Hardball Hardball by Sara Paretsky

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I won one of the Goodreads giveaways and received an advance copy of Hardball in the mail in September–my first Sara Paretsky novel! I still consider myself new to the mystery genre (most of it limited to Agatha Christie books), and so was not familiar with the V.I. Warshawski series.

This book is a good introduction, since Vic makes sure to strew background info throughout the narrative. It’s done pretty matter-of-factly, and sometimes gave me the impression that the author (or narrator) was aware of the need to catch new readers up to speed. But do we really need to know that she’s divorced? It doesn’t further the plot any.

The plot was intricate, and unfolded with a fine pacing, the way a movie version might play out. The people in this book are all kinds–street bums and politicians, artists and racists. It is one the pleasures about this book–the many people who are involved. That, and the deeper underlying story of the lives of Chicago blacks during a riotous time of racial conflict. I wished that had been explored more deeply. But as the narrator was only 9 then, and a child of a cop, there was only so much she knew. The story of Lamont Gadsden, the missing teenager, was infinitely more interesting and real than anything Vic was doing.

But at times, Vic acts as tour guide to her city, going on about the slowness of traffic on the highway, and where things used to be, how they used to be. It’s too much distraction for a book already crammed full of unnecessaries: the vacation to Italy, a blockhead cousin, her PDAs and Apple computers. I sensed the story was trying very hard to be modern, by telling us what brand this or that is–none of which serves to illustrate anything about the story or people. There are several mentions (but no reflections)of Barak Obama as President, which is annoying in a book about race relations, and it only serves to date the book.

What kept me up all night reading it was the chase–once Petra’s gone, and the bad guys have Vic on the run, then it’s full-tilt suspense–through to the end.

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Unfortunately, I did not fall in love with Juliet, our protagonist, as most everyone else in this book did, and I cannot find her love for these people genuine. Fascination, yes. The historical chapter the islanders lived through–and readily told to Juliet–is fascinating, and the smaller stories within it also add depth to a common history.

What bothers me the most is that Juliet is so taken by the life of Elizabeth,(founder of the Society, and who was forced off the island) that she not only finds many similarities in their lives, but assumes her life completely in the end: adopting her daughter, living in her house, even being loved by the same man. No one on the island thought this was weird? Or uncomfortable?

Aside from all of Juliet’s many character flaws, this book does not convince me that she is a good writer. Throughout, she excuses the success of the Izzy columns as conforming to the publisher’s request, and not what she’s capable of writing. Her letters though (the only writing we ever get to read of hers) are as flippant, self-centered, gossipy, and contrived as I imagine the published columns were. As the reader, we are not treated to any excerpts of the Bronte biography, or the Times article, though the islanders apparently were allowed to read them. There is no evidence Juliet is capable of greater things.

This I fault mostly to the writers, and their lack of artistry. A better writer would have given us everything–or at least made Juliet’s letters an exquisite pleasure to read (she is a writer after all). Isola’s journal inclusion at the end was a cop-out. It wouldn’t have done to have Juliet write a long letter to her dearest childhood friends (whom she’s been corresponding with this whole time) about something so important?

I get it, though. Guernsey is supposed to be a little paradise. Where no one suffers from PTSD, and all the folks are friendly as can be. Storybook. A place outsiders fall in love with and want for themselves.
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Jee’s review of Neil’s book

It’s been a while since I’ve been on Goodreads.com–my reading life having slowed to a halt these past few months.  But there I found my friend Jee Leong Koh’s review of our mutual friend Neil Aitken’s first book, The Lost Country of Sight (Anhinga Press, 2008), which I am currently reading.

Not only a great coincidence, but also very helpful to me in my further reading of it.  We are all past Kundiman Fellows and meet each other at one of the summer retreats.  Check it out.  Check them all out.

Today I read page 12, “The Art of Forgetting”.

“…how to voice/my own name in my mother’s tongue, each sound/a hard and pitted salt plum I marry to my teeth,/but cannot break open.”