May 2001

Siam: Or the Woman Who Shot a Man by Lily TuckThis slim little novel is a wonderful glimpse into expatriate life in Thailand circa 1967. It's beautifully written and the sense of place is remarkable, but I found myself wishing for more of a plot. Make Believe by Joanna Scott After the deaths of his parents, four-year-old Bo is the focus of a fierce custody battle between two sets of grandparents, one black and one white. I don't generally enjoy novels written from the perspective of children, but I found this one thoroughly compelling. O is for Outlaw by Sue Grafton Ms. Grafton is one of the true geniuses of the modern hard-boiled mystery. Her sleuth, Kinsey Millhone, is an inspiration to all of us who are swimming in Ms. Grafton's masterful wake. This installment is particularly enjoyable, as it involves Kinsey's own past. Being Dead by Jim Crace I really didn't want to like this book, as the author beat my husband out for the National Book Critic's Circle Award, but it's impossible not to. He's a remarkable writer, and this is a haunting book. It's about a couple of corpses decomposing on a beach, but don't let that dissuade you. Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje A delightful bout a forensic pathologist who returns to her homeland of Sri Lanka to discover the source of the organized murder campaigns engulfing the island. The Vision of Emma Blau by Ursula Hegi Stones From the River, by the same author, is one of my favorite books of all time. It's brilliant. This one...not so much. I just had a hard time finding a plot in it all. The Strangeness of Beauty by Lydia Minatoya If the author of this novel, about Japan on the eve of World War II, hadn't felt the need to be so "lyrical," I would have enjoyed the book more. The characters are interesting and the historical context is compelling. It's a good read if you allow yourself to skip the odd overelaborate descriptive passage. Sister Noon by Karen Joy Fowler I love this writer. I don't want to ruin anything about this book for you, so I'll just say that it takes place in San Francisco in the Gilded Age and that all the really interesting characters are women. How often do you get to read a book like that? Snow Mountain Passage by James D. Houston I'll admit it. I have a bizarre obsession with grisly stories of survival. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer was one of my favorite books of the past few years. So I was thrilled to encounter this novel about the Donner Party's celebrated misadventures in the High Sierra of California. The sections of the book dealing with their awful fate were fabulous. Creepy and exciting and sad. I could have done without the detours to the Mexican-American War.