Dory L.'s blog

Ice Cold

ISBN: 
9780345515483

Cops and forensic specialists are different from you and me, they've seen too many corpses and have had to reconstruct too many grisly last moments. In this fast paced thriller, Boston detective Jane Rizzolli works on the case of her friend Maura Isle's disappearance. They've worked together for years. Jane's sleuthing skills and Dr. Isle's medical knowledge have led to many mysteries being solved. Because she believes that she lacks the people skills and compassion needed by a doctor in a practice, Maura prefers working with corpses. If you've seen the TV show, yes, it's that same strong-women team from Boston of detective and coroner.

Ice Cold begins with Maura saying good-bye to her long-term boyfriend, Fr. Daniel Brophy. Because he is a Catholic priest, their affair must remain secret. Maura's on her way to a medical conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. While there, she reconnects with a med school friend who invites her out to dinner. Usually, Maura nixes such invitations but she's annoyed at Daniel and unhappy with the amount of time he allows himself to spend with her. Read more »

The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories

ISBN: 
9781451655841

The Angel Esmeralda is Don DeLillo's first story collection, and man, can he craft excellent short fiction. Famous for his novels, including Libra and White Noise, DeLillo's prose is concise, clear, and adept at capturing the inner worlds of his characters. He's obviously not a prolific short story writer because the nine stories span the years from 1979 to 2011. They are set in many locations including: Manhattan, Greece, the Caribbean, a prison camp for wealthy offenders, and a rocket ship in outer space, among others.

My favorite piece is "Midnight in Dostoyevsky." It's about two college students at a wintry, unnamed campus, who love to argue about almost everything, including the big questions of life and a stranger's motivations and unknown family life.  At the story's beginning, they start contesting each other's opinions about another pedestrian even while they are passing him. They have a heated and involved dialogue about whether this old man's hooded winter garment is a parka, an anorak, or something else. These arguments aren't just idle chatter. For the two students involved, they put their intellectual and perceptive skills on the line, and being right is vital to their sense of pride. Read more »

Train Dreams

ISBN: 
9780374281144

I don't read many novellas but this one, Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson made several "best new book" lists recently.  And it got rave reviews from quite a few other writers.

Grainier's first memory of trains is of being sent on one as a young child, with a fare receipt pinned to his shirt.  His destination was Fry, Idaho, but he never knew his parents or even the origin point of this trip. One older cousin said that he came from Canada and that the French language had to be whipped out of him. Another cousin said that family had sent him from Utah where he had spent his first years as a Mormon. But all his life, he had only trains and their tracks for the history of his early childhood. Read more »

How It All Began

ISBN: 
9780670023448

I only brought one novel on my vacation to New Mexico, and How It All Began was the perfect one. Not that it's about New Mexico, no--it's almost wholly set in London with a few side trips to Cambridge and a "cathedral town."

The novel begins with an interesting premise, similar to the butterfly affect in New Zealand. What happens in the rest of the world when a butterfly starts a slight breeze wafting Down Under? In this case, it's nothing as natural or beautiful as a butterfly fluttering.  Instead, an older retired teacher and passionate book person, Charlotte, has been mugged on a city street. This ignites a chain of events that alters many lives.

First, her daughter Rose must come to the hospital and care for her. This leaves Rose's grumpy, egotistical employer, Henry, a former professor of history, at a loss. Rose had promised to accompany him to Cambridge where he was presenting a lecture on his field, 18th century England. Read more »

The Transit of Venus--Books

ISBN: 
9780307700179

Tonight if you are lucky and the sky doesn't cloud up, you will be able to observe one of astronomy's rare celestial events, the transit of Venus. But be careful, and don't look directly at the sun without using safe viewing glasses or lenses. If you don't own those, you can attend one of the free events listed below. If you miss tonight's transit, alas, you won't catch another in your lifetime because the next one won't occur until 2117.

I've been reading about the transit of Venus and how an earlier one in the 18th century really expanded our knowledge of the solar system. It also was the earliest example of a large and cooperative international scientific expedition.

We have two new books that report on this scientific quest. Andrea Wulf's Chasing Venus: the Race to Measure the Heavens reports on the work and incredible adventures that were undertaken by scientists worldwide in trying to observe and make measurements for the transit that occurred on June 6, 1761. In an age when it took several months for a letter to cross the oceans and a few more months for a response, a scientist in England organized this great scientific undertaking. In remote corners of the world, scientists from Britain, Russia, India, Germany, the Read more »

Miss Fuller

ISBN: 
9781586421953

"I am absurdly fearful and various omens have combined to give me a dark feeling ... It seems to me that my future upon earth will soon close ... I have a vague expectation of some crisis--I know not what." Shortly before returning to America from Europe, the famous 19th century feminist Margaret Fuller wrote these words.

This small elegantly designed historical novel is a pleasure to read.  Besides the famous activist Fuller, it presents portraits of other famous 19th century literary heroes including Thoreau, Emerson, and Hawthorne. But these are basically side characters; it's really about Margaret Fuller, the activist, writer, and revolutionary who changed the world's thinking about women.

It's divided into two sections. The first tells the story of Fuller's shipwreck off Fire Island, New York. This section is told primarily through the viewpoint of Annie Thoreau, the famous naturalist's younger sister and helpmate. What makes Annie's viewpoint interesting is that at the beginning she does not like Margaret.  Like many in the politically active town of Concord, Annie felt that by concentrating on the problems of women, Fuller was stealing fire from the anti-slave movement. Read more »

Fifty Animals that Changed the Course of History

ISBN: 
9781554078974

If you're an animal lover (and who isn't?), you'll love this book. Fifty Animals is full of fascinating facts and anecdotes that describe our symbiotic and other relationships with interesting creatures through time.

Do you admire your friend's bright red shirt? If so, tell her that for centuries the best and most durable red dye came from Mexico and was shipped as far away as Asia. This red dye came from thousands of insects named chochineal. It takes about 70,000 insects to make just a pound of it. Since the advent of chemical dyes, it's seldom used in textiles any longer, but it now employed as a safe colorant for food.

The lowly donkey otherwise known as ass, has a reputation for being incredibly dumb, when in fact, they are smart, very adaptable animals that have carried our heavy loads for centuries throughout the world.

The wise and majestic elephant--my favorite mammal--we unfortunately coerced into war. In fact, the sight of just one of these intelligent beasts carrying archers and slingers reportedly so terrified the defenders of early Britain that the poor Anglo-Saxons were routed by the Roman army. Read more »

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

ISBN: 
9780316122382

I don't read enough young adult fiction, so when I came across The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight with its intriguing title, I decided to jump in. It tells the story of seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan who is flying across the Atlantic to attend her father's wedding but only under duress.

"The Professor," as she tags him, left Connecticut a year ago for a four-month stint at Oxford, but never returned home to the family. He asked for a divorce from Hadley's mom, and Hadley has been seething ever since. Reluctantly, under pressure from both parents, she's boarding a plane at JFK International Airport.

The first thing that happens is she misses her plane. This really complicates things because she only gave herself a window of five hours from arrival at customs to being a bridesmaid at a London church. She gets scheduled on a jet three hours later. Hadley asks a woman to watch her bags and the woman angrily accuses her of breaking the law, but a handsome youth with a charming British accent offers to help. Read more »

Dreaming in French: the Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis

ISBN: 
9780226424385

Confession: I tried to learn French once.  Years ago, I signed up for a New Orleans Free University class in what should have been a great place to learn French or at least Cajun. But each week the instructor came to class "under the influence."  Even though he shared some wild Paris stories and jumped on and off the teacher's desk, my French never improved.

I've always enjoyed books about experiencing the world through the lens of a new culture. Alice Kaplan's excellent Dreaming in French is a very fun and compelling read. In clear beautiful prose, she writes about how living in France changed the life courses of three smart and gifted women: Jackie Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis. 

Each of them spent time in France on the cusp of womanhood. In many ways, France and French culture affected not only how they viewed the world but their entire lives afterward.

In 1949 Jackie travelled to Paris by ship as part of a contingent of Smith College students spending the year abroad. It was soon after World War II and she was placed with a former WWII resistance fighter whose husband had died in a camp doing slave labor for the Nazis. Read more »

New Poetry to Discover

ISBN: 
9780062101860

Because it's National Poetry Month, I've been checking out new collections for a few weeks. Here are a couple more titles that I particularly enjoyed.

The Eternal Ones of the Dream: Selected Poems 1990-2010

Forget the sappy title--James Tate's poems are accessible yet deep, eccentric, and sometimes bizarre. His gifts include a fluid poetic style and the ability to continuously surprise.  Here's how "It Happens like This" begins:

"I was outside St. Cecilia's Rectory / smoking a cigarette when a goat appeared beside me...." The poem's speaker admires the goat, wonders if there's a leash law for them, and then when he walks away the goat follows him.  "People / smiled at me and admired the goat. "It's not my goat," / I explained. "It's the town's goat. I'm just taking / my turn caring for it." "I didn't know we had a goat," / one of them said, "I wonder when my turn is..." Whether you're a goat-lover or not, you will enjoy the odd realism here, the tongue-in-cheek humor.

In fact humor is another one of Tate's paramount qualities. Check out some of his other poetic titles in The Eternal Ones of the Dream: "Uneasy about the Sounds of Some Night-Wandering Animal,"  "Doink," "The Flying Petunias," Read more »

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