Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sultan's Seal, River of Doubt, and The Whistling Season

Jesse's been in Louisiana for three days now. They are working on rebuilding the home of a young firefighter's family. He says that the devastation is unimaginable, the water lines on the inside of the house are so high. It was 98 degrees down there yesterday. I'm grateful for the low 70's we're having up here this week. Mia's missing her daddy something fierce. She's spent every night so far in bed with me. I miss Jess too. It's hard to lie down in bed at night; I keep waiting for him to come in and lie down too.

The Sultan's Seal by Jenny White is a fabulous first novel. Kamil Pasha, a magistrate in the Ottoman Empire of 1886, is assigned to investigate the death of a young English governess. Instead he finds layers of betrayal and lies, as well as the affections of the ambassador's daughter. White writes a powerful mystery by carefully weaving together the stories of Kamil, Sybil, and Jaanan. Most mystery stories are solved by the laying of a foundation, almost like masonry work, but this story is told colorful thread by thread until the pattern is almost complete. The clash between the dying Ottoman Empire and the young men within it, as well as the political influence of the English is used to great effect. White also uses the cultural mores of the day to advance the story. An elegant mystery.

River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard is a stand-out book of the year. I didn't know much about Roosevelt before this book and viewed him, as I'm sure most of the American public does, as a caricature of his times: big teeth, pince-nez, "Carry a big stick," etc. This book really opened my eyes to the strong, admirable man Roosevelt was. Millard gives brief biographies of the many fascinating characters within this book without short-shifting them or the story they got caught up in. After Roosevelt's failed 1912 bid for presidency, he threw himself into a new endeavor to take his mind off of the loss. He was invited to take a tour through Brazil and down a portion of the Amazon River. Once in South America, he seized upon the idea of mapping an unknown tributary of the river called the River of Doubt. Before he and his crew return to civilization, Roosevelt loses 55 pounds, nearly dies of a deadly infection, faces Indian attack, murder from within the ranks, and near starvation. The real story Millard tells is how this journey made or broke each man who made it. Roosevelt made it through, but was never the same. His son Kermit also never recovered. Millard's writing makes the rain forest itself a character trying to stop and confound the president's trek. She writes well about the interconnections of each plant and animal until the forest itself seems like one great being. Her writing never sinks into melodrama nor does it come off as pedantic. This is an amazing story of a president few of us know anymore. I'm inspired to read more about his life outside of the Amazon.

The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig is an engaging story of rural life in 1909 Montana. Oliver Milliron has recently lost his wife and needing a housekeeper for his three boys, is intrigued by a newspaper advertisement "Can't Cook But Doesn't Bite" for a housekeeper from Minneapolis. Soon Rose Llewelyn arrives with her brother Morris Morgan. Rose lives up to her word about cooking, but soon fills the house with her cheerful whistling as she cleans up the Milliron's lives. Morgan, in the meantime, takes on the job of schoolteacher when the latest teacher runs off with an itinerant preacher. The story is told from the perspective of 13-year-old Paul who is haunted by terrible dreams and an amazing intellect. There is no great climax or action in this book, it's just a quiet enjoyable read about a community, its one room school, and the people who are trying to make a living off of land that doesn't want to give an inch. Doig captures the politics of the schoolyard admirably. There's a slight twist at the end that ties things up almost too neatly, but Paul's ironic narrative more than capably makes up for it.

Tomorrow I'll be posting the review of Waking Lazarus by T.L. Hines, which is going on sale July 1st. Don't miss this exciting Christian suspense novel! http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0764202049/qid=1151421194/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/103-9943156-2479849?s=books&v=glance&n=283155