Wednesday, March 13, 2013

light reading, sometimes about dark things

I am on a bit of a mystery binge these days. It makes sense given the grimness of a New England March: when you come in from the mud and the wind and know that in your future lies six more weeks of this, one week of perfect, glorious spring, and then three and a half months of sweltering miserable humidity, it's hard not to just say, "Well, tonight I could do an hour of yoga and write a brilliant chapter of my brilliant novel*, but screw it, I'm gonna sit on my rapidly-flattening butt mainlining episodes of 'The Good Wife' and reading a mystery at the same time."

So, reading of late:

Etiquette & Espionage, by Gail Carriger. Carriger writes adorable, hilarious steampunk romances that are like candy. This book is the first of a young adult trilogy, set in the same Victorian England steampunk werewolf-and-vampire universe. It's a pretty excellent universe, and her fourteen-year-old heroine is spunky and entertaining without being twee. I laughed out loud many a time reading this, and can recommend it, along with her adult novels (Soulless is the first one).

Stephen Fry in America: Fifty States and the Man Who Set Out to See Them All, by Stephen Fry. I used this to break up the seriousness of the Denise Mina (below), but unfortunately it wasn't as entertaining as I'd hoped. The book accompanies a television series he made, which according to Netflix has the same problems as the book: not enough time spent on each state. The chapters are very perfunctory and he seems to run out of energy as he travels west. Fry lost me entirely when he visits New Mexico, as that chapter consists of:

-Viciously slamming Santa Fe based, as far as I can tell, on one turn around the Plaza which didn't even include the Palace of the Governors portal (since he says only white people are selling jewelry on the Plaza) 

-Visiting Los Alamos and raving for five pages about how fantastic it is, because who cares about bombs or nuclear runoff polluting groundwater? someone showed Fry a LAB!

-Visiting Taos and talking to a white hippie couple who lives in an earthship

He doesn't speak to one Hispanic or Native American person, or eat anything. DUDE. That is NOT how you experience New Mexico.  

Faceless Killers, by Henning Mankell. This is the first in the Kurt Wallander Swedish policeman series and I decided to check it out, even though the Masterpiece Mystery version of "Wallander" made me fall asleep. Alas, I found that the television series was pretty faithful to the book. It's all very gray and slow-moving and pessimistic. Wallander isn't an enticing character and the food sounds disgusting. I was relatively interested in the mystery's solution, but don't think I'll be reading any more of these.

Exile, by Denise Mina. Mina does for Glasgow what Ian Rankin does for Edinburgh: namely, make you never want to go there ever ever. This is the second in a trilogy (the first the library had available), and I do plan to read the others, though it was grim as balls. Our heroine is not a policewoman, but an ordinary hard-drinking messed-up young woman who investigates situations under her own initiative and power. It usually ends badly. I am glad to have discovered this author, but recommend keeping something light nearby when you need to duck out of her books.

Death and the Maiden, by Frank Tallis. The latest in a series I enjoy very much, set in pre-WWI Vienna and featuring a policeman and a psychiatrist. This one focuses heavily on government corruption and the looming events facing Europe, especially for the Jewish Austrians (the psychiatrist is Jewish, and spends some time each book hanging out with Freud). Tallis writes intelligently and compellingly, and his descriptions of pastries are deadly.

Currently reading: a book of short stories by Alice Munro. In the story I read last night there was one of those things that bothers me almost more than a dog fatality: a canine character just disappearing. I am useless for the rest of the story or book when authors do that. What happened to the dog? Okay, so the human character who was with the dog died, but did the dog? Was it lost? Given away? What happened to the dog? Damnit, Munro!


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