Saturday, March 28, 2009

Song Yet Sung

I just today returned from a week at the beach (to horrible, rainy/snowy cold weather here at home, I might add). I took James McBride's 3rd novel, Song Yet Sung, with me to read and I did complete it. I liked it a lot. At times, I found it a little difficult to follow...there are lots of characters and much written about the Maryland Eastern Shore, but each character adds to the story. I wish that I had the time to thoroughly study each character because I think that there are probably lessons to be learned from each. I will definitely return to reading this book again at some point.

Here is the review from Publishers Weekly:

Escaped slaves, free blacks, slave-catchers and plantation owners weave a tangled web of intrigue and adventure in bestselling memoirist (The Color of Water) McBride's intricately constructed and impressive second novel, set in pre-Civil War Maryland. Liz Spocott, a beautiful young runaway slave, suffers a nasty head wound just before being nabbed by a posse of slave catchers. She falls into a coma, and, when she awakes, she can see the future-from the near-future to Martin Luther King to hip-hop-in her dreams. Liz's visions help her and her fellow slaves escape, but soon there are new dangers on her trail: Patty Cannon and her brutal gang of slave catchers, and a competing slave catcher, nicknamed "The Gimp," who has a surprising streak of morality. Liz has some friends, including an older woman who teaches her "The Code" that guides runaways; a handsome young slave; and a wild inhabitant of the woods and swamps. Kidnappings, gunfights and chases ensue as Liz drifts in and out of her visions, which serve as a thoughtful meditation on the nature of freedom and offer sharp social commentary on contemporary America. McBride hasn't lost his touch: he nails the horrors of slavery as well as he does the power of hope and redemption. (Feb.)
Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

I was quite interested in Liz, "The Gimp" and "the Woolman"...fascinating characters.

I was totally taken with Liz's references (both veiled and less-veiled) to her visions of Martin Luther King Jr. in the future. The book has also captured (or perhaps re-captured) my interest in learning more about "the Code". I always take it as an indication of a very good book if the book leaves me wanting to learn more about the subject. That usually means that the book has really caught my interest.

The book was dedicated to Moses Hogan. That even got my curiosity and this is what I found:

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Moses George Hogan (March 13, 1957 - February 11, 2003) was an African-American composer and arranger of choral music. He was best known for his very popular and accessible settings of spirituals. Hogan was a pianist, conductor and arranger of international renown. His works are highly celebrated and performed by high school, college, church, community, and professional choirs across the globe today. He died at the age of 45 of a brain tumour, and his survivors include his father and mother, a brother and four sisters. His interment was located at Mount Olivet Cemetery and Mausoleum.

As a funny side-note, before I left for vacation, I was going through my TBR pile (To Be Read pile) and found that I had bought 2 copies of this book. Apparently it had really caught my interest each time I went to the store!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Kommandant's Girl

I finished reading the Kommandant's Girl by Pam Jenoff a few days ago and just haven't even felt like it was worth blogging about. I did finish the book, but just kept thinking that it would get better, that something would happen, etc. Finally, while I was reading it, it occurred to me that I felt as if I were reading a Young Adult book. It just read quite simply and, for me, quite unrealistically.

Obviously, from the title, you probably have guessed that it was about a young girl during WW II. Emma was a Jewish girl in Poland who was taken from the Polish ghetto early in occupation and moved to her husband's cousin's home. She assumed a new identity as Anna. The cousin was an older lady, who was not Jewish and was willing to care for Emma, along with a small male child who had lost his parents. Emma's husband was off fighting in the Resistance, and her parents had remained in the ghetto. One night at a party she met the Kommandant and he was immediately taken with her and shortly after, asked her to be his assistant. So Emma/Anna began working in Nazi headquarters. Soon she was asked by the Resistance to begin to steal papers, etc for their use, which she agreed to do.

There are several incidents in the book where Emma/Anna either is caught or comes close to being caught. However these incidents are quickly and easily resolved, making the Germans to appear to be not very bright, along with being very forgiving people. Not what you picture a German Nazi Kommandant to be.

Of course, while there is something to be said for the fact that many of the Nazi German army soldiers and officers may have been kind, gentle people, I don't think that their being betrayed was easily looked over or forgiven.

I just found the book to be way too simplistic and unrealistic. I was very glad to be moving onto a new read!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Books: A Memoir

I just finished reading Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry. Interesting book. It was not at all what I expected. I guess that I thought it would be more about favorite books he has read, etc. Instead, it seemed to be about his career as a book seller/trader. Which was interesting, since I had never known that he was in the used book selling trade, nor have I ever read much about the trade business. Although, Lord knows, I have been in plenty of used book stores!

It was an interesting book, but I would think it would only be interesting to people who really love books themselves, not just love to read. It made me think about some of the bookstores that I have been to. The used bookstores that I have been most impressed with were in San Francisco. I believe that the ones I visited were in the Castro district and they were wonderful! This is going back almost 20 years ago. Wonderful big, old, comfortable stores that I could wander in for hours!

So anyway, back to the book. It was enjoyable, even if for only helping me recall my great used bookstore experiences!

As a side note, I have never read any of Larry McMurtry’s books, but I have read so much about Lonesome Dove that I may venture on into it soon. Does anyone have any opinions about which of his books to read?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Likeness

I am not even sure where to begin reviewing this was so good. It is the second novel of Tana French. I read the first one sometime ago and reviewed it here (In The Woods). The Likeness carried through with one of the main characters of In the Woods with Detective Cassie Maddox going undercover into a college group of 5, taking on the identify of Lexie Madison, one of the 5 who was found murdered. The other 4 of the group are suspects and so are told that Lexie was seriously injured and in a coma. When she returns to their home, she spends several weeks living as Lexie, attempting to learn who the murderer was.

Here is what the Barnes and Noble reviewer had to say about the book:

The Barnes & Noble Review

Tana French worked as an actress before she started writing, at age 33, and she inhabits her characters with such ease that one feels genuine regret that they aren't available to, say, grab a pint at the local pub while trading South Park quips and riffing on the kind of over-groomed women who never buy their round. Her debut novel, Into the Woods, was a police procedural about two cops earning their sea legs in the Dublin Murder Squad, but the relationship between Rob Ryan and his partner, Cassie Maddox, was so finely drawn that it could have just as well been simply about the difficulties of platonic friendships between men and women. And yet French deposited not one but two tantalizingly suspenseful mysteries at the core of the novel -- and then had the audacity to leave the most spectacular of the two unanswered at novel's end. What nerve it took, then, to begin The Likeness somewhere else entirely. While Rob narrated the first novel, the voice in this novel belongs solely to Cassie. She is lured back to undercover work when a body shows up that is her exact likeness. Her old boss, Frank, convinces her to impersonate the dead woman in her former life. Once there, however, Cassie becomes so charmed by her new life as a graduate student in literature that she nearly forgets her purpose is to find a killer. French meticulously builds suspense in the most natural, harrowing way -- her characters are so perfectly built that one feels capable of analyzing them and second-guessing them as one would do with friends. Cassie is so well articulated, in fact, that one can imagine a second mystery hovering like some phantom scrim that she is too close to see. If it's there, French is wise enough not to tip her hand; her books work most perfectly in the empty spaces between. --Amy Benfer

That's a good review. I was glad that this book did not leave any of the questions unanswered as her first book did. I am still waiting for a follow-up book to In the Woods!

Both books are outstanding reads...I highly recommend both. I can't even pick out which one I liked better. Ms. French has a great sense of mystery! I look forward to her next story!