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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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2009’s Bibliophile Favorites

According to my list, I read 47 books in 2009. If I had thought about it somewhere in December, sometime before I wrote about my resolution to read more books by authors I haven’t read before, I would have written about my favorite books and authors in 2009. But I didn’t. Instead my sister had a baby in mid-December and I went into big-time auntie mode.

However, even if it wasn’t done in as orderly a way as I would have liked, it still seemed like a good idea to share some of my favorite books read last year. I get tired of the only books you hear about being the ones with publishers who have the cash to pay off reviewers, or those “achingly haunting” depressing coming-of-age/women-with-problems books. Nope, I’m just into good, clean murder mystery fun.

Suzanne Arruda. Technically, I discovered Suzanne Arruda and her feisty heroine Jade del Cameron in December of 2008, but I didn’t finish the book The Mark of the Lion until after New Year’s.  While the book has its flaws, like a rather weak McGuffin for getting Jade out to Africa at the end of WWI, once she’s in Africa and on her mission to find her dead fiancee’s lost half-brother, the story picks up. I loved the warm, vivid way Arruda wrote about Africa, the British, and the wildlife. Jade herself is occasionally tiresome because she is almost, but not quite, a female version of Teddy Roosevelt. But overall, I liked this book as well as the next two in the series (Stalking Ivory, The Serpent’s Daughter). The settings in post WWI Africa are rich with historical detail letting me feel like I’m on vacation—and a vacation to warm, sun baked Africa sounds pretty good right now because yesterday the high was 14 degrees. There are five books in the series, I just haven’t read The Leopard’s Prey or The Treasure of the Golden Cheetah yet.

Bruce Alexander. Alexander’s book Murder in Grub Street is a solid follow up to his first book in his Sir John Fielding series Blind Justice. Set in London, England in the 1700s, Alexander’s protagonist/narrator Jeremy Proctor is all set to start an apprenticeship with a printer in Grub Street when the printer and his entire household are brutally murdered just the day before Jeremy was to start. Blind Justice was good, but I think I liked Murder in Grub Street better because Jeremy acquired a friend his own age and acted like a real kid. Alexander wrote eleven books in this series before his death in 2003 and, when I was at Barnes & Noble last week, I saw Blind Justice with brand-spanking new cover art so it looks like they are being re-released, making it is a good time to start reading the series.

Chris Ewan. The saying, “You can’t judge a book by the cover,” may be true, but I think a lot can be said for titles. I picked up The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris solely for the title and was pleased to find it did not disappoint. Set in modern-day Paris, the book follows the adventures of international author Charlie Howard who writes mysteries about a fictional cat burglar. However, Charlie really is a cat burglar and the burglary racket is much more complicated than the plots of his novels, and much more likely to get him killed. The book jacket described Charlie Howard as “the most disarming burglar since Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief” and I thought that was a pretty tall order, but the book delivers, mostly. So far there are two books in the series, The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam and The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris.

Tarquin Hall. I have been fascinated with India since I was about four-years-old and went to a Hindu wedding. Eventually, I would dearly love to visit that country, but in the meantime I have discovered a writer whose rich details and commentary on modern Indian life were both entertaining and insightful. In The Case of the Missing Servant our detective, Vish Puri (a.k.a. Chubby) makes his stand for getting to the truth, being thorough, and employing strategic use of technology, even while he thinks technology has played a part in the breakdown of Indian society. The book really flowed and I didn’t want to put it down. Best of all, there was a handy glossary at the back so I could find out what all those strange terms I was reading meant. Sadly, I this is the first book in Hall’s Vish Puri series, which means I’m going to have to impatiently bide my time until the next installment.

Rhys Bowen. This year I read the first books in two of Rhys Bowen’s series, Murphy’s Law about Irish immigrant Molly Murphy, and Her Royal Spyness about Lady Georgianna (a.k.a. Georgie) who is thirty-fourth in line for the British throne. Maybe it is a sad statement about my lack of patience, but I like books that don’t drag or indulge in historical background simply for the sake of showing me how much research the author has done. Bowen writes an engaging mystery that moves without feeling disjointed and rushed, or that character and plot development have been sacrificed for the sake of showing off research. Also, and I really like this, there is a sense of humor in Bowen’s books. Sure these women are in outrageous and dangerous circumstances, but they don’t lose their ability to see the ridiculousness around them and they don’t lose their gumption. Currently, Bowen is up to eight books in the Molly Murphy series and three in the Her Royal Spyness series. Bowen has a third mystery series featuring Constable Evans with ten books and counting.

Elizabeth Peters. During 2009 I discovered writer Elizabeth Peters in a big way. Part of what I love about her work is that there is just so much of it, making it easy to find her books used. Peters has several series of books plus a glut of non-series books, she has written under two names (Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels), and she has been publishing novels and non-fiction since the 1960s. I read a few of her non-series books (Summer of the Dragon, Legend in Green Velvet, and The Copenhagen Connection) and liked her use of history, archeology, and humor in her writing because she makes it feel like it fits rather than that it is mashed together for the sake of a plot vehicle. I read the first book in her Amelia Peabody series, Crocodile on the Sandbank, and immediately had to start hunting the used bookstores for the next book in the series (The Curse of the Pharaohs) because I was so taken with the umbrella-wielding heroine Amelia Peabody. The only drawback to Peters books, and it is a small one, is that when I was trying to look for the next book in the series, the lists in the books themselves do not always separate the books by series and order, and, given the volume of material that Peters has written, it can be a bit of a mess making sense of it. My solution, and I wish I’d thought of it sooner, it to just print out the lists from her page on wikipedia.

Will Thomas. How do I love Will Thomas, let me count the ways. The man writes a good mystery. This year I read the third (The Limehouse Text) and fourth (The Hellfire Conspiracy) in his Barker and Llwelyn mystery series. I have the fifth and latest installment (The Black Hand) tempting me to ignore other books, eating, and sleeping in favor of reading it. Will Thomas is simply a damn good writer who has created interesting characters in Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn, characters I want to spend time with. Private enquiry agents (not detectives) in Victorian England, this pair matches wits with anti-semites, Irish terrorists, Chinese factions in Limehouse, and seedy aristocrats. Thomas blends action, historical background, and character development in a way that feels effortless. And, although not important to the enjoyment of these books, I have my heart set on Russell Crowe playing the roll of Cyrus Barker if these books are ever turned into a film. The first two books in the series are Some Danger Involved and To Kingdom Come.

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2010 in Books, Lifestyle, Series

 

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The Bibliophile’s Reading Resolutions

My bookshelf is stuffed. It is, in fact, overflowing. I’m not sure, but there is probably a 12-Step group to address my mystery addiction. However, I’m not looking for a cure so much as bookshelf equilibrium.

I think my main bookshelf problem is that I tend to automatically reach for the authors I’m familiar with so I know I’ll be getting a good story and won’t spend a lot of time on books that turn out to be duds. To this end, I also don’t believe in compulsively finishing books I don’t like. Seriously, when I’m reading mysteries I’m reading for entertainment, if I’m not entertained then that kind of defeats the purpose. Life is too short and my bookshelf is too stuffed.

But I really like discovering new (new to me) mystery authors. There is a sense of discovery for me when reading books written by authors I haven’t read before. And, frequently, that has paid off. This last year I have discovered Elizabeth Peters and her Amelia Peabody mysteries, Chris Ewan and the Good Thief’s Guide books, Rhys Bowen and both her Molly Murphy series and the Her Royal Spyness series. But there have been some duds too. For example, I have no idea how Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak Alaska mysteries have won an Edgar award because they seem more like a book-length diatribe about Alaskan law and natural resources loosely interspersed with a very bleak mystery. And I’m still not sure how I feel about Nicola Upson’s book An Expert in Murder. The mystery seemed a little farfetched unless the murderer is very evil, cracked, and theatrical—however, she conveniently supplies a murderer who is just that.

So, despite the ups and downs, I’m resolving to read more books by authors I haven’t read before—for the sake of my bookshelf if nothing else. That’s the plan, anyway. And, if you would like to read along with me or give me any input on how you liked books by these authors, that would be swell too.

Here’s a list of a couple of the authors I’m planning on working up my courage to take a chance on this year.

Christopher Fowler. I don’t know how it is that I hadn’t discovered him sooner, but in just the last month I have become aware of his mystery series featuring John May and Arthur Bryant of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit. May and Bryant are “detection’s oddest—and oldest—couple” who refuse promotion and simply want to solve peculiar crimes. I’m always looking for stories with interesting characters, characters who you want to actually spend your time with, and May and Bryant just might be the ticket. Oh, and according to the back of the book, Fowler is known for employing quirky humor in his books. I’m a big fan of quirky humor. Books in the Peculiar Crimes Unit series:  Full Dark House (2004), The Water Room (2006), Seventy-Seven Clocks (2005), Ten Second Staircase (2006), White Corridor (2007), The Victoria Vanishes (2008), Bryant & May On the Loose (2009).

Carl Hiaasen. A recommendation from my dad, Hiaasen’s stories are set in south Florida where, apparently, people are crazy. At least, I’m guessing they’re crazy based on the teasers on the backs of the books. Every description of Hiaasen’s stories that I have read suggests these books are hilarious. I’m going to cross my fingers and hope that the author who helped define Florida noir puts plenty of vitamin C into his mysteries, something I’ll need this winter. Some of his books for adults: Skinny Dip, Nature Girl, Strip Tease, Sick Puppy, Tourist Season.

Patrick F. McManus. I grew up reading some of his comical works like The Night the Bear Ate Gumba and Rubber Legs and White Tail Hairs, but now the guy who made me laugh at mountain man Rancid Crabtree has branched out into mystery writing. His sleuth is a Sheriff Bo Tully of Blight County, Idaho who has to put up with an ornery father as well as crime. I made a half-hearted attempt to read one of these mysteries, but I don’t think I was in the right mood, or I was expecting it to be more like his other works. This year, I will have to give Bo Tully another try. Bo Tully mysteries: The Blight Way: A Sheriff Bo Tully Mystery (2006), Avalanche (2007), The Double-Jack Murders (2009).

Laura Joh Rowland. I made a half-hearted attempt to start reading one of her books right before Thanksgiving one year, but with all the bustle of cooking and cleaning and company arriving and then leaving, I just didn’t have the time to devote to the book for it to really grab me. But I would like to because her series is set in 17th century Japan and I like the idea of reading about the protagonist’s (samurai Sano Ichiro) quest to solve murders in the midst of the intrigues of the shogun’s court. And, as a plus, there are 14 books in the series so far. First five books in the Sano Ichiro series: Shinju (1996), Bundori (1997), The Way of the Traitor (1997), The Concubine’s Tattoo (2000), The Samurai’s Wife (2001)

Qiu Xiaolong. My dad is the one who got me started reading Colin Cotterill’s series featuring the irascible Dr. Siri Paiboun. So, I have hopes that this series will be good too. However, dad has not been an infallible judge of what I will like in the past (I didn’t like The Sultan’s Seal at all), so it is hard to place absolute trust his recommendations. In this series Chief Inspector Chen tries to stamp out crime in his corner of China, occasionally even with the help of the Communist Party. Books in the Inspector Chen Cao series: Death of a Red Heroine (2003), A Loyal Character Dancer (2003), When Red is Black (2005), A Case of Two Cities (2006), Red Mandarin Dress (2007), The Mao Case (2009).

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2010 in Books, Lifestyle

 

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The New Victorians

As I wrote in my Bibliophile for All Budgets post, there is something about fall that makes me want to get cozy, sip a warm drink, and read about dastardly doings in merry ol’ England. I suppose this is because the first mysteries I remember reading were Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries I ordered from the Scholastic book orders in the fall.

However, in the years since I fell in love with Sherlock Holmes, the mystery genre, itself a sub-genre of fiction, has gotten large and unwieldy. There are probably at least a couple desperate mystery writers exploiting every murder mystery niche you can imagine and several you haven’t imagined yet. I wouldn’t have thought hairdressing, or needlework, or catering, or bookbinding were dangerous, murder-prone professions, but, I kid you not, there are writers very successfully basing their series on exactly those premises.

Finding a place to start and a writer who can actually write a mystery that makes sense rather than simply offer market-driven cutsie premises can be difficult. So, in honor of fall and Sherlock Holmes, I offer up a few of my favorite of the new Victorian writers. I read a lot of mysteries in a variety of sub-genres, but here are a few favorite authors who reinvent the classic Victorian mystery recommended by me, my friends, and my family.  Links are included to pages about the authors so you can look at full lists of their books.

•    Boris Akunin. While Boris Akunin’s Russian detective Erast Fandorin is not even remotely British, he is Victorian and a student of deductive reasoning. In the first Fandorin mystery, The Winter Queen, Akunin gives Fandorin a tragic past that keeps him a loner and also helps fuel his desire for truth and justice. Taking advantage of the European treaty network and the Pax Britannia, Fandorin travels the Victorian world solving mysteries. http://www.boris-akunin.com/
•    Tasha Alexander. What do most wealthy, young, beautiful, Victorian widows do when they are in deep mourning? Sewing? Reading? Planning their next advantageous marriage? Well, that is not what Lady Emily Ashton does. She learns Greek and becomes an amateur sleuth, solving the mystery of her husband’s death. The historical research in this series is lavish and leaves me feeling educated, but beware, these are definitely chick books. http://www.tashaalexander.com/
•    Caleb Carr. I debated whether or not to include Mr. Carr because, while I enjoy his stories, his protagonists have the irritating habit of over-explaining what is going on and what the under-lying motivation is for the villains. To quote Elvis, I want “A little less conversation and a little more action.” But, even with the over-explaining, I still enjoyed his Sherlockian mystery The Italian Secretary. http://www.randomhouse.com/author/results.pperl?authorid=4337
•    Anne Perry. While I have yet to take the plunge into Anne Perry’s vast library of work, I have it on good authority from a loved one, that if you want to read Victorian mysteries, Anne Perry should be your home-girl. I’m pretty sure I will get around to reading these at some time, but right now, I have an embarrassing number of books to read and can’t justify starting a new series today. Not that I’m not considering it even as I type. http://www.anneperry.net/
•    Elizabeth Peters. I am hording the first book in Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series and I can’t wait to crack it open. A woman of learning and tenacity in the great Victorian age of excavation, Miss Peabody has a passion for Egyptology and knack for solving mysteries.While I haven’t started the series yet, I have read several other books by Peters and have yet to hit a dud. A friend who has read the Amelia Peabody series says it is fantastic. If she’s wrong I may have to give her the fish-eye. http://www.mpmbooks.com/
•    Will Thomas. While I can’t vouch for how men are likely to enjoy Anne Perry and Elizabeth Peters, I can say that Will Thomas’s mystery series chronicling the cases of Cyrus Barker (a private enquiry agent) and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn definitely has more testosterone and action. Like the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, these adventures are told not by the detective himself, but by his assistant. Part of what I like about these books is that they reflect the variety of influences and ethnicities mashing up against one another because of the British Empire in general and London in particular. I have the unreasonable hope that if this series is ever made into films that Russel Crowe will play Cyrus Barker. http://www.willthomasauthor.com/books.php

There they are, my Victorian mystery recommendations. Here’s to hoping that a good book and a warm drink are in your future this chilly fall afternoon. Cheers!

P.S. If you have any good recommendations for new mysteries, do tell. The only thing better than a good mystery is another good mystery.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2009 in Books, Lifestyle, Series

 

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