Books & Writing · Music & Art

Story Time

I wanted to catch you up on some books I’ve read recently. These won’t be full reviews, as in my post about Richard Russo. I’ve been in a fiction mode recently, though Sarah Cunningham’s Picking Dandelions and David Platt’s Radical were great. Maybe I’ll write about them in a few weeks.

The Confession—John Grisham

This was a bit disappointing, considering how much I like his other novels, including The Associate and The Appeal, the novels that preceded this one. The Confession is the story of a young Lutheran pastor who meets a paroled convict who confesses to a murder for which another man is about to be executed. If you are a proponent of the death penalty—unlike me, I’m undecided—this book will probably annoy you. Unfortunately, the politics of capital punishment are at the forefront of this novel, instead of character development.

Interestingly, I liked Grisham’s The Innocent Man much better, which also centered on the death penalty and wrongful convictions. I’d read about fifty pages of that one before realizing it was nonfiction, about which The Boston Globe wrote: “Grisham has crafted a legal thriller every bit as suspenseful and fast-paced as his best-selling fiction.” Like most of his stories, Grisham does capture you with plot, and you’ll read it in a week like I did.

Lovely Bones—Alice Sebold

I listened to this one as an audiobook while doing work on our house in Toledo and while traveling back and forth, which probably wasn’t a good idea, since it’s about a young teenage girl who is kidnapped, raped, and murdered. You don’t want to be miles away from your children when you read something like Lovely Bones. The girl, Susie Salmon (like the fish, she says), narrates from heaven, powerlessly watching as her family fragments in the wake of their loss. Hers is not a biblical heaven, so don’t accept it as truth.

Featuring Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, and Susan Sarandon, the movie was rather good, as director Peter Jackson captured the ethereal aspects of Susie Salmon’s heaven and mood of the 1970s. Lovely Bones is definitely worth reading, but don’t get the audiobook, because the author reads it. She should have enlisted a talented reader.

Water for Elephants—Sara Gruen

Speaking of talented readers, the audio of Water for Elephants featured two fantastic narrators who read the role of Jacob Jankowski, a 93-year-old nursing home resident, who recounts his experience working for the Benzini Brothers Circus—“the most spectacular show on earth,” though more of a second-rate traveling troupe. Gruen introduces us to a host of characters one can only encounter at a circus, from a dwarf named Walter to the head animal trainer August, an abusive and schizophrenic tyrant, and his wife Marlena, with whom Jankowski is enamored.

This may be one of my favorite books, one I think I’ll also read (instead of just listen to). Be careful, though, there are a couple sex scenes, including one where the star of the back-tent strip show tries to deflower the young Jankowski, who was too inebriated to make it a successful tryst.

Along Came a Spider—James Patterson

I wanted to see what all the fuss was about regarding Alex Cross, since Patterson has written about a dozen books in the acclaimed series and I could get most of the ebooks for free from the library. The first in the series, Spider introduces us to D.C. detective Alex Cross as he tries to solve the high profile kidnapping of two rich kids, one the daughter of an actress and the other the son of the Treasury Secretary.

I don’t know if I like books like this. As a teenager, I used to read Dean Koontz, but I don’t like dark-natured novels these days. I can watch The Mentalist or Law & Order: SVU and movies that are similar, probably because they’re only an hour or so. But reading takes a lot more time and Spider is not the kind of book I want to be meditating on.

The Imperfectionists—Tom Rachman

As with Elephants, I really enjoyed this rather short novel (230 pages) about an English-language newspaper in Rome. Each chapter explores different characters somehow affiliated with the newspaper, including aging reporters and cantankerous editors. In one chapter, Rachman tells the story of avid reader Ornella de Monterecchi, who somehow got behind on her reading of the daily and is stuck in 1994, reading about infighting in Rwanda and the death of Kurt Cobain. Sprinkled throughout are accounts of the paper’s history and eventual demise. I loved the characters and dialogue and lines like this:

Hardy empties a pack of artificial sweetener over her cappuccino. “Nothing epitomizes the futility of human striving quite like aspartame,” she says and sips. “Ah, but this is good.”

Even better was that The Imperfectionists, with its quirky chapter titles, was a $5 bargain at kobobooks.com.


I may try Patterson again (if only because they’re free), and I’m certain Grisham’s next won’t be as disappointing. They’re veteran authors, but I’m liking newbies in Tom Rachman and Sara Gruen. You should check them out.

How about you? Read any good books lately?

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