Monday, June 14, 2010

Book Review: City of Dragons by Kelli Stanley

Book Review:  City of Dragons by Kelli Stanley 

Hardcover: 352 pages

  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; 1 edition (February 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312603606
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312603601

Brace yourself:  to fully appreciate this noir murder mystery, it might help to have some good bourbon and a pack of Chesterfields on hand.  Chain smoking and a regular dose of the hard stuff fuel Miranda Corbie, PI, as she seeks justice for a young Japanese man murdered in Chinatown.  

Set in San Francisco in 1940, City of Dragons is a full immersion trip to a fog-beset town of steep hills, organized crime and cops indifferent to the fate of a Japanese kid or a Chinese escort.  As Miranda walks the streets of this city, we see a little known slice of San Francisco history come to life.  

Stanley reveals tantalizing bits of Miranda's back story, but leaves so much unexplored or unexplained that the novel practically begs for a series.  What happened to Miranda's long lost love, Johnny?  Why did Miranda become an escort after returning from the Spanish Civil War?  Will she ever be able to love again?  Questions like these will echo in your head long after you put down this remarkable book.  

While I'm waiting for a sequel, I plan to snag a copy of Kelli Stanley's first acclaimed historical mystery, Nox Dormienda, a noir set in, of all places, Roman occupied Britain in 83 A.D.  

  • Genre: historical fiction/noir murder mystery
  • Read it if:  you love The Maltese Falcon but wish Sam Spade had been a woman.  
  • Skip it if: you recently quit smoking
  • Movie-Worthy?:  Absolutely!  May I suggest Angelina Jolie as Miranda and Christina Hendricks as her friend Bente?   

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Summer Reading!

It's summertime and the summer reading lists are everywhere!  

The Gotham Writers' Workshop has compiled the following helpful list in its newsletter:

If that list isn't comprehensive enough for you, Oprah has several recommendations as well, including Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann.

Entertainment Weekly recommends a book a day, including The Passage by Justin Cronin.

In other words, there are so many books coming out this summer that even the most voracious reader should have an overflowing tote bag of good reads.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Book Review: The Heights by Peter Hedges

Book Review:  The Heights by Peter Hedges

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult (March 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 052595113X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525951131

This novel, the latest from What's Eating Gilbert Grape? author Peter Hedges, follows Kate and Tim, a married couple living with their two young sons in Brooklyn Heights.  As the story opens, Tim is a history teacher at a private school and Kate is a stay-at-home mom; they try to make the most of their tiny apartment and avoid comparisons to their more affluent neighbors.

The highlight of this story, told from alternating perspectives, has to be the vivid, detail rich-characterization of Tim and Kate.  Tim floats along, buoyed by his unwarranted self-confidence, while Kate takes a much dimmer view of the world and her own flaws.  A new arrival in the Heights, the mysterious Anna Brody, shakes up the neighborhood and Tim and Kate's marriage.

While Tim and Kate are vividly realized, the secondary characters never come to life in the same way: Anna Brody remains a cypher, Bea Myerly a cartoon character, Claudia Valentine an improbability.  (I can say with certainty I've never heard Claudia Valentine's obsession discussed among any group of moms, with our without alcohol.)  This could be because we only see most of these characters through Tim and Kate's eyes--when given the chance to comment, Bea categorically rejects Tim's description of her--but it still watered down the overall effect of the story.

Yet watching Tim and Kate's downward spiral still makes for a strangely entertaining read.  I had high hopes for this book when I read that Hedges had also written and directed one of my favorite movies, Dan in Real Life; although I can't say I love the book as much, it was fun while it lasted.

  • Genre: literary fiction
  • Read it if: you loved Little Children by Tom Perotta and want to compare and contrast
  • Skip it if: you don't like books involving playdates
  • Movie-Worthy?:  It's already in the works!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Session with the Biblioracle

Not sure what to read next?  If you're lucky, the Biblioracle may be open for consultations. John Warner, a writer for online magazine The Morning News, occasionally sets up shop as the Biblioracle--list the last five books you read, and he'll recommend your next read.

I was fortunate enough to submit my list in time to receive the following recommendation:  Not Sidney Poitier, by Percival Everett.  I've never heard of this book but it sounds like the kind of thing I enjoy.  Unfortunately, my local library doesn't have it, so I'll have to wait until I can justify buying new books again before I can get my hands on a copy.