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under the radar

A Town Like Alice

A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute

Going into this I had no real idea what it was about, but I absolutely loved it. It's not a perfect book--for example, it's rather episodic. And it certainly partakes of the racism of its time. There are casually used racial slurs, for instance. The portraits of the Malays and even the Japanese soldiers are rather nuanced and sympathetic despite this, but the Aboriginal Australians who work on the cattle station don't fare so well (perhaps because Jean is just getting to know them, but still). 


You could read this as a kind of allegory of colonial/national development, since Jean comes out to Australia and builds a new town by investing her British capital (money that originated in the Australian gold fields, nicely circular). Or you could just enjoy it for the adventure and romance. 


It reminded me of an odd assortment of old favorites: Maud Hart Lovelace's Early Candlelight, a romantic story set around the founding of St. Paul, MN; the Little House books for its portrait of a kind of frontier life, including all kinds of mundane detail; Helen MacInnes' WWII set books--not just the part where they're prisoners of war in Malaya, but the way the characters stoically Get On With Things in the face of difficulties, and the understated but very real emotions. 

Trust No One

Trust No One - Jayne Ann Krentz

She's got a formula, but it's a formula that works for me so I don't care. Ticks all the Krentz boxes. I think her last couple of stand-alone romantic suspense novels have felt more energetic than a lot of her recent books. (I don't think much of this narrator, Amanda Leigh Cobb--very girlish, voices aren't well distinguished, often the pacing and emphasis feel off to me. But I like these books on audio and she's not so bad I can't stand it).

Cracking the Dating Code

Cracking the Dating Code - Kelly Hunter

This is the second book in Kelly Hunter's West Family series, and if I remember right I preferred the first one. The banter between hero and heroine is good as always, and the geek heroine was interesting, but the pacing was uneven. She seemed to be reaching to come up with any kind of black moment and it was all wrapped up too quickly. (This is a common flaw with Presents--the fun set-ups tend to take a lot of space, and it takes a skilled author not to short-change some other part of the book in such a limited page count. Hunter is skilled, and I'm fond of her categories, but no one's perfect). 

Dying Light

Dying Light  - Stuart MacBride

I liked:


  • The police characters/workplace relationships 
  • The sense of place
  • Twisty plotting/web of connections


Not so sure about:


  • Another serial killer? It seems like a bit of a plot cheat: need to keep things going? Add another murder. (The serial killer isn't glamorized or the most interesting person in the book, though, and I appreciate that--the solution to that part was almost a side note).
  • The graphic violence. There were a few scenes here I found literally stomach-churning and I'm not sure I can stick with the series because of that. 
  • Logan's a little too good to be true--I mean, he does make mistakes but he's always smarter than the bosses. Blah.
Cold Granite - Stuart MacBride

A pretty dark police procedural. Twisty plot with a whole series of interlocking crimes (there is a fairly high body count) and fairly graphic, though there is not either villain POV or abducted child POV, thankfully. It is always freezing, windy, raining or snowing in MacBride's Aberdeen (not that this isn't accurate, it just adds to the grimness of the world he creates). What saves it from being unrelentingly grim are the fundamentally decent DS Logan McRae and WPC Jackie Watson, and the humor in the relationships between some of the police. It's nice not to have a totally gloomy, self-destructive detective in a book of this kind. I will read more, but please let there be something besides the serial-killer-preying-on-children story. I am so tired of that.

The Ascent of Money

The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World - Niall Ferguson

Read by Simon Prebble (less over-emotive than when he narrates historical romance).


I listened to this in a break from the audiobook of Thomas Piketty's much more dense and demanding Captital in the 21st Century. I don't know why I'm on an money kick right now. I seem to recall there's some reason I'm supposed to be critical of Ferguson--probably his fondness for imperialism, which is sometimes on display here--but I really enjoyed this. Ferguson is good at turning a dry subject into an engaging narrative, partly by focusing on colorful characters. Hedge fund managers aren't really my thing, but I loved the parts about Nathan Rothschild and his role in the British victory over Napoleon. This book was surprisingly fun. And I might even remember some of it.

The Fifth Day of Christmas

The Fifth Day of Christmas - Betty Neels

Note: obligatory snowball fight scene during the snowed-in-together portion of the book. 


There was pretty much a dearth of plot in large sections of the book, but I didn't care because I was enjoying the Betty Neels world. Rich Dutch Doctor Hero not too opaque or mean to the heroine; Nurse Heroine beautiful, competent, and doesn't take too much shit from anyone; snowed in in Scotland and then time in a lovely Dutch country house; lots of meals with French sauces and a special, not-revealing party dress for the heroine. Classic. 


Two things annoyed me: the Evil Other Woman is not only Manipulative, Cold and Ambitious (OK) but An Intellectual. A clever woman could apparently never make a Rich Dutch Doctor a comfortable wife--could not be a cheerful, loving, domestic, bread-baking, knitting, nursing type. Oh no. Oh well.


Also, this book is from 1971 but when Harlequin reprinted it they apparently felt the need to update the record player to a CD player, while leaving everything else in timeless mid-century Betty Neels World. WTF, Harlequin? 


A very pleasant diversion.

Flower in the Desert

Flower in the Desert - Lavender Parker, Katy Farrell

 I really liked the first half of this novella. Ruby (and then Ruby and Jase's) struggle to survive in the desert was gripping and well-paced, with lots of plausible details. The second half felt under-developed; I wanted to know more about the trial, for instance, and I felt a lot of the drama was diffused to focus on the romance/sex (which was well done). Ruby was a great, strong character. Jase never seemed like a full person to me. He had so little backstory. I liked the prose style though there were a fair number of minor editing glitches.