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Not Hooked On This Crochet Mystery

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was stuck on a book. Despite all the reasons I thought I would like that mystery set in Georgian England, it just wasn’t grabbing me and it seemed like the best way to restart my reading was to switch books. Normally, to get on-track with my reading again, I like turn to a book by a favorite author, a known quantity. But, much to my folly, I went with an author I hadn’t read before.

The premise of Hooked on Murder by Betty Hechtman appealed to me for a couple reasons. It was set in a bookstore and it involved a crochet group–two things I love. Not only that, but because this author was published by Berkley Prime Crime, I had a feeling I knew what to expect from the book in terms style and the quality of writing.

Berkley Prime Crime tends to specialize in “cozies”, mysteries in the tradition of Agatha Christie where things happen in a set location with an established cast of characters. These books focus more on the mystery of figuring out “who-done-it” than on vividly gruesome crime description, overt violence, or action. And the Prime Crime books seem to be aimed at women because so many of the authors and protagonists are female.  But while Hooked on Murder was generally true to what I have come to expect from Berkley Prime Crime, it just didn’t do it for me.

The story. Molly Pink, a recent widow in her late 40s, has fought to get her life back to a new normal after the early death of her husband Charlie, a partner in a small public relations firm. But Molly’s plans for her new normal are thrown when she discovers the dead body of Ellen, her husband’s business partner. Now Molly is scrambling to figure out who would kill Ellen because a jealous female police detective seems convinced Molly is guilty, a development that would free up Molly’s boyfriend for this detective. In her efforts to learn more about the deceased and find an outlet for the nervous energy being the prime suspect of a murder investigation can cause, Molly joins the crochet group that Ellen ran and learns that there were a variety of people who benefited from Ellen’s death far more than Molly did. In order to prove her innocence, Molly is going to have to find out who really killed Ellen–all while learning to crochet the perfect granny square.

What I liked. As a protagonist, Molly is likeable. She’s been through tough times with the early death of her husband, but she’s rebuilding her life on her own and struggles to maintain the independence she’s discovered in the wake of tragedy. Not only is Molly herself likeable, but so is her best friend Dinah, a community college English teacher who refuses to disclose her age. I enjoyed this story the most when it stayed with Molly and Dinah.

The other characters. Other than Molly and Dinah, almost none of the characters were likeable. Molly had two grown sons, Peter and Samuel, and neither of them seemed worthy of her. Peter came across as coldly self-centered that even as his mother worried about being arrested. Samuel fares no better, coming across as a complete wuss. Molly’s boyfriend Barry was remarkably obtuse for a police detective, never realizing that “Detective Heather” was crushing on him and trying to get Molly out of the way, even if that meant charging Molly with a murder she didn’t commit. Adele, a fellow bookstore employee, is so over-the-top rude to Molly that I cringed each time she appeared in the story. An aging star, CeeCee, attempting to become the crochet group’s new leader is entertaining in her vain way, but the other group members are kind of flat. The owners of the bookstore where Molly works are only present to heap pressure on Molly for things she can’t control, and it felt odd that small business owners would be in their shop so seldom. Perhaps the only other likeable character was Jeffrey, Barry’s son. Thirteen-year-old Jeffrey, despite his father’s consternation, wants to be an actor and wants to know all about Molly’s experience finding a dead body. I can go along with a lot in a story so long as I like the characters in it, but with Hooked on Murder I mostly felt sorry for Molly, Dinah, and Jeffrey that they were surrounded by so many jerks.

The writing. Despite the drought of likeable characters, Betty Hechtman writes a clear, understandable story. Through the action and the revelation of the mystery, there weren’t any times in the story when it was unclear who had done what. I appreciate that because it gives me the feeling that I’m getting the information I need to figure out the mystery. However, that wasn’t quite the case with this book. Not unlike Agatha Christie, there was a whole lot of red herring and very little that would allow the reader to figure out the mystery.

I really wanted to like this mystery, but I don’t think I will read anymore books in this series. My affection for crocheting isn’t enough to overcome my dislike for so many of the characters. However, the good thing this book this did was it compelled me to start a new crochet project. If I like how it turns out, I’ll share it here.

Until then, I wish you better reads than I’ve been reading. A book that you think is going to be good and doesn’t deliver, well, that feels like a broken promise.

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Posted by on February 29, 2012 in Books, Lifestyle, Uncategorized

 

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The Bibliophile is Behind in Her Reading

Yes, I’m a bad, bad blogger and I’ve neglected this site for a long time. Okay, a very, long time. No need to rub it in. But I write about the Minnesota Vikings over at the Daily Norseman and that has really divided my time. It’s a funny thing, but a really lousy season (and the continuing Vikings stadium drama) is surprisingly demanding. Turns out bad football seasons are an endless source of material–emotionally draining, soul-sucking material, but material nonetheless. And all that terribly good source material has distracted me from telling you about how I’ve already fallen horribly behind in a New Year’s Suggestion–I don’t like resolutions, they’re something passed by the United Nations that countries promptly ignore.

While looking at my overflowing bookcase it occurred to me that my affection for Hulu has been seriously detrimental to my reading. The books kept piling up, but I wasn’t flipping through them nearly as quickly. Seeing the backlog, I had to…stop getting books. Well, okay, it was more like I seriously slowed up on buying books. Mostly.

Something had to be done. All those books stacked up on and around and next to my bookshelf seemed to be shaming me. So, as a New Year’s Suggestion, I decided to try to read a book a week.

Right now February is nearly over and that New Year’s Suggestion has atrophied and is close to death. Something has to be done.

While my affection for Hulu is definitely part of the problem, another reason for my snail pace was that I just didn’t like the book I was reading. I felt like I should like the book because the setting was interesting and (it was a historical novel) well-researched with vivid period details. However, I’ve been in enough doomed relationships to know that arguing for the way things should be when it comes to preference, is a waste of time. Sometimes you just don’t like a book despite everything in its favor. Sometimes you’re just not that into a book.

This is a difficult thing for me because I get hooked on a premise and, if it isn’t grabbing me, I feel dumb for giving up on it. But I’m reading novels for entertainment, not studying for a test or pouring over them looking for the cure for cancer–I just want to be entertained by a good story. So, if the book isn’t entertaining, why am I wasting my time on it?

I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, maybe I’m the only one. But here’s how I’m trying to get back on track with my reading.

  • Put the boring book down. Yeah, it’s pretty elementary, but I thought I’d mention it just the same because it’s something I have to remind myself to do. There’s a whole world of books out there and only so much time to read, there’s no reason to waste it on dull reading material. With the rise of self-publishing and the increased competition for the fewer and fewer literate members of the general public, there are a lot of books being published and a lot of them really shouldn’t have been published. Sometimes it has very little to do with the book itself, I’ll find I’m just not in the mood for a particular book at that time and will come back to it later. Other times, well, sometimes the book just isn’t that good. Give it a rest and try it again later, read something else in the meantime.
  • Go with a tried and true author. I really enjoy finding new authors to read, but sometimes you just want to read a book by an author you trust. This is especially true when it’s an author who has an ongoing series with characters you like, then it feels like reconnecting with good friends. Here are some of my go-to authors: Will Thomas, Victoria Thompson, Colin Cotterill, Elizabeth Peters, and, a new favorite, C.S. Graham. Oh, and I can’t forget Mary Stewart, one of the pioneers of romantic suspense. She practically created the genre.
  • Look forward to new books. It’s good to have something to look forward to and it can help me clear through some reading material. Normally, with authors I really like, I try not to stay current with the series so I know I have one of their books on hand. This method doesn’t always work. I’ve been waiting for more than a year for another installment of Will Thomas‘ excellent Barker and Llewelyn series. I held that book in reserve for much longer than that. Fortunately, according a post from Thomas on Facebook, there’s a new novel coming soon and I can’t wait. And then there was the problem of Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris’ Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series. I blundered into their highly entertaining series as soon as it came out and I’m getting cranky with them for making me wait a year for another book–sometimes I just need to hear about the adventures of a heavily armed woman and her librarian archivist partner. All my grudges against the Ministry will be forgotten when The Janus Affair, second book in the series, is in my hands. Also, congratulations to Ballantine and Morris because Phoenix Rising, the first book in their series, was Finalist for Best Science Fiction of 2011 on Goodreads.com and winner of the 2011 Airship Award for best written steampunk.
  • Read paperbacks instead of hardcover novels. Even if I don’t have the time to just sit and read for hours on end, I tend to read more if I bring books with me and can read even a few pages at a time throughout the day when I’m waiting. For that, I prefer paperbacks because they don’t make my purse as heavy. Now, that point is moot if you have a nice, light e-reader, but if not, having a light paperback instead of a hefty hardcover can make a difference in whether or not you feel like bringing your book with you.

And there you have my plan (at least for the moment) for getting back on track in my reading. I may not make my goal of a book-a-week in 2012, I may not even be remotely close, but I’ll be doing better than I’m doing right now. But what do you think? What are your tips for finding time to read in your busy life? Oh, and if you have a good book recommendation, do tell! I can quit any time this book addiction lets me.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2012 in Books, Uncategorized

 

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It Takes Two To Make a Thing Go Write…

…At least it does in both of these novels

A couple years ago I read a book written by two authors. I thought having a male/female writing team would be a good combination, giving more realistic reactions for both genders. Instead, the book was awful. No, I take that back, it was worse than awful. It was abysmal. In fact, I dislike this book so much I refuse to even mention the title or author names in case someone can actually think of some kind of defense for that craptastic book.

That experience made me seriously skeptical of writing teams. I realize that this was not particularly fair, but I did have a couple good reasons for my thinking. First, that book (that shall not be named) was incredibly bad. Second, writing styles can be like fingerprints, unique to the individual, therefore, combining writing styles can be challenging. Third, logistically, it is challenging to combine information without a bunch of mistakes—brings up bad memories of group projects in grad school. Fourth, people tend to like to be stars more than team players, no matter what bunk they say might say during job interviews.

And yet, despite these deeply held beliefs that team-writing is a challenge few conquer, I took a chance on not one, but two books written by male/female writing teams. Yes, I contradict myself.

The interesting premises of these books persuaded me to put doubts aside and take another chance on writing teams and it is a good thing I did. Both books were excellent. Widely different in premise, setting, and style, but both were solidly good reads that left me wanting more.

The Archangel Project

C.S. Graham

Back when The Davinci Code by Dan Brown came out, it seemed like everyone was reading his stuff and I followed suit. But, while Brown had a great knack for suspense, the female characters in his book were such stupid nymphos it was laughable. I’d be reading along thinking to myself, “I don’t know any woman who would think that” or “that doesn’t seem realistic.”

A fiction writer knows right off that the readers are fully aware that the story before them isn’t true. Therefore the writer has to create a mood in the novel with enough realism so that readers can suspend disbelief and just allow themselves to be swept along with the story. When I’m thinking, “no woman would do that” I’m not being swept along. Not only am I not suspending my disbelief and letting the story whisk me away, I’m also kind of pissed off.

One day, while checking out the new mystery section at my favorite Barnes and Noble, I found a book by C.S. Harris, a mystery series set in Regency era England. In reading about the author, I discovered that she (real name Candice Proctor) also wrote another series with her husband, Steven Harris, under the pseudonym C.S. Graham. This series, set in present-day New Orleans, also sounded fascinating.

Even though I didn’t know a thing about remote viewing, I wanted to take a chance on the October “Tobie” Guinness/Jax Alexander series. I just had a strong gut instinct that a woman who wrote her own series of mysteries would be able to exert enough influence on her husband to write a female character who was believable. Turns out, my gut was actually right.

October “Tobie” Guinness is attempting to restart her life in New Orleans after she was discharged from the Navy. A connection through the VA hospital leads to her research and development as a “remote viewer” with Tulane professor Henry Youngblood. Using Tobie’s cognitive abilities Professor Youngblood unwittingly uncovers a domestic terror plot with international implications—information that people are willing to kill to keep secret. As the one who remotely viewed this explosive information, Tobie’s life expectancy is suddenly nil. Her only chance of survival is black-sheep CIA agent Jax Alexander, a guy the current director of the CIA is actively working to destroy, and unraveling the mystery of the information she uncovered.

This book takes place over the course of about three days, three very breathless days of Tobie running for her life. The Archangel Project moves between Tobie, Jax, and the bad guys who are relentlessly chasing them through steamy, post-Katrina New Orleans. The descriptions of the crippled, but recovering, city were so vivid that I swear I could almost smell salt water and feel the sticky air. Better yet, despite being together for a solid two days of adrenaline-charged near-death, Tobie and Jax managed to avoid sliding into one of the ridiculous sexual encounters that so often plague other books like this. I made the mistake of starting to read this book at night, it is damn hard to put down. Can’t wait to get my hands on the second book in the series, The Deadlight Connection*.

Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel

Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

Prior to reading this book, I didn’t know much of anything about steampunk. I knew about gamers, and Goths, and gloom cookies, but not steampunk. Turns out, steampunk is sort of like a lovechild between Victorian era steam-powered technology and science fiction fueled alternate history. The culture, manners, and social mores of the late 19th century gets creatively mashed together with steam-powered innovation, science fiction, and a liberal sprinkling of whimsy in this series debut Phoenix Rising.

Miss Eliza Braun, a proud daughter of New Zealand, is an agent for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. She is fearless, progressive, has a deep affection for dynamite and firearms, and is currently being punished. Instead of working in the field chasing down threats to the Crown, she’s stuck in a damp basement learning from archivist (do not call him a librarian) Wellington Books, a man she recently rescued. Eliza is bored to tears cataloging evidence other agents bring back from field assignments, but then chance offers her a rare opportunity to investigate the unsolved case that destroyed her former partner. With Wellington Books, reluctantly, at her side, Eliza investigates a conspiracy that will take them from London dives to opulent country estates, requiring both of their skill sets to keep them alive.

Ballantine and Morris have created an appealing steampunk Odd Couple in Eliza and Wellington and I’m really annoyed that I discovered this series so early on. Ideally, I like to stumble across established series so I don’t have to impatiently wait for the next book in the series to come out. But the premise and characters in this series were so fun I didn’t want to wait. I’m glad I didn’t, even though now I’m stuck waiting for the next installation to hit bookshelves.

Part of what I liked so much about this book is that it did just about everything right. The historical touches of gritty Victorian England were vivid, the action sequences were well-paced and made sense, and the banter between Eliza and Wellington was funny. This bit, where Eliza comes dragging into the office late and dead tired after a long night of running down a lead in the case, was one of my favorite examples of the desert-dry humor used in Phoenix Rising’s dialogue.

“You’re late,” he reminded her, punching into the engine his tea sequence.

Eliza’s hand dropped to her lap as she let her head fall back. “Yes, Books, I know. I’m such a bad, bad agent. I should be put across your knee and spanked.”

“Your fantasies are not my concern,” he observed dryly.

In contrast to The Archangel Project, there is a lot more titillation and sexual tension in Phoenix Rising. The events in Phoenix Rising take place over the course of a couple weeks and the action ebbs and flows so I don’t mind the addition of sexual tension and a possible eventual relationship between Eliza and Wellington–to me, that makes sense. What doesn’t make sense to me is when the main characters are concussed, dealing with gunshot wounds, and still somehow feel like getting their freak on, ala Dan Brown.

Even though I’m reviewing these two books together, they are very different. For those of you who like a good historical mystery with a sci-fi twist, Ballentine and Morris’s Phoenix Rising might just be the ticket for a nice, late summer read. And, for those who are into government conspiracies, CIA operatives, and racing the clock to save the world in a present-day setting, you might want to check out The Archangel Project. Both books are good reads that lead off what promises to be two very good series.

*I looked for The Deadlight Connection and couldn’t find it. Turns out, somewhere between putting the first chapter of book two at the back of The Archangel Project and it actually coming out in print, there was a title change. So, book two in the Tobie Guinness/Jax Alexander series is The Solomon Effect and not The Deadlight Connection.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2011 in Books, Lifestyle, Series

 

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Ode to a Book: The Bibliophile Defends the Printed Page, Sort Of

The world is changing. In the last hundred years we’ve moved from the industrial age to the technological age. And now our technology upgrades so rapidly gadgets are obsolete almost as soon as they hit the market–a smaller, faster, cheaper version out as soon as you get the original. It leaves me wondering if there are any remaining constants, any traditions that transcend generations and gadgets.

Mostly, I don’t mind the techno-encroachment and the convenience it brings. But there is one place where the rapid demise of tradition makes me wince–the bookstore.

E-readers are exploding onto the market. These sleek tablet computers let you travel with an entire library, but take up no more space than a single book. They allow you to purchase new reading material anywhere you can find a wifi connection. E-readers and digital books are the wave of the future and I understand their  practicality and appeal, but I’m reluctant to give up the joy of cracking the binding and smelling the paper of a traditional printed book.

More than a feeling.

I grew up loving books, largely because I’m a night person. Like a lot of little kids, I didn’t want to go to bed. I was absolutely certain fascinating, exciting things happened as soon as I closed my eyes. So, I tried to push back my bedtime with bedtime stories. Maybe you did that too, begging your mom or dad for another book before going to sleep, one more story while they held you close and read words you could recite by heart, and all the while you’re rubbing your eyes and fighting off sleep.

Now that I have a niece, I’m rediscovering that same cozy, bedtime-story feeling. Baby Girl, now a toddler, loves her books. Once, I carried her too close to the bookshelf and she tried to launch all 21 pounds of herself at the shelf like a flying squirrel. When she wants a book, she’s gotta have her book–now. Her current favorite is Heads, written and illustrated by Matthew Van Fleet. It’s a book for babies and toddlers, complete with thick, easy to turn pages, different textures for her to touch, and tabs that she can push or pull to see the images on the page move.

Since Baby Girl started walking she doesn’t like sitting still or being held, there’s just too much for her to see and do. But sometimes, for book time, she puts that aside to sit on a lap, be cuddled, and turn pages. And in that moment I get to share something with that 21st century digital kid that I did when I was her age.

When I was little my favorite picture book was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day written by Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz. I loved that book and I still do. There’s something strangely comforting in knowing that bad days can happen to anyone, even in Australia. In college, I wrote a column in the school paper about my distress over losing my copy of Alexander. Not long after reading that, a friend found me a replacement copy at a garage sale. This book is slightly battered and dog-eared with a bluish splotch on the cover that could either be fossilized gum or paint, I’m not sure. And yet, I like it even better for knowing it was read, and that sticky, little fingers turned the pages while someone read the familiar words aloud.

Bibliophile unplugged.

Packing for a trip requires at least three different power cords and chargers nowadays. I can’t tell you how tired I get of making sure to plug in, well, everything. It’s almost nice to have at least one thing that I know will work no matter how long ago I put it down and that makes a printed paperback more relaxing for me. And, as an ever-so-slightly clutzy person, I like knowing that if a book slides off my bed or gets bumped off a table or falls in the bathtub (that happened with my copy of The Great Brain), I can still read it.

Tradition.

And, it isn’t just the joy of the books themselves, it’s also the traditions I have with them. Browsing used bookstores is a habit that ranks just slightly below a compulsion for me. Armed with a list of the authors and books I’m looking for, I hunt the aisles. It’s like being in a Humane Society for books, all of them sitting there just waiting for a good home. While I know it’s easier to get a digital versions of some of the books I’m looking for, there isn’t that same thrill of the hunt involved with pointing, clicking, and downloading.

Viva la resistance!

My nostalgic love of traditional books has also taken on a slight air of resistance. I don’t like the idea of buying something but not really owning it. Can you resell your e-book after you read it? Share it with a friend? See, I can’t help think that e-books are being promoted by publishers who want to take a chunk out of the used-book market by creating single-use books. Sure an e-book is cheaper than a regular book, but since it can’t be resold everyone who wants to read it has to buy it. You can’t simply finish a book, tell someone you liked it, and then hand your book to the person. With ebooks, you either have to surrender your e-reader to the person for as long as it takes them to read the book, or, and more likely, that person has to buy a copy of the book you’re recommending. The second option is probably what publishers are aiming for, and it functions more like a book lease rather than an outright purchase.

Ode to a disappearing dream.

As a writer I’ve dreamed of having a book-signing. Now, I have to wonder if that’s going to be a dream lost to digital books. How would you even have a book-signing for an e-book? Writing is something of an undervalued skill. Since it is something nearly everyone can do it doesn’t garner a lot of respect. The idea of eventually having people gather to hear me read from my book and then sign copies of it for them helps keep me going. That I might have missed a window that was open for oh, the last few thousand years, is irksome.

I know that no matter what the format, print or digital, stories will still be told. And the story should be the important thing, not the medium. But books and I have spent a lot of good times together over the years and, judging from the state of my over-stuffed bookshelves, we’ll be spending a lot of time together for a while to come.

Who knows, the printed page, like vinyl records and horn-rimmed glasses, could become the new retro. I think I’ll crack a binding or two and try to start a trend. Lower the needle on my turntable on your way out.

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2011 in Books, Lifestyle, Series

 

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Comfort Food for the Bibliophile

I’m staring down a perfect storm of blah this February. Not only did my football team have a lousy season, but their divisional rival is in the Super Bowl. It’s one of the snowiest winters I have ever seen, with drifts that just keep growing—so I promise myself that I won’t leave the house until May. I can’t keep that promise, but the fact that I make it at all is a sign of how fed up I’m getting with winter. Oh, and, not to be left out of the gloom storm, Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. That holiday stung me badly two years ago when I was dumped a mere 12 days before Valentine’s Day and left with nothing but my broken heart and the non-refundable ticket that I had purchased so I could see the guy who had dumped me…for Valentine’s Day.

So, with all the doldrums and blah-ness going on, I have decided this is an excellent time to ignore reality and read a good book.

For me, a good mystery is like comfort food, it hits the spot and satisfies my craving. Sometimes I want to branch out and read mysteries by authors I haven’t read before, but when I want a book that won’t disappoint, I turn to books by my tried and true authors. And, I can guarantee myself books by my favorite authors because I stockpile them for just such an occasion. For authors I really like, I try to avoid being completely caught up on their series so that when I need a good mystery by a particular author I don’t have to wait a couple months for his or her next book to come out.

In honor of my comfort food theme, I’ll list books with a food selection. Seems to me that if you need some deep winter comfort, then you might as well go all out.

Tears of Pearl by Tasha Alexander. This fourth book (five in the series) in Alexander’s series of mysteries featuring Lady Emily, takes place in Constantinople during the Victorian age of the British Empire. In the three books prior to this one, Lady Emily has had to content herself to solve murders as a meddling amateur, but now, accompanied by her new husband, she’s an official agent of the British Empire. Her investigations promise to lead her into the lavish world of the Sultan’s harem and extreme danger. Who says the Victorian’s didn’t know how to have a good time? Alexander has become one of my favorites because she manages to make me feel like I learned something new and interesting about Victorian culture without it feeling like a lecture and without sacrificing good storytelling to do so. Snacking suggestion: I think this jaunt to the Orient calls for tea, Turkish delight, and baklava.

Curse of the Pogo Stick by Colin Cotterill. Dr. Siri Paiboun is once again raising some geriatric hell in Cotterill’s fifth book (seven books in the series) about Laos’ National Coroner. It’s the 1970s, disco is taking the rest of the world by storm, while in Laos the new communist government is trying to keep things under control—but they probably don’t know that their National Coroner, Siri, is conducting an exorcism on a possessed pogo stick and preparing for his wedding. It would likely only embarrass the young communist government to find out that their National Coroner is the reincarnation of a powerful Hmong shaman. What I like about this series is that, for as hokey as the idea might seem that this coroner, a man of science, becomes the reincarnation of a powerful shaman and talks to the dead to help solve their mysteries, Cotterill somehow makes it work. He writes about the country of Laos and its people with humor and compassion as they adjust to changes in their government and world. Snacking suggestion: Although not a Laotian dish, Laos is just across the river from Thailand, so I’m craving pad Thai and spring rolls—maybe some iced coffee too.

The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall. India’s portly sleuth, Vish Puri returns in Hall’s second book (two in the series). Vish Puri (“Chubby” to his friends and family), is India’s Most Private Investigator, a man who spends most of his days vetting potential spouses for wealthy Indian families, but every so often a unique case comes along that taxes Puri and his team of peculiarly-named professionals. I like how Hall’s protagonist bemoans the erosion of traditional India and Indian values at the hands of modern society and technology, all while he uses modern society and technology to solve his cases and try to uphold traditional Indian values. And, Hall writes as if he genuinely loves India, you can feel the heavy, humid air of the monsoon, smell the saffron, and see the vivid colors of the countryside in his writing. Snacking suggestion: In honor of Chubby, I think samosas and a mango lassi are in order.

Well, you know how I’m going to ride out the winter doldrums and why I’m going to have to spend a lot of time on the treadmill and doing Pilates, samosas will sneak up on you. If you have a favorite author and food pairing to share, I’d love to hear it. One can never have too many good books. Happy hibernating!

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2011 in Books

 

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The Bibliophile Gets Her Gift On

It’s upon us once again, the holiday season. I feel like a bad person for the sense of dread that hits me after Thanksgiving, but sometimes the Christmas season feels a little more like a speed drill perpetrated by your least favorite gym teacher who stands on the sidelines eating a cookie while you do wind-sprints, than a season of peace and joy. Just like those wind-sprints, when time is up and the holidays are over I mostly feel exhausted rather than healthy and joyful. So, in an effort to infuse the holiday with some good ju-ju and positive vibrations, your very own Bibliophile will offer up a few book-related gift ideas in the hopes that your holidays will be a little easier.

  • Ode to the gift card. It isn’t the most creative gift out there, but gift cards have the ability to make your life much, much easier. Don’t know which book in the series your favorite booklover has read? Not sure that gloom-cookie teenager is as into the Twilight series as you are? Don’t want to make the mistake of getting your nephew a picture book when you think he might have started reading chapter books? Well, a gift card will take the guesswork out of shopping and allow the people on your list to get exactly what they want. Most major booksellers offer gift cards that can be used in stores or online. The online option is especially handy if the reader on your list has just gotten an eReader like a Kindle or a Nook.
  • eReaders, the wave of the future. I’m not going to be an early adopter for this technology (I have too many gadgets I forget to charge so I’ll stay battery free on books for a bit longer), but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it. Especially for travel, I love the idea of bringing an entire library with me without taking up extra room in my luggage, or being able to get new reading material instantly. In particular, one of my friends raves about how handy her Kindle is for reading magazines. At the moment, Kindle is still the eReader that has the best user rating, but the market is likely to continue to get more competitive.
  • Don’t forget accessories. Bookstores are full of all sorts of book accessories, even more so now with all the eReaders out there. Does your favorite reader like to read at night? Maybe a book light would be a good idea. Does she like to read in bed? She might like a lap desk. Is he always at the bookstore? Give that guy reusable shoppingbag from his favorite bookstore. Grandma can’t find her Nook at the bottom of her purse? A bright pink Nook cover would protect it and help it to stand out from the other stuff in her purse.
  • Gifts that keep on giving. Kind of the way gift cards allow the people on your list to get the gifts they want when they want them, a magazine or book club subscription will give them something to look forward to all year long.

I hope that these gift ideas have given you some inspiration and I welcome any ideas you book fiends might have for how to make shopping easier so Christmas will be full of cheer rather than antidepressants.

Coming soon—a Bibliophile list of mystery writers worth using your gift cards on.

 
6 Comments

Posted by on December 2, 2010 in Books, Lifestyle, Series

 

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The Bibliophile Recommends…

Since football season has started, my life hardly seems like my own. I live and breathe Vikings football. When I take a break from the Vikings it’s to set the line-up for my fantasy football team. So, I have been remiss and have neglected to write about things other than football. My bad.

But, somehow, in between all the football stuff that I’ve been reading and writing, I have been reading Eric Clapton’s 2007 autobiography. And, it gets the Bibliophile stamp of approval.

To be perfectly honest, I was kind of afraid to read Clapton’s autobiography when it first came out because I got depressed once reading a biography on John Lennon. By the time I quit reading about Lennon I didn’t like him as much as I had when I started and I did not want to run the risk of that happening with Clapton.

I really like Eric Clapton’s music and I was afraid that if he turned out to be a total prick it would kill the music for me. However, I found a used paperback copy of his autobiography and decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did.

There’s a big difference between hearing about someone’s life from some random egghead who thought it would make a compelling story and hearing about that person’s life straight from that person. The book is written in such an engaging conversational tone that it almost feels like you’re hanging out at a coffee shop just talking with Eric Clapton. And, while I would feel the temptation to gloss over things that were embarrassing or times when I’m stupid, Clapton feels no such compulsion. He shares his foibles in all their badness along with his achievements. Somehow he manages to convey all this without sounding like he’s glorifying his faults (he did a whole lot of drugs) or bragging about his accomplishments—they just are.

Here are a few interesting things I learned about Clapton from this book:

  • People were already scrawling the graffiti “Clapton is god” on subway walls before he was in Cream.
  • He tried to play, and then abandoned, the violin when he was a kid.
  • Prior to being in Cream when he was in his early 20s, Clapton had already been in a fistful of bands.
  • One of his bands opened for the Beatles.
  • He was in on the Beatles recording of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.
  • John Lennon once paid him for playing a gig by giving him a few pictures—which Clapton has since lost.

If you like Eric Clapton’s music and have ever been curious about his life, I would recommend this book. While sometimes it’s hard to follow because the timeline isn’t always clear and there are so many names thrown at the reader that it can be difficult to keep track of who he’s talking about, the engaging candor with which Clapton writes and the rare glimpse into not only the life of a rock legend, by a person who lived through one of the most exciting times in rock music makes Eric Clapton’s autobiography worth reading.

Clapton:  The Autobiography

Published by Broadway Books 2007

*Hey Purplegrey, this is for you 🙂

 
21 Comments

Posted by on October 18, 2010 in Books, Lifestyle, Series

 

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