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Monday, February 22, 2010

Books in Brief: Lee Child, Kent Meyers, Steve Toltz and More.

Here is a quick summary of a few books that I've read over the past few weeks.  Along side these very short reviews I'm using a 0- to 5-star system for rating each book: 0 stars being the worst rating and 5 stars is the best.  

1.  Twisted Tree by Kent Meyers.  4 Stars.

Good book.  Organized like Elizabeth Stout's Olive Kitteridge, in that each chapter is like a short story, with all the chapters connected by the same community of people and one key individual.  In Olive Kitteridge, that unifying character was Olive. In Twisted Tree, that character is Hayley Jo Zimmerman.  In the disturbing opening chapter, Hayley is stalked and abducted by a serial killer.  While reading this chapter I thought, 'is this book for me?'  The answer was yes.  Twisted Tree is an interesting, unsettling book about the mix of folks in rural South Dakota community and their losses, fears and heartbreaks.      

2.  A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz.  4 Stars.

I enjoyed this unique and funny novel set in Australia about two brothers, Terry and Martin Dean, and Martin's son, Jasper.  Terry, gifted at sports, becomes the country's most notorious criminal.  Martin, smart but socially isolated, is a self-educated philosopher who does a stint working as a strip club manager, and who ultimately also becomes notorious in his own country.  As in all really big stories, this one takes on the central issues:  Love, the meaning of life, fame, money, and coping when it all goes to hell.  A Fraction of the Whole is a bit in the Kurt Vonnegut camp of writing.  The book is quite long, 500-plus pages, and you won't want to skip a word, so be prepared to take you time with this work.            

3.  Lock 1928 by Shawna Yang Ryan.  2-1/2 Stars.

The story a small community of Chinese immigrants to the U.S. in 1928 California.  Lots of information about this particular immigrant experience presented in a a stylish format.  An interesting little book. 

4.  Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child.  3 1/2 Stars.

Gone Tomorrow is the 13th book by Lee Child featuring his character Jack Reacher.  Reacher is in Manhattan taking on bad guys and at various times he is at odds with the entire world of law enforcement.  Reacher is funny and cool, and while I enjoyed this story it gets only 3 1/2 stars because it should have been edited into a leaner book.  The sheer quantity of text felt puffed-up, perhaps because this is a product by the famous Lee Child and he is supposed to write books of length and heft.  Puffery, even in a fun book, makes me feel like I'm being treated like a chump.  More editing could have been done here.

5.  Rizzo's War by Lou Manfredo.  4 Stars.

I like this police procedural.  Wiley Detective Rizzo and his young partner navigate crime and politics in Brooklyn.  A good story, put together well, and edited appropriately.  Entertaining, interesting, engaging: Exactly what you want from this genre.

6.  The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee.  1/2 Star

Although I am interested in reading about Hong Kong in the 1940s and 1950s, I was not at all interested in this book in which a bored young Brit has an affair with older man who is haunted by events that occurred in Hong Kong during World War II.        

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