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« November, 2006 »

This book seemed like it would not be poppy, but in the end it was poppy. There was a lot of good information in it, but I had the sense that Sullivan’s reach was exceeding his grasp. The premise is straightforward: author spends time in a NYC alleyway to study rats. And then, in that good trusty NPR format, he waxes poetic about things like Thoreau, the history of New York and the idea of scavengers generally. I enjoyed the book but I found that the diversions seemed to be trying to hard and the vocabulary was a bit too rich for what was essentially a fun, not particularly revealing experiment (rats live in alleys, eat garbage, act like rats). I think I would have liked this book better if it was longer, and had more rat information and less pontificating by the author. A lot of the conclusions he was drawing “many of us have never seen a rat up close before” didn’tring at all true to country bumpkin old me who has had to trap them in her own house. Light reading for yuppies.


I love these spookyweird books with mysterious families and oddball children who live in these left-behind towns. This book is right up there with We Have Always Lived in the Castle in the “haunted isolated families” section. One of the things I liked about both books is that unlike what I perceive to be the general vibe of today, these families don’t all kill or rape each other. There’s no gore or sensationalism, just an unfolding set-apartness that seems to imbue the entire narrative. It’s a matter of fact retelling which occasionally drops little chestnuts like the parlor being floor-to-ceiling full of newspapers and cans. The narrator, the younger daughter is so matter of fact that these little revelations almost seem like an afterthought and you’re left thinking “gee, if I lived with thirten cats, I might have mentioned it sooner” and the odd feeling continues.

This book is about a few generations of odd women and a grandfather who dies in the water, and his daughter who follows suit. it mostly follows the awkward path of the two daughters as they return to the town to be raised by their quirky transient aunt in the house their grandfather built which is in the town that he died in, a town called Fingerbone. The tale unfolds like a fever dream as the sisters choose different paths and each tries to move forward in her own way.

The Life I Really Lived

I know just enough about Jessamyn West to know that some of this novel mirrors some of her real life, but nowhere near enough to know where the line is. I do know that West moved from the plains to California, that she wrote a book that was turned into a movie and that she got to meet the movie star and spend some time with him. In this book, some similar stuff happens. The main character is a quirky loner writer with a preacher brother who gets into some trouble. She dates the movie star but then loses him in a very awkward situation. She writes sixteen books and becomes well known and famous. In the book her brother has TB and eventually dies from it. In real life West had TB and lived another 60 years.

In any case, West’s clear direct writing style, her interesting and multi-faceted female characters and her astute observations on the nature of human behavior make this book a great read, even decades after it was written. Many quotations attributed to West come from this book and it was surpising to be so familiar with the aphorisms it held while being totally unaware of the entire plot and characters.

The Zenith Angle

I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a Bruce Sterling book I hadn’t read yet. I like his writing and this book I liked even more than usual. Sterling is one of a very short list of authors who can write books that are some level of “cyber” and I will buy their story and not pick nits with their tech. This says more about most authors than it does about my l337ne$$, but I like tech fiction books and I don’t read enough of them. This novel surrounds September 11th. The short premise is “what do the super smart cyberwarriors do when the playing field changes?” It’s loosely about one super smart techie guy who starts out working for a big tech firm doing somethingorother and quickly gets enlisted into the war on terror, with surprising results. The guy is a likeable and believable techie character and the wholeplot has a real feel to it, even as it plots out a future that is somewhat dystopian and bleak. Sterling knows his stuff and tells a good story while at the same time not populating it with cardboard cutout characters.


This is one of the Carlotta Carlyle mystery series. I liked it just fine but at the same time every time I put it down I wasn’t sure I would pick it up again. My sister gave it to me because it takes place in Boston. I enjoyed that as well as the spunky female detective protagonist. However, this story of intrigue in a cabbie company wound up with a high body count and a fairly confusing story line that didn’t always keep me hooked and curious for more.

The Last Treasure

This was a YA novel that a pal of mine sent me. I like to read good YA fiction and I really enjoyed this book. It’s loosely another book that falls into the “weird isolated family” genre. There is a family that lives in a small weird town. They have nine identical houses that are all arranged around a small park. The threee houses on the south end are “treasure houses” which have, in the past, been the location of mysteries and, ultimately, riches. When the family finds itself down on its luck with the remaining members old and feuding, two teenagers -- one stuck spending the summer there and one who comes of his own volition -- decide to untabgle the mystery of the last house. The kids are interesting. The story-line is believable and yet just a wee bit fantastic, and the ups and downs of being one person in a huge crazy family are reflected upon. This is one of the best YA books I’ve read this year and a good fun mystery book, even for pretty little kids.

Science’s Most Wanted

This book is sort of a science Book of Lists, lite. I’ll say right off that I don’t know that much about science, so there was a lot of good information in these pithy lists of poisonous plants, noted feuds and invasive animals. However, if read from start to finish, this book gives you the same names over and over again. It’s clear that the standard reference works that created this reference work were heavier in, say European scientists and stronger in chem and bio then, say, technology. The book skews pretty heavily in that direction which is only a shame because I suspect that the real world if science, which includes western and non-western people and dates that fall outside the 1600’s-now realm. The authors have done a great job making sure that women are equally represented, I’d just lilke to see that same careful selection applied to non-European science.

The Lincoln Lawyer

[review pending]