Archive for February, 2016

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States

Friday, February 12th, 2016

51AZox6paLL._SL75_By Sarah Vowell

The Short Take:

Vowell doesn’t just write insightful history books, she draws shining lines from incidents in the past to present circumstances. Her histories are filled with wry humor as well as fascinating detail. This take on the Marquis de Lafayette and his participation in the American Revolutionary War has all that and more.

Why?

This book is not remotely like the history lessons of your school days. Vowell is sassy and unsentimental as well as thorough. And, she doesn’t just do the research (this 268 page book had a four page bibliography, small type, two columns per page), she visits the locations. Past and present come together in delightful stories, like her meeting with Quakers who definitely did not approve of her planned book about war and war heroes.

She points out the inconsistencies between America’s purported values and it’s realities, past and present. She takes historical side paths to shine a light on topics like the most contentious presidential election in American history, way back in 1824 (ergo the “somewhat” in this book’s title).

In Sarah Vowell’s hands, history becomes more interesting and entertaining than any novel.

A Little Plot:

Lafayette was a rich, teenage, French aristocrat determined to fight in America’s war for independence. He got to do just that, becoming close to George Washington and leading men in important battles. When he revisited America decades later, he was feted and celebrated more than any superstar.

Impressive.

A quick google didn’t reveal an author website, but there’s plenty of information about Vowell and her writings online.

 

Career of Evil

Monday, February 1st, 2016

51hy+GbenKL._SL75_By Robert Galbraith

The Short Take:

Galbraith’s (aka J. K. Rowling) third outing with private investigator Cormorant Strike is the best yet. A grizzly delivery to his office sends Strike after three men from his past, all with reason to hate him. It’s a terrific mystery.

Why?

While other book detectives feature exceptional abilities, Cormorant Strike struggles through exceptional difficulties. Galbraith wisely created a character with an incredibly rich and troubled past, then mines it sparingly to slowly revealing more of what makes Strike tick with each book.

Then there’s the delightful assistant, bright Robin Elliott, who is torn between her love of detecting and constantly battling her fiancĂ©’s unfounded jealousy and constant irritation over her demanding, underpaid job.

That’s two highly original and likable characters to start with. Add to that Galbraith’s wonderfully twisted plot, with danger lurking on every page, and you have one great read.

While you would do yourself a disservice not to read The Cuckoo’s Calling first (after all, she wrote it first), this book is even better. Okay, I admit, all three are enjoyable; but this one was really special. Galbraith/Rowling claims she’s never had more fun writing a novel. It shows.

A Little Plot:

A woman’s severed leg is delivered to Robin at the office. When Strike considers possible suspects, he gives the police four names from his past. They chose to focus on a known gangster. Strike feels the other three more likely due to the nature of the package, an enclosed note, and past relationships.

Accordingly, he and Robin mount their own investigation into the dark and dangerous lives of these three men. Meanwhile, someone is stalking Robin, meticulously planning her death. Is it one of Strike’s suspects? The gangster? Or someone else?

For more about Galbraith and the Strike novels, click here.

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