Monday, February 18, 2013

Midnight, by Kevin Egan (release date July 3, 2013 by amazon, May by Tor)

There are some nights when insomnia actually pays off.

I received an AR copy of Midnight yesterday, and, thanks to a convenient break in my reading line-up, could slip it in right away. The premise is Judge Alvin Carter happens to die in his chambers on December 31. While that might seem a tidy way to end a year, it puts his law clerk and his secretary in a bit of a bind; by the traditions of the New York County Courthouse their jobs would be safe until the end of the year a seated judge dies, but the end of the year is only hours away. Not much help for a financially strapped single mom and a fellow up to his ears in gambling debts. What to do? Simple. Make it look like the good Justice kicked off on January 1 instead.

The plot gets convoluted --  ham-fisted loan sharks, crooked politicians, nasty enforcers, even an ex-boyfriend. Plus, the dead judge goes on a bit of a walk-about.

The author has spent his career in the New York law system, so the scenarios and specifics of the culture rang true. There were only a few moments where my attention wandered because of small details.

So, when I found myself wide awake at half past stupid last night, rather than struggle to resume sleeping, I crept downstairs, made a nice cup of herbal tea, wrapped myself in an afghan, and finished the book. Like Carol and Tom, I tried to turn a losing proposition into a winning one. Only my case was much less of a struggle.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lessons in French by Hilary Reyl

Paris is not a city that attracts me, yet it does fascinate me. It's not a place I long to go (one brief visit in the 1970's has allowed me to say I've been there), but it's a city I do love to read about. Whether historical, twentieth century, or current, the nuances of culture never cease to give much to contemplate. Hilary Reyl has managed to capture a believable Paris of 1989-90 and present it to her readers, along with tasty morsels of the time: the fall of the Berlin Wall, Salman Rushdie (Satanic Verses era), how Parisian women really stay thin, kirs, a compelling circle of characters, and of course, cuisine.

The story is billed loosely as a coming of age novel, which really sells it short, because I found it to be a fascinating character study, with Paris itself one of the characters to study. Kate, a recent Yale graduate, has the opportunity to work as the assistant to Lydia, a famous American photographer, living in Paris. Kate had lived briefly in Paris as a girl, and speaks the language beautifully. While the job bubbles with opportunities to mix with the famous, and be a part of a cutting edge culture, Lydia and her family serve up a somewhat toxic brew of personal pathologies and pathos. Kate must find a balance as well as find herself. She still has family in the city, has a group of young aristocrats and royals she runs with, as well as the conflicted personalities that come her way, courtesy of Lydia's family.

There were times when Kate's hormones led her astray, where I wanted to give her a shake to help her think straight, but that's part of what coming of age is all about. The thing that kept me glued to the pages here were the glimpses of Paris that emerged, the slices of life not known to those who have only visited, (whether in person or via a book) -- a little of the underbelly, so to speak. It rang so true that I feel certain Reyl knows her stuff, and weaves it in a clear, confident manner, into the story of Kate and her time in Paris.

Thank you to LibraryThing's Early Reviewer Program and the publisher for sending me this AR copy to read. The book comes out March 5, 2013.

(3.5 rounded up to 4 stars)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Rocks in my Heart

There are many quirks that made my mother the gem she was, a multifaceted bit of brilliance. Though she was trained as a bacteriologist (in the days before virology and even microbiology were even being contemplated) one of her passions were rocks. I'm not talking the shiny polished bits found in gift shops along Route 66, but Rocks. Rocks, stones, pebbles, minerals: raw bits of compressed earth, in glorious shapes, hues, and textures.

When I was 4 (fifty-mumbly-mumble years ago) the family moved to Palo Alto so my father could be part of a project at Stanford University. My parents loaded up our baby blue Country Sedan station wagon and drove from Silver Spring, Maryland, out to the west coast. I still have vivid memories, and a ton of stories about that trip. My father learned to slow his driving speed as we drove past cuts the newly built highway had made into the land. The geographical layers were exposed, creating a classroom where my mother taught us to distinguish geologic columns (or what I called "rock layers" at the time. If the slice into the earth was particularly stunning, the old blue wagon pulled to the side so a certain rock enthusiast could explore. One time, as we scrampled over the shale and sedimentary rocks, my father gave a rather embarrassed explanation to a highway patrol trooper who thought we were a vehicle in distress. I don't know what my dad said, but I heard a roar of laughter from the super-sized trooper. He slapped my dad on the back, and said, "Gotta to keep 'em happy. It pays."

That trip was a rock hunter's heaven -- caverns, the Badlands, southwest, Petrified Forest, Painted Desert, Rockies, . It was also the beginning of my mother's love affair with the Grand Canyon. Her rock collection grew that summer, with bits of earth and rock she collected as we travelled. It set the pattern for later trips, when the souvenirs brought home were minerals and stones.

She never stopped collecting. Her children, friends, and even friends of her children brought her rocks, sand, and bits of dirt from all over the world.  There was the hunk of obsidian that got pulled up in a fishing boat net off the Pacific coast, sand from Goa, geodes from caves in the midwest, pebbles from the top of a hill in India. It was an astounding array of bits of the Earth's crust. And it travelled around the country as she moved from Maryland, to Missouri, to South Carolina. On that steamy August day, when her moving van arrived here in Charleston, the movers lugged her boxes up the 15 stairs to our front porch. She hadn't labeled contents, just rooms on the boxes, because between her books, and her amateur geologist stash, she was afraid that they'd charge her more for the move. I stood on the porch, offering iced tea and cold water to the perspiring men. One fellow huffed up the steps, face bright red, cords on his neck straining. He grinned at us and laughed. "Whatcha got in here, lady? Rocks?" As a matter of fact...

Bumma and I talked about what to do with her rocks when she moved on. She always meant to label them all, but didn't get around to it, though could tell me where each one was from and what it was. I should have written it down, but didn't. We used to joke that maybe we should leave them all in a heap in the back yard, to confound future geologists. What she wanted, though, was, when we were ready to part with them, that the collection go where it might spark a love of rocks in someone else. She wanted people to be able to learn through those wondrous bits of earth.

Ruthe's rocks are all now in boxes, except for a few chosen by family members to keep as memories. Next week the collection moves to a new home, at Ashley Hall, a private school, where my parents sent me to high school when we relocated to Charleston. My mother once commented how different Ashley Hall was from her public school back in Brooklyn in the 20's. She wondered what her world might have been like if her education had taken her to such a place, if she'd had the opportunity to enrich her mind in that environment when she was a girl.

It makes me smile to think that my mother, after all these years, will indeed be going to Ashley Hall, to be a part of learning.