Monday, July 20, 2009

Gone (2006)

I used to read crime mysteries by the dozen but this book by Jonathan Kellerman has made me wonder why. Halfway through the book I found the rhythm of each chapter opening with Alex Delaware, a psychologist who helps the L.A. police solve murders, and his police friend, Milo, interviewing or reinterviewing someone for half of the chapter and then the two of them having a conversation full of maybes, perhaps, might haves, and other signs of red herrings. Next chapter, next interview.

The other thing that got me was the lack of subject in many sentences, and not just in the conversations.

"Over the years I've accompanied Milo to lots of taverns and beer joints and cocktail lounges. A couple of gay bars as well. It's an illuminating experience watching him function in that sphere.
This was a new dive, a narrow, dark tunnel of a place called Jody Z's, at the southern edge of Pacific, just above the Marina. Arena rock on the jukebox, silent football rerun on TV, tired men at the urethane bar, rough paneling and fishnets and glass globes.
Plastic sawdust on the floor. What was the point of that?"

This murder mystery takes place in Los Angeles and does nothing to dispell the notion that L.A. is full of nutcakes; very rich, very bizarre, very egocentric nutcakes. I quickly lost interest in these characters. I neither warmed to them nor was I glad when the perp was arrested, just very relieved I finished the book. I am very familiar of Mr. Kellerman's name but when I read through the list (a quite long one) of titles, I could not remember if I had read any of them or not.

Mr. Kellerman is a very popular writer with many fans. Maybe I didn't read this book at the right time or I have just read my fill of mysteries and this one was the overflow.

My rating for this book: ++

Friday, July 3, 2009

Mountains Beyond Mountains (2003)

This biography by Tracy Kidder follows the career of Dr. Paul Farmer who has taken upon himself the monumental task of curing tuberculosis in Haiti and other areas of the world.

"I imagine that many people would like to construct a life like Farmer's, to wake up knowing what they ought to do and feeling that they were doing it. But I can't think that many would willingly take on the difficulties, giving up their comfort and time with family."

While attending medical school in Boston, Dr. Farmer was trying to set up a system to treat TB patients and improve conditions to slow or stop the spread of the disease in Haiti. One of the challenges that this disease presents is that it takes two years of taking antibiotics to clear all the viruses. Any break in the regimen could mean that it can return resistant to those drugs requiring the patient to start all over with even stronger antibiotics. In addition to studying infectious diseases, Dr. Farmer also studied anthropology. He studied how the people lived, what they ate, and what they believed in and used this information to better serve them.

"Farmer received his Ph.D. and M.D. simultaneously in the spring of the following year, 1990. His thesis won a prize, and a university press accepted it for publication...By now, at the age of thirty-one, he'd dealt with more varieties of illness than most American physicians see in a lifetime. He'd also learned how to design and manage both a public health system and a clinic, built from scratch, in one of the most difficult places imaginable, among people whose governments had kept them illiterate, where on a good day concrete got transported by donkey."

It is a remarkable and inspirational story. Dr. Farmer found an abysmally poor corner of the world where good people suffered unnoticed and he took it upon himself to help them. Along the way others joined him in the battle. He traveled around the world at breakneck speed, never resting, healing, building, raising money, training others, and speaking. At times I found myself breathless as if I were trying to keep up with him. You can learn more about the organization he started, Partners in Health, at this website: View the video "This I Believe" and see if you aren't inspired.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has the desire to make a change and can't think how to begin.

My rating for this book: ++++

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005)

Twelve days and counting until the movie opens!

I couldn't wait any longer. I put down the other books I was reading and reread Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling. I think this was my favorite book of the series and that Ms. Rowling was nothing short of brilliant to do what she did to one of the main characters. I know that I will be carrying hankies when I go to see the movie.

Harry has spent the previous five books learning about who he is and how to use his wizarding powers and has reached the point where he feels he can make a real contribution to bringing down Voldemort. Dumbledore invites him to his office and shares memories about Tom Riddle, the young Voldemort, to try and learn how he is coming back to life and, more importantly, how to stop him.

Harry's true power, if you can call it that, is his strong friendship with Ron and Hermione and loyalty felt by other Gryffindor housemates such as Neville, Luna, and Ron's sister, Ginny. All through the series it has been shown that the love Harry felt for his parents, his friends, and his mentor, Dumbledore gives him strength to stand up to the Dark Lord. This theme is so right and so beautiful it makes me wonder how some people want to ban these books from libraries because of the sorcery practiced. I'm sure that these narrow-minded people would be perfectly content if knives and guns were used instead.

It hardly goes without saying that if a reader has enjoyed the first five books, he or she will love the sixth.

My rating for this book: +++++