vacation reading.

Hello! I’m home early from my vacation; some bad weather ran us off the trails at Tyler :( and it was so beautiful, too. I got plenty of reading done, though, and now I’m here to tell you about it.

I finished The Cases That Haunt Us by John Douglas and read Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, The Reversal by Michael Connelly, and Look Again by Lisa Scottoline. (I also picked up a copy of J.D. Robb’s Fantasy in Death at a big-box store in Louisiana but didn’t need it since we came home early.) And I listened to about half of Ian McKellen’s reading of the Odyssey in the car. So, you’ll have to forgive this long post!

In order:

I finished The Cases That Haunt Us, which I’ve been taking in bits and pieces for some time now. Because it’s a compilation of Douglas’s notes about various cases, it reads well this way. I got a little impatient with his style occasionally, but to be fair, this is not a professional writer, but a criminal profiler. I found his analyses very interesting and it was well worth my time. I now have a longer list of serial killers that I want to look up and read about. Is that weird? Thanks Douglas for interesting stories and facts. I’m not sure why this subject is so fascinating to me!

I picked up a copy of Bridge to Terabithia on impulse, having read about it somewhere. This children’s read is not a new book, either, but I think stories like this one stay current. It reminded me of the 1991 movie My Girl with Macaulay Culkin, in which a girl full of her own issues and problems has her perspective widened by the death of her best friend. Bridge to Terabithia involves a 5th-grader short of friends and positive moments in his life, who makes a new best friend and loses her in an accident in which he feels some responsibility. I think it’s an age-old story about friendship, society/rejection (so important especially to kids), and loss. It’s a coming-of-age story, too, because we grow a little bit older when we experience tragedy. I’m not involved with any kids’ reading choices, so this was just a diversion for me… but even an adult can enjoy a quick-read high-quality kids’ story like this one.

Then the main event: Connelly’s latest release, The Reversal. I think I can handle this one without any spoilers, staying within the bounds of the blurb you’ll find online or on the dust jacket. In this book, we have a convergence of characters: defense attorney Mickey Haller teams up with his prosecutor ex-wife Maggie McPherson (“McFierce”) to work for the people this time, and they take Harry Bosch on as their case investigator. I find it exhilarating to have these three in the same room! And we get their daughters together, too, which several of us besides Haller have been looking forward too. As expected, family connections further develop the characters on a personal level. Earlier in the series, Bosch was much more “just” a police detective, but all this personal-life-material has really developed him into a full and complete human. I love it. This is what I read Connelly for.

As expected, we get a full dose of Hollywood society and L.A. setting in this high-profile case. Also, as I’ve come to expect from the Haller books, we get extra courtroom-procedural drama; I especially like the jury selection and analysis. (Here I find a parallel to the criminal profiling I also like.) The case is interesting and convoluted, of course; that’s not optional. But to me, the personal connections and family drama amongst our 3 chief characters is what really makes the book.

I have to file one complaint: I found the ending to be a little anti-climactic and unsatisfactory. I was looking for more answers, just like Harry Bosch was. I guess maybe this is realistic; maybe this is the way cases like this do end. It’s also not the first time Connelly has done this to me, and I still love him and will keep reading. But I guess it ended a little bit abruptly for me. Maybe I’ll come back and reconsider this later, more fully, when others have read the book. If there’s any interest shown. (Chime in here.)

This is where I ran out of reading material, gasp, and stopped off at the above-mentioned big-box store in Ruston, LA. (That’s an experience.) I picked up the J.D. Robb that I never got to (maybe that’s next) along with Lisa Scottoline’s Look Again. I’ve never read her, but I’ve read about her work and it sounds interesting.

Look Again is about a reporter in Philadelphia named Ellen who gets a missing-child postcard in the mail. As she goes to throw it away, she’s stopped by the face on the card: it is, uncannily, the face of her three-year-old adopted son, Will. Amidst drama at her tenuous place of employment, Ellen takes off work and flies to Miami to investigate a two-year-old abduction, and look into her adoption. We get a number of surprises, but not perhaps where Scottoline wanted them: I found the major plot revelation to be completely predictable, while the late-book romance and brief gory, graphic violence caught me off-guard. I wasn’t bothered, but I was surprised by the change in tone, after spending so much time on family and babies. Despite all this, I enjoyed the book. It was fast-paced, kept me involved and interested even as I predicted our big “surprise”, and I really cared about Will’s fate. I’d recommend it to someone who wanted a fast-paced, exhilarating suspense-mystery about family and children, even a little romance, in which setting is important (more on this in a moment) and the ending is fully satisfying (unlike Connelly, hmph). It was a quick, easy, satisfying read.

I observed in reading the Scottoline book that significant sense of place is important to me. I really like how Connelly uses the city of L.A. (and sometimes Vegas or other locales) almost as a character; the place is realistic and very important to the action of the book. For this quality, definitely look to James Lee Burke and his depiction of small-town New Iberia, Louisiana, as well as New Orleans and occasionally other places including Galveston, TX. (His main detective character has a lot in common with Harry Bosch, too.) I’ve only read one Nevada Barr book (starring Anna Pigeon): Deep South, set in Mississippi if I recall correctly. I got the same satisfying sense of place from her, and it’s my impression that this is true of all her books. I like it. I liked that Philadelphia and Miami were well characterized in Look Again. When I read Elizabeth George and Martha Grimes, I get a pretty good sense of place too, but their mysteries are set in Great Britain, and I have much less sense of their settings; I can’t judge how hackneyed or evocative their settings are for myself, if that makes any sense. Even though I’ve never been to Miami, I feel more at home in the U.S. settings mentioned here. So, I’m just still making observations about what’s important to me in a good murder-mystery. Sense of place. Wonder if there are any good ones set in Houston out there. I have read some Susan Wittig Albert; hers are set in small-town Texas not far from Austin. But they’re a bit cute and cozy for me.

Sorry about the rambling there – moving on: the Odyssey audiobook. I was excited about hearing it read aloud to me for the first time, after many readings. This work was composed in oral form before the invention of writing, so it’s really meant to be heard and not read off the page. And Ian McKellen seemed like an excellent selection for reader (he’s Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy in case you don’t know). The translation makes a big difference, of course, and forgive me for being picky but I prefer Fitzgerald’s to the Fagles one read here, which is still excellent.

It’s been a few years since my last reading of the Odyssey, and one of the first things to grab me was the use of repetition. Homer helps us keep track of who’s who and where’s where by use of repeated phrases: in the Fagles translation (from memory I paraphrase), “when they’d put aside desire for food and drink, they set their mind on other pleasures” and the epithet of dawn, “young dawn with her rose-red fingers” (Fitzgerald uses “rose-fingered Dawn” and maybe just because I was raised on it I find this more satisfying somehow). I enjoyed this repetition, and of course, the poetry of this beautiful work. McKellen does a beautiful, powerful, emotional job of reading. Although I’m not sure why we need a British accent to make poetry beautiful!

On the other hand, I was a little disappointed at some of the pacing issues. Maybe I’ve been pacing myself differently on the page all these years: maybe I skim more quickly over the repetitious or descriptive parts and rush towards the action (I’ve been guilty of this before). They’re such great stories, as well as being beautiful poetry. Maybe on different days and in different readings I prioritize these two aspects differently. The beauty of reading it myself off a page is that the power is mine to rush or linger. Or maybe I was just concerned, once I got the Husband in the car, about keeping his interest – I think for him, the action definitely needed to be prioritized. You can’t speed Sir Ian up.

Maybe I’m just not sold on the audiobook format. I’ve never been a listener as much as I am a reader. And I’ll stick with “real” books over the Kindle/Nook/etc. for now, thanks. :)

So, the vacation may not have gone perfectly (rain in Tyler, boo) but the reading was excellent and hopefully I’ve preserved the bulk of my thoughts long enough to get them online for you. :) Thanks for checking in on me. What are YOU reading these days?

5 Responses

  1. Julia, I’m almost sure that you read Bridge to Terabithia as a kid. I remember it, and it’s too recent to be part of my youth. Perhaps your response to it was based on remembering it a little?

  2. Sure, why not? I don’t remember everything I’ve read. Had a dinner conversation tonight about Mormons as portrayed in Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven, which I definitely read and kind of remember, but all the specifics fade. Making way for new things in my brain?

  3. [...] for them (thus my love of Criminal Minds on television and my interest in this book, also here). So, there’s some whodunit involved in the brain candy as well. Just my [...]

  4. [...] Missing by Chevy Stevens Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger Look Again by Lisa Scottoline Love You More by Lisa Gardner These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf I’d Know You Anywhere [...]

  5. [...] for you all, first.” But sometimes I can’t resist grabbing a brand new one, I confess. The Reversal and The Paris Wife both came straight home with me, for example. And sometimes I get to read a [...]

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