Friday, March 21, 2008


The Book: Maeve Binchy, CIRCLE OF FRIENDS. Delacorte/Book-of-the-Month Club edition, 1991. Good book in good-minus dust jacket; spine is cocked, jacket is badly chipped and worn at corners.
First read: 1991
Owned since: 1991

Nothing is wrong with a book that seeks only to entertain, and does it well. Nothing is wrong with books by and about women and their friendships, and this is one of my favorites.

If you've seen the movie and haven't read the book, you don't know what this book is about. The movie's stupid, offensive ending betrayed the entire point of this book, which is that a circle of friends will get you through anything life throws at you, whether it's romantic betrayal, financial ruin or the loss of a family member.

Bernadette "Benny" Hogan, a nice girl from a good family in the small town of Knockglen, becomes best friends with Eve Malone, an orphan who's been disinherited from Knockglen's most prominent family. Benny and Eve go to college in Dublin together, make true and false friends, fall in love and have their hearts broken in expected and unexpected ways.

I have heard Maeve Binchy called a lazy writer, and for all I know she might be -- but the fact that most of her books feature a female protagonist who has a true friend and a false friend, and a faithless lover and a faithful one, doesn't bother me. Her books feel almost like fables to me, and they reassure me about human nature.

It's been a while since I posted a reading list, because so much of my reading in the last couple of months has been work-related, and a fair amount of it's been discouragingly bad. Rather than list what I read this week (not much), here are a few books I've read in the past few weeks and enjoyed:

What I've Read Lately (The Good Stuff)

Declan Hughes, THE PRICE OF BLOOD. I'm not saying anything against the wonderful, wonderful people in HarperCollins's publicity department, who send me advance copies of books by authors I admire. But I do have to wonder about the publicity release that came with this book: in the upper left-hand corner is a bright green shamrock with the words "Perfect Read for St. Paddy's Day!" THE PRICE OF BLOOD is the third in Hughes's very dark series about Dublin PI Ed Loy, who this time around agrees to investigate the disappearance of a jockey ten years earlier. What he finds is a horrifying tangle of lies, abuse and perversion that owes a bit to Webster's Duchess of Malfi. Very well done, as disturbing as anything I've read in a while, and appropriate to St. Patrick's Day only in making me feel I needed a drink after.

Douglas Preston, BLASPHEMY. A charismatic genius is building a particle collider in the New Mexico desert, in an effort to recreate the circumstances of the Big Bang. His government supervisors are getting nervous, and send ex-CIA operative Wyman Ford to find out what's going on. Meanwhile, the local Navajo population objects to the spiritual implications of the project, and a group of Christian fundamentalists believe it's the apocalypse. BLASPHEMY is a tearing thriller that also has some profound things to say about belief, science and religion.

James Swain, MIDNIGHT RAMBLER. Swain's first standalone sat on my to-be-read pile for much too long. If I'd read it when it came out, it would have made my Top Ten of 2007 list, and I don't understand why it's not showing up on awards shortlists. Ex-cop Jack Carpenter is a PI who specializes in finding missing children. When a serial murderer he helped arrest gets out of prison on a technicality, Carpenter is determined to put him back -- especially because young women are disappearing again.

Eugenia Lovett West, WITHOUT WARNING. This book was a Mystery Bookstore club selection, but I was skeptical. Emma Streat's CEO husband dies in mysterious circumstances, and Emma resolves to find the truth behind his death ... it sounded like any of dozens, if not hundreds, of "cozy" mysteries about unlikely sleuths investigating inappropriately benign murders. It's not. WITHOUT WARNING manages to avoid every cliche while working within some of the genre's most beloved conventions: the mysterious government operative, the suspicious friend, the woman in peril. West writes so well, and Emma is such a believable character, that I can't wait for a sequel.

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