Saturday, July 26, 2008

And now, with titles...

Yesterday, I finished The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith, the first in the popular series.

I have a friend who recommended another series by McCall Smith, but I couldn't find the first book in that series so I picked this up instead. It's a good, light read. Not so much of a mystery as a "slice of life" book about Botswana from someone who lived there. Most of it feels almost like short stories that had been tied together.

The one weak part of the writing is a weird inconsistency with point-of-view. Most of the book is from the point of view of the main character but at times it includes thoughts or feelings from some of the other main characters. I assume the author couldn't find a way to make his characters feelings clear in those situations without resorting to basically telling them to us.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Yesterday I finished Baltimore (Or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire) by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden, an illustrated novel by the creator of Hellboy.

Kind of an urban fantasy, Baltimore starts off with the title character on a WWI battlefield, where he encounters vampires feeding on the dead and inspires one of them to start feeding on living humans, unleashing a plague of vampirism that changes history.

The book is a deliberately "gothic" story, told mainly as a series of stories shared amongst three men who have met in a tavern. The black and white illustrations don't add much to the book, but the rest of it works pretty well. It's a basic story, told well. The format of stories being told adds a lot of overhead, so it's a short story in terms of content.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I just finished Wolves Eat Dogs by Martin Cruz Smith, the fifth of his Arkady Renko novels.

Modern mystery novels are really differentiated by two things - characters and settings - and finding a good combination seems to be the key to a good series. Smith stumbled on a brilliant combination in this series - the Russian setting provides a better background than most for the bitter, dis-spirited character that is common in modern mysteries. In this series, Renko has gone from suffering under the Soviet bureaucracy, being fired and toiling in a fishing trawler to post-Soviet Cuba.

Smith has also been lucky that real world changes have provided a nice backdrop for ongoing novels - from the collapse of the Soviet Union to the rise of the Russian Mafia, and in this novel, Chernobyl.

Wolves Eat Dogs is a good addition to the series, and I will probably read the sixth book in the series soon.

Monday, July 21, 2008

This morning, I finished With God On Our Side by William Martin.

Subtitled "The Rise of the Religious Right in America", this book catalogs the shift in the 20th century from a religious population that worked hard to keep itself separate from politics to one that saw politics as an integral part in protecting, and extending, it's values in the public sphere.

The cover is a little misleading - it shows George W Bush as part of a progression of religious leaders, but the book was published in 1996, well before the 2nd Bush had moved into national prominence.

Overall, it's a well written look at the rise of this movement, written in a fairly non-biased way. If you are interested in how the religious right is influencing American politics, at both the grass roots and upper levels, this is a must read.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

I just got back from seeing WALL-E, the last Pixar film.

Pixar is yet to make a bad movie. Even when paired with an insipid, anti-consumer, environmental propaganda background, they can turn it into a fun, and amazing looking, event.

One odd thing about WALL-E is the use of real people in some scenes. When there is recorded footage played, it uses real people, even though when WALL-E encounters humans, they are animated in the standard way. I guess they just wanted to have Fred Willard in the movie.

WALL-E also comes with a new Pixar short entitled Presto, the best short they've done in a while.