Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Bean Trees

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver (Harper Perennial, 1988).

I am a fan of Kingsolver but missed this early novel, which I found at a book swap. If you enjoy reading about people and places different from yourself, you will appreciate this book. While fairly short (unlike The Poisonwood Bible), it evokes the natural and cultural environments of several parts of the U.S. that I have never visited, while telling an interesting story with good humor. The main character, a young woman from a poor family, leaves rural Kentucky and after a few months stay near an Indian reservation in Oklahoma, ends up in Tucson, Arizona. Along the way she acquires a toddler girl, a set of friends, and a job, and adapts to her new home. Woven into the story are frank discussions of poverty and minimum wage employment, the fate of illegal immigrants from Guatemala, and the reasons children end up in foster care. Although a fair amount of gardening happens in the book, the bean trees do not contain actual beans.

Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles (Houghton Mifflin, 2008).

The other short (180 page) novel I found at the book swap was this gem by an unknown (to me) author, Jonathan Miles. It is written as one long letter to American Airlines by a passenger stranded in an airport, demanding a refund because he missed his only child’s wedding. His tale of woe is essentially his entire life story. It is soon clear that all the mistakes he made in his life have combined to make the wedding even more important than it might otherwise be. The Library of Congress subject heading is “introspection – fiction” which, while accurate, completely fails to convey the humor Miles brings to ordinary situations that makes the novel worth reading.


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Filed under Environment, Social Science

The Scottish Prisoner

The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon (Recorded Books, 2011)

Since the library didn’t have A Storm of Swords on CD for my commute, I got this book instead, and continued reading A Storm of Swords in paper (it’s even longer than A Clash of Kings). The Scottish Prisoner takes place in 1760 in England and Ireland, and deals once again with Jacobite conspiracies. The plot was quite absorbing and the characters well-defined, but some of the action was rather crude. I assume that with the name Diana, the author is a woman, so the explicit homosexual sex scenes were unexpected. There was no indication on the plot summary that one of the main characters was gay. Instead, the synopsis on the box talked about a time traveling character who didn’t show up in the plot at all, except for mysterious references to Jamie’s wife Clare who is “gone” but still alive. I got the distinct impression that I had missed something – possibly a whole series worth of books. It turns out this book is related to a seven-volume series that starts with Outlander, which I have placed on hold. Hopefully I’ll meet the time traveling wife in that one, or at least some strong female characters in a world full of men fighting duels.

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Filed under Historical fiction, United Kingdom

Clash of Kings

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin (Bantam Books, 2012; original, 1999).

One day I was in the grocery store buying bread and I turned around and saw this book.   I had been trying to find a copy of it (the second in the Game of Thrones series) since last year so I could read the whole series, since my daughter is missing this one. Even the library never seemed to have a copy in stock. But somehow the grocery store had it. So I bought it, and spent the last two weeks reading it (it’s over 900 pages long). It was excellent of course, though a little bloody perhaps. Wars always are. I like the technique of devoting each chapter to a particular character’s point of view, because you get to see a complex story from lots of angles. The author also thoughtfully provides maps of the territory and lists of all the characters and their relationships. I’m looking forward to starting the next one, A Storm of Swords, which I already have.

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Filed under Fantasy, Science fiction