Sunday, October 26, 2008

Catching up on book reviews

I've been busy reading and listening to booktapes. Here are a few quick reviews.

True Grit by Charles Portis - I listened to this as an audio book last week. I had never read it, or even heard of it except as the title for the movie. This novel is a masterpiece. It's told from the point of view of an old spinster who hired Rooster Cogburn to help track down her father's killer back when she was 14 years old and then accompanied him on the hunt. It's a bit over the top, but then a good adventure story should be a bit over the top. If you liked Huckleberry Finn or Kim or Tom Sawyer or Red Badge of Courage you should pick this book up. It's short (6.5 hours on 6 CDs) and gripping. I think is it would be as good reading as listening.

Getting Mother's Body by Suzan-Lori Parks - I also listened to this as an audio book last week. It's also short (7.5 hours on 6 CDs) and it's gripping in a different way than True Grit. It's the story of a pregnant black teenager in the 1960's South as she and various relatives set out to dig up her mother's body both to move it from where a shopping center is going to be built and also to retrieve a treasure of jewelry that they think her mother was buried with. I'll write more about this later in another post because as an audio book it's unique in my experience in that it includes professionally performed blues songs as the voice of the mother, so it's more of a multi-media presentation such as might be put on by an old timey storyteller. Probably a good read as well, but that depends on how well you can tolerate reading colloquial dialogue.

Compulsion by Jonathan Kellerman - I read this in the large print edition that all the book racks seem to have on them now as us old geezers start to predominate in the reading population. A typical Jonathan Kellerman production - well written, interesting plot, characters who are old friends if you've read his other books. It's not literature, but if you must waste time reading popular novels it's an excellent one.

The Burnt House - by Faye Kellerman - I picked this up at the same time as I picked up her husband's book (above) but, oddly enough, it is a regular sized paperback. Pretty much ditto with what I said about the book above; but if I were forced to choose between them I would say Faye writes the better novel, at least for me. She gets a bit more into the actual lives and thinking of her characters, or maybe I'm a smidgen more interested in her characters than I am in Jonathan's. Well worth reading - no, more than that - excellent.

Book of the Dead - by Patricia Cornwell - It's a sad thing to see a writer you've enjoyed in the past go over the edge and take her characters with her into utterly preposterous psychological waters. There is a phrase, "jumped the shark," which is applied to TV shows that have gone over the top and into the realm of the ridiculous. That phrase aptly describes what Cornwell did in this book, and what she has been threatening to do in a couple of previous books. The name brand critics apparently loved it; but then the name brand critics inhabit a world where it's reasonable to believe that one of a pair of very close twenty year friends and business associates suddenly tries to rape the other. Non-geniuses like Cornwell are well advised to leave repressed desire themes to geniuses. Also, the underlying plot is preposterously complex and unlikely even by pulp novel standard; and the main character's niece has now accumulated so many diverse skill sets that she puts James Bond, Sherlock Holmes and Jason Bourne to shame. The niece is now Wonder Woman with Marie Curie's brain; but still encumbered by a healthy dollop of downright Victorian emotional stupidity. I managed to finish it; but I won't pick up her next book.

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