Monday, February 25, 2013

battening down in February

What have I read lately? Quite a bit, actually, since the weather has been conducive to such.

I started with The Complete History of Jack the Ripper, by Philip Sugden, because I was in some sort of ghoulish mood. It turned out, however, that this book was for people who have already thoroughly studied "Ripperology" and the texts thereof: while Sugden does give a fairly clear timeline of the crimes and the investigation, he refers to all the players involved as if the reader already knows exactly who they are, and spends at least 50% of his book refuting (and mocking) the claims of other authors. This was very boring to someone who has never read any of said other authors, and I didn't like Sugden as a guide.  

Then I read A Cold Dark Place, by Gregg Olsen, because I felt like a light mystery. Alas, it was not good at all. Right off the bat our forty-year-old police detective heroine is described as having the body of a twenty-year-old, because, among other reasons, she has accepted the universal truth that after thirty-five women can no longer eat dessert. ("Excuse me?" I said through a mouthful of Ben and Jerry's.) Later, when she encounters an equally slender woman of her own age who eats a hearty meal, including dessert, our heroine decides the only possible explanation is bulimia. She also continues an on-off sexual relationship with a man who stalks her and leaves terrifying voice mails on her phone every time she tries to break it off ("you can't do this, you bitch, you belong to me" etc), because a woman's normal reaction to that behavior is to be alternately turned on and unconcerned (especially a policewoman). Although this does perhaps explain why her teenage daughter doesn't have the sense God gave a naked mole rat when it comes to her own terrifying stalker. "He locked me in a shed because he's a misunderstood artist!"

There was a crime, but it was just as misogynistic as the characterizations, and not very interesting either. I don't know why I finished this book. It only took me an hour and a half but that was still a waste of time.

My next book was The Ice Balloon: S. A. Andree and the Heroic Age of Arctic Exploration, by Alec Wilkinson, which is about a Swede who decided that attempting the North Pole by balloon was a good idea, because people are hilarious. It ended terribly, and much of this book is about other explorations which also ended terribly, that being pretty indicative of the Heroic Age. Wilkinson talked a lot about something called the International Polar Year, which of course I kept misreading as the International Polar Bear, but that was about as light-hearted as the book got. Many, many pages were devoted to a dude whose best-case-scenario plan involved feeding his dogs to each other once he ran out of dog food. The bastard not only survived but, later in life, won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Discussion question: can we all agree that there should be a rule saying that killing twenty-eight dogs disqualifies you from winning the Nobel Peace Prize? Or from meeting any fate which isn't a polar bear, international or otherwise, slapping your face right off your skull? At any rate, reading this book in the depths of February was not a good idea. So cold... so very cold.

I also finished, without realizing it, the triune book which is the conclusion of the Three Musketeers saga. I thought I was just reading the first part, and was amazed at how long it was and how many major characters kept dying. It wasn't until there's only one Musketeer left standing that I realized I was reading the whole thing. And I got so, so into it! It's awesome! The court machinations are beyond complex; formerly-seven-year-old-lust-object Louise actually sticks up for herself a fair amount; the dumped PedoRaoul becomes PedoEmoRaoul and, eventually, joins the equivalent of the Foreign Legion; Aramis, who is apparently now a Borgia, schemes to become pope via the king-switcheroo plot specified in The Man in the Iron Mask; d'Artagnan, who has his own schemes afoot, reacts to all of this with more dignity than it merits. It's like A Game of Thrones. And yes, I got upset at the end.

Then I bounced through Sh*t My Dad Says, by Justin Halpern, which is not even a blog turned into a book but a Tumblr turned into a book. It takes about forty-five minutes to read and is very rude, and I needed to laugh like that.  

Next up was The Sweet Far Thing, by Libba Bray, the last book in the Gemma Doyle trilogy (I reviewed part one and part two previously). It absolutely had the flaws of the first two - the magic's rules and the geography of the magic realm remain inconsistent, and it's way too long - but I definitely had a hard time putting it down, and Bray's writing has become rather beautiful. She's always been a good writer but there were many times in this book when a sentence or phrase just got me right in the lungs. I didn't buy the narrative of the ending - Gemma's shown no interest in her education previously but suddenly all she wants in life is to go to college? - but the writing of that ending is kind of amazing. I cried and cried, and the very last line of the book rivals that of A.S. Byatt's Possession for taking your breath away (and, unlike Byatt, Bray doesn't tack on an epilogue to defuse it).

Stay warm, everyone! Spring will eventually arrive, even if in New England spring is only different from winter in that it's generally windier. But someday we will see flowers again.


  1. You have inspired me to pick up Libba Bray! I need a break of sweet fluffy fun, and this sounds just right. (I miss talking to you on LJ!)

    1. Bray is definitely good for that type! And yes, have you left LJ entirely?