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« March, 2006 »
Cross Bones

I liked this book okay when I read it, but compared to Reichs' other books it’s not that great. The protagonist is a forensic anthropologist who makes a discovery about some old old bones in Israel. Then the rest of the book goes off on the “Is this Jesus?” angle. Temperance Brennan annoys me. She’s too concerned with her looks and her relationship and for all of her supposed smarts dealing with dead bodies, her attention to criminal procedure and details is always overshadowed by whatever outfreakage she is dealing with. At the outset of this book, Reichs outlines a list of facts -- actual anthropological information about recent digs and discoveries in Israel and Palestine -- which is the basis for this book. It becomes clear at some point that while the story will have titillating aspects as fas as the “Is this Jesus?” direction goes, ultimately the answer would have to be “No.” because she’d wind up alienating all of her Christian readership potentially. For an author whose books rank in the triple and quadruple digits on Amazon.com, this is a point that probably matters. The ending was unsatisfying and way too pat, though I’m not honestly sure what I was expecting.


I used to enjoy reading forensic type mysteries, but lately they’ve all gotten too gorey and there’s always the protracted part of them where the doctor winds up being part of the killer’s nasty crime spree and I just dislike those parts. One of my librarians suggested that I might enjoy medical thrillers and gave me this book to read. It’s a story of a strange organism that is killing astronauts. There is a lot of techie space trivia, a lot of astronaut background, a lot of sleuthing, and no bad guy hiding in the closet of an abandoned house while the doctor walks around in the dead of night. Quite good. Medical mysteries mean you’re usuallly racing against an unknown bacteria or virus, not another person and this gives authors like Gerritsen a much wider range of potential “bad guys” that can have alll sorts of differing characteristics. This puts an end to trying to figure out what terrible, horrible thing could have happened to the bad guy to make him into this wretched killing machine. In short, I enjoyed this new genre of mystery/thriller.

The Dayhiker’s Handbook

I was expecting something different from this book. Despite what its title says this is not really a dayhiker’s guide. The two authors are an adventurer/hiker and an editor for Outside magazine. There is no evidence in this book that they worked together on this book at all. They each write entirely separate sections, do not refer to the other’s sections, and write about entirely different things. John Long is the adventurer and under the guise of writing about different hiking environments, he gets to regale us with tales of his adventures, few of which are dayhikes. He writes with the heavy-adjectival style that is typical for people for whom writing is not a first profession. His prose is readable and his stories are good but they give very little advice on dayhiking and most of them are cuationary tales of what NOT to do. While I appreciate a good warning, I found the preponderance of them tiring and his writing style not at all compelling.

Michael Hodgson is the other writer and writes mainly in the sidebars giving advice in gear, recipes for trail eating and good lists of things to do for preparedness and enjoyment of hiking. His advice is more down to earth and yet you still get lots of information about what sort of sleeping bag to buy for cold weather camping and what sort of backpack to buy for weeklong jungle hikes. It may be that Californians approach the idea of a dayhike much differently than New Englanders, but I found this book so completely out in left field compared to what I was expecting, that I continued to read ahead because I couldn’t believe that it advertised itself as a dayhiking book and was telling me about ice climbing expeditions. As a book of adventure stories and GORP recipes, it’s more than adequate, but I’m still looking for a good dayhiker’s guide.


I like Crichton fine, even though I dislike his politics. I skipped Jurassic Park and Disclosure because I had already seen them ruined by Hollywood, but in general he’s a capable storyteller and a smart man. This was one of those stories where something secret is going on at a remote lab in the middle of the desert that has the potential to ruin life as we know it. It reminded me a lot of Greg Bear’s Blood Music except without the truly terrible outcome. Lots of nanotechnology that you know Crichton did some background research on, and a lot of twists and turns on the way to figuring out what the heck is really happening. This book held my interest without keeping me up at night.

The Bad Beginning

I hadn’t read any of these books before so I started at the beginning. This one wasn’t bad. It’s got sort of a cloying narrator, three kids in sorry circumstances, and a lot of people around them who are making those circumstances worse. The illustrations are great, the plots develop, such as they are, and the sher depth of description alone makes these books worthwhile for an adult reader as well as straightforward enough for a younger reader.

Library Card

I have been reading some more YA books lately since the weather and the short days are conspiring to give me a very short attention span. This book is actually a collection of short short stories for young teens. They profile a few different situations where kids in tough straits -- living in a car, moving to a new town, watching too much TV, hanging out with tough kids in the city -- find a library card and get some help at the library. The stories have a wee bit of a supernatural edge to them, but for those of us who are pretty convinced of the magicalness of libraries, this does not seem that suprising.

And Their Children After Them

This was a hard book to read. Coming on the heels of reading Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, any shred of hope you had for the dignity of the people portrayed in the book, for them overcoming their situations of desparate poverty and lack of education, is dashed when you read about the next generations. Some people did quite well, a few. Most are sort of middling in the in-between areas, not quite desparate but definitely not someplace where they feel happy and settled. And some people -- most specifically one of the older daughters of one of the tenant farmers, who he took as his wife, confirming decades of bad stereotypes (or possibly starting them) -- are still miserable and wretched, having been passed by, both by advances in technology like plumbing and cost of basic goods, but also by advances in society where there is at least some of a social safety net in place for people who are destitute.

This book is a return to Alabama to see what happened to the 128 descendants of the three tenant families that were portrayed by James Agee and Walker Evans in 1936. We get to learn what they thought of the portrayal of themselves, how being written up in a book affected the lives of their grandparents, parents and themselves. We also get a less dashing view of Agee and Evans, who slickly call themselves spies and instigators in the list of characters in the original book but were really in some ways no more than subculture tourists. Evans spent no more than one or two nigths with the families and seemed to have a distaste for them mostly, while Agee romanticized them in the way writers do where he held them up as noble members of their class, but promptly forgot about them once he left Alabama (though to be fair he was embroiled in his own terrible life at the time).

The most poignant part of the story, though to be sure, there are many poignant parts, is the opening scene of the book where one of the women who was beloved and doted on by Agee when she was a little girl, commits suicide after a long hard life at the age of 54. One could see after reading just this introduction, that new writers nosing around the place might not stir up happy thoughts. It is helpful for people who were interested in the earlier book, to get follow-up on how the people did, what happened to them and how they fared and their childre and children’s children. Ironically Agee himself was the first to die, due to his own set of hard-luck lifestyles and circumstances. For anyone who read and appreciated Let Us Now Praise Famous Men this Pulitzer Prize winning book is necessary follow-up reading.