Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Burning Kansas by Sara Paretsky

This month for Barrie Summy's Book Review Club I'm writing about Sara Paretsky's Bleeding Kansas.

I have a bit of a thing for V.I. Warshawski, and to tell the truth I have a bit of a thing for her creator, Sara Paretsky, too. I'm a member of Sisters in Crime, a group Paretsky founded, and I've heard her speak in person. All of this increased my admiration for Paretsky and her work.

So when I heard that she had written a new novel - not a mystery and not starring Warshawski - I was intrigued. Especially because it's set in Kansas. Hey, I lived in Kansas for 11 years. Now she really had my attention. (Paretsky grew up in Kansas, too.)

So I bought the book for my dad (also a Paretsky/Warshawski fan) as a thank you gift for driving to Inconvenient, Illinois to pick up my girls' new bike and saving us $150 in shipping costs.

Naturally, I read the book before gifting it. What, you don't do that? Oh. Well, I do. Just as naturally, he already owned the book and had really enjoyed it.

Which is good, because I was sort of "meh" about it.  Paretsky is a wonderful writer.  I just had trouble connecting with any of the characters in this novel, by which I mean that I didn't really like anybody.  Perhaps I was in a crabby mood that week.  But by page 200 I was caught up enough in the story that I barely minded that I didn't care very much about the characters.  Parts of the novel read a bit heavy, like a massive information dump.  Fortunately, the history was pretty interesting and I enjoyed it.  (Reading Gilead: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson prepped me by giving me background on the anti-slavery politics of Civil War-era Kansas.)

So, to conclude: if you like history, you might check this out.  If you're interested in pioneers and settlers and the history of slavery in our country, you might find this interesting.  If you'd like a picture of non-cookie-cutter politics in America's heartland today, you might check this out.  But if you're a Paretsky/Warshawski fan looking for the sort of hard-boiled Chicago P.I. page turner we're both used to, well, you won't really find that here.

(Note: this novel was new in 2008. I'm a little behind. And the Amazon reviews are humorously mixed.)

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David Cranmer said...

I've been a fan of Sara Paretsky since the 80s. But have never read a non-Warshawski novel. I am intrigued now as well. Thanks.

Jenn Jilks said...

I love this author and this series. I understand what you mean about caring for the characters.
Nice interview.
You read them first????? :-)

Sarahlynn said...

David, I think it's funny how some of the Amazon reviewers think BURNING KANSAS is a beautiful literary work while others feel it reads like a high schooler's first attempt at a novel. (I fell somewhere in the middle, though I wanted to be more toward the "beautiful literary work" side of the spectrum. It's not poorly written, but there's a lot of history in the book and some of it is dumped awkwardly in strained dialogue.)

Jenn, well, not always. But this was for my dad! We talk about the books we read, so if I gave it to him I'd need to have read it, too, and . . . But if I were buying a Christmas gift for my in-laws, well, I wouldn't have read it first.

(Note: this is not a Warshawski novel! Many readers were expecting it to be part of the series or at least to include some of the same characters and were sorely disappointed.)

Post P.S. I should clarify that there are plenty of examples of cookie cutter politics in this novel, too. But main character, Jim, is more like lots of Kansans I know. He has opinions but he's not militant about most issues and politics are simply not in the forefront of his life. They're not the *most important* things to him. Or even the second or third.

Ellen Booraem said...

YOu know, I haven't gotten around to reading the Warshawski novels yet. You may have slightly panned this book, but you got me interested in the others! Any novel that attracts father and daughter has to have something going for it!

Not liking any of the characters is a huge obstacle to overcome--good for you that you even got to page 200!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Your ambivalence is now mine.

Sarah Laurence said...

How disappointing for you. Some of my favorite authors have also written books I disliked. Thanks for the honest review.

Staci said...

I thought this one sounded good and I was especially intrigued by the great cover art. Thanks for your review and I may have to try it out as I've never read any of her other stories!

Stacy said...

Inconvenient, Illinois? Nice.

Isn't it funny how you can get caught up in a book and still not like the characters? It's what separates the one-time read books with the frequently reread books, I suppose.

Linda McLaughlin said...

Sara Lynne, LOL, I wouldn't have the nerve to read a gift book before gifting it, not without full disclosure any way. But I'm sure your dad didn't mind. I do like history, but I also prefer a book where I actually like at least one character. So not sure about this one. Glad you got caught up enough to read the whole thing though.

Sarahlynn said...

I still feel bad for panning a Paretsky novel!