is investigating elsewhere, and his growing attraction to the intelligent and very Orthodox woman who is his contact inside the yeshiva, things get very complicated, and deadly. This is the first meeting between Decker and Rina Lazarus; I started later in the series, so it's interesting to see the genesis of the connection. I enjoyed the book, but with a feeling that there was something not quite right about it; I suspect, though, that the not-quite-right was my personal bias making itself felt, as I prefer Faye Kellerman's husband's books (Jonathan Kellerman) to hers. I can't explain it-- but I'd certainly never tell someone not to read Faye Kellerman because of that. Good writing, good plot, so try it and see if you enjoy it.

The nine tailors: A disfigured and mutilated body is discovered in a few-months-old grave. Identity: unknown. Cause of death: unknown. Lord Peter Wimsey, who had visited the parish a few months previously, was invited by the Rector to see if he could help discover what had happened. What follows is a tangle of bell-ringing, a priceless emerald necklace, family loyalty, jail-break, and desertion. This is one of the few mysteries I know that goes into English campanology (the science of churchbell-ringing), and it does go into some detail, which is both interesting and a little overwhelming. The whole story unfolds quite slowly as well (the mystery doesn't make an appearance until page 70 in my edition), but even with all of that, it's an excellent mystery, and most enjoyable. If you like classic British mysteries, Sayers is a must-read.

Operating instructions: Anne Lamott is not the first person to have a baby, alone, at the age of 35, but she is one of the few to write about it with grace, humor, and thorough-going honesty. She talks candidly about her anger at her colicky son, and about the incident with the rectal thermometer that resulted in, well, brown everywhere, as well as her overwhelming love for her son. Reading Anne Lamott's memoirs (I haven't read any of her fiction yet) makes me feel that I've connected with someone real, that this is the way it is, and that there is beauty in telling the truth about the ugly as well as the beautiful things in our lives... and that I'm not the only one who doesn't have it all together. Thank you, Ms. Lamott.

Vanished: A young woman is on the run in Stockholm after a brutal double murder. She contacts journalist Annika Bengtzon with her story, and Annika sends her to Rebecka, who has also recently contacted the journalist, and the foundation Rebecka runs that helps threatened people disappear. Annika follows up on both these stories, and the facts point in a different and deadly direction. It was a good story, albeit bleak, and I have to say that the resolution of the primary plot thread (woman on the run) was thoroughly unexpected and beautifully set up. I thought the resolution of Annika's personal problems was too easy, though, and unless Marklund was setting her up for more difficulty in the next book instead of giving her a karmic reward, it wasn't at all satisfactory. I don't regret reading this book, but I don't think I'll be reading another Marklund.

Just send me word: There are no easy resolutions in this biography, a slice of Stalinist Russian history. Lev was sentenced to ten years in the Gulag, a Russian prison work camp, for "treason against the Motherland"-- serving as a translator for a German officer as a Soviet prisoner of war. Somehow, he and Sveta, the woman he loved, managed to exchange over 1500 letters during his sentence. The letters were smuggled by friends and sympathetic camp workers, so the camp censors never saw them. Sveta even managed to visit him more than once during his stay. The story of life in Russia, both in the Gulag and in Moscow, during that time is shown vividly through these letters, which the couple preserved, and eventually donated to the archives. Figes uses these letters, as well as a few supplementary sources and interviews, to tell their story. Inspiring, and recommended.

What I'm Reading Now: 12 September 03

A door in the river-- Inger Ash Wolfe
The (honest) truth about dishonesty-- Dan Ariely (psychology)
Shoot to thrill-- PJ Tracy
The tools: transform your problems into courage, confidence, and creativity--Phil Stutz & Barry Michaels (psychology)
Some assembly required: a journal of my son's first son--Anne Lamott with Sam Lamott

I have this sneaking suspicion that there was another book there somewhere, but I can't remember what it was.

A door in the river: Hazel Micallef is running out of time. Her police detachment is about to be absorbed by a larger regional group, and her new boss will be a former subordinate and nemesis. Kitty is running out of time. She has no money, no friends, and some very bad enemies. Henry Wiest is out of time. He's dead in the parking lot of the smoke shop on the local reserve. Hazel has to find the cause of death, find Kitty, and find out if anything connects the two before things get very bad indeed. I thought that the plot was good, but for some reason, in this book (the third Hazel Micallef mystery) Hazel irritated me, and I was reluctant to continue reading. However, I did, and it was still a good use of my time. I'd still recommend the first two (The calling (which I read but did not review)  and The taken) over A door in the river, but I certainly wouldn't discourage anyone from reading Door.

The (honest) truth about dishonesty: If you think you know why people cheat, Dan Ariely has some news for you. It's not a simple equation that balances gain against the potential consequences if caught. It's much more complex than that, involving, at its core, how much you can cheat and still feel like you are a moral person. As one of the studies Ariely ran shows, people are less likely to take advantage of a blind person than a sighted person, even if the "cheating" is fully legal and not taking advantage will cost the "cheater". It's intriguing and well-written, and recommended to anyone who wonders why some people are honest and some are not.

Shoot to thrill: Someone is posting murder videos on the internet: not amateur re-creations, but the real thing. The videos are untraceable as far as law enforcement is concerned, so the FBI calls in a number of hackers... including the Monkeewrench crew. In the meantime, the Minneapolis PD is faced with a body in a bridal gown floating in the river. Monkeewrench and the MPD struggle with their separate cases before they realize that there is no separation, and in the meantime, the number of videos is slowly increasing. This was another excellent Monkeewrench outing that gave all the characters a chance to be heard. My only problem is that I now have to wait until the library purchases the next in the series... and after that, I'll have to wait a year for another one.

The tools: Imagine that you could change not just your attitudes, but the way you live. Imagine that you could fully and completely overcome all your history and your baggage to become the you that you are meant to be. That's the premise of The tools, set down by two psychologists who use these techniques to help their clients get past their fears to accomplish the things they want. I found the ideas interesting, and I could see that they could be helpful. They don't fit with my personal worldview, though, and Stutz and Michaels warn against modifying the tools in any way. I will therefore leave them in the book where I found them, and any recommendation I will make for their use will come with the caveat that they require a certain non-focussed spirituality which may be at odds with various religions, including Christianity.

Some assembly required: Just under twenty years ago, Anne Lamott wrote a book about her son's first year. Now, she writes about her grandson's first year, with her son's full permission and co-operation. She writes about her difficulties in stepping back and letting a very young couple be parents in their own way, especially as they have financial and relational struggles. She writes about her own spiritual journey, and throughout it all, she writes about her grandson, Jax, and how much she loves him. Just about any time I read something by Lamott, I want to go out and find more of her writing, while at the same time being at least mildly startled by how honest and earthy she can be. Highly recommended. (And now, if you'll excuse me, I believe I need to order Operating Instructions, the aforementioned journal of Sam's first year.)