Monday, May 31, 2010

Back to the Classics

Next up: I've decided to go back to the classics and read Great Tales of Mystery & Adventure by Robert Louis Stevenson. Found this (see picture) great copy at the library book store a little while ago. A visit with an old master will be welcome after my last reading experience.

The Knowledge of Water...I Think I'll Forget It

While at times this book was "lushly erotic" in writing, overall it was a major disappointment. If it was meant to be suspenseful (with the mysterious threat to the lovers), it failed. If it was meant to be mysterious, it failed. The best I can say for it is that it captured the time of the flood fairly well. But then...many a historical novelist could have done better. And NO (in reply to one of the critics on the back of the book) this could NOT be the next Name of the Rose. Not even close.

This is one library book store find that will find itself re-donated. That doesn't happen often with me & books...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Next Up...

The Knowledge of Water by Sarah Smith. One of my recent library book sale finds. Here's a review:

"Lushly erotic...The centerpiece of Sarah Smith's elegant period novel is the torrential flood that nearly sweapt Paris away in 1910....An exquisite stylist, she observes her characters in the most intimate detail, defining them with witty precision and placing them in a rain-drenched portrait of Edwardian Paris that could hang in the Louvre."
--The New York Times Book Review

I can't wait to get started.

Kissed Goodbye

I just finished Deborah Crombie's Kissed a Sad Goodbye. An excellent mystery that kept me guessing right to the end. It has enough twists and turns to make one pick a culprit, then discard him/her, pick another, and then keep picking and discarding all through. And I still didn't get it right in the end. This one is every bit as well-written as her Dreaming of the Bones and just as lyrical, albeit with a different rhythm.

My main quibble is that quite a bit is made in the blurbs about Kincaid's relationship with his newly-discovered son....but not a lot of head-way is made. Kincaid's interaction with Kit is really interesting and I'd like to see a lot more of it. Maybe in the next one....

Now, I have the pleasant dilemma of deciding what the next literary journey shall be.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Breaking Down the Stories

I'm going to try a new tactic for this collection of short stories (Break It Down by Lydia Davis)...a running break-down of the stories as I read them.

"Story": gives an intimate account of the insecurities that can haunt you in a relationship

"The Fears of Mrs. Orlando": poor Mrs. Orlando. What it must be like to live with such fears...almost persecution mania. Somebody, somewhere is out to get her, steal her stuff, do her harm.

"Liminal: The Little Man": Just a snippet: "She was thinking how it was the unfinished business. This was why she could not sleep. She could not say the day was over. She had no sense any day was ever over. Everything was still going on. The business was no only not finished but maybe not done well enough."

"Break It Down": just how much does a relationship cost, anyway?

"Mr. Burdoff's Visit to Germany": a short story that is literally broken down...into its various, specific parts.

"What She Knew"; "The Fish"; & "Mildred & the Oboe": Okay, I know I promised that I was breaking these down story by story. But, seriously?? Short stories that are one paragraph long and one page at the most--that's it? If I wanted something that short and sweet, I'd be reading poetry (which I do like, by the way). But I'm not. I want a story. Not just a peeping tom look into someone's life. Which is kinda how I feel about these three--very voyeuristic. Especially with Mildred. And these extremely short "stories" make me think about my 4th grade writing efforts. When I thought my "Crime Club" series was gonna be the next best thing to Trixie Belden. And I wrote a whole story (as in equal to one of Trixie's stories--oh, say, 150ish pages) in one of those little top-spiral, 80 page (2 in x 3 in paper) and didn't even use half the pages. I just know the "Mystery of the Diamond Bracelet" was a story to make Katherine Kenney worried about Trixie's competition. I'm not claiming that my 4th grade efforts have near the style and polish of Lydia Davis' paragraphs. But I am saying it's awfully hard to care about her characters in these three stories--do I really care about the woman in "What She Knew" and what she knows? Nope. Not a bit. Don't know enough about her. things went totally downhill from there. I'm not enjoying these stories at all and I'm giving up. I did figure out what it was that made me want to get this book. It was a "short story" (yes, one of those paragraph things) called "Safe Love"--only when it was mentioned on the site I found it on, it didn't say that the paragraph quoted was the entire story.

So--going with my new philosophy that I don't have time to waste on books I'm not enjoying....out with the '"old" and in with the "new." Will be starting Deborah Crombie's Kissed a Sad Goodbye (the follow-up to Dreaming of the Bones) tonight.


So....I've been on a regular book bender the last few days. Bringing home a grand total of twelve new books from the local library's regular book store, their bi-annual clearance sale (two visits) and a rummage sale. I've scored a first edition Agatha Christie, a first edition of Helen Reilly (a lesser-known American myster writer from the Golden Age), a hard-back British edition of a Josephine Bell novel that I have with the American title, an older version of Josephine Tey's The Singing Sands, and several new-to-me authors that just had to come home with me. And I didn't just stick to mysteries...I also brought home Middlemarch by George Eliot and The Nature of Longing (short stories) by Alyce Miller. That makes for even more "too many" books to try and read in too little time. Sigh. But, just try and keep me from buying more books....ask Brad, he knows better.

The Inheritance

I have just finished The Inheritance by Simon Tolkien. Overall, this was a great read. I really got pulled into the fight to save Stephen from the gallows. I find it interesting how quickly justice moved in Britain. If the story had happened in America, we would have had all the time in the world to try and find new evidence (what with the bazillion ways to appeal and bring the wheels of justice to a grinding halt). I felt the time slipping away as Trave fought against the clock to try and save an innocent man.

I did keep thinking of The Historian while reading this. After all, when it comes to history/mysteries, apparently all roads lead to France. If you've got a mysterious item from the past, you should hide it somewhere in France--preferably in a church. Of course, the addition of the courtroom drama did give this story a completely different feel. And it was nice to have a really human inspector on the case. He wasn't the super-policeman on the force, just your average copper, trying to do his best and going with what seemed to be the right answer given the evidence--and then trying to make things right when he becomes convinced that they've gotten the wrong man. I would suggest this to all my friends who enjoy mysteries with a bit of the past to them, courtroom dramas, or just an interesting look at how the past can drive what is done in the present.

Next up: Break It Down (short stories) by Lydia Davis. I saw a mention of one of the stories in this collection somewhere, but now it's taken the doggone library so long to track it down (it's been MIA for a while), that I can't remember which one. I'm interested to see if I'll remember it when I get to it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Time Out for a Book Survey

Grabbed this from English Major's Junk Food. Thought it was pretty good, so I'm taking time out to answer the questions.

Do you snack when you read? If so, favorite reading snack: Not always. But when I do it's either fruit (grapes) or nuts/sunflower seeds.

What is your favorite drink while reading? That depends...warm weather: diet 7-up; cold weather: hot chocolate.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you? I used to mark them up when I was in college. Now that I'm more a collector-reader, I am not quite, but almost horrified at the idea. Particularly any of my first edition Golden Age mysteries. Yikes!

How do you keep your place while reading? Book mark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open? Book mark if at all possible--any piece of paper will do otherwise. Dog-ear?!! Never! & when I read a library book that has been dog-eared, I often have homicidal thoughts....(just kidding; sortof). I will only lay a book flat open if I absolutely have no other choice--and then as gently as possible to prevent too much strain on the spine.

Fiction, non-fiction, or both? Mostly fiction (of which, mostly mysteries). But really, I'll read anything. Cereal boxes if there's nothing else available. I'm partial to mysteries, classic literature (18th & 19th C), some science fiction, and a good historical romance here & there. I also like history, biography, essays, and poetry.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of a chapter, or can you stop anywhere? I prefer to read to the end of the chapter. If the book's really good, I prefer to get to the end of the book before I stop. My husband loves to tell the story about how, when we were first married, he went to bed at oh, 10:30 or so, and said, "Are you coming to bed?" To which I replied, "Just a minute, I'm just at the good part." Three hours later, I finished the book and climbed in bed.

Are you the type of person to throw a book across the room or on the floor if the author irritates you? I've tossed a few down on the floor before...but not terribly hard. I tend to mutter, laugh, argue ("No, that's not right.") or sigh in exasperation.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away? Usually. I love words and always like to make sure I'm understanding what the word means. I can usually figure it out by context, but I have to know. (I'm sure this comes from Latin Derivatives class, Mrs. Heavilon.)

What are you currently reading? The Inheritance by Simon Tolkien (J R R Tolkien's grandson). It's a mix of two of my favorites: mystery and history. As I said in the previous blog entry, it's got a dead Oxford historian; how can you beat that? It's also got a mystery tied to the past. I love those kind of books.

What is the last book you bought? Two books: An old edition of Josephine Tey's The Singing Sands and The Knowledge of Water by Sarah Smith. I've read the Tey book before, but I'm a sucker for Golden Age mysteries, especially older editions. But the Smith book is new to me. The blurb on the back says: "An enigmatic man haunted by guilt and a dark secret from the past...A beautiful young woman consumed by a desire that could destroy her lifelong dream...A madman who stalks them both in retribution for a murder they know nothing about." Couldn't leave that at the library book sale.

Are you the type of person that reads one book at a time, or can you read more than one? Either way works for me. As long as I'm reading, I'm not picky. I've done both.

Do you have a favorite time/place to read? In the evening...curled up on the couch or snuggled up in bed. But honestly...I can read any place, any time.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone? For my mysteries...series. I like getting to know characters and following them through several books. But I read both types and enjoy them equally.

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over? Right now--C S Richardson's The End of the Alphabet. This is an absolutely beautiful book.

How do you organize your books? (by genre, title, author's last name, etc): By genre and then by author within the genre. Except for my pocket-size editions...I mix all genres with that group and organize by author.

Let me know if you do this too! I'd love to see your answers.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Solo Disappointment

Picked up another Batya Gur book at the library. Having enjoyed Literary Murder so much, I was expecting a good read with Murder Duet. Um, not so much. From the way the blurb read, I thought I would be reading the next in the series...but found that this one takes place sometime before LM. I don't like Michael (the protaganist of the series) in this one. I don't know what happened to him in between these two stories, but he's much more appealing and interesting in LM. And the story just didn't hold my interest. One of the few times I've not finished a book. But as I get older (and have less time in front of me), I've added my own rider to the phrase "So many books, so little time"...."to waste any of it on books I don't care for."

Will start The Inheritance by Simon Tolkien (grandson of J. R. R. Tolkien) today. It's got a dead Oxford historian...that's gotta be good.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Dreaming of the Bones

 Just finished Deborah Crombie's
Dreaming of the Bones. I am very surprised at how long this took me to finish. It is an absolutely beautiful and lyrical mystery novel...seamlessly written. Perhaps I was taking my time because I didn't want the experience to be over? I found it amazing that Crombie adapted her writing style to the subject matter...the re-opening of a poet's death. The entire book read like a very long prose poem and the poetry she constructed to weave into the story of Lydia was perfect. Added to that, we fed my academic mystery obsession making for a near-perfect reading experience. My only quibble....I knew WAY early "whodunnit" and she didn't really provide enough clues to know why until the wrap-up. But then, she's a police procedural kind of author...not a writer following the rules of the Golden I guess I'll cut her some slack.

And, come to think of it, there's an oddity...I never expected to describe a police procedural as lyrical.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Death & The Princess

 Robert Barnard dishes on royalty, reporters, parliament members, actors....I don't think he leaves anyone who might associate with a minor princess out. This, as always, was cleverly done by one of the best in more modern British mysteries. And, as always, I thoroughly enjoyed his characters. There may be stereotypes here and there, but they're thoroughly fleshed out stereotypes. Another enjoyable read.

Next up...Dreaming of the Bones by Deborah Crombie, a re-opening of the death of a poet. Was it really suicide?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Literally Literary Murder

Wow. A new motive for murder. That's always a plus in least in my book. And this story of a unique murder motive in a unique (for me) setting was really intriguing. I saw a post on Virtual Bookshelf (an app on FaceBook) where someone said they knew the why but didn't figure out the who. I knew who...I just wasn't sure why. I'm intrigued by Batya Gur and her Jerusalem setting. I will probably keep an eye out for the other three mysteries in this series.

Having finished this one, I've now moved on to Robert Barnard's Death & the Princess. Barnard is always good for a satiric skewering of various stereotypes. I don't expect him to disappoint with this one....

Friday, May 7, 2010

Literary Murder

Next up on the reading list: Literary Murder by Batya Gur. This is the bargain bin book that I mention in one of my earliest posts. The one about the lecherous star poet at Hebrew University. The one I couldn't resist. This also marks a first for academic mystery set in Jerusalem. I can't wait to dive in and see how the university setting is handled by Ms. Gur. I am anticipating a fun and informative read.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Touring London

 Unfortunately, my tour of London wound up being a major case of deja vu. I would have enjoyed my wanderings a lot more if I hadn't already visited most of the sites. I had already read a great number of these stories in other collections. The highlights of the sight-seeing trip came with "A Little Place off the Edgware Road" by Graham Greene and "People Don't Do Such Things" by Ruth Rendell. Greene's story provided a clever little twist...this time it's not the murderer who gets away, but the body of the victim. And Rendell's offering provides a surprise ending for the straying wife and her lover.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

From Dead Center on...

So...I discovered why I've never heard of this author before. She's not exactly among the ranks of Christie or Sayers or, on this side of the pond, Daly. A mediocre mystery at certainly didn't play fair by Golden Age rules (despite it's being produced during the proper time period). Having vital information sprung upon the reader at the end was most disconcerting. The best part was the accurate portrayal of police reaction to an "amateur sleuth"....regarding Janet Keith as a nuisance rather than greeting her with an "oh, yes, please do our job for us." It was rather nice to see her deflated at the end when the official detectives revealed that they had already discovered all the clues she so eagerly had to offer (and had misinterpreted). I'm usually on the side of the amateur--after all I have a great fondness for Lord Peter Wimsey and Miss Marple--but Miss Keith was immensely annoying in her sleuthing style. I think Ms. Collins would have done better to use this character in a straight fiction novel--of the drawing room comedy sort. The Keith household (apart from delving in the murder) is a delightful mix of eccentrics and would have been better used in a different sort of book.

Having finished Dead Center, I moved on to Laurie R King's The Art of Detection. This was a very quick read...finished it up early this evening. It is a nicely plotted mystery that manages to bring the atmosphere of Holmes' era to modern day San Francisco. The story revolves around a Holmes fanatic who is killed in what looks to be precisely the manner of a murder in a recently discovered "lost Sherlock Holmes story." Is the story authentic? Was the victim killed because of the manuscript or was it more personal and more ancient reasons? King does an excellent job of pulling off the story within a story and tying all the ends together. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

Next up: London After Midnight. A collection of stories that give the reader a fictional tour of the criminal haunts of London.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Chilling End

I finished the first Hitchcock collection and have now made my way through a second (More Stories My Mother Never Told Me). The second collection wasn't quite as interesting as the first, but it did contain two gems: "The Wind" by Ray Bradbury (I don't think I've ever read anything by Bradbury that I didn't like) and "Remains to Be Seen" by Jack Ritchie. In Bradbury's story, the wind itself is the "creepy-crawlie" in question. Who would think you could make the wind mad? And Ritchie gives us a clever way to dispose of an unwanted spouse.

Now, I'm sitting here looking at my "waiting to be read piles" wondering what I should pick up next? Another mystery? Or maybe a hilarious tale of derring-do from the 17th century (one of my most recent acquisitions)? As one of my sweatshirts says: So many books and so little time....

I've decided...another pocket-size edition mystery it shall be. Dead Center by Mary author I know nothing about, so this is going to be an adventure.