Sunday, May 17, 2009

2009 books, #18-25

It's been a while since I posted one of these (end of March, probably!) so here's the latest batch of books. I'm pretty sure there was another one there somewhere, but I must have taken it back to the library...

The white tiger by Aravind Adiga. London: Atlantic, 2009.

I read this for April's Kniterati group, and really didn't enjoy it that much. As a colleague who'd also read it said, it's difficult to summon up enthusiasm for a book whose narrator is quite as repugnant as this one... I think the additional problem is that there's nobody in this book who elicits much sympathy... (I found this with the first series of 24, too, and didn't keep watching.)

Drunk, divorced & covered in cat hair : the true-life misadventures of a 30-something who learned to knit after he split by Laurie Perry, aka Crazy Aunt Purl. Deerfield Beach, Fla.: Health Communications, 2007.

This, on the other hand, is a wonderful book. Crazy Aunt Purl's blog has been a staple for several years, and she writes wonderfully, and movingly, about her life, and it's hilarious at the same time. Definitely not train-safe - not on a stiff-upper-lip commuter train, anyway...

gods in Alabama, by Joshilyn Jackson. London: Hodder, 2005.

Joshilyn Jackson's blog is also a must-read for me - the voice in her blog is different from the narrative voice in her books but the same sense of life, humour and absurdity flows through both... This was a re-read of a book I'd inhaled in a queue for folk festival tickets in 2006, and it was wonderful all over again this time round. Arlene Fleet, the narrator, is persuaded to return to Posset, Alabama, by her boyfriend Burr; but Burr doesn't know the secrets and lies Lena has left hidden in the kudzu, and Lena's racist family don't know that Burr is African American. Wonderfully observed with some seriously creepy elements, this is a Southern novel in the tradition of To kill a mockingbird or Donna Tartt's The little friend. All three of Jackson's novels probably go into an all-time top 20 for me and I can't wait for the next one.

In our defense: the Bill of Rights in action, by Ellen Alderman and Caroline Kennedy. New York: Avon Books, 1991.

I picked this up in the 'for sale' rack at the library, without much optimism about finishing it, but I've always been a sucker for books detailing legal cases (from a book about Bernard Spilsbury onwards) and the structure of this, looking at the US Bill of Rights in the context of the cases which have tested it over the years, was fascinating and engaging. An updated version, in the light of the USA PATRIOT act, would be even more interesting; the date of this book means that many of the test cases for freedom of speech, assembly, right to privacy, cruel and unusual punishment etc. date from the Civil Rights era and the Cold War. But if you can get hold of a copy (or want to borrow mine!) it's a very interesting read.

Aftershock, by Quintin Jardine. London: Headline, 2009.

Half of my holiday reading, and another instalment in the Bob Skinner series - this one has the usual balance of character history and tight plot development, and rattles along wonderfully. I veer between liking Bob Skinner and really not being sure - in this one, he's one of the good guys - but that's always interesting in itself, and either way, the books are required reading as they come out in paperback...

Touchstone, by Laurie R. King. New York: Bantam Dell, 2009.

This is an amazing book - set in the Great Game era of espionage between the two Wars, and featuring cross-country chases, Fascist leaders, mysterious Bolshevik bombers, a shellshocked veteran of the Great War with extraordinary powers and the background of the General Strike. Laurie R. King has a lovely talent for creating sympathetic, three-dimensional characters while keeping a plot running at high speed, and both Bennett Grey and Harris Stuyvesant are nicely drawn. The theme of terrorism is handled deftly - King is obviously making points about the current world situation without hitting us over the head with it - and although there are one or two lapses into Americanisms in the mouths of her British characters (King is from the US but a complete Anglophile), she manages to capture the feel of the period as well as writers like Dornford Yates who were writing at the time.

Playing for pizza, by John Grisham. London: Arrow, 2008.

This is a very sweet book - a washed-up American quarterback can only get a job playing the game in Italy, where most of the players are amateurs and play for a couple of square meals a week after practice. He's a fish out of water, knowing nothing about Italian culture, and gradually warming to his new team-mates. I know nothing about American football - and know very little more having read this book; I did tend to skip over the play-by-play descriptions during the actual games - but this was a quick, light, heartwarming read, if a little schmaltzy at times. In the same vein, I'd recommend Grisham's A painted house.

The associate, by John Grisham. London: Century, 2009.

Another Grisham (I put a batch of orders in at the library and these all came at once), but much more his usual fodder - a graduating Yale lawyer is blackmailed to join a huge corporate firm and give up company secrets. It does have the same problems as a lot of the early Grishams in that after a really tense set-up and some excellent descriptions of corporate-associate life, the end sort of fizzles out; the last few books have had much tighter endings, so this one was ultimately a little bit disappointing. As ever, I could see it making a very good film...

In the next batch, some textile history, some more crime and maybe a bit of music criticism...

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