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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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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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