Reading History                                                   J - K - L
listed by Elizabeth Brunner
Other Book List Pages:  ABC - DEF - GHI - JKL - MNO - PQRSTU - VWXYZ
Jacobs, A.J. The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World, 2004. Commentary of reading all 44 million words of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Quite funny with strange highlights sorted in alphabetical order, juxtaposed with reflection on the author's attempt to weave the obscure trivia into everyday conversations. 
James, Henry. The Sacred Fount, 1901. Considered one of the author's least accessible works and the only novel with a first-person narrator. Explores how personalities change within a relationship, but mighty tedious. 
James, P.D. A Taste for Death, 1986. Surprisingly, this was my first finished read of the acclaimed British mystery writer, inspired by the fact that Elizabeth George has been praised by  comparisons with Ms. James. The plot begins with the throat-slit corpses of a prominent politician and a homeless man, found in a church vestry. Cover Her Face, 1962, was Ms. James' first novel and the debut of poet-detective Adam Dalgliesh. Interesting to see how the writer began learning her craft through this conventional and low-action mystery set in a country hourse and involving the strangulation of a teasing young woman. Devices & Desires, 1989, involves a nuclear power plant, anti-nuclear activists, and the murder of a cruel woman who swims topless each night. Death in Holy Orders, 2001, brings detective Dalgliesh to a remote theological college after a ordinand is found smothered under a cliff of sand. 
Jenkins, Emily. Mister Posterior and the Genius Child, 2002. Eight year old girl copes with her mother's 1970s experimentation, grade school politics, her own flamboyant imagination, and the naked rear end flashed repeatedly near her window. 
Jewell, Lisa. One-Hit Wonder, 2001. Great fun despite the essentially tragic story of a pop star whose fame only lasted for a single album. Set in London, the book shows the nightclub life in the 80s while deconstructing life choices and family relationships. The blossoming of the gawky sister Ana felt very real. 
Johansen, Iris. No One To Trust, 2002. An author known for romantic suspense enters the realm of thrillers. A trained female assassin is trying to escape from the drug dealer who threatens her young son. Fast paced. 
Judson, Daniel. The Poisoned Rose, 2002. Surprised that I finished this mystery full of fist fights and hard-boiled men. Politics, drugs, power, and some ladies-in-distress. 
Juska, Jane. A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance. 2003. Great fun. True story of a 66-year-old English teacher who places a personal ad for a sexual partner in The New York Review of Books. Both funny and poignant encounters with the men who respond. 
Kagan, Elaine. Losing Mr. North, 2002. After the disappearance of a twice-loved man, both his wife and his long-time mistress cope with the waiting for news. Language could be more polished, with emotional validity kept me reading. 
Karon, Jan. The Mitford Series. I gobbled up all five current books in this series about small town life and then waited eagerly for the newest one to be published. The main character is a pastor but the scripture references are handled discretely and the life-affirming message can easily be appreciated by non-Churchgoers. These books make you vow to lead your life in a more generous way and certainly inspired me to consider relocating to a smaller community. The newest one, In This Mountain, 2002, is less compelling, perhaps because the lead character Father Tim battles with depression, which inherently results in a more somber, less whimsical, tone. The scripture references seemed heavy-handed and the writing less witty. Shepherds Abiding, 2003. Back to Mitford where Father Tim restores a nativity scene for his wife while preparing for the holidays. 
Karr, Mary. The Liars' Club, 1995. Memoirs of a rough upbringing with a distant father, dying grandmother, and unbalanced mother. But written with tenderness and humor.
Katz, Jon. The Father's Club, 1996. I had heard plenty of praise for this Suburban Detective series, so quite disappointing to find dull language and a plodding plot. When a fraudulant housing developer and his ex-wife are murdered, the detective goes undercover in a fathers' support group to solve the crime. Death Row, 1998, is a bit stronger -- quick and light reading about suspicious activity at a nursing home that is owned by a powerful senator. 
Kay, Terry. To Dance with the White Dog, 1990. Moving tale of an elderly widower who depends on a ghostly white dog for companionship after his wife dies. Slow-paced but poignant. Made into film with Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy.
Kellerman, Jonathan. Survival of the Fittest, 1997. A respected child psychologist writes this series of mysteries about a psychologist and his policeman friend. I've read every book in the series and eagerly await a new volume. In this book, the team tracks a killing conspiracy that targets developmentally and physically disabled youth, with intervention from the Israeli consulate. Dr. Death, 2000, involves the murder of a publicity-grabbing euthenasia doctor (similar to Doctor Kevorkian) and two siblings who were traumatized when their mother chose voluntary death. Flesh and Blood, 2001. The psychologist investigates the death of a prostitute who he treated during her troubled adolescence, which leads him into the worlds of academic behaviorial experiments and the sex industry. The Murder Book, 2002, involves one of Detective Milo's first unsolved cases as a rookie cop, with the chance to catch the culprits who twenty years later even though suspects now move among the Los Angeles power elite. A Cold Heart, 2003, involves a stalker of artists and has the usual credible characters, but disappointing that the lead psychologist-detective has broken up with his lady love from the other books. Therapy, 2004, begins with the death of brain-injured young man and encompasses a conspiracy of psychologists. The Conspiracy Club, 2003, introduces a new character, a young hospital psychologist, who lost his girlfriend to violent crime and is mentored by members of a mysterious club to find the culprit. Interesting research work but the clues and contrived. 
Kerley, Jack. The Hundredth Man, 2004. Police chase a serial killer in Mobile, Alabama. Too ambitious with multiple plot lines thrown together, but an author worth watching. 
Kidd, Sue Monk. The Secret Life of Bees, 2002. Beautiful tale of a neglected white girl who runs away with her housekeeper to join a group of black female beekeepers in South Carolina. Explores the nature of love, self-acceptance, racial harmony, and female divinity. Highly recommended. 
Kilcommons, Brian (with Sarah Wilson). Good Owners, Great Dogs: A Training Manual for Humans and their Canine Companions, 1992. Emphasizes patience, praise, and clarity. Still looking for tips on handling my beloved old hound-dog. 
Kimmel, Haven. The Solace of Leaving Early, 2002. Loved this book. Vivid complicated characters. A solitary scholar comes out of her shell when forced to supervise two orphans. Something Rising (Light and Swift), 2004. Young girl must protect her dysfunctional family while supporting herself as a professional pool shark. Great characters and happy ending. A Girl Named Zippy, 2001: Love this book and this author. Small town life seen through an unusual and slightly naughty girl's eyes. Funny, heartwarming, and a fine portrait of a realistic loving family. 
Kingsbury, Noel. Designing Borders, 2003. Examples of how prominent European landscape designers put together garden borders based on particular natural conditions or themes. 
King, Stephen. Bag of Bones, 1998. Strong character development and reflections on writing in the first half, but then disintegrates into overdone horror conventions by the end. A novelist faces writer's block after the death of his wife, retreats to his lake property, becomes involved in a custody dispute between a beautiful young woman and her rich father-in-law, and then suspects his cabin is haunted. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, 1999, follows a nine-year-old girl, lost in the wilderness of the Appalachian Trail and surviving through thoughts of her favorite baseball player. 
King, Tabitha. One on One, 1993. Unexpected romance between a high school Basketball superstar on the boy's team and a gothic-misfit female player, against backdrop of family violence and the championship series. Complex characters and dark enrvironment. 
Kline, Christina Baker. Desire Lines, 1999. Story of a woman without direction who returns to her hometown, attends her class reunion, and investigates the mysterious disappearance of a high school classmate on graduation night ten years before. The novel focuses more on identity and life choices than on the detection plot.
Knapp, Caroline. Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs, 1998. Splendid nonfiction about the relationship between single childless women and their dogs. Rang emotionally true throughout for me as a new dog owner. Extremely talented writer. 
Koertge, Ron. Margaux with an X, 2004. Definitely a talented writer of adolescent fiction, but the jaded sarcasm of a pretty teenage girl just doesn't ring true. The animal-rights boyfriend is far more realistic and interesting. 
Konigsburg, E. L. The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place, 2004. Two-time Newbery Medal winner. Delightful tale of an adolescent girl, who escapes from summer camp and saves the outsider-art towers built by her eccentric uncles. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, 2002. Newbery Medal winner. Loved this book as a child. Two runaways hide in the Metropolitan Museum of Art while investigating the mystery of an angel statue that might be an early work by Michelangelo. Silent to the Bone, 2002: A teenager visits in friend at the juvenile detention facility while trying to prove him innocent of putting his baby sister into a coma. Important commentary on the impact of second marriages on children. The View from Saturday, 1996, uses an academic competition as the framing device for multiple sixth graders and their teacher to tell a transformational story. Remarkable narrative style, true and engaging. Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, 1967 -- delightful tale of friendship between two isolated girls, which begins with a game of witchcraft. Up From Jericho Tel, 1986, is less effective because of fantasy elements of invisibility and the familiar theme of two offbeat kids becoming friends. 
Kotzwinkle, William. Swimmer in the Secret Sea, first published in 1975 in Redbook. Gentle novella that follows a couple through the birth process to the burial of their newborn. Sad themes, but written from a life-affirming and love-affirming perspective. 
Kozol, Jonathan. Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope, 2000. Powerful non-fiction observations of young children, growing up in poverty in the South Bronz and assisted by a local church and a few outstanding teachers.
Krist, Gary. Bad Chemistry, 1997. Interesting suspense plot, but minimal character development and too predictably like an action film in the conclusion. When her husband disappears and his business partner is murdered, a former cop discovers an underground drug research firm that circumvents FDA guidelines to make biochemistry breakthroughs. 
Langton, Jane. Emily Dickinson is Dead, 1984. Mystery that begins with a gathering of scholars in Amherst to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the author's death. Amusing but accurate characterizations of literary scholars, clever plot twists, an unexpected romance, and an interesting debate over a controversial portrait that might be of Emily Dickinson. Professor Owen Kraznik is precisely the type of man I would love to find in real life -- but, alas, fiction created by a female author. 
Lansdale, Joe R. A Fine Dark Line. 2003. Adventurous boy in 1950s Texas investigates an old murder mystery after finding a stash of letters and diary entries. Nice profile of family relationships. 
Lanza, Patricia. Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces, 2002. Practical advice for a less exhausting form of soil preparation. 
Le Carre, John. The Constant Gardener, 2001. The acclaimed spy novelist portrays the corruption of pharmaceutical companies that peddle unsafe drugs in the third world. After a woman is murdered because of her activism to protect African women from a dangerous tuberculosis drug, her husband seeks the culprits inside the drug company, political corruption, and humanitarian relief agencies. Eye-opening, with a realistic and sobering ending. The Tailor of Panama, 1996: as Panama prepares to take control of the canal, a gossip-minded tailor to the wealthy and powerful is manipulated into spying on his customers. His fabricated information leads to a satire on the spy industry. 
Lefcourt, Peter. Eleven Karens, 2003. Great fun. Narrator reflects on the diverse chain of women named Karen who were temporarily the loves-of-his-life. The author has Hollywood screenwriting credentials, which show in the humor and vivid character snapshots. 
Lehrer, Jim. White Widow, 1996. Novel by the PBS news anchor about a Trailways bus driver who becomes obsessed with a beautiful passenger and ruins his perfect driving record as a result. Interesting portrait of the world of buses, but ending is a cliche.
Leib, Franklin Allen. The House of Pain, 1999. One of the best portrayals that I've every read of the impact that post-traumatic stress has on Vietnam Veterans. The courtroom drama explores a veteran's responsibility for violence committed while rescuing a presumed kidnapping victim. Very talented writer who rises far above the legal thriller genre.
L'Engle, Madeleine. A Live Coal in the Sea, 1996. I expected far more from the author of the beloved children's book A Wrinkle in Time. An astronomy professor re-visits family secrets when her granddaughter asks for the truth about her parentage. The religious content becomes more didactic with each chapter. 
Leon, Donna. The Anonymous Venetian, 1994. Mystery series set in Venice, Italy, which has been hugely popular in Europe. More about contemplation, dialog, and relationships than physical action. In this episode, a cross-dressed man is found murdered near a butcher factory, leading to a banking and charitable organization expose. Doctored Evidence, 2004, involves a mean-spirited elderly woman who may have been murdered by a Romanian caregiven although suspicious bank transfers point toward other suspects. Uniform Justice, 2003, involves an elite military academy and political favors related to military procurement. Death at La Fenice, 1992, is the first novel in the series, opening with the cyanide death of a difficult conductor.  Acqua Alta, 1996, revisits the opera diva and her archaeologist girlfriend, now threatened by an art fraud conspiracy. The Death of Faith, 1997, begins with a nun's accusation of supicious deaths at a nursing home and expands to broad corruption within the Catholic church. Friends in High Places, 2001, opens with a bureaucratic housing inspector with a fear of heights. A Sea of Troubles, 2002, involves the murder of two clam fishermen in a secretive seaside village. A Noble Radiance, 1998, involves a cold kidnapping case that haunts a controversial noble family. Fatal Remedies, 1999. Connections between a travel agency that markets third-world sex tours and a pharmaceutical company. Interesting to learn more about the detective's wife and their relationship. A Venetian Reckoning, 1995, begins with the author's most dramatic opening scene of a truck accident and concludes with a complicated international crime ring. Death in a Strange Country, 1993, involves an American military base and environmental hazards. 
Lethem, Jonathan. Motherless Brooklyn, 1999. Dark saga of a detective with Tourette's syndrome and his buddies in the criminal underworld of Booklyn. The plot is more violent than I like, but the portrait of a man coping with tics and uncontrolled vocalizations makes the book worthwhile. 
Letts, Billie. Where The Heart Is, 1995. Another Oprah selection. Teenager gives birth in a Wal-Mart store and then finds a surprising community in Oklahoma that treats her with warmth. Both funny and sentimental.
Lipman, Elinor. The Pursuit of Alice Thrift, 2003. Very funny with a lead character who will ring true for anyone who has brains but social awkwardness. A female doctor with extreme emotional detachment handles courtship by a carnival fudge-salesman, while slowly building a circle of friends. The Dearly Departed, 2001, involves a young woman returning to her hometown after the sudden death of her mother, which leads to confrontations with enemies from high schools days, the discovery of a half-brother, and unexpected romance. The Inn at Lake Devine,1998, begins with the anti-Semitism of a family-owned Vermont resort and ends with romance that crosses religious lines. The author brilliantly combines humor and sentiment. Then She Found Me, 1990, begins when a flamboyant television host contacts the daughter she gave up at birth. The author's trademark skills at unexpected romance between awkward characters shines here as a Latin teacher slowly recognizes the simple charms of a librarian. The Ladies' Man, 1991, is great fun -- a smooth-talking and chronically-unfaithful man attempts an apology to the middle-aged woman that he jilted thirty years before. Isabel's Bed, 1995, involves an aspiring novelist who receives beach mansion lodging in exchange for ghostwriting the memoirs of a scandalous woman. Strays farther into parody than the other works, so less appealing. 
Lodge, David. Changing Places, 1992. Fun parody of academic life as a professor from England and a professor from California swap positions. Set in 1969, the novel satirizes sex, marriage, scholarly obscurity, and campus politics. 
Loh, Sandra Tsing. Depth Takes a Holiday: Essays from Lesser Los Angeles, 1996. Funny collection of essays about the life of a thirty-something in Southern California. Topics include IKEA furniture, multicultural art grants, media relations for the wacky, aspiring screenwriters, underemployment, postmodern dating, and open-mike poetry readings. 
Lovelace, Maud Hart. Betsy-Tacy, 1940. Charming tale of two friends from a series that I loved and re-read constantly as a girl. Set in a simpler age when neighborhoods were safe and young children could explore unsupervised. 
Lovesey, Peter. The Vault, 1999. Always a delight to discover a new mystery series, this one written by the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement award from the British Crime Writers Association. In this case, witty Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond connects skeletal remains found in a vault undernearth the famous Roman Baths in Bath, England with illustrations for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, a talented puppeteer, and the missing wife of an American literary scholar. Bloodhound, 1996, involves rhyming riddles that warn of forthcriming crimes, a club of mystery lovers, and a classic locked-room murder scene. The Last Detective, 1991, is the first in the Detective Diamond series with a plot incorporating the murder of a former soap opera star, a letter signed by novelist Jane Austen, and an adolescent rescued from drowning. The Reaper, 2000, involves a con-man church rector who embezzles funds and eliminates anyone in the way, until he meets a soul mate who has done her own eliminating. Told with ghoulish humor. Diamond Dust, 2002, begins with the murder of Inspector Diamond's wife, causing great anguish as the investigation unfolds. Upon a Dark Night, 1997, is wonderful -- three plots intertwine, involving a woman with amnesia, the suicide of an elderly farmer, and a German tourist who falls off a building. The Summons, 1995: Detective Diamond has a chance to rejoin the force by rescuing the kidnapped daughter of another officer, but must first determine whether an escaped, convicted murderer is in fact guilty. 
Lowell, Elizabeth. Moving Target, 2001. A weaver and a medieval manuscript expert join forces to find the illuminated Book of the Learned, only to find a supernatural connection with long-dead lovers and a dangerous pattern of death-by-fire. Skillfully handled, with interesting insight into the rare book market, despite moments of purple prose. Pearl Cove, 1999, hero Archer Donovan of the international export family that the series chronicles, falls in love while tracking the murderer who stole a necklace of priceless black rainbow pearls. Jade Island, 1998, matches technical genius Kyle Donovan with the illegitimate daughter of a powerful Hong Kong trader, in the quest for a stolen jade burial shroud.
Ludlum, Robert. The Prometheus Deception, 2000. My first time reading the famous author of spy thrillers. Too violent and male-dominated for my tastes, but certainly full of plot twists. A retired operative must determine whether his former employer, a secret intelligence group, is actually the force behind terrorism attacks. The Janson Directive, 2002, begins with the kidnapping of an international philanthropist. When a rescue attempted by operative Paul Janson and his crack extraction team fails, Paul becomes marked for death and chased by a covert agent. Complex, fast-paced, and intriguing. 
Lurie, Alison. Only Children, 1988. Two families vacation in the Catskills in 1935, while the children observe the parents' jealousy and flirtations. Funny and literary. 

Other Book List Pages:  ABC - DEF - GHI - JKL - MNO - PQRSTU - VWXYZ
Updated January 17, 2007
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