Books 76 - 80

76. The House of the Vestals by Steven Saylor - A collection of nine short stories that fall chronologically between the first and second book in Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series. These are more (small) mysteries that involve Gordianus the Finder, some touching on historical figures (Cicero is back, and there's a story inspired by a young and brash Julius Caesar) and well as show some of the cultural differences between the Romans and the Egyptians. Master/slave relationships come up in every story, I suspect getting more attention than they really got during the days of the Roman Republic. Saylor knows his setting, and he knows how to tell a good detective story, making all of the stories enjoyable.

77. An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England by Brock Clarke - A novel in memoir form about a man who accidentally burned down Emily Dickinson's house, did his time in jail and then realizes the true consequences of his actions one he's out and tries to have a normal life. When a protagonist describes himself as a "rambler", a reader knows that the story is going to go on and on...and on. Way too much on and on. It's the characters he meets along the way (he's become the go to guy if you want a famous author's house burned down) and his family provide the most interesting aspect of this story. When other author's houses do start to be torched, I really didn't care who was doing it, and I didn't care our "hero" got blamed. I only wanted to read more of Brock Clarke's funny and true observations about people who love books.

78. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury - Every time I read Bradbury, I rediscover what a genius of writing this man is. A collection of chapters that could stand alone as short stories follow the attempts of humans to colonize an habitable Mars. The bulk of the stories take place in the early 2000's, making this timely science fiction as well as great science fiction, and written in the 1940s makes this classically perfect science fiction.

79. Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson - This little novel has been out a bunch of "best of 2007" lists, but I have to say it won't be making mine. It's beautiful prose, truly lyrical, and a first person narrative so strong you'll think your hearing Trond Sander tell you the story of the summer when he was fifteen and his life now, at sixty seven. In my opinion, you'll hear him too well, and be thinking his story is a great one if someone could punch it up a bit. The flap of the book calls this "magical" and "captivating". Yes, sort of, to the first, and no way to the second.

80. Ghost by Alan Lightman - On the surface, this is a novel about a man who sees something unusual at his new job in a funeral home and the turmoil it causes for people in his life. Underneath that simple plot, there are at least two other themes: peoples' need to have something to believe in or to be believed in themselves and the fuzzy battle line between science and pseudo science. They all come together when the employee's sighting gets out to the public. The main character is so full of ennui that I couldn't connect to him in any way, and other characters are introduced and manipulated to fill plot requirements, not the other way around. An interesting story ruined by really bad characterizations, imo. The author's style of writing dialog as one line of direct quote followed by paragraphs of paraphrasing by the narrator, sometimes inserting paraphrasing of the narrators own dialog in the same paragraph added to the flatness of the story.

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