Wednesday, November 18, 2009


by Marie Killilea (her mom)

Published in 1960. Story of a girl with cerebral palsy. Inspiring.

Friday, November 6, 2009

review of dickens biography

Michael Dirda, Washington Post:
Many modern readers, I think, rather neglect Dickens, disdaining him as melodramatic and sentimental. Instead, we revere Jane Austen for her subtle wit or turn to Henry James for his delicate analyses of human motivation. But Dickens really is our prose Shakespeare. For proof, try almost any of his novels or just watch a DVD of the Royal Shakespeare Company or the BBC dramatizations of "Nicholas Nickleby," "Oliver Twist" or "David Copperfield." When Thackeray, whose "Vanity Fair" was then being published to wild acclaim, first read the scene of young Paul's death in "Dombey and Son," he famously -- and rightly -- cried out: "There's no writing against such power as this -- one has no chance!" For anybody who wants to know more about this dynamo of Victorian letters, Michael Slater's superb biography is the one to read.

catching up


Shop Class as Soulcraft
*Update: finished this -- highly recommended.

Recently read:

Alcatraz and the Evil Librarians

Crazy for the Storm

Huck Finn

Tom Sawyer

Big Trouble
by Dave Barry (don't bother)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

sword of honor trilogy

by Evelyn Waugh

I enjoyed revisiting Brideshead so much that I'm now reading this, for the first time. Just finished Men at Arms and have started the second book, Officers and Gentlemen.

with God in russia

Recently read this and recommend it.

With God in Russia by Walter Ciszek, SJ

True account of a priest's decades as a prisoner in Lubyanka and Siberian labor camps. Have passed it on to teenage sons. Important historical and political lessons packed into a compelling and inspiring biography.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

brideshead revisited

I'm revisiting this. It's wonderful. I have the urge to type or paste in long favorite passages. Maybe later.

the prince and the pauper

Just read it. Worse than I expected in some ways and better in others. Overall very good. Lots on British legal system. I'd like to see the old Disney version again. I guess that's what I was expecting.

Monday, June 15, 2009

children of men

by PD James

Finally, finally reading this. So far I'm impressed with her prose and happy not to be dealing with the tedious Dalgliesh.

man and wife

by Andrew Klavan

A psychological mystery. Had a bit of a Josephine Tey vibe, a la Brat Farrar. I'll read more Klavan for sure.

point of impact

and Black Light by Stephen Hunter

These are guys' books about a Marine sniper. Slightly ridiculous at times, and more about guns than I ever wanted to know, but page-turning fun. I will probably read more.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

the natural

by Bernard Malamud

I like baseball fiction and wanted to like this. But I couldn't. The main character was ultimately too damaged, and unredeemable. I couldn't connect to the women. The whole thing left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I haven't seen the movie but can't imagine it's much like the book.

tripods books

by John Christopher

Just re-read the first book, The White Mountains, and have skipped to the prequel, When the Tripods Came. This is a first-rate series. I read it something like 12 years ago. I'm interested in the idea of people willingly surrendering their will to the tripods.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

two additions to my stack

The Song is You by Arthur Phillips (reviewed here)

I'll Make You an Offer You Can't Refuse by Michael Franzese

dirty money

I read Dirty Money, the follow-up novel to Nobody Runs Forever by Donald Westlake/Richard Stark. I might read more of these if only the characters had souls.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

everybody kills somebody sometime

Sounds cheesy and it is. I was childishly delighted when Steve brought this home from the library

But it just wasn't very good. I won't bother with the others, even Luck Be a Lady, Don't Die.

Monday, February 9, 2009

westlake/stark books

I've read four of these so far:

As Donald Westlake:
The Hot Rock (the first Dortmunder book)
The Hook

As Richard Stark:
The Damsel (a Grofield book)
Nobody Runs Forever (a Parker book)

Each of these is different in tone. The Hot Rock is the lightest, most comic. Not quite my kind of humor but amusing; Westlake is a skillful writer. I'm not surprised this book was made into a film, though I wouldn't have imagined Robert Redford in any of the roles. But that's Hollywood.

The Damsel
, which borrows a character (Grofield) from The Hot Rock, is more adventure/thriller, and the more compelling read for me. But still fairly light in tone. I could almost see Cary Grant playing the lead, though he was born too early for that, and has about a hundred times the charm quotient of Grofield (whose name isn't Grofield in this book, but I digress).

Nobody Runs Forever is one of Stark's Parker books. He's a cold-as-ice thief and killer. The story of their planned heist is not told from the victim's or the detective's point of view, but mainly from the criminals'. (This is true for all four of these books.) It reminds me in tone of an old Cagney or Bogart film. I'm not an expert on hard-boiled detectives a la Hammett or Chandler, but maybe Steve will give his opinion, since he's read lots of these. He rates Chandler at the top, I think.

The Hook was, for me, the most compelling and disturbing of the four by far. It's set not in the world of habitual or professional crooks but in a literary one. The main characters are novelists. More psychological than the other books. Not a pretty take on humanity.

Westlake is a masculine writer. Plot is king, and men (mostly) propel it forward. I know a book needs both, but I usually care more about characters than plot. Westlake's plots are so well done, though, that even I notice and enjoy them. The four books contain some women but I just don't find them as convincing as the men. That's not unusual and not a deal-breaker in this case.

Four books comprise a tiny sample of Westlake's output of over a hundred books. So I'll read some more, and try to read the earlier books first.

Friday, January 16, 2009

some favorites

  • Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin series
  • PG Wodehouse: many many titles
  • Jane Austen's 6 novels
  • Ring Lardner: You Know Me Al
  • Josephine Tey: The Franchise Affair; Brat Farrar
  • The Provincial Lady in America by E. M. Delafield
  • George Smiley books by John le Carre
  • A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
  • Colin Dexter: Inspector Morse mysteries
  • Agatha Christie (esp. Miss Marple)
  • Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone; The Woman in White
  • Ngaio Marsh mysteries
  • Bruce Marshall: The World, The Flesh, and Father Smith
  • Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight
  • James Herriot: All Creatures Great and Small series
  • Thomas Hardy: Tess of the D'Urbervilles
  • Charles Dickens

best books I read in 2008

*I've affixed asterisks to the best titles.*

These were good but not great. I'm still looking for a great new mystery author, and have high hopes for Donald Westlake.
Elizabeth Ironside: Death in the Garden and The Accomplice
Barbara Vine: Anna's Book
Ian Rankin: Knots and Crosses

Sea books: Patrick O'Brian is the best, followed by CS Forester. Ramage will suffice if you need a fix of salt air and a couple of broadsides.
Dudley Pope: Ramage series
Nordhoff and Hall: Mutiny on the Bounty

CS Lewis: Till We Have Faces, The Screwtape Letters*
Anthony Hope: The Prisoner of Zenda and sequel

Best-kept secret:
Louis Hemon: Maria Chapdelaine*

Rind Lardner: You Know Me Al*

Mark Steyn: America Alone*

Neufeld and Mata: Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers*
Robert Karen: Becoming Attached*

Saturday, January 3, 2009

donald westlake

The next book I read will be by Mr. Westlake. He wrote comic mysteries as well as hard-boiled detective fiction.

(Photo: Louis Lanzano - AP)

From the Corner:

Donald Westlake R.I.P. [Mark Hemingway]

One of the best crime/mystery writers around just passed away. The work of the prolific Westlake, also wrote under the pen name Richard Stark, was the subject of numerous Hollywood adaptions including the influential Point Blank with Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson (the more recent Mel Gibson vehicle Payback was based on the same classic Stark novel), the underrated Robert Redford heist movie The Hot Rock and others. I don't know if Westlake was a conservative, but he was a favorite author of Bill Kristol and once wrote a piece for The Weekly Standard, FWIW.

UPDATE: Terry Teachout, critic par excellence, was a fan of Westlake and has a nice remembrance here.

Don't miss the Teachout remembrance mentioned above.

From the Post:
Westlake wrote more than 90 books, mostly on a typewriter. Aside from his own name, he also used several pseudonyms, including Richard Stark, Tucker Coe, Samuel Holt and Edwin West, in part because people didn't believe he could write so much so quickly.
The print-version of the Post ran a longer and better article. In it, Westlake is called "the funniest man in the world" by Carolyn See. Patricia Sullivan writes, "As Richard Stark he produced the leanest, bleakest and fastest-moving crime novels of the 1960's."

I know that when I check, I'll find that my husband has already gone online and reserved some Westlake books for us from the library. :) Thanks!