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The Archaeology of Writing

All over the world, but not of it. Hemisphere-hopping wife, mother, author, angler, and seminary graduate. Represented by Books & Such Literary Agency.

Currently reading

The Luminaries
Eleanor Catton
America's Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East
Hugh Wilford
Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
Paul Clark Newell Jr., Bill Dedman
Blood and Beauty
Sarah Dunant
The Last Camellia
Sarah Jio

Bryant and May and the Invisible Code

The Invisible Code - Christopher Fowler If The Invisible Code is an example, Mr. Fowler and I are well on our way to being good friends.

This book is a delight. It's about two old guys (Bryant and May) — detectives with the Peculiar Crimes division in London. Toss in a few deaths and three "witches" and precocious children and ... well, you get the idea. But storyline aside, what caused me to laugh out loud was Fowler's use of language, particularly the dialogue he wrote for the detectives. He simply nails it.

Now, I'm a fan of the elderly anyway and have spent many hours listening to my eighty-five-year-old Dad. I know lots of "vintage" characters — sweethearts and curmudgeons (and several who are both simultaneously). But I think Fowler beautifully conveys the idiosyncrasies, flaws, and value of Bryant and May (and their generation as a whole), and portrays the relationship between the long-time friends and police partners believably. He also treats the characters with respect, but not in a patronizing way.

This was such a good read that when I finished it last night about 11:00, I promptly ordered the rest of the series — all nine or ten of them.

Highly recommended.

The Green Shore

The Green Shore - Natalie Bakopoulos What an interesting book.

As a small child in the sixties, I was vaguely aware of the social and political chaos in Greece. I haven't read much about the country (except in Literature or Classics classes, where everything began with Homer). When I found The Green Shore at my local bookstore, I decided a contemporary Greek novel would be a good addition to my reading list. (I've traveled to Greece a couple of times, and will return next fall, so was easily able to create the mental image for the novel's setting.)

This novel is particularly interesting in light of the Greek position — a precarious one — in the EU.The lethargy of the country, the Mediterranean pace of the place, the overwhelming sense of an illustrious past and limited future — these elements that represent Greece in my mind converge in The Green Shore. The novel follows an extended family from 1967 onwards. Two generations of revolutionaries, a widowed mother, a couple of characters coming of age, and a general lack of godliness are ingredients for a simmering story set against the uncertainty, defiance, and danger of a coup. It's not an overtly bloody or gory read, and elements that could easily become offensive are handled carefully.

That being written, this is not always an easy read, and it's not a book you want to pick up if you're looking for a pleasant distraction. But it's a GOOD book and fills the blanks about a time in a country about which most Americans know little.

Highly recommended.

King and Maxwell (King & Maxwell)

King and Maxwell - David Baldacci David Baldacci is reliable. This is exactly the book I'd expect it to be, and I enjoyed it. To my taste, it was a little heavy on dialogue, and I believe it could have been edited more tightly. But it's a solid Baldacci story with positive resolution at the end, and I look forward to his next release.


Vienna Nocturne: A Novel

Vienna Nocturne: A Novel - Vivien Shotwell FIrst, I am not a historical novel reader. That disclaimer aside, I enjoy history and have a working knowledge of it.

Once I made the transition from the more clipped writing style of the suspense I normally read (such as Daniel Silva) and adjusted to a more florid, flowery style of prose, I enjoyed this novel. Ms. Shotwell obviously knows European history, and I appreciate the way she depicts historic personalities in this work. Her characters interact believably and in ways that advance her story to climax consistently with the historic record. I also appreciate that this was longer than many new releases; I was able to "stay in the story" over several evenings, instead of buzzing through the book in one or two.


Motherland Lost: The Egyptian and Coptic Quest for Modernity (Herbert and Jane Dwight Working Group on Islamism and the International Order)

Motherland Lost: The Egyptian and Coptic Quest for Modernity - Samuel Tadros I am a geek. I love Middle Eastern and religious history. Because of my obscure interests, I admit this book isn't for everyone.

I loved it. The Copts are a (some say heretical) subset of Christianity; an ancient branch of historic significance and rich history. A large part of the chaos in Egypt, as in most of the Middle East, is anchored in religious conflict. So understanding how opposing forces interact is the foundation of understanding the complexities of today's Middle East.

Tadros attempts to explain how Egyptians, at one time heirs to the most impressive and powerful empire on the planet, are struggling to modernize their country. Simultaneously, Egyptian Copts are struggling to survive in a land they have occupied since their sect's birth around the time of Christ.

If you're a student of this region, I highly recommend this small book.

Peaches for Father Francis: A Novel

Peaches for Father Francis - Joanne Harris This is the first of Harris' books I've read. I had difficulty at the beginning because of her sentence structure, but once I found the rhythm of her writing, and her protagonist's voice, I began to enjoy her attention to detail. For me, this was a "lose yourself in it" book, and I've ordered the other two in the series. If you've spent time in rural France, or have Muslim friends, much of the book will ring true for you, as it did me.

This was like a mini-vacation, and I recommend the book.

Mortal Arts (A Lady Darby Mystery)

Mortal Arts - Anna Lee Huber I really enjoyed Ms. Huber's book and have the first of the series on my desk to read this week. Her protagonist, Lady Kiera Darby, is well-drawn and intelligent. (I appreciate intelligent female protagonists.) Darby's love interest, a man named Gage, is enjoyable (if predictable). Her foray into anatomy and medical, particularly the unfortunate treatment of mental illness in the early 1800s, is a unique aspect of her work. And her research is evident, with attention to detail that I enjoy.

I will read more of Ms. Huber's writing, and look forward to it.


The Mountain of Light: A Novel

The Mountain of Light - Indu Sundaresan The Mountain of Light is a very interesting book, a work of historical fiction about the Kohinoor diamond. The first two hundred pages read like historical fiction, but then there's a brief suspense/thriller passage. The book returns to historical fiction to finish the tale.

Sundaresan does a lovely job of depicting pre-colonial India, and an unfortunately good job of exposing a little of the underbelly of colonialism. (It was not Great Britain's finest hour, in my opinion.) I think this book is well-written, interesting, and offers a lovely cast of characters. It's also a quick read if you know a little about India during this period, and an easy read even if you don't.


The Lavender Garden: A Novel

The Lavender Garden - Lucinda Riley I really enjoyed this book, although it started slowly for me. Ms. Riley weaves a good tale, and her characters are believable. I've spent a good bit of time in the south of France and Paris (for which I'm thankful!), and she depicts both locations accurately, in my opinion. She also does an interesting job of alluding to the convoluted inheritance issues in most of Europe, as well as exploring the art and auction world.

I will read more of her work.

Delicate Truth

A Delicate Truth - John le Carré Ah. I think I chose the wrong book. I read Daniel Silva, Donna Leon, David Baldacci...ABA thriller/suspense writers all. So I decided there was a gap in my education and picked up this John le Carre (sorry for the lack of accent) book.

Because I am well aware of the great regard in which he is held, let me just share my reasons for stopping before I hit page 100. They may be unique to me, so take this review with a grain of salt.

1. I like characters to be able to get through an entire page without using the "F word" several times. After a while, I felt as if I were stuck in a middle-school boys' locker room, and these guys had arrested development. I realize the espionage world is populated with rough characters, but there are, in my opinion, ways to "show" that aspect without "telling" via the F-word. Repeatedly. Ad nauseam.

2. I thought the story dragged. Because I didn't like the characters, I didn't want to take a leisurely literary stroll with them. Unlike Silva's Allon, or Leon's Brunetti, le Carre's characters didn't (in the first 100 pages) have any redeeming characteristics and seemed very mono-faceted. Essentially, they bored me.

3. Again, in the first 100 pages, I didn't think the story was that interesting. No female was depicted as anything more than the type of women about which I warned my son. This lack of diversity bored me, too.

So...this might be the perfect book for you. It was not for me.

Best Kept Secret (The Clifton Chronicles)

Best Kept Secret - Jeffrey Archer Today was a beautiful reading day here, and I finished the third book in the Barrington trilogy. This book did not disappoint. I enjoyed the new characters Archer introduced (a half-sister in the younger generation, a South American megalomaniac, a conniving wife for an heir). I also like his taking the storyline out of Great Britain and America, although would have liked a little more information about Argentina to enrich that part of the story.

If you enjoy historical fiction, this is a strong series and a new voice (for me, anyway). Plenty of British lords, some very intelligent and spunky women, good family interactions. It's written by a male, something obvious in the lack of detail about clothes jewels, makeup, perfume, etc.—elements most women enjoy in historical fiction.

All in all, a solid summer read. Recommended.

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar: A Novel

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar: A Novel - Suzanne Joinson What an unusual book.

Because it bounces back and forth between times, it's a little hard to follow. But I think the storyline makes the bouncing worthwhile. I am a fan of Gertrude Bell and other early female adventurers, so I am probably a predisposed to like this work.

First, for the 1920s chapters...Ms. Joinson paints the region (then called the Near East) of Russia/China well. Her characters are interesting, although I take exception to Millicent—a total looney—representing Christianity and missionaries. The reader needs to be willing to suspend belief at times, such as regarding the premise that two young women would have been so easily released to undertake a journey of this type at this time.

As to the contemporary part of the story, I think the author does a particularly excellent job of depicting Tayeb. He is believable, based on Westernized, young Middle-Eastern males of his generation. (I know a few.) Her characterization of Frieda is rich, although I'd like to have seen this character exhibit some of the spunk, and less of the politically correct altruism, of Eva.

All in all, this is a very enjoyable read. It's about a region in which I'm interested (both the 1920s chapters, and the contemporary ones), and it well-written. Recommended.

The King's Deception

The King's Deception - Steve Berry Steve Berry excels at fanciful story lines (although nothing compared to Clive Cussler), and The King's Deception doesn't disappoint in this regard. Cotton Malone is back, as is his son, Gary. They wade through a good bit of creative British "history," nick a terrorist, threaten Northern Irelenad with a resurgence of The Troubles, and interact with a street kid used as a tool to draw Cotton and Gary into the plot. As I think is typical of Berry, his characterizations are believable, and his writing lean.

If you enjoy history, as I do, and look for quick summer reads, The King's Deception might be an excellent choice. Not great literature, but written in a fast-paced, interesting style that is uniquely Berry's.


The Sins of the Father (Clifton Chronicles)

The Sins of the Father - Jeffrey Archer This, the second in Archer's Clifton Chronicles series, is as good as the first (Only Time Will Tell). I really enjoy his depictions of the Barringtons, and Harry Clifton. I like the way he weaves America and Great Britain together during World War II. He handles both aristocracy and working class with sensitivity (no hidden agendas, thankfully), and does a good job realistically shading characters from many generations.

I find his writing easy and quick to read, so the perfect choice for a summer afternoon. I'll be purchasing the third book in the series, Best-Kept Secret, as soon as I can scoot to my small mountain bookstore.

Only Time Will Tell (The Clifton Chronicles)

Only Time Will Tell - Jeffrey Archer I really enjoyed this book! And I'm looking forward to the second, and others in the series. Archer draws his characters believably and beautifully, and his storyline is consistent with what I've read of pre-World-War-11 society in England. His writing is streamlined and smooth, and doesn't detract from the story in any way.

Highly recommended.

The Bewitching of Anne Gunter: A Horrible and True Story of Deception, Witchcraft, Murder, and the King of England

The Bewitching of Anne Gunter: A Horrible and True Story of Deception, Witchcraft, Murder, and the King of England - J. A. Sharpe This was entered by mistake. Ignore this listing, please.