Wednesday, February 2, 2011

January Book Report - Part 1

A few of the books I read and enjoyed last month, just in case you haven't come across these yet.
  • Who's Your Mama, Are You Catholic and Can You Make a Roux? by Marcelle Bienvenu
    If the title doesn't tell you that this book is an authentic look at life and cooking in Cajun country, then you haven't ever visited Louisiana. Luckily, my husband has a branch of the family firmly entrenched in New Orleans and I have had the pleasure of several visits to the city and a few day trips to the countryside. Marcelle Bienvenu's book intersperses little vignettes of family life as she grew up near St. Martinville. It is a charming book and I've seen several recipes that I'm interested in trying out. Funny how Tom keeps giving me Creole and Cajun cookbooks. I'd better get busy and make something from them!

  • The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke
    I almost felt like putting "foreign lands" as a tag on this book as James Lee Burke writes so lyrically about New Orleans and Louisiana that it is like a travelogue. A travelogue through a very gritty, dark place though. This first book in a series is a noir style tale of police detective Dave Robicheaux's struggle with personal demons, both internal and from organized crime in the city makes a compelling tale. Even more surprising than the lyrical descriptions though, is the underlying Catholicism that defines Robicheaux's character ... down to the point that he prays the rosary when he can't sleep due to fighting off urges to drink.

  • Heaven's Prisoners by James Lee Burke
    This book continues Dave Robicheaux's story after he has turned his back on the New Orleans police force and struck out on his own with a bait/rental shop and barbecue shack in his home town in Cajun country. He finally has the chance for a happy life until one day he sees a plane crash in the lake where he is fishing. This sets into motion a chain of events that severely test his ability to stay away from the detective business.

    I'd say more, but to do so would involve many spoilers. I found this book interesting for the portray of the addict's struggle (Dave is in AA, although I would contend that is not all he is addicted to). He falls short in many ways and I wound up disliking his character very much more in this book than in the previous one, Neon Rain. I wonder if that is because I am a woman, while Dave is very much tuned into his manly needs and tends to define his interpersonal relationships that way when dealing with women ... in a way I found unrealistic and distasteful. Or perhaps it is because the author does not give us enough extra info to help understand the reasons behind that behavior. Dave himself seems to understand what it means to be an alcoholic but he does not recognize his many other problems (or so it seems to me).

    So I found this book to be a disappointment because I couldn't feel that Dave had done the right thing for most of the book and, in fact, directly brought the biggest tragedies of the story on himself. More importantly, I'm not sure that he really learned anything.

  • Black Cherry Blues by James Lee Burke
    This is the third in the Dave Robicheaux series and the subject of this week's discussion at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. It is the reason I read Neon Rain and Heaven's Prisoners. We see Dave's story arc continue as he continues to deal with the personal repercussions of the events in Heaven's Prisoners. He is still running his bait shop and when trouble rears its head this time he has learned to keep his head down (more or less). However, when he is involved in an old friend's trouble and his family is threatened, Dave must once again act to protect those he loves. This leaves him accused of murder and traveling to Montana to clear his name. The themes of forgiveness, confession, and mercy are strong in this novel.

  • The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint
    I was intrigued both by the title and by the fact that Charles de Lint was writing about somewhere besides Canada so right after Christmas I took a chance on this when splurging at the bookstore before beginning this year's book fast. Set in the American Southwest this story is a story that is anchored in two worlds. Grace (Altagracia Quintero)loves customizing hot rods, rockabilly, and tattoos. She has one of Nuestra SeƱora de Altagracia (Our Lady of Grace) on her shoulder. John is a computer geek and artist who is haunted by the loss of his younger brother. Their worlds collide in an unexpected way that leaves them (and us) pondering guilt, love, life after death, when to let go, and the mystery of grace.

    This was a completely unexpected book that was at once fascinating, engrossing, and thought provoking. I used to read de Lint long ago at the beginning of his career but hadn't been interested in his work for several years. This was a welcome return to the sort of writing that I used to enjoy.

1 comment:

  1. As a true-blood Cajun ... I can tell you that "Who's your Mama ... " is the book I wish my Ganny had written for us.

    Great recipes ... great writing ... great all the way around!!