Sunday, May 18, 2008
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson (audio)
This was a book given to me, and I didn't expect to like it as much as I did. After all, I'm not a hiker and my one camping trip was, well, short of spectacular (lots of humidity and bugs). But I thoroughly enjoyed Bryson's wry sense of humor (and his laconic voice) in describing his hikes on the Appalachian Trail, accompanied by friend Stephen Katz. The book drags a little at some points, but it does gives one an appreciation for the trail and the hardships of hiking -- and Bryson and Katz don't even encounter any bears or rattlesnakes. At some point, the duo decide they aren't going to hike the entire trail -- it is, after all, more than 2,100 miles long. But they do hike a pretty big chunk of it in several segments. And while the book did scare me off from doing any long hikes, I'm thinking I can maybe handle a small hike here or there.
Cold in the Earth by Aline Templeton
Protagonist: Det. Insp. Marjory Fleming
Setting: Galloway, Scotland
Before I was even done with this book, I was ordering the next two in the series. Templeton gives us a very realistic, likable protagonist in Marjory Fleming, who is torn between her job and her family during a time of crisis. In the midst of a foot-and-mouth epidemic in Scotland, which decimates most of the animals in this farming community, Fleming is confronted with the discovery of a skeleton -- that of a young woman that disappeared 20 years ago. The woman's sister also happens to have arrived, searching for clues, and suddenly is in danger herself. Templeton weaves a strong plot, but her strength is in the beautifully crafted characters. Every character in the book, even the most minor of them, is well sketched and brought to life. Templeton is not as well known as other Scottish writers, such as Ian Rankin or Denise Mina, but I'm hoping she will be someday.
Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine
Protagonist: Ben Tanaka
Setting: Berkeley, Calif., and Manhattan
I need to listen to recommendations more often. For the second time this month, someone has handed me something I didn't think would bowl me over, but it did. In this case, a graphic novel. A cartoon, I thought. Sure, it's not serious literature, but Tomine still manages to address issues such as racism, stereotypes and relationships in this 103-page novel centering around sarcastic, insecure Ben Tanaka and long-suffering girlfriend Miko. The novel is at times hilarious, and at others heart-breaking. It only takes an hour or so to read, but it'll stay with you for awhile.
At Some Disputed Barricade by Anne Perry (fourth in series)
Protagonists: Reavley children
Setting: Western Front, 1917
For anyone following my posts, you'll know I've been captivated by this World War I series. Each book contains a mystery, but there's a bigger mystery thread in this series: who is the Peacemaker, the man who is trying to achieve peace at any cost to England, and who is behind the murder of the Reavleys' parents? In the last book, we thought the Peacemaker had died. Not so. With this book, Matthew is back to following the Peacemaker. Joseph has returned to the front as a chaplain, where his sister Judith is an ambulance driver. When an unpopular colonel is killed, possibly by one of his own men, Joseph has to unravel the mystery, which may also involve his sister. A powerful look at the front -- and at war.
The Woods by Harlan Coben
Protagonist: Paul Copeland, county prosecutor
Setting: New Jersey
Twenty years ago, there was a tragedy in the woods: two teenagers were killed and two others disappeared at a summer camp, including Copeland's sister. The guilt weighs on Copeland, who was supposed to be guarding the camps, but snuck into the woods with his girlfriend. But then one of the disappeared campers turns up -- he's been recently murdered -- giving Copeland hope that his sister may still be alive somewhere. Lots of twists and turns in this book, and a lot of good, witty dialogue. However, one of the plot lines will seem very similar to people who follow current events, and some of the resolution will seem implausible. Overall, though, a good summer thriller.
The Chameleon's Shadow by Minette Walters
Protagonist: Lt. Charles Acland
Lt. Charles Acland returns from fighting in Iraq with half his face disfigured, and the loss of an eye. Not only that, he's a very bitter man and prone to violence just before he's afflicted with crippling migraines. Can Acland be behind the murders of three men? There seem to be a lot of connections pointing to him. With police investigating, and psychologists trying to help Acland, Walters unravels the plot. I thought Walters and her brand of psychological thriller would be a slam-dunk for me; The Devil's Feather was on my "tops" list last year. But there was only one character I liked in this book -- and it wasn't the protagonist. I also saw early on what would happen, which made the book drag for me.
5.0: Wow -- must read!
4.0: A book I'd recommend
3.0: Mediocre to good
2.0: Pretty Bad