Saturday, October 9, 2010

50BC10 #9: Corduroy Mansions

TITLE: Corduroy Mansions
AUTHOR: Alexander McCall Smith
GENRE: Fiction
PAGES: 353
STARS: 4 out of 5

Just when I was feeling a bit down because the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series had run its course for me, I discovered Corduroy Mansions. This book is fantastic--vivid and humorous characters (including an adorable "Pimlico terrier") whose capers tend to dwell on that fine line between reality and fiction. I found that the characters here are not as reliant upon rhetoric as in the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series, and that lack of predictability makes this my favorite book from AMS thus far.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

50BC10 #8: Brida

Brida: A Novel (P.S.)Brida: A Novel by Paulo Coelho

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed the writing, as I always do with Coelho, but I couldn't decide if this was a story about Brida or a tutorial in Wicca. I had a hard time pinning down the main protagonist (Brida), although I think that was partially the point. Her soul searching came across as almost irritating, partially because of her own sense of martyrdom and suffering. All of that said, there are some lovely descriptive passages and the back story between the Magus and Wicca made the story more interesting.

Friday, July 2, 2010

50BC10 #7: Persepolis

The Story of a Childhood (Persepolis, #1) The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have an aversion to hype borne out of my own ego, I suppose (if I'm really honest), but also experience. Here is one instance where the book lived up to the hype and the pages of my copy are tear-stained to prove it. The graphic novel format does not keep Satrapi's experience at arm's length, but rather magnifies the inexplicability of life through the eyes of a child. An absolutely amazing book and one everyone should read, especially if you are clueless about the events in Iran in the 20th century.

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50BC10 #6: Spartan Gold

Spartan Gold (Fargo Adventure, #1) Spartan Gold by Clive Cussler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I borrowed this book from my grandfather because I needed something to read and was pleasantly surprised. The story is one riddle too long, in my opinion, but the Fargos are great characters and the mystery managed a pretty good dose of the Indiana Jones factor but was still believable. I'm not sure I'd go out of my way to read all his books, but will certainly prioritize Cussler's works for my next airplane read.

50BC10 #5: Requiem, Mass.

Requiem, Mass.: A Novel Requiem, Mass.: A Novel by John Dufresne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Dufresne creates a family that is all at once Agee, Burroughs and Sedaris. Johnny's family redefines "function" in dysfunctionality, and the book will make you laugh, shudder with recognition, and wallow in the mire of human experience.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

50BC10 #4: The Double Comfort Safari Club

The Double Comfort Safari Club (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #11) The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I think this series may have jumped the proverbial shark, at least for me. The main mystery in this installment piqued my interest, but fell flat at the end. The characters are still great, and the final scene with Mma Potokwane was worth it. I think if the series is going to survive, we need some new characters or more intriguing plots and mysteries (e.g. Mr. JLB Matekoni's struggles in earlier books, etc.).

Saturday, April 10, 2010

50BC10 #3: The Jazz Ear

The Jazz Ear: Conversations over Music The Jazz Ear: Conversations over Music by Ben Ratliff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a fabulous collection of interviews with a variety of jazz musicians, including Wayne Shorter, Branford Marsalis, Guillermo Klein, Dianne Reeves and Ornette Coleman. But this is not a series of transcripts. Ben Ratliff captures subtle inflections of character in these conversations centered around a shared listening experience. Ratliff sits down with each musician to listen to music of others, and in so doing, reveals how these artists react to and dialogue with their musical influences. Sometimes the "set list" from one of these visits creates an intriguing link between the interviewees (such as Joshua Redman's experience with listening to Sonny Rollins, who is interviewed in the third chapter). In addition to the observations made by the musicians, Ratliff's ability to unobtrusively insert himself as both commentator and investigator makes this a superior reading experience to most "meet-the-artist" type books.

What I appreciated most was the variety included in these listening sessions. Sacred Harp, Kyrgyz music, Frank Sinatra, Rachmaninoff, Wagner...all of it is fair game for these musicians, who unapologetically cross the lines of categorization to search for organicism and authenticity as both performers and listeners. The questions of how perfomers/composers listen is one that is underexplored, and I would hope to see more of this type of study incorporated into a discussion of compositional and improvisational aesthetics.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

50BC10#2: La's Orchestra Saves the World

La's Orchestra Saves the World: A Novel La's Orchestra Saves the World: A Novel by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
One of the luxuries in writing serials (for which Alexander McCall Smith is best known) is that you can always tie up loose ends in a later book. But in a novel like La's Orchestra Saves the World, that luxury doesn't exist. The premise of the story is great, and the book is a pleasurable read, but there is a lot that never gets fully developed. For example, the wartime pickup orchestra would have been an excellent opportunity to throw in several colorful characters who could make cameo appearances, leaving the meatier roles to the protagonist and secondary leads. The protagonist, Lavender (or La), always remains just at the edge of REALLY fascinating, partially due to her own reserve, but also in the way she is written by McCall Smith.

The book is a beautiful depiction, however, of the impact of war away from the frontlines. So many of us take our standard of living for granted, but the book revisits the time of victory gardens, rations, and being glued to the radio for news. I found myself wanting to know more about the orchestra that "saves the world" and less about the protagonist as time went on. I also did not like the ending, which seemed far too trite for the buildup.

It is a book worth reading if you've got a long plane ride ahead, or several hours just to sit and relax on the weekend.

Monday, January 4, 2010

50BC10 #1: Book of Daniel

The Book of Daniel The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow
Genre: Fiction (based on historical events)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Pages: 368

This is not an easy book to read on many counts, mostly due to its historic truths and ability to turn larger narratives into personal mirrors. Doctorow does not resort to victimizing the Isaacsons (who represent Julius and Ethel Rosenberg), and there are no heroes. He unfolds the layers of complexity in the Rosenberg case by re-framing it more intimately, primarily from the perspective of the fictional Daniel. This is perhaps where the reader is the most sympathetic because he reminds us that traitors, villains, conspirators are also mothers, fathers, spouses, siblings. Daniel's character is the sum total of the worst consequences of American anti-Communism in the 1950s, carrying the current of the electric chair far beyond the execution room.