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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Round-Up

There's a (Slight) Chance I Might Be Going to Hell: A Novel of Sewer Pipes, Pageant Queens, and Big Troubleby Laurie Notaro: Notaro is a comedic writer, mostly non-fiction, in the style of Dave Barry, and it shows in her first novel.  The book is loaded with broad jokes and funny scenarios -- a bit too loaded for my tastes.  But the story itself is fun and the characters are engaging.

The Amelia Peabody series (first through fourth books) by Elizabeth Peters: I first read these as a girl (I think the second volume, the first I read, was in a book club mystery series my father got; each volume was in a different color striped with white, and contained three novels), and inexplicably wanted to read them again.*  They take place in the Egyptology world just before the turn of the last century, and increasingly serve as satires of adventure novels from that time.  Amelia is a hoot, the first novel in particular has a great romance as a sub-plot, and they combine two of my favorite things -- mysteries and Egyptology.  What's not to love?

Reading the Peabody books made me want to reread Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile, partly to contrast the styles.  Only, it turns out I don't have it and have never read it.  I was getting confused with:

Murder in Mesopotamia: A Hercule Poirot Mystery (Hercule Poirot Mysteries): Potato, Potahto.  The plot is superficially similar to Peters' The Curse of the Pharaohs, with a beautiful but difficult woman married to a brilliant archeologist, a murder, a house filled with suspects, unscrupulous antiquities dealers, superstitious locals, and so on.  They are completely different in style, however, with Christie displaying the prejudices of her time (prejudices which the Peabody series acknowledges, even if Amelia is too enlightened to have them).  Also, Hercule Poirot could not be more different than Amelia.  As with all Poirot stories, it is a highly enjoyable book.

I'd feel remiss if I did not also mention Arthur Phillips' The Egyptologist: A Novel, for a third take on archeology.  It's about an Egyptologist who is equally convinced that he is Carter's superior and that he is on the verge of a huge discovery.  It features multiple unreliable narrators and narrative styles, and is satirical, funny, pathetic, confusing, and disturbing.  I highly recommend it.

A Quilter's Holiday: An Elm Creek Quilts Novel (Elm Creek Quilts Novels)by Jennifer Chiaverini: Chiaverini's prolificness and my lack of interest in historical novels means I'm now only reading her contemporary Elm Creek books.  While this novel was enjoyable and contained one of my favorite characters (Anna), I'm noticing a stylistic quirk Chiaverini relies on too much, especially in the novels with multiple points of view taking place over a few days.  Instead of showing the action, she tends to have her narrators recount what happened, or their life history, as if it were a kind of biographical summary.  Occasionally such a technique makes sense or is at least necessary, but I wish she wouldn't use it quite so often.

The Golden Ratio: The Story of PHI, the World's Most Astonishing Number by Mario Livio: Livio is an astrophysicist who takes a detour to write about ϕ, a.k.a. 1.61803.... This is the number that shows up in the Fibonacci series, the Golden Rectangle, the Pentagram, the Golden Spiral, and so on.  Livio starts off with a history and explanation of the number, addressing the mathematical and geometric concepts I just listed, before going on to explore ϕ's role (actual and purported) in music, art, nature, physics, and even the nature of existence itself.  It's a great layman's discussion of the number.

*Oddly, just as I finished, Peters passed away.

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