Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Illegal Action

Allegiances. I read Stella Rimington’s latest novel, Illegal Action, in two sittings. She grabbed my interest in the first few pages, and then kept it with character development, plot, and reasonably fast moving action. As the former head of MI5, Rimington brings an insider’s expertise to her subject. In this novel, MI5 agent Liz Carlyle is assigned to the counter-espionage unit, where she takes on the case of a Russian oligarch living in London, who may be the target of a plot from Moscow to let all the oligarchs know they cannot escape the long arm of the state. Through the errors of her boss, missteps by colleagues and failures in communication, Liz herself becomes a target. It was especially interesting to see Rimington reveal some aspects of management behavior that show competence and some that show a cluelessness that can lead to disaster. Illegal Action provides much of what any reader of a spy novel wants: the machinations of behind the scenes controllers; a plausible and entertaining plot; enough twists and turns to keep the brain engaged, and a satisfactory resolution of tension.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)

Click here to purchase Illegal Action from amazon.com.


Charming. There are 56 poems in Billy Collins’ latest collection titled, Ballistics, after the title of one of the poems. In several of the poems, the narrator/poet is drinking tea, and so was I while reading most of these poems in spurts of three or four at a time. I’m sure that while I enjoyed his self-deprecating lines about poetry, himself, and other poets, I didn’t know the poets to whom he referred, even when he made it pretty easy to figure out. That in no way detracted from my enjoyment of these poems. Collins is assessable and charming as poets go, and his style brings me a lot of reading pleasure. The efficient way in which he notes the ordinary, and creates a few lines of beautiful poetry from everyday things, belies the skill it takes to come across with such apparent ease. Sit down with a cup of tea and read a poem or two. Relax and note something about the ordinary that displays beauty in your life.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)

Click here to purchase Ballistics from amazon.com.

Songs for the Missing

Disappeared. Stewart O’Nan’s latest novel, Songs for the Missing, explores a family’s nightmare: the disappearance of a daughter and sister. On her way to work during the summer after her senior year of high school, Kim Larsen disappears. The lives of her parents, Ed and Fran, and 15-year old sister, Lindsay, become consumed with looking for Kim. Each family member deals with Kim’s disappearance in a different way, as do Kim’s closest friends. What O’Nan does so well in this novel is the way in which he allows the missing and the uncertainty to remain constantly present. Days, weeks, months and years go by with the constant presence of the missing Kim. All of what is unknown dominates: is she dead or alive; was she abducted or did she run away; will this horror ever end? A reader can feel each character become numb in one form or another as their agony of their reality sets in over time. Thanks to O’Nan’s fine writing, that numbness is observed, not felt by a reader.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)

Click here to purchase Songs for the Missing from amazon.com.

The Black Tower

Dauphin. Historical fiction usually leads me to want to learn more about the historical period in which a novel is set. Louis Bayard stimulated that interest for me again in his novel, The Black Tower. The tumultuous period is early 19th century France, after the Reign of Terror and Restoration. Bayard chooses a first-person narrator, Hector Carpentier, a doctor, whose father of the same name was a physician to Louis-Charles, the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The title refers to the place where Louis-Charles was imprisoned. Bayard lays out a mystery and a question as to whether or not Louis-Charles died in prison, or was secreted away and hidden. The famous Francois Vidocq, master detective, is presented as a larger-than-life character whose skills unravel much of the mystery. Vidocq and Carpentier follow all leads and their journey will entertain readers and likely lead to interest in this historical period and to learning about what really happened.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)

Click here to purchase The Black Tower from amazon.com.

Hot, Flat and Crowded

Greener. Tom Friedman preaches to readers about a greener life in his new book, Hot, Flat and Crowded. Friedman connects three issues in this book: global warming, the rise of the global middle class, and the increase in world population. He challenges America to tackling this crisis with innovation. He wants us to become the world leader in green energy and in finding innovative ways out of the mess we’re in. While much of his message resonated for me, I found his tone so preachy at times that I needed to take a break from the text. The message is worth hearing, even if the messenger can be hard to listen to.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)

Click here to purchase Hot, Flat and Crowded from amazon.com.