Sunday, 31 May 2009

L is for Lawless by Sue Grafton: Book 31, 2009

Title: L is for Lawless by Sue Grafton
Genre: thriller. adventure
Rating: 6/10
Comments: Not one of Grafton's best. Private Investigator Kinsey Millhone ends up on a road trip with a bunch of criminals after an attempt to help a neighbour track down his grandfather's war records takes a bizarre twist. For reasons that are never really explained, Kinsey hops on a plane to follow thieves who have broken into her neighbour's home even though her neighbour is only seeking $450 in funeral benefits from Veteran's Affairs. Turns out grandpa wasn't ever in the army; rather he spent the war years in jail after pulling off a big bank heist, the proceeds of which have never come to light. Now he's dead, his co-conspirators are looking for the cash, gold and jewels. As one review put it, the plot looked like it was that of a bad made-for-television film.

The Lucy Family Alphabet by Judith Lucy: Book 30, 2009

Title: The Lucy Family Alphabet by Judith Lucy
Genre: autobiography, humour
Rating: 10/10
Comments: If you thought your family was strange and dysfunctional, you haven't yet met the Lucys. One comes away from reading this book thinking"this explains a lot" about one of Australia's funniest yet self-deprecating comedians, Judith Lucy. Brought up in Perth by a mother who was a pathological liar who feared water (Judith didn't shower before the age of 15), a father who wore makeup to enhance his appearance (a metrosexual ahead of his time) and a Grandmother who used the funeral of her own daughter to turn the attention back on herself, it's not surprising Judith has had a long-time relationship with alcohol and a series of bad relationships with men. Then she found out that she was adopted. At the age of 25. From her brother's wife at the Christmas from hell to end all Christmases from hell.

Both side-splittingly humorous and heart-breakingly painful, this book is a tribute to the family who made Judith the woman she is today. It particularly highlights the positive relationship and love she has with her brother Niall, but also the love she has for her parents, notwithstanding their nuttiness. Because a the end of the day she loves her parents. Doesn't everyone love their parents?

C is for Corpse by Sue Grafton: Book 29, 2009

Title: C is for Corpse by Sue Grafton
Genre: crime/detective/thriller
Rating: 7.5/10
Comments: An enjoyable page-turner. Private Investigator Kinsey Millhone is hired by a wealthy young man who was badly injured in a car crash that he insists was an attempt on his life, rather than an accident as others are suggesting. His claims start to have more credence when he dies sometime later in another car crash - supposedly of a brain aneurysm possibly caused by the first crash. Their are motives and red herrings a plenty. One of Grafton's best books in the series.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Attention Deficit Disorder: Only a Mother Could Love Him by Ben Polis - Book 52, 2009

Title: Attention Deficit Disorder: Only a Mother Could Love Him by Ben Polis
Genre: health, real-life experience
Rating: 9/10
Plot summary: Ben Polis was the nightmare kid every parent and teacher dreads - hyperactive, impulsive, unable to check his emotions, disruptive and violent. Childhood highlights include riding his bike over and killing the neighbour's dog, causing a major electrical blackout and being suspended and/or expelled from six separate schools. Yet somehow this powder keg of a boy who could not read a sentence until he was 11 managed to turn around his life sufficiently to pass Year 12 and get into university. Realising that he would never be able to work for anyone else, he took a course in business entrepreneurship and wrote and self-published a book on growing up with ADD, the effect on his family, peers and self and techniques he has learnt to manage his condition. By the end of the book he is tutoring another young boy with ADD and trying to help parents and teachers better understand life from the perspective with someone with ADD.
Comments: This is a fascinating, if harrowing, tale and provides insight for those who have to live with ADD - both the sufferers and their suffering family and neighbourhood. While it is just one person's imperfect view of the condition with little scientific depth or research, it is an easy-to-read and accessible book that provides a real perspective on ADD.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

P is for Peril by Sue Grafton: Book 28, 2009

Title: P is for Peril by Sue Grafton
Genre: crime, thriller
Rating: 7.5/10
Plot summary: (From Publisher's Weekly)
Kinsey looks into the disappearance of Dr. Dowan Purcell, who's been missing for nine weeks. Dr. Purcell is an elderly physician who runs a nursing home that's being investigated for Medicare fraud. His ex-wife, Fiona, hires Kinsey when it seems as though the police have given up on the search. Fiona thinks that he could be simply hiding out somewhere, especially since he's pulled a disappearance stunt twice before. However, Purcell's current wife, Crystal, believes that he may be dead. Kinsey is dubious about finding any new leads after so much time has elapsed. She's also worried about having to move out of the office space she now occupies in the suite owned by her lawyer, and between her interviews with suspects she tries to rent a new office from a pair of brothers whose mysterious background begins to make her suspicious.
Comments: With this book Grafton redeems herself for its very implausible predecessor. Like most of Grafton's books this is an easy and enjoyable read. While it has generally received more lukewarm reviews from others, I found it relaxing and (by modern standards) relatively free of excessive gratuitous descriptions of violence. There are plenty of twists and turns, alternative suspects and red herrings. Perfect public transport reading.

Monday, 11 May 2009

O is for Outlaw by Sue Grafton: Book 27, 2009

Title: O is for Outlaw by Sue Grafton
Genre: crime, thriller
Rating: 5.5/10
Comments: There is no doubt that Grafton can write a compelling page-turner but I found it hard to suspend disbelief during this one. Kinsey's ex-husband, Mickey, is in a coma, shot by a gun registered in her name. When the police trace a 30 minute call from Mickey's apartment to Kinsey's home, they turn up on her doorstep and have trouble believing her denials that she has not spoken to him in more than 12 years. Just a few days previously she had come upon a never delivered letter that indicated that she may have misjudged Mickey (in one sense at least). So partially to clear her name and partially to repay Mickey for her previous hasty judgement, Kinsey sets out to investigate what really happened.

So far, so good. The problem with this book is that Kinsey proceeds to run ridiculous personal and professional risks by breaking and entering to find answers, stealing mail and refraining from passing on crucial evidence to the police investigating the crime. Mickey was clearly in financial difficulties - yet he hadn't tapped into money stashed throughout his apartment as part of his survivalist preparations.

For some reason the detectives investigating the case overlook Kinsey's numerous wrong-doings and recruit her to wear a wire tap while visiting Mickey's assailant. And in the final chapter Kinsey risks her life by leading a gun-toting murderer on a wild car case instead of stopping for assistance from those detectives, driving straight to a police station or doing anything else remotely sensible.

The paper thin plot is a real disappointment because Grafton can write very well. She's not running out of ideas but she is running out of plausible plot lines.

Hamlet - A Novel by John Marsden: Book 26, 2009

Title: Hamlet - A Novel by John Marsden
Genre: Literateure
Rating: 8/10
Comments: Hamlet by John Marsden? I thought Shakespeare wrote Hamlet!
True. And it's a great story but 400 years on many people find the language - beautiful as it is - an impediment to understanding exactly what is going on. So Young Adult Fiction writer and English teacher John Marsden has 'translated' the play into novel form to make it accessible to students and encourage them to tackle the original play. The novel retains all the original names and story lines. Both a great teaching aid and worth reading on its own.

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem: Book 25, 2009

Title: Solaris: Stanislaw Lem
Genre: Science Fiction, Philosophy
Rating: 10/10
Comments: It's hard to believe this was written in 1960. Solaris exemplifies great science fiction with ideas that remain fresh and relevant 50 years on and surprisingly few details that hint at the age of the writing. The book's protagonist, Kelvin, arrives at a space station orbiting the planet Solaris which is dominated by a sentient ocean which has eluded human scientific understanding. The scientists aboard the station are physically and emotionally damaged - one has died - and they are either unable or unwilling to explain what has happened to them. Kelvin is frustrated and angry - and then he receives a visit from what appears to be his wife - who had died by her own hand many years previously.