December 12th, 2010

reading a book

Book 123: Port Mortuary by Patricia Cornwell

Book 123: Port Mortuary (Kay Scarpetta 18).
Author: Patricia Cornwell, 2010.
Genre: Forensic Crime Thriller
Other Details: Hardback. 496 pages.

I noted last December when reviewing The Scarpetta Factor that Patricia Cornwell seemed to have come out of her slump. Now with her latest book in this series this return to form is confirmed.

Most notable is that she has gone back to first person narration after six novels (Blow Fly to The Scarpetta Factor) in which she switched to an omniscient, third person perspective.It never worked for me and I really missed Kay's voice. The publishers have made note of this significant change on the back cover and inside flap by declaring "we welcome back a voice we haven't heard in years: that of Kay Scarpetta herself." I seriously let out a whoop of joy when I read this.

The story itself was very much old school Scarpetta and some aspects wouldn't be out of place in a Michael Crichton-style techno-thriller. However, Cornwell does preface the book with a note to say that it is a work of fiction, not science fiction, and that the medical and forensic procedures, technologies and weapons in the story do exist today. Also, the return to the first person perspective brings Kay's angstation about her life and the people in it to the fore and provides a fair amount of revelation about aspects of her past that go some way to explain her personality.

So what is it about? Well, Kay Scarpetta has changed jobs again and has been appointed to head up the Cambridge Forensic Center (CFC), a state-of-the-art forensic pathology facility in Massachusetts, which will be the first civilian port mortuary in the USA. However, for the past six months she has been taking advanced training in 'virtual autopsies' at Dover Air Force Base's Port Mortuary. The novel opens with Kay preparing to return home.

She then receives word of an unusual case that is causing great concern back at the CFC. A young man had dropped dead while out walking his dog, apparently of a heart condition. However, when his body is examined the next morning blood is found pooling in the body bag suggesting that he may have been alive when his body was placed in the mortuary cooler. When Kay investigates using the new technology, she finds bizarre internal injuries and an unexpected link to another murder in the district.

Most of the novel takes place in an intense 24-hour period with Scarpetta becoming increasingly anxious and exhausted as events unfold. This pace makes the book almost impossible to put down. Port Mortuary is a strong return to vintage Cornwell and I am just delighted.
Kels reading candle

Books 81-85: Christopher Moore, Harry Potter, and Hunger Games

"Theo was cursed with an artist's soul but no talent. He possessed the angst and the inspiration, but not the means to create."

"Scratch a cynic and you'll find a disappointed romantic."
81. The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove by Christopher Moore (304 pages) After an apparent suicide of one of her patients, psychiatrist Val puts all her patients on placeboes. Suddenly, Pine Cove's bar, with its new Blue singer, Catfish, is overrun with the depressed and lonely. Meanwhile, a giant, prehistoric sea beast emerges from the ocean and strikes up a romance with the town's B-movie has-been celebrity, Molly. As the town sheriff and his biologist friend try to unravel the disappearances and police corruption, romance blossoms everywhere in typical Moore fashion. One of Moore's best novels (though not as great as his masterpieces Lamb and Fool), funny and clever, refreshing, bawdy, comedic and brilliant. Moore is definitely an original: Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett meets Mark Twain. Grade: A

 ***HARRY POTTER SPOILERS BELOW, If you're one of the three people left on the planet who haven't read them (and, if you are, what are you waiting for?!?)***

82. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (607 pages) Reread for the sixth time. Realized something for the first time. When Harry and Snape square off, Harry says, "Kill me like you killed him, you coward!" He means James, his dad, not Dumbledore. Hence why Snape has such a visceral reaction: Harry just reminded him that he killed Lily. "His face was suddenly demented, inhuman, as thought he was in as much pain as the yelping, howling dog stuck in the burning house behind them. 'Don't call me coward!'" Woah, see rereading these things, get something new every time. Still adore that Tonks and Remus scene, the most romantic scene of all time, in my humble opinion. Man, do I adore Remus Lupin, the man that becomes the monster he is because he hates the monster he is, and yet, would be an awful monster if he didn't. Yeah, JKR is great when it comes to the torment. And anguish. And the blood baths. And the disturbing. Yikes, is there a more disturbing scene in literature than that Harry-forcing-Dumbledore-to-drink-that-potion scene? Oh, yeah, it's dead-bodies-piled-in-the-cafeteria scene of the next book!


"Parents shouldn't leave their kids unless--unless they've got to."
83. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (607 pages) Reread for the fourth time. Sure, this was probably the most disappointing book in the series. Sure, it tends to ramble and meander. But, you know what? This is the end of one of the most brilliant (not to mention, my personal favorite) series, and the series ends just exactly as it should: with triumphant victory and rivers of tears (holy crap do I bawl during this book, and the death of Remus and Tonks still physically upsets me). It is full of beautiful, powerful, absolutely perfect moments (the greatest of which is Harry's walk down to death) Most importantly, this book is a shining example of why JKR and her books are so brilliant, powerful, and beautiful: it isn't just all the deaths that move us so deeply, it is JKR's complete understand of what death is. She knows that the true horror of death is the loss of those we love and those who love us. Death may be the greatest mystery and horror of human existence, but it isn't death itself. The true is a horror only faced by the living.

The other reason that JKR's books are so extraordinarily brilliant is how chock full of character, drama, and plot. There's the beautiful little love story between Remus and Tonks, where Remus can't handle his own guilt and grief at allowing himself a bit of a normal life. In other words, he can't face the monster within himself. Then, of course, there's the whole Snape and Lily love story. That line, after Dumbledore asks Snape what he'll give him to protect Lily and her husband and baby, and Snape just replies, "Anything." Seriously, JKR doesn't need to write a prequel; 3/4 of the books are telling the story of what happened before the first page of Philosopher's Stone! And it is a brilliant story.


84. Pompeii by Robert Harris (278 pages) Attilius is sent to the area around Vesuvius to discover why the aqueducts are no longer flowing. He gets embroiled in corrupt politics, particularly those of a corrupt, wealthy former slave Ampliatus. He falls for Ampliatus' daughter, Corelia, as he uncovers corruption and the mystery of why the aqueduct is failing. As we all know, Vesuvius erupts, eventually burying the town in ash and fire. While the setting is fascinating and the characters somewhat engaging, the writing capable, the plot is lackluster and meandering and the book never goes beyond decent historical fiction beach read. Could have been much better. Grade: B


"But then…what? What would my life be like on a daily basis? Most of it has been consumed with the acquisition of food. Take that away and I'm not really sure who I am, what my identity is. The idea scares me some."
85. The Hunger Games by Susan Collins (374 pages) Katniss lives in a post apocalyptic, poverty-stricken world where every day is a fight against hunger. But everything changes when her beloved little sister is chosen as tribute in the tyrannical Capital's Hunger Games. Katniss volunteers to go instead, and she must go into an arena of twenty-four other adolescents to fight to the death. Her drunken trainer and the simpering idiots blinded by the glory and entertainment of the Games are no help to her. Only her own survival skills and Peetra, the other tribute of her district, can help her. But what will happen when her survival instincts conflict with her growing feelings for the boy who once saved her? Collins crafts a fascinating (if not original) premise that allows for brilliant character study between the enigmatic, but thoroughly likeable characters of the furtive Peetra and the hardened, cold survivor Katniss. Though Katniss is far from heroic in any epic sense (she's too concerned with survival and playing the Games rather than being concerned with any grander scheme), this is her strength, as she is thoroughly a realistic and complex character, deeply refreshing in the science fiction genre. Though the novel is predictable, it is deeply engaging, with both an action/adventure appeal, and an emotional one. A very strong first of a trilogy. Grade: A-

der Mut
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Aquamarine Rails Bury Mercury; Kissing Unpolished Rondo Genes

I keep putting off posting these because I'm in the middle of so many books and mean to finish them first ... but then I keep starting more books.... anyway.

Bryant and May Off the Rails, by Christopher Fowler
I feel like this volume has put this series back ON the rails, frankly. <3. But start at the beginning, if your interest is piqued.

Mercury, by Hope Larson
Absolutely perfect; I read it in one sitting. A dual story - reminded me of the pleasures of reading time travel books as a kid (even though there's no actual time travel) and rung the changes of the modern school comic at the same time. Must Read More Like This.
(170/200, 1/100)

Bury Your Dead, by Louise Penny
Another put-the-mystery-series-back-on-the-rails book. The penultimate volume of this series left me thoroughly dissatisfied (even though it was brilliant) and it felt like this one fixed all those wrong things. Gamache is one of my favorite literary characters.

Aquamarine Blue 5, edited by Dawn Prince-Hughes
This slim volume of autobiographical essays by university students on the autism spectrum was EXACTLY the corrective I needed in a time of feeling very FEH about some other books (which I still haven't finished) and about the universe in general. Really interesting and really honestly presented.

Days of Rondo, by Evelyn Fairbanks
I'm so glad life threw this book in my path. The author's memories of her childhood in a now-destroyed St. Paul neighborhood are simultaneously universally relatable and sharply of that specific time and place. Some powerful things to say about race, class, and gender in America, as well - the indirect things may be even more powerful than the direct ones.

Blue Genes, by Christopher Lucas (ARC)
I appear to have been on an autobiography kick;). This is a heartbreaking book, but well worth reading if you're interested in sibling relationships and/or the experience of depression. I found it especially valuable because the author is relatively old - past retirement age - and looking back at the entire scope of his life. Most of the books like this I've read were written fairly young. There were chunks I wanted to underline or quote, but didn't end up doing so because it was just too hard to dwell on them. Very strong, very naked.
(174/200, 2/100)

Unpolished Gem, by Alice Pung (complimentary copy)
Hugely intelligent and masterfully unselfconscious literary memoir of growing up young and Asian in the suburbs of Melbourne. The author's use of language is so wonderful I'll be putting her on my 'read anything she writes' list. Lucky for me, she'll have another book coming out lo, about any day now.
(175/200, 3/100)

Kissing the Witch, by Emma Donoghue (reread)
I forgot I'd actually read this when I was young and didn't tend to remember what I'd read, and did such a convincing job of being intrigued by it that a dear friend slipped it into my flight bag as I was packing to go home. Which was SO FORTUNATE, because it was a major factor (along with my iPod and some colored pencils) in transforming a long groundstop from frustrating to luxurious. Wondrously deft stories, perfect mix of familiar and strange, sometimes gaspingly delicious. And the memories of reading it for the first time as a nineteen-year-old didn't hurt either.
(176/200, 4/100)
  • Current Music
    Good Old War, "That's Some Dream"
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Book 26 - 2010

Book 26: The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory – 514 pages

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The fifth of Gregory’s Tudor Court novels, this one, like Virgin’s Lover, is told from more than one perspective, in this case, those of Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Jane Boleyn. As a rule I prefer this type of storytelling, mostly because I find one internal voice or perspective boring (especially if its reference to a series – who else got tired of listening to Harry Potter’s view of the world – ugh, after a while I wanted to hit him!). Having these three voices definitely made this book move fast, and despite its size and subject matter I read it in just over a week. I really liked the way Gregory portrayed Anne of Cleves. She was a woman ahead of her time (if we are to give any credence to Gregory’s interpretation) , longing to escape a violent brother only to find herself married to an equally violent, and much more powerful, King. The fact that she was on the only one of Henry VIII’s wives (excluding Katherine Parr seeing as she outlived in) to get away with just a divorce makes me think that she must have been doing something right. Kitty Howard, on the other hand, could hardly be held up as a role model (well, not for now, maybe for the time she was living in though), but I could not help feeling sorry for her. She was bribed and tempted into the King’s bed, younger than his daughter, and then sold down the river the moment the tide turned. Jane Boleyn, despite her obvious jealous streak and case of nuttiness, struck me in much the same way, the marked difference being that Jane did for survival and pre-conceived duty what Kitty did for childish greed. Overall, I really enjoyed this one, getting into the minds of these three women, understanding their very different perspectives on life, and in some cases, mourning their untimely deaths.

26 / 50 books. 52% done!

9101 / 15000 pages. 61% done!

Currently reading:
- She’s Such a Geek: Women write about Science, Technology & other nerdy stuff
edited by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Anders – 223 pages
- How to Make Gravy
by Paul Kelly – 552 pages
- Nobody’s Prize
by Esther Friesner – 306 pages

And coming up:
- A Series of Unfortunate Events: Book the Second: The Reptile Room
by Lemony Snicket – 190 pages
- The Star King
by Susan Grant – 358 pages
- Jennifer Government
by Max Barry – 335 pages

Books 124-125: The Shadows in the Street and The Boy Who Taught the Beekeeper to Read

Book 124: The Shadows in the Street (Simon Serrailler 05).
Author: Susan Hill, 2010.
Genre: Police Procedural. Murder Mystery. Literary Fiction.
Other Details: Hardback. 384 pages.

Set about a year after the events in The Vows of Silence, the book opens with Simon Serrailler taking a well-earned sabbatical on a distant Scottish island after successfully completing a difficult and dangerous case for the Special Incident Flying Task force. However, when the bodies of two missing prostitutes are found he is quickly called back to Lafferton to lead the investigation. When a third prostitute goes missing they have to face the possibility of a serial killer on their patch.

Hill continues the successful format of her other novels in this series by combining a police procedural with the day-to-day lives of various local residents and the community itself. Those who prefer gritty, high-paced action police procedurals are not likely to take to these books and their depiction of provisional English life. For example, there is a major sub-plot involving the appointment of a new Dean for the cathedral who has an evangelical agenda and how this upsets the existing congregation.

I love this series, not only for its enigmatic central character of Simon Serrailler, but for the richness of Hill's writing, her psychological insights and characterisations. I am so pleased that the next instalment is coming in April 2011.

Book 125: The Boy Who Taught the Beekeeper to Read.
Author: Susan Hill, 2003.
Genre: Short Stories.
Other Details: Hardback. 211 pages.

This collection of short stories was selected for one of my reading groups this month. We often choose shorter works in December as everyone tends to be busier in the weeks leading up to the Christmas holidays.

As said above I adore Susan Hill's writings. However, I am just not a fan of the short story format as I like to get my teeth into characters, story and settings. Yes, these nine stories were pleasant enough; offering well crafted bitter-sweet vignettes but overall they failed to really inspire me. Many of the stories do involve relationships between different generations and responses to authority.

My favourite was the last story Antonyin's in which an Englishman working in a bleak Eastern European town has a terrible time with the local food until he discovers Antonyin's, a small café that serves perfect food. However, his pleasure in this discovery is threatened when he is targeted by a woman determined to talk him into marrying her so she can escape to the West. It is the quirkiest of the tales and I enjoy quirky in short stories.


We follow a reality-based fictional account of Sherman's March with a fantasy-based fictional account, Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th, by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen. I'll keep Book Review No. 32 short. There's very little about the Day of Infamy, as the focus is on the interaction of British, U.S., and Japanese naval officers in the beginning of the aircraft carrier era. Fuchida Mitsuo and Genda Minoru are real enough; their English-speaking counterparts probably composite characters. The Japanese are neither happy with the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty nor with the prospect of a Soviet China. But they have little by way of coal, oil, or iron ore.

That's standard enough. The point of these novels is to consider a slightly different history. You'll get no spoilers from me. But there are plenty of opportunities for the authors, possibly nudged by Speaker Gingrich, to get in culture-war references to the celebrity-besotted Anglophones of the Depression era contrasted with the focused Japanese naval aviators. There are also plenty of missed opportunities for the proofreaders.

There's a Tom Clancy in the stack of stuff. Stay tuned.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)