Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Pyramid: The First Kurt Wallander Cases

The five short stories that comprise this book work together to show how Wallander became the detective we recognize throughout the series, both personally and professionally. We see his marriage to Mona begin and end in a series of snapshots, and we see him take on more responsibility through a case involving the murder of his neighbor to become a detective. We watch his detective skills improve (though the two shortest stories seem far more about his family life than his detecting). Overall an enjoyable collection.

Blood Rites by Jim Butcher

In this book Thomas Raith, a vampire of the White Court, calls in a favor from Harry Dresden. As it turns out Raith and Dresden are half-brothers, and there's a major power-struggle about to go down for control of the White Court--a struggle which plays out in part over the production of an upstart adult film. I really liked seeing Harry get some family in this book (even if it's family with baggage), and I thought the White Court stuff worked really well. On the other hand, there was a real clunker of a scene between Murphy and her mother at a family reunion picnic. I think this scene surprised me because Butcher usually writes more effectively than that. I'm interested to see where this series is heading.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Collected Poems, 1948-1984 by Derek Walcott

This collection of poetry shows off Walcott's virtuosity and skill. He has a fine ear for the English language and shows its richness and its beauty throughout this volume. Walcott also uses his poetry to think through colonialism, exile, and the United States empire in really productive ways, turning to classical myth and religion on one hand and the rhythms of Calypso and the Caribbean on the other to help with the work.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Phantom by Terry Goodkind

This book is more of the same. It begins with a complicated scene with a spell that should be emblematic but ends up biological (or something--the metaphors aren't working as well as Goodkind apparently thinks they are) and ends with a lot of preaching and monologues. I don't remember the exact plot of the early books anymore (though the memory of how much I enjoyed Wizard's First Rule is one of the reasons I'm still finishing this series, which jumped the proverbial shark several books ago) and I have the sneaking suspicion that the boxes of Orden are being retconned for plot purposes here. Everyone in this series is really good, unless they're really bad and many of the really bad characters from earlier in the series have come to their senses and become really good. I liked hearing about the war wizard Baraccus, but that was the most entertaining part of the book. I'll finish the series to see how things end up, but if you're just starting Goodkind, read Wizard's First Rule and then pretend he never wrote anything else.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Man Born to Be King by Dorothy Sayers

This play cycle chronicles the life of Jesus Christ from his birth in Bethlehem to his resurrection thirty three years later. I found the cycle very moving: the characters were clearly delineated, and through twelve short plays, many episodes from the Gospels appear in a moving fashion. These plays are prompted by the author's sincere faith, but they are rigorously presented--in particular the relationship between Jesus and Judas Iscariot is carefully depicted. If Judas were simply evil, then Jesus might look like a dupe, but instead Sayers demonstrates the tragedy and the glory of the Passion.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Firewall by Henning Mankell

In this book Inspector Kurt Wallander investigates a series of deaths that seem at first to be unconnected, but later seem to be part of a crime with global financial implications. The crime itself seemed to take a backseat to Wallander here--his love life, his relationship with his colleagues, and his role at the police department. The crime wasn't entirely clear to me, even at the end. I don't mind this change of emphasis, exactly, but I would have liked a little clearer picture of how the crime hung together.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Silence by Becca FitzPatrick

This book was marginally less annoying than the other books in this series. Nora looses her memory and spends the first half of the book trying to get it back, and the second half trying to foil Hank Millar's nefarious plans. The story was less coherent (or it felt like Nora could spend more time running around doing what she wanted instead of being stuck doing things like school. It also set up at least a fourth book in the series. I think I'd like some more exploration of why Patch might not be a perfect match for Nora....

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

This book chronicles the journey of a research scientist to a small village in the Amazon to investigate the death of a college and the slow progress of the development of a fertility drug. But when the scientist, Marina Singh, arrives in the Amazon she realizes that there are all sorts of secrets and she must confront her own past. I found the plot compelling and I did want to hear more about Marina and the mysterious doctor in charge of the research project, Dr. Swenson, but I found the ending in which everything happened really quickly unsatisfying--mostly because a lot happened really quickly.

Snow White by Donald Barthelme

I was intrigued by the playfulness of the language in
this book. Certain words are regularly twisted (bath to baff, housewife to horsewife). Of course, the fairy tale itself is a strange amalgamation of Snow White (in the Grimm and Disney versions) and Rapunzel. There are hints (at least to my mind) of the story of Cyrano de Bergerac as well. In this muddle of cultural references there's a lot going on with both gender politics and waste. Definitely one of those books you can't attempt to fully understand in whole: the pieces don't fit together nicely into a neat puzzle.

A Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan

I hate to say it, but this book dragged a little in places. I found the Aes Sedai power manipulations to be most interesting--especially Nynaeve and Elayne coming into their own. It's a little hard for me to follow what Rand's actually trying to accomplish here--perhaps because there's a fair amount to be done by other characters, but Rand needs to be around because he's the Dragon Reborn? I'm also somewhat frustrated by the three women meant for him part. It seems a little indulgent to me....

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Modernism by Michael Levenson

This book reexamines modernism, defining it not by its formal practices or content, but by its oppositional culture. Levenson contends that to understand modernism we have to pay more attention to its roots before World War I (and this time period is where the majority of the book's attention lies). The book does a nice job moving back and forth across the Channel, although I felt its attention to the United States was a bit lacking in places. It covers a broad range of artists and does a nice job giving both the overall sweep of the movement and close readings of important modernists. It covers a variety of genres (focusing on narrative fiction, lyric poetry, and drama) and represents a worthy addition to and reconsideration of our understanding of modernism.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Complete Poems, 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop

This collection of poetry gives you everything Bishop ever published and more. My main complaint about the edition itself (not the poetry) is that it doesn't provide line numbers. That quibble aside, this collection is fantastic. I particularly enjoyed "Insomnia," "One Art," "Sestina," and "In the Waiting Room" this time around. The beauty of this poetry rests as much in what it doesn't say, and in the task of digging out the pieces. I'm also interested in the way this poetry blurs the line between the surreal and the real and the way in which it portrays nature. Several of these poems definitely make my essential list.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Chainfire by Terry Goodkind

This book is yet another frustrating entry in the Sword of Truth series. Richard wakes up to an attack and discovers that he's the only one who remembers his wife, Kahlan. Also, there are serious holes in prophecy (that is to say, books of prophecy are going blank, and no one can remember the parts that are missing). Unfortunately the plot sounds more intriguing than it ends up being. There's a lot of exposition that mostly comes off as sounding preachy. I don't find the prophecy system particularly convincing either (too much math and mysticism involved). I'm sticking with the series because I want to know how things end, but I don't have too much hope for these books.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Ascension by Christie Golden

This book took what we knew about the Sith, Abeloth, the Jedi, and the GA and turned everything upside down. It did a better job than I was expecting keeping things exciting and setting up a final confrontation between Sith and Jedi. I particularly enjoyed watching Ben and Vestara interact in this book. I also enjoyed the machinations on the Empire side of things (Jag, the Moffs, Daala). It reminded me of the days when Thrawn was running around and causing trouble!