Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday Salon--Book coveting

The Sunday

Sunday here in Los Angeles is bathed in an eerie light, from the sun struggling through the smoke from several wildfires burning nearby. For me, weird light makes for a weird mood, and I never quite know what to make of a day that is strangely lit. Perhaps I'll read...

I had some time to read the New York Times Book Review, and right on the front page was Jonathan Lethem's review of Lorrie Moore's new book, A Gate at the Stairs. I've been waiting for this book without even knowing it. I've loved Moore's writing since I read her first collection of short stories, Self-Help, some twenty years ago. I went on to read and also love Like Life and Birds of America. I'm not quite as big a fan of her novels as her short stories, but I hear this one is good. And though I knew she hadn't published anything in awhile (11 years--who knew?), once I heard that she had a new book coming out, I realized I couldn't wait to read it.

The review is good, good enough to make me want to order this book now, hardback price be damned. Lethem mentions that he only knows one person who doesn't like Moore's writing, calling it too "punny". And then he goes on to say, "As for the puns, they seem to me less an eagerness to entertain than a true writerly obsession. Moore is an equal-opportunity japester: heroes and villains both crack wise with Chandleresque vivacity, so you can't use cleverness as a moral index. The wrinkly recursiveness of her language seems lodged at the layer of consciousness itself, where Moore demands readers' attention to the innate thingliness of words. "

He also says, "On finishing A Gate at the Stairs I turned to the reader nearest to me and made her swear to read it immediately (well, the dog was between us, but she doesn't read much, and none of what I recommend). I might even urge it on my dissenting friend." That's a good enough recommendation for me!

Maybe I can convince my book group to read this one with me.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wife of the Gods, by Kwei Quartey--a review, and TLC Book Tour stop

When Darko Dawson was a young boy, his mother travelled from his family's home in Accra, the capital city of Ghana, to visit her sister in the small village of Ketanu where she lived.  While on this visit, Darko's mother vanished without a trace.  This left Darko, his disabled brother, and his often volatile father to fend for themselves.

Darko's father reported his mother missing, and police detective Daniel Armah investigated the case.  Armah persisted in the investigation, but Darko's mother was never found.  But Armah forged a relationship with young Darko, who was inspired by the respect he felt for Armah to become a police detective himself when he grew up.

Now Darko is a detective inspector with the CID in Accra, and he has a wife who is a teacher, and a young son who suffers from a heart defect.  

Darko is called to Ketanu once again, to investigate a murder.  Young medical student and AIDS educator and activist Grace Mensah's strangled body is found in the forest by a young "trokosi", or wife of the gods, essentially a concubine of the local fetish priest.  

In her zeal to educate the local people about AIDS, and in chastising the local fetish priest for following the practice of keeping these trokosi, Grace has made some enemies among the locals.  One of these enemies is the fetish priest, Togbe Adzima.  Grace may also have angered local healer Isaac Kuto.  And young Samuel Boateng had a crush on Grace, and may have killed her out of anger at her rejection.

Local inspector Fiti suspects only ne'er-do-well Samuel, but Darko chooses to investigate more thoroughly.  Darko is aided in his investigation by his special talent of understanding people's true natures by listening to the quality of their voice.  But the case proves to be very challenging, as he is drawn in by the village's secrets, and secrets held by his own family, and he comes face to face with the clash between traditional and modern Ghana.

I am not always a fan of crime fiction, but I find a well-written mystery very satisfying.  And this is just such a satisfying read.  Darko Dawson is a fascinating and complex character, and very relatable.  The writer really lets us get inside his detective's head, and we get to fully explore his strengths and weaknesses.  He is a conflicted man, and a wonderfully flawed hero.  And it is very interesting to watch him struggle not only with his inner conflicts, but with the contradictions between traditional and modern life in Ghana.  

I also love the atmosphere that author Quartey creates in the book.  His portraits of both urban and rural Ghana are very rich and I was very happy to immerse myself in Ghanaian society, customs, and culture.  Though many have compared this book to those in Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series, I would say that the books are not really alike.  Like McCall Smith, Quartey does a wonderful job evoking a time and place, and his descriptions of Ghana sing, as do McCall Smith's of Botswana.  But Quartey's book has a much harder edge than the Ladies Detective Agency books, and his murder mystery is a stronger, more plot-driven story.  

I enjoyed how the murdery mystery is woven with a tale of a family's tangled emotional web, and I found the characters memorable and the story engrossing.  And I loved reading about the culture and practices of Ghana.  I'll be on the lookout for more from Kwei Quartey about his flawed yet appealing detective hero, Darko Dawson.

Visit Kwei Quartey's really great website, and read his blog.

More stops for Wife of the Gods on TLC Book Tours.

Watch the book trailer:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tomorrow--Kwei Quartey's Wife of the Gods

Tomorrow I'm happy to be hosting a book tour stop for TLC Book Tours. I'll be posting my review of Kwei Quartey's novel Wife of the Gods, so please stop by.

Click here to check out Kwei Quartey's complete blog book tour.

Also check out author Kwei Quartey's website here. Since he lives in Pasadena, he qualifies as a local author, for me. He's also a doctor, which I find very cool.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Vacation reading

My family and I just returned from a week's vacation at a guest ranch in Central California, where we had a lovely time. This ranch was all about horseback riding, which is not one of my hobbies or interests, but was really appealing to my kids. They also fished, kayaked, swam, and otherwise ran around in the great outdoors.

I, of course, read. I did have the good sense to read outdoors, but I did spend most of my free time reading. I finished The Story of a Marriage, by Andrew Sean Greer, which I enjoyed very much for the quality of the writing and the twists and turns of the story, as well as the descriptions of post-war San Francisco. I also finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson, which I also enjoyed--essentially for the same reasons, but of course it was a very different kind of book. I am not usually into thrillers or mysteries, but this was atmospheric and smart, and a real page-turner.

I also started and finished Geraldine Brooks' People of the Book. It was one of my book group's picks for summer reading, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's the imagined history of a book, the Sarajevo Haggadah, a 14th century illuminated manuscript which actually exists, and has survived many attempts at its destruction. I loved Brooks' way of making history come alive with wonderful characters and vivid descriptions of historical events. I know a fair amount about Jewish history, but it was so interesting to have the history come alive with a good story--to have examples of, say, how it felt when the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 by Isabella and Ferdinand, rather than to just know that dry fact.

If I can find my camera in all the unpacking chaos, I'll post some pictures of the vacation...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sunday Salon--Starting a few new books

The Sunday

I've started a few new books this weekend, despite my best efforts to focus my reading. But it's okay, at least I've had some time to actually pick up a book!

I'm really enjoying the writing so far in Andrew Sean Greer's novel, The Story of a Marriage. I'm not very far into it, but I like it so far. I like the cover art, too, so for some reason this make it easy for me to pick it up--does this make me a shallow reader? I had heard so many good things about this book on so many blogs--I'm glad it's something I'm liking, it makes me feel like I'm on the same page as many of my blogging buddies.

I also picked up Aleksandar Hemon's Love and Obstacles, which was sent to me by the publisher. I had also heard quite a bit about this book of short stories on the book blogs, and I agree with those who are impressed by Hemon's use of language, especially for someone who has been writing in English for less than fifteen years.

It's been a relaxing weekend so far, because the kids aren't going in as many directions as usual. I have a little breathing time, which means I can make that into some reading time. I wish I had bigger blocks of reading time, but at least I always have that little bit of time for reading in bed, before exhaustion takes over and the book slips out of my hand and onto the floor (that is really not a good thing when I'm reading on the Kindle!).

I also have to admit that I haven't been reading quite as much as usual because I've been using our treadmill more regularly, and when I'm on the treadmill, I indulge my addiction to Battlestar Galactica, and watch an episode while exercising. If I'm not reading, at least I'm trying to get into shape...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Booking Through Thursday--Recent Serious

Here's this week's Booking Through Thursday question:

What’s the most serious book you’ve read recently?
(I figure it’s easier than asking your most serious boook ever, because, well, it’s recent!)

I am currently reading Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot, on my Kindle. It's slow going only because I keep toting my Kindle around with me, and then not having it nearby when I'm going to bed, which is my favorite time to get a little reading done. But I'm enjoying the book immensely!

For me, the classics are serious, which is why I mention Daniel Deronda, but I put modern literary fiction in the category of "serious", too. There are all kinds of serious books, I guess.

What is your most recent serious book? And for you, what constitutes a "serious" book, anyway?