The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

February 1, 2009

REVIEW: January Round-Up

January was bitterly cold, snowy and generally dreary, much like the winters I remember from childhood. So much for glorious reminiscences.

A quick overview of my January reading, excluding those books I've already reviewed:

I enjoyed The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. The girl, Lisbeth Salander, is anything but wishy-washy, while the two plot lines were both intriguing to me. One is a mystery about a young girl who went missing nearly 40 years earlier and one is a financial crime caper. Despite the overwhelmingly positive reviews, this is not a perfect book. The author, may he rest in peace, was clearly a crusader and he crammed as many of those crusades as possible into this book. The main crusade is about the level of violence against women in Sweden. Frankly, it's horrifying, and worse, few of the victims are as ready as Lisbeth Salander to take up the cudgels in their own defense. Larsson didn't need to tackle any other social ills to make this a terrific story. The other crusades are about corruption in the financial industry, the lack of ethics in journalism, and I disremember the fourth one I noted. My faulty memory. Anyway, there are several passages that read like a newspaper article rather than a novel, expounding facts and figures in a dry fashion. Also, the sheer number and relationships of the Vanger family members involved in the mystery presents a challenge for the readers. Despite the flaws, I never lost interest or felt like putting the book aside, and I will read the sequel.

L.A. Outlaws by T. Jefferson Parker: The only other book I had read by Parker was Silent Joe, an Edgar winner but not one I cared for. In fact, I avoided Parker's books afterward. The summary on the book jacket for L.A. Outlaws was very persuasive though, and I'm glad. It's a violent tale about a flashy schoolteacher-cum-armed robber who may or may not be a descendant of the famous California bandit, Joaquin Murietta. And the cop who sleeps with her and wants to catch her, and has his own secrets. And a killing machine named Lupercio who will never stop until he gets her and the diamonds she stole. Sharp dialogue, well-drawn characters, and a scorching pace. A sequel, The Renegades, is due out next month.

Two tales by Donald E. Westlake, and you know I won't have anything bad to say about them: Somebody Owes Me Money and A Likely Story. ALS is not a crime novel, it's a novel about a writer fighting for his work and trying to straighten out his family life. I enjoyed the witty insights into the publishing industry. SOMM is a crime fic tale, about a young NYC cabbie who just wants to collect on a bet, but someone murdered the bookie and everyone -- the cops, two rival mobs, and the bookie's sister -- think the cabbie was involved.

Fatal Impressions by Wayne Warga. A story about art forgery and theft that sounded promising but the main characters, a married couple named Rachel and Jeff, are so perfect they set my teeth on edge. The book has a terrific beginning but lost its way right about the time that the murder of Rachel and Jeff's close friend should have made the story more intriguing. Shortly after that, I was unable to suspend my disbelief for the duration of the book.

The Case of the Deceiving Don by Carl Brookins, and Cross Bones by Kathy Reichs. I didn't enjoy either of these books and for the same reasons: The prose lacked any flow or rhythm that would have allowed me to enjoy the characters. Not that the characters were all that interesting. I thought TCOTDD had a good premise but the contruction of the book got in the way of the story. And I can't think of any praise for CB, sorry. Dull plot, flat characters, stilted prose -- did they really get a tv series out of those Bones books?

On the plus side of my reading ledger, I've really enjoyed the short stories I've read so far this year. My favorite to date is Peter Blauner's Going, Going, Gone, a nightmare of a tale about a man who gets separated from his very young child in the NYC subway system. This story just sucked the oxygen right out of my lungs.

And now on to February. It's Superbowl Sunday. Do the Cards have a chance? I sure hope so.


  1. A very nice round-up of the month, Corey.

    And yes, you guys have been pretty slammed with bad weather. Anytime we have a high pressure zone set in over the west coast (bringing us warm weather) it re-routes the lows (and storms) eastward. And, January has had more warm days here than I can remember. Sorry.

    Most people I know are pulling for Arizona around here--sorry, President Obama ;-). But, I think they're going to need some breaks to bring them a victory.

  2. Ah, I just remembered what the other social ill was that Larssen discussed: the issue of legal competence in adults and the guardian system in Sweden. Sounds like he may have tackled this one in greater depth in the upcoming sequel The Girl Who Played With Fire.

  3. I'm trying to remember if I read "Cross Bones" or not -- I've read some of that series and listened to at least one. The audiobook I really enjoyed but the book I read? Not so much. Enjoyed "THe Brass Verdict," and read that last month as well, along with "The Four-Story Mistake," by Elizabeth enright and a golden oldie and well loved, from my childhood. Just finished Deadly Exchange, a thriller/spy novel and well worth reading. Once you meet the characters, you get right into the plot and can't let go. Lots of great technology (I love that), intrigue and even romance. And now I'm on to "Confidential Source," by Jan Brogan.

  4. Liz, 'Deadly Exchange' does look like a good'un. One more for my ever-growing list... Thanks!