Saturday, February 23, 2013

Naked in Death by J.D. Robb

Naked in Death (In Death, #1)Naked in Death by J.D. Robb

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book for personal reasons. I'd read, and enjoyed, a few Nora Roberts novels, so a friend recommended that I try some of the books Roberts wrote as J. D. Robb. Cancer took that friend a few years back. Now I'm finally getting around to following her suggestion and it felt nice to do so, as if Nancy was communicating with me again.

Roberts didn't exactly move to a different genre with Naked in Death. She kept one foot in romance. For example: the sex scenes come in two different categories: descriptions of degrading videos and pictures of the prostitutes who were the victims as well as long, romantic descriptions of the heroine's relationship with one of the suspects, including one when he rips her shirt off. So in that area there was some of what a reader would expect from both genres.

I listened to the audio version of the book in my car. Towards the end I was so caught up in it, I drove passed my destination and circled around until I reached a point where I could turn off the player. The novel was written in 1995 and is set in the year 2058. (This is the second book in a row I've read that was written years ago and placed in the future.) Guns are antique weapons, so the murders Eve Dallas is investigating are unusual to that period. Robert's picture of the future is interesting with some things, such as real coffee, scarce, while other things, such as technology, abundant.

I had a couple of issues. The first is the title. There's an implication with Naked in Death that nakedness was an unusual circumstance for the victims. These victims were also naked in life, since they were “licensed companions.”

The second issue is the one covered in this selection:

Eve accepted – was forced to accept – that her privacy was no longer an issue. “I spent the night with Roarke. It was a personal decision, on my personal time. In my professional opinion, as primary investigator, he has been eliminated as a suspect. It doesn't negate the fact that my behavior was inadvisable.”

“Inadvisable,” Whitney exploded. “Try asinine. Try career suicide, Goddamn it, Dallas, can't you hold your glands in check? I don't expect this from you.”

She didn't expect it from herself.

Eve was supposed to be a professional, excellent police investigator, yet she jumped to conclusions about a suspect because he was attractive and rich. She rationalized her decision, but her rationalization was weak. This could have been a character flaw she needed to overcome, yet her actions worked to her advantage rather than against her, so I saw it as a flaw in the plot. But a minor one.

Naked in Death is a page turner and good choice for fans of detective stories and romances.

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Dreamsnake by Vonda N McIntyre

DreamsnakeDreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dreamsnake is an award winning novel (Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards) about the world after a nuclear holocaust. One of the things that makes it fascinating is that it first came out in 1978, so it shows a post apocalyptic view that doesn't account for anything humanity has experienced in the last 35 years. Yet McIntyre's view of what this future world is like doesn't have much about it that seems lacking from a 2013 point of view. To me that means our advancements have been more about technology than they have been about how we relate to each other. In McIntyre's world there is still bigotry, drug abuse, sexual abuse, and greed. Those were things people worried about in the seventies and still worry about today.

The main character is a young woman named Snake who is a healer. She travels about the world with three snakes: Grass, a rare dreamsnake who is used for pain management, Sand, a rattlesnake whose venom is used to make medicines and Mist, a cobra whose purpose is similar to Sand's. Early in the book Grass is hurt by a group of people Snake has been helping, people who don't understand the purpose of a dreamsnake. Snake is forced to kill Grass because the reptile has been hurt so badly. Since Snake's people have not had success breeding dreamsnakes, Grass's death means that Snake may not be able to go on as a healer. Her only hope of continuing her work is to find another source of dreamsnakes.

Snake meets a man, Arevin, who is attracted to Snake enough to follow her. Snake also meets a young, abused girl, Melissa, whom she adopts. These are the three people I would consider the main characters of the novel, but there are many others Snake encounters along the way. This future world is filled with clans of people who live in camps, villages, and a city. The city dwellers look down on the people who live outside their walls, but in some ways the outsiders have a better life. They certainly have a more open view about the rest of humanity.

I loved McIntyre's picture of a world when humanity has bombed itself back into the dark ages, but I did have a few problems with the structure of her plot. It's a book where the end doesn't flow as much from the actions of the main characters as it does from a separate stroke of luck. Still, I enjoyed it very much.

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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Flight BehaviorFlight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Barbara Kingsolver has included a number of plot threads in her novel Flight Behavior, about subjects she cares about, including the primary one - climate change. Flight Behavior is more than either a story to get lost in or a carefully researched non-fiction book, because it is both and, to use a cliché, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The plot threads include: someone living a life that is less than her potential, bigotry against country culture, and the way the world is affected by climate change. These subjects seem unrelated, but Kingsolver makes them work together.

The novel opens with Dellarobia Turnbow walking up a mountain to throw her marriage away on an affair with an attractive telephone lineman. But along the path she encounters something that changes her life, thousands of Monarch butterflies wintering in southern Appalachia. When news of this event spreads to the people of Feathertown, most of the residents take it to be a miracle sent from God. The word spreads further than that small town and soon a scientist named Ovid Byron shows up to study the butterflies. Dellarobia's relationship with that man and with the event that brought him to her changes her life.

Dellarobia lives with her husband, Cub, and their two children in a house on land belonging to her in-laws. Prior to the arrival of the butterflies her life consists of taking care of the kids and shopping at second hand shops and dollar stores. Early in the novel Dellarobia thinks she's been named after a hand crafted wreath, something she isn't proud of. But she discovers later on that della Robbia is the name of a fifteenth century sculptor. Dellarobia's name is a great metaphor for her life, how she is much more than she thought she was.

One of my favorite quotes from the novel comes from a conversation between Ovid and his wife, Juliette. They are speaking about Dellarobia's theory concerning the reasons why many country people doubt that climate change exists. Ovid says, “Climate change denial functions like folk art for some people, a way of defining survival in their own terms.” Juliette's reply is that she had always thought the attitude came from “Corporate mantras via conservative media.” There is probably truth in both points, but Ovid's is less simplistic and respects the people of Appalachia for having the ability to come up with their own ideas.

I love Barbara Kingsolver's writing and her activism. This book is one of her best.

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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Brighten the Corner Where You Are by Fred Chappell

Brighten the Corner Where You Are: A NovelBrighten the Corner Where You Are: A Novel by Fred Chappell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brighten The Corner Where You Are is a novel about Joe Robert Kirkman, a farmer who lives in the mountains of North Carolina. Joe Robert teaches. Teaching is something he is forced to do because he needs the money, but it is also something he's good at. Fred Chappell's book is about a single day during which this storytelling prankster's event filled life pushes him into situations where his humor, imagination, and capacity to think makes the lives of the people around him better. At the same time Brighten The Corner Where You Are takes on deeper issues about the responsibilities of educators.

The book starts out with a prologue about Joe Robert and his son walking in the early morning toward their barn to feed and milk their cows. It's not dark, because the moon is huge. In fact the moon is so big that it is overbearing. So Joe Robert takes it down and places it in one of the steel containers he has for the milk. Joe's son, who is also the story's narrator, is horrified by this action and convinces his father to put the moon back where it belongs. This first part of the novel is what I would call magical realism, while what happens after that is more along the lines of exaggerated story telling. But whatever label is used, the writing is beautiful and works on multiple levels.

On the surface the story is about a teacher who knows he will have to face the school board that day, because he's been accused of teaching something improper. He's nervous about his upcoming trial and wants to make a good impression, but events keep tumbling his way that bruise his body and dirty his clothing. Still, he keeps moving forward through his day.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the way it covers the Creationism vs. Darwinism argument. Kirkman seems to be saying that the actual argument is not whether people were created by God in the exact form they are in today or descended from another type of primate. The real argument is can people have the complete truth revealed to them or do they need to constantly search for truth, getting closer and closer to the goal but never quite reaching it. There are also multiple incidents in the book that make Joe Robert question what he does for a living. One of those incidents makes him wonder if the desire for knowledge is the cause of pain, while others argue against that simplistic answer.

Brighten The Corner Where You Are is perfect for readers who like books that are fun to read, but still cover complex issues.

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