Book Reviews

My most recent good reads:

Whistling in the Dark, by Lesley Kagen (Penguin)

I absolutely loved this book! Told from the point of view of a ten-year-old girl who’s trying her best to follow her father’s dying instruction to take care of her nine-year-old sister, Kagen never loses a child’s perspective. I was hooked from the moment I read that something smelled like a palm that had gripped a nickel too long. Even the slightly treacly ending didn’t keep me from having a big smile on my face when I closed the book. This is Kagen’s first novel. May she write many more.

My Life in France, by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme (Knopf)

Ah, Julia! One of my life’s regrets is that I didn’t meet Julia Child. I almost did, because she had a vacation house in the south of France just down the road from where I lived, and regularly invited neighbors to lunch when she was there. Like MFK Fisher, Julia Child was a sensual woman who threw herself into life with rare courage and humor. This memoir, organized by her husband’s nephew, is a glimpse into the mind of a woman who worked as hard at sharpening her intellect as she did at translating French ingredients into American. It’s also an inside look at the pain and disillusionment she and her husband suffered due to the witch-hunting mentality of the American Congress during the McCarthy years. I savored every word and could almost taste the dishes she describes. The world is poorer for Julia Child being gone.

Rasputin’s Daughter, by Robert Alexander (Viking)

My knowledge of Russian history is spotty, but I’d always had an idea of the infamous Rasputin as an ascetic priest. Now, thanks to Alexander’s novel, I’ll forever see him as a crude peasant whose legendary healing powers were true. Told from the point of view of Rasputin’s daughter, Maria, the story covers only the last few days of Rasputin’s life before he is assassinated. Alexander presents a daughter who sees her father clearly, both his faults and strengths, and feels all the conflicting emotions that all children feel when they come to see their parents as people rather than parental authorities. The book is well worth the read.

Dearly Devoted Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay (Vintage Crime)

I loved Darkly Dreaming Dexter, the first in Lindsay’s series about a lovable serial killer. Darkly Dreaming allowed readers to get inside Dexter’s skin and guiltlessly enjoy doing away with people who sincerely and deeply needed to be done away with. In spite of Dexter’s own assertions that he’s an inhuman monster with no emotions, we didn’t really believe him, and we found his efforts to fake normal somewhat like our own efforts to fit into the “norm.” In this second book in the series, Dexter isn’t quite so lovable. Oddly, his lessened lovability comes in tandem with his increasing normality. He learns to drink beer and watch TV. He kisses his girlfriend with simulated passion. He plays kick-the-can with her kids. Instead of indulging his need to kill, he’s reduced to watching another serial killer — one with no socially redeeming virtues at all. And there’s something a little too dark about Dexter’s lack of horror at what he sees. I think I see where Lindsay is headed with this series, and maybe the banality of evil is what he had in mind all along, but I missed the old innocent fun Dexter used to have carving up the bad guys.


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