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Coming Up Next…

A review of The Valley of Shadows: A Novel by Mark Terry.

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Out of Time

Coming Back: A Sharon McCone Mystery by Marcia Muller (Grand Central Publishing; $24.99; 304 pages)

In this, the 28th mystery novel featuring San Francisco private investigator Sharon McCone, author Marcia Muller explores the collateral damage wrought by McCone’s experience in a conscious vegetative state that resulted from a bullet to her brain.   McCone’s chapters are in the first person and the reader is pulled along as she tries to resolve her need to get back in the action and maintain her relationship with her husband.

This reviewer’s lack of familiarity with the series made it difficult to appreciate just what sort of life McCone is struggling to maintain.   The references to flying her husband’s private airplane, a vintage sports car, multiple homes on acreage and a staff at her beck and call made McCone less than the pitiable victim Muller tries to characterize.

The theme of the book seems to be that interfering in other people’s lives is a rewarding activity.   Since there is no paying client, the reward must be purely emotional.   Although the loosely developed story is set in San Francisco, there are action scenes that take place in Muir Woods, Walnut Creek and along the east side of the Bay.   In each instance, the setting was well known to this reviewer and did not seem the least bit scary.   Maybe that was Muller’s point – scary things can happen in ordinary places.

Perhaps it’s time to retire Sharon McCone to one of her getaway homes?

Quirkly and a bit interesting, but not much more.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Birds

Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott

I try to write the books I would love to come upon…   Anne Lamott

I love the way Anne Lamott writes.   She writes like Anne Tyler (Noah’s Compass, Breathing Lessons, The Accidental Tourist, Digging to America) with a professor’s seriousness about life, but a child’s smile.   Life scares Lamott but she keeps the bogey men away by writing about people who are like her, except that maybe they have just a bit more courage.   Or maybe they don’t.

Imperfect Birds is a novel about a family, about mother Elizabeth Ferguson, her second husband James and her daughter Rosie, a senior in high school in Marin County.   Elizabeth and James worship Rosie as they simultaneously count the days until she’ll leave for college so that they can stop worrying about her.   “…life with most teenagers was like having a low-grade bladder infection.   It hurt but you had to tough it out.”

Rosie’s been a straight-A student until, as a 17-year-old senior, she begins getting Bs in even her best subjects.   That would not be much of a disappointment for other students, but there’s a reason she’s coming undone.   She’s using drugs, of almost every variety, to the point where even her extremely forgiving mother can no longer ignore what’s happening.   “…(Elizabeth) had a conviction now that when she thought something was going on, it was.”   This also means that a mother’s worst fears are coming true:  “I was afraid of how doomed you would be as a parent.”

The title, of course, refers to imperfect people – people who have lost the ability to fly straight.   Elizabeth is too forgiving of her daughter’s faults for too long.   James is too judgmental and too quick to prescribe a harsh remedy for his stepdaughter’s problems.   Rosie, who lost her father to cancer years before, is young and wants to enjoy life until…   Until she finds that her drug abuse has left her dreamless and with a heart “like a little dead animal.”

Rosie also wants to be loved by someone other than her mother and step-father, which is why she creates fantasies about one of her male instructors and later becomes involved with someone older.   Eventually a decision has to be made…   Will Rosie’s parents save Rosie from herself or will they step aside and let her self-destruct before her life even really begins?

If this was the work of a less-talented writer, the reader might be tempted to take a guess at the ending and put the book down prematurely.   But Lamott is one of the best writers we have – about this there can be little doubt.   So this story feels like a gift – one to be savored and treasured – and will be appreciated by any reader who does not make a claim to perfection in his or her own life.Highly recommended.   An advance review copy was provided by Riverview Books.   Imperfect Birds will be released on April 6, 2010.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field.   I’ll meet you there.”   Rumi    

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Have Ducati, Will Battle

Mace Perry is out to clear her name.   After years of dedicated service as a police officer on the Washington, D.C. force, she was set up to take a fall for a nasty crime.   Even her sister, the police chief, was not able to spare Mace the injustice of two years in prison.   Back on the street, well, more accurately back aboard her beloved cherry red Ducati racing motorcycle, she’s raring to go and knows just what it will take to clear her name.

This is no ordinary story and author David Baldacci, who has a spectacular list of writing credits to his name, is very adept at portraying spine tingling action.   The twist for this story is its remarkable likeness to the shoot ’em up cowboy movies this reviewer enjoyed at the Orinda Theatre on Saturday afternoons, albeit a long time ago.   True Blue (with the title song sung by Rod Stewart) would make an excellent movie with our heroine, her trusty sidekick – an attorney who is an ace at basketball and drives an Audi, plenty of villains – driving black town cars rather than wearing black hats, and more than an afternoon’s worth of fistfights.

Everything in this book is bigger than life and supercharged.   Not over the top, mind you, just close enough to keep a reader’s attention.   The 454 pages literally flew by and it was worth staying up quite late to finish the book.

Highly recommended – True Blue is the equivalent of a fast fun ride on a Ducati, make mine yellow!

Review by Ruta Arellano.   This book was purchased by the reviewer.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of True Blue, the latest crime novel from David Baldacci.

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Playing hardball with Detective Warshawski

Hardball 6

Hardball: A V. I. Warshawski Novel by Sara Paretsky (Putnam Adult, $26.95, 464 pages)

Author Sarah Paretsky has set her latest V.I. Warshawski mystery in familiar territory, Chicago.   It’s easy to feel the atmosphere of the gritty windy city, both present and past (circa 1967) as the characters move about and around in a complicated story.   This book carries the theme of family, warts and all, amid a class war, politics Chicago hardball style, and V.I.’s memories of her father who was a policeman.

The task at hand is finding a long lost son and nephew for two elderly African American ladies, one of whom is on the verge of passing on.   To complicate matters, Lamont Gadsen has been missing for forty years in a plot angle that calls to mind the TV show Cold Case.   He was known to be present during a 1967 Martin Luther King, Jr. rally in Chicago at which a young woman was killed.   To aid V.I. in her hunt for the missing man, Paretsky introduces a much younger cousin, Petra, who happens to be in Chicago working on a political campaign.

Cousin Petra gets in way over her head when she attempts to be a junior detective.   V.I. does not play favorites when she’s on a case as evidenced by her curt comments to Petra:   “You’re not a very convincing liar, Petra.   You don’t have the guts to come into a burned-out building on your own.   Who was with you?”

Reading this book – the 13th in the Detective Warshawski series – is like catching up with a long-time acquaintance.   Not a friend mind you, an acquaintance.   V.I. as she prefers – not Vicki or Victoria and only occasionally Vic – is portrayed once again as a brusque, nearly unisex character with conflicted identity issues.   Even at the age of 50, she’s far too tough on herself.   V.I. does some considerable soul searching while assuming the persona of a champion whose mission it is to right injustice.

The tale gets bogged down a bit with the intricacies of the multiple plot lines.   The reader may become a bit confused with the large cast of characters.   Yet halfway through the book Paretsky settles into her familiar and enjoyable rhythmic pace permitting V.I. to do what it is she does best – solve the mystery.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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