Thursday, October 22, 2015

Review: Hello from the Gillespies

One should not be put off by the 600+ pages of this book. Despite its heft, it is really quite a quick read. This book brings the reader into the lives of the Gillespies, an Australian family living on a remote sheep station in the outback. Matriarch Angela Gillespie is becoming increasingly dissatisfied with her life. Her husband is becoming more distant, her children are facing various minor disasters. All of Angela's thoughts are accidentally emailed to her friends and family in a brutally honest Christmas letter. How the family handles the fallout is part of the book, until a car accident leaves Angela with amnesia and without her identity. 
The second part of the book is surreal. Angela is living with her family but thinks they are strangers, and the doctors encourage the family to play along. 

I was very into this book up until the amnesia. Once Angela got amnesia everything became quite predictable. We know that Angela isn't going to remain unaware of her identity forever, which means that there are only so many directions the book can go. The first half of the book was much stronger. I've heard McInerney compared to Maeve Binchy, and I can certainly see the resemblance in this book. McInerney can seamlessly enter the minds of numerous characters and weave their stories together into a broader saga. 

My main complaint with this book? Someone needs to throw Lindy to the wolves (or the snakes, or the rabid kangaroos, or whatever). Is it possible for an adult to be that whiny? Seriously Lindy, nobody cares about cushions. Nobody. Shut up, and quit whining. 

Those thoughts aside, this is a relaxing, feel-good sort of book. Definitely cozy.

Monica McInerney, Hello from the Gillespies (NAL, 2014).

Monday, October 12, 2015

Review: Double Mint (Davis Way, #4)

Davis Way is back to uncovering crime and engaging in hi-jinks at the Bellismo Casino. Employed as a special undercover agent at the Bellismo, Davis is expected to uncover and take down criminal operations at the casino. Those who have read the earlier volumes in this series will recall that Davis was hired by the Bellismo because she looks exactly like her boss's wife. She has married the resort's security chief, and they reside in an on-site penthouse apartment. As this volume opens Davis has been forced to take over the special events coordinator's job, after the incumbent walked out of the hotel, never to return. She has also discovered the equipment to print fake currency lodged deep in the walls of her apartment. Then there's the fridge: it doesn't work, and needs to be fixed, except it's a crazy, ugly behemoth no one has ever seen before. Then a group of security professionals show up for a conference, with entertainment consisting of high stakes slot tournaments, and platinum goes missing from the casino vault. 

The story is a bit nuts, but it's also absolutely hilarious. It's high-energy, high-action, and high-humor. Davis offers significant snarky commentary about her apartment, decorated as if a Party City barfed up a New Orleans themed issue of a decorating magazine. Nothing in this book is expected. If you think you know where there plot is going, you probably don't. I'm excited to see where this series is going to go next. 

Gretchen Archer, Double Mint (Henery Press, 2015) 

I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley for purposes of review.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Review: Riding a Crocodile

This book begins as a satire of the health care system and hospital administrators. It turns into a mystery, a shift which is not entirely welcome. Senior physician Abe Nevski returns to his job as a physician in a large Australian teaching hospital. While he has been gone the hospital administration has become more draconian in pushing a program that is meant to (according to the administrators) allocate resources in a utilitarian manner, younger patients and to clearing beds quickly. To Abe, this sounds a lot like withdrawing care and signing death warrants of older patients. The administrators claim that's not the case. Abe thinks otherwise. There have also been a series of unexpected deaths among seemingly stable older patients. Abe tries to figure out what is going on while mentoring his registrar, Rebecca, a young doctor who is becoming disillusioned with the lack of humanity in modern medicine and the hospital-industrial complex. This sets the stage for a showdown between Abe, a doctor who cares about patients and has an excellent bedside manner, with the hospital administration, which is a cold and smarmy as one would expect a hospital administration to be. 

As a social commentary on the modern healthcare system and cost-cutting measures, this is an excellent book. Komesaroff is a practicing physician. He clearly knows the medicine, the culture of the hospital, and the social issues facing healthcare. Dr. Nevski is a well-developed and believable character, and the hospital world is immersive. Where the book falls flat is as a novel. I found the book's ending to be completely ridiculous. This was such an uneven book. The beginning was excellent, but as the plot becomes more bizarre and more mysterious, it devolves. I utterly disliked where the relationship between Abe and Rebecca wound up (lawsuit!), and, as mentioned, the resolution to the mystery is unsatisfying. I think I would enjoy reading some of Komesaroff's non-fiction, as he clearly wants to address the inhumane elements of modern healthcare.

Paul A. Komesaroff, Riding a Crocodile (River Grove Books, 2014).

Friday, October 9, 2015

Review: A Beautiful Blue Death (Charles Lenox, #1)

A young servant is poisoned with a terribly expensive and unusual poison: bella indigo, the beautiful blue. Charles Lenox, a minor gentleman and amateur sleuth is on the case- a case that will bring him to some of the worst neighborhoods and the most opulent social events in London. Lenox's relationship with the police is not always the best, but with a brother in Parliament, Lenox has good connections.

I really enjoyed this book. The mystery is more complicated than many I have read in this genre. Finch's writing is quite good. There are a number of English gentleman detectives. Charles Lenox is a worthy inheritor of the traditions of Albert Campion and Lord Peter Wimsey.

Charles Finch, A Beautiful Blue Death (St. Martin's Minotaur, 2008).

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Review: The World's Strongest Librarian

Josh Hanagarne has a great sense of humor and a deep love of books and libraries. That is enough to predispose me to like this book, and like this book I did. In this memoir Hanagarne tells his story of growing up with Tourette Syndrome and living in a Mormon family. From the time he was a small child Hanagarne was severely affected by Tourette tics. It took years for him to be diagnosed, and his family was somewhat in denial about his condition. As an adult, Hanagarne finally found some relief from his symptoms by training as a strong man, taking up extreme weightlifting. He funnels his love of books into a career as a librarian. 

This is a fine example of the fact that a reasonably happy story can make for a good memoir. Hanagarne certainly suffered from his Tourette Syndrome, but he has many positives in his life. He grew up in a functional and close-knit family, he has a rewarding career, and a unique and impressive hobby. This memoir is a story of Tourette Syndrome, but it is also a meditation on the importance of libraries, and a story of a man's struggle to make sense of his faith. Hanagarne is heavily invested in the importance of libraries. At one point Hanagarne notes that every time someone walks into a library there is the potential for their mind to be expanded. That idea has stuck with me ever since I finished the book. I also learned quite a bit about Tourette Syndrome from this book. I had never really considered the issue of repetitive stress injuries- having the same tics over and over isn't just socially awkward, it's hard on the body. 

This was a really engaging memoir. I wasn't all that interested in the technical stuff about weightlifting (and there's a section of the book that gets pretty deeply into strongman training), but overall this was a really interesting read. Hanagarne seems like a great guy, with an interesting story.

Josh Hanagarne: The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family (Gotham, 2013)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Review: The Murder Room (Adam Dalgliesh, #12)

P.D James creates a world around her mysteries, probably better than any other mystery writer I know. Such is the case here, when rocks the DuPayne Museum. A small, eccentric museum dedicated to the history of the interwar period, the DuPayne's showpiece is a gallery dedicated to period murders. Full of macabre displays and artifacts, "The Murder Room" appears to have provided inspiration for a serial killer. People in and around the museum are being killed in the same manner as the most notable murders displayed in the gallery. Dalgliesh and his team try to discover the killer as the body count rises.

This is a mystery with a complex plot. It has many moving parts, and numerous richly drawn characters. Set in the waning fall, the atmosphere is appropriately dark and gloomy. I figured out who the murderer was, and I suspected why, which is unusual for me with James's books. There were more direct clues to murderer and motive in this one. In sum, an excellent mystery with a richly-drawn atmosphere.

P.D. James, The Murder Room (Vintage, 2003) ISBN: 1400076099 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Review: All Good Things

This book chronicles the author's move from Paris to French Polynesia When her husband is transferred to Tahiti, the couple moved to the island of Mo'orea, a real-world tropical paradise. Much of the culture shock that Turnbull experiences is the sort that one might expect: life is more colorful, time is looser. Turnbull's descriptions are vivid, and I learned a great deal about French Polynesia. Many islands comprise the country, and Turnbull travels quite a bit, exploring the various island groups. I found myself looking at maps and researching the places she visited on the internet, to see photos of the places she described. Some of the Polynesian islands are exceedingly remote- essentially skinny coral rings surrounding large lagoons. The geography is fascinating, and throughout the book I thought quite a bit about what it must be like to live on a small island, out in the middle of the ocean, so far away from large land masses.

Turnbull's time in Polynesia is heavily shaped by her desire to have children and her difficulties conceiving. Even before her move the author had been undergoing fertility treatments. Living on a island blooming with life and color and approaching her fortieth birthday, the desire to conceive looms large.

Location is everything in this book. While it covers three different places (Paris, Polynesia, and Australia), the most interesting parts were most definitely those on the islands. By the time the family had moved to Australia, I found myself getting somewhat bored. The descriptions of Tahiti and the surrounding islands are delightful. That's the reason to read this book.

Sarah Turnbull, All Good Things: From Paris to Tahiti, Life and Longing (Gotham, 2013) ISBN: 1592408680