Tag Archives: California

* A Gambler’s Anatomy by Jonathan Lethem

A Gambler’s Anatomy is certainly different, starring a shadowy backgammon player who plays high-stakes games with rich men (all men) around the world and winds up needing surgery for a threatening brain tumor. We visit Singapore, Berlin, Berkeley. We revisit the hero’s strange childhood and the strange business ventures of his childhood friend. But as exciting as gambling and neurosurgery can be, the story never crystallized into a satisfying whole for me, just a string of occasionally tiresome adventures.

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Filed under New fiction

* Bullies by Alex Abramovich

It must be fashionable for grown men to write about their childhood bullies. Unlike Whipping Boy, however, Bullies: A Friendship focuses on the present. The author’s one-time bully is now the president of a motorcycle club in Oakland, CA, and the author, somewhat strangely, sets out to explore in great detail the activities of the club, depicting Oakland as a drug-infested den of violence and hopelessness which leaves locals, and even semi-locals like me shaking our heads. Yes, there are very dangerous places in Oakland but even the author acknowledges that he managed to live there for months in complete safety, apart from his repeated trips to the infamous triangle where his ex-bully, now supposedly “friend”, operates. It turns out that motorcycle “clubs” (I would say gangs) are very violent and 200 pages of that simultaneously turned my stomach and bore me immensely. Stay away from psychopaths.

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Filed under True story

** An American Genocide by Benjamin Madley

Warning: although it is August, this is far from beach-reading fare. And if you think you know how California natives were exterminated (by the bad Franciscan missions, right), you are wrong. Yes, the missions enslaved them in what has been described as “Nazi concentration camps”, but between roughly the Gold Rush and the Civil War they were just about decimated. An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873 takes us through the horrific political decisions (including by the US Congress, which funded a lot of the anti-Indian activities by militias), savage attacks, routinely on women and children, and forced removals to reserves that occurred during those years. It’s impeccably documented, chilling, and I have to say a little too detailed to be of interest to the casual reader. But it seems to me that some version of the story should be included in all California history textbooks.

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Filed under Non fiction

*** X by Sue Grafton

Whether you have been a fan of Kinsey Millhone since “A” or you are just starting at X, this is a good one! Of course a solid psychopath makes for a good mystery, but there are at least three villains in this story, who intersect but never meet — even as the avid reader tirelessly anticipates how they will! And it’s the little details that make the story, whether it is having to re-read the manual of the answering machine before changing the message (pre-internet, pre-cell phone, pre-everything), or finding ways to meet the drought-mandated conservation measures (the internet did not change that!). I could do without Kinsey acting as a marriage counselor, but I thoroughly enjoyed the story.

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Filed under Mystery

** Dragonfish by Vu Tran


Dragonfish investigates the disappearance of a Vietnamese woman married to a violent gangster who asks her first husband, a police officer, to find her. In a CSI-like Las Vegas, the officer uncovers his ex-wife’s secret life, dating back to the Malaysian refugee camp she fled to from Vietnam.

The story is very dark and the recurring motifs from the past life did not really work for me. Still, the plot is interestingly coiled.

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Filed under Mystery

** The Cinderella Murder by Mary Higgins Clark


Need a near-brainless, exciting read for the summer. Try The Cinderella Murder, which tells the story of a TV shows that specializes in revisiting dead cases, and selects the murder of a young UCLA student, decades ago. The body pile will increase as various threatened parties seek to eliminate embarrassing witnesses. If you can get over the California cliches, it’s fun and twisted.

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* 1/2 The Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer


There are many interesting themes in The Children’s Crusade, starting with the frustrated artist who is expected to be the perfect 50s wife and mother but really longs to find time for her art. And there are wonderful sub stories, the one I liked best being that of the youngest child, who is a handful and also an unexpected fourth sibling, born when his parents were least able to provide the extra care he would need to contain his exuberance.

Still, I felt that the story read like a disjointed  attempt at a disguised family autobiography. The characters seem forced, having been assigned stereotypical roles.  Studious historical motifs are thrown in here and there that don’t bring much to the story. Exquisite details are provided on items that seem fairly irrelevant, such as the way the father organizes his will. The story never engulfed me as it should.

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Filed under New fiction