Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George

The latest gruesome, yet touching, mystery starring Inspector Thomas Lynley and his friends.

Elizabeth George’s long-awaited 18th installment in the Inspector Thomas Lynley mystery series sees our Tommy back at New Scotland Yard, having returned from wandering the English countryside mourning his murdered wife. His new illicit relationship with a superior officer is interrupted by a mysterious secret assignment–to look into a drowning that has already been ruled accidental. A powerful patriarch (like Lynley, a peer of the realm) requests further investigation into his own family–most obviously, the recovering drug addict prodigal son. But as Lynley, with the assistance of the reliable Deborah and Simon St. James, delves deeper into this family’s history and entanglements, he uncovers myriad lies, betrayals, deceptive identities and plenty of cause for scandal.

Fans of the series will rejoice in rejoining Lynley, the St. Jameses and Sergeant Barbara Havers, who unwillingly undergoes a makeover in this book. George also delivers the fully wrought, sympathetic, very human minor characters her readers have come to expect. Longtime fans may find Deborah’s increasingly obsessive distress over her failure to conceive beginning to wear thin; the subject becomes a full-fledged plot thread here. But George’s strengths–character development, plot twists and shocking tragedy–continue to shine.

While Believing the Lie can stand alone, series readers will find a deeper appreciation of the complex relationships at play. Look out for a serious cliffhanger at the end, which will leave George’s fans panting for the next Lynley episode.

This review originally ran in the January 13, 2012 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

the theme of maternity: trendy?

I finally decided that I’ve mentioned this, in passing, so many times that I felt it deserved a post of its own.

The gist is, I’ve formed a growing observation over the last 6-8 months or so (ahem, that would be about how long I’ve had this blog) that I’ve read a lot of books that deal with women’s feelings about their children, feelings about maternity, motherhood, family, and mother-child bonds. I have not sought these books out; I don’t read much in the way of “women & relationships” or romance, and I read very lightly in the realm of pop fiction. Where have all these books come from? My favorite genre is murder mysteries, and the bulk of the books I’m referring to come from this genre; including some quite gory, graphic thrillers. I’m pretty sure this thematic trend is new; mysteries have not always been mommy-oriented! What’s up with that? Let’s take a look. I have written about…

Still 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 by Laura Lippman
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

And I’ve also so far avoided Emma Donoghue’s Room, despite being tempted, because I fear more of the same.

There are mothers in mysteries in general. I know a certain woman in my life has had a growing frustration with Elizabeth George’s series of Inspector Lynley mysteries, due to Deborah St. James’s ongoing guilt, one might even say obsession, with an abortion she had that seems to have effected her ability to have children. This is a thread and a theme within the series – not a major one, but one that helps develop the characters who we get to know so well over the many books, which I feel is one of their strengths. Lynley, Helen, Deborah, St. James, Havers, and a whole cast of characters have extraordinary depth over the course of the series. But, my friend is bothered by the politics; she fears that George is making a political statement about abortion. This led me to this website on which George states her politics on the issue, if rather obliquely. Sorry, I have digressed. My point was, there are mothers in mysteries. Always have been. There are mothers in life, otherwise how would we all get here?

But my observation here is of mysteries that are themed heavily around maternal feelings and mother-child bonds. All of the books I listed above treat this theme as central to the plot. I think it’s a current trend in popular fiction, which probably reflects a current trend in our public consciousness. Babies and how to make them are on a lot of minds these days; the related medical industry is doing fairly well I do believe. I think trends in fiction & literature reflect cultural trends. For example, We Need to Talk About Kevin (by Lionel Shriver) and Nineteen Minutes (by Jodi Picoult), both fictionalized stories about school shootings, seemed to come from headlines in the years 2005-2008 or thereabouts. Several novels about autistic children have come out in the last 5 years or so too, as autism awareness has become a growing cause. No coincidence, right?

It makes sense to me that fiction reflects our culture; art follows life, yes? But I get a little bit frustrated with this theme. This theme in particular, or just the repetition of a theme? Well, I can get a little impatient with this particular theme in life (the real world); I’m not anxious to be a parent and fail to empathize with that (seemingly, majority) portion of the world that is. So I’m impatient with it in my reading life, too. But repetition is annoying as well. It’s getting to the point where I feel I need to avoid it when picking out reading material, just to get out of a rut.

What do you think? Am I nuts? Is there no trend? (Insert Freudian remark about my biological clock here?) Or is there a trend, and if so how do you feel about it?

Politico-disclaimer: I’ve tried not to make this a rant of my own opinions on “the issues.” If you’re interested in my rant :) I’ve provided it for you, as briefly as possible, below. If you’d rather avoid (most of) the political angle on this post… stop here.

Briefly (if possible), and in the interest of satisfying your curiosity or confusion on my stances:

I am vehemently pro-choice. The folks who call themselves “pro-life” are not, in my opinion, pro-life at all; they are anti-choice. Lots of people have written very intelligent defenses of this position, so I don’t feel the need to spend a lot of time on this. It’s self-evident to me that women should have control over their bodies and reproductive futures, and to deny them that right is unjust.

I don’t want to have children. I think there are far too many people on this earth; if we don’t cause it to implode and kill every living thing on it, including ourselves, it will be miraculous. There are lots of unwanted babies on the planet; if you want to raise one, please do, but please don’t make more. I think reproduction in today’s world is a politically and socially irresponsible act, and it affects all of us, not just the two parents or extended family.

That said, I have lots of friends who are having babies (some of them at great effort and expense), and I’m not personally angry with any of them. I can’t really get my head around their desire to reproduce, but they’re my friends. I’m happy when they’re happy; when they’re happy to reproduce, I’m happy for them, but from a few steps away.

These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf

This book drew me in (and presumably I was not the only one!) with its blurbs all over the interwebs referencing abundant vagueness: teenaged Allison has just been released from prison; the former perfect princess committed some unspecified, horrendous crime. Brynn, her invisible sister, struggles to move on from her sister’s mistake. And two unrelated women angst over Allison’s presence, while a little boy’s fate is held in the balance. All this vagueness, and promises of suspense, got me excited; but I found myself disappointed in the end.

For one thing, The Big Question of what Allison did is answered very early on, which I found rather anticlimactic; the questions that remained for the rest of the book felt a touch wanting in suspense after the blurbs built me up. Perhaps most frustrating was the continued and continuing obsession with maternity and motherhood that I’ve repeatedly observed in today’s pop fiction. That’s a personal beef; it’s just not my fave; but it’s worth noting that this book seems to follow a trend.

I didn’t find any one character really sympathetic. Each of them was mildly likeable; but none got me really deeply rooting for them. Also, there was almost no male role at all in the whole book. Again, this is a personal gripe, since I like my worlds a little more gender-diverse. In the end the most likeable character I found was the grandmother, but she was pretty minor; I don’t think she even had a name.

It’s not all bad. I did sit up and read this book all the way through in one sitting; I stayed up past my bedtime to finish it (not much, just 1/2 an hour, maybe an hour); I wanted to get to the end. But, it wasn’t the most burning need-to-finish; and I wouldn’t have stayed up much later. It was a fine book that suited me for an evening. It was an easy read: enjoyable, superficial and superficially enjoyable. Not a bad thing for a plane trip or bus ride. But nothing especially sparkled. I give it a “meh” and am disappointed because I had hoped for more.

Love You More by Lisa Gardner

My first experience with Lisa Gardner was an overwhelmingly positive one. I’d been attracted by reviews and descriptions of this recent release for weeks, and was excited to find it available to me right before leaving for our road trip to Arkansas at the beginning of the month.

A few key elements:

  • female detective with personal life. Detective D.D. Warren’s former boyfriend is also her former work-partner, and in this book she has to work with him once again. Her current boyfriend is largely off-screen. She’s pregnant and in denial about it.
  • female state trooper has apparently shot her husband who has apparently been beating her. Tessa’s six-year-old daughter is missing. Tessa is well acquainted with processes of criminal investigation, etc., and therefore very able to assist, or thwart, D.D.’s efforts to figure out why the husband is dead, why Tessa shot him (she did shoot him, right?) and most importantly, where’s little Sophie?
  • suspense!! edge-of-my-seat, staying-up-too-late-on-Thursday-and-Friday-nights-before-my-big-race-on-Sunday (thank goodness I finished it before Saturday night), thrilling, adrenaline-junkie suspense.
  • police procedural with all the details, including interdepartmental pissing contest.
  • strong sense of place. I’m not real familiar with Boston but the details felt authentic to me; neighborhoods, social strata, housing trends and home values are discussed. This was very much a real place.

These are some elements that make me very, very happy about genre fiction. This is some of my favorite stuff. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly in this blog, I have a theory that the current trend in fiction (apparently even in my beloved bloody-violent genre) is themes of maternity and family, and it tends to annoy me a bit. These themes were present here: D.D. is panicking over her unwanted pregnancy and the idea of reconciling it with a career in law enforcement; Tessa provides a perfect example of how wrong this combination can go. The two women’s situations are clearly not only entwined but allegorical. This didn’t bother me a bit. D.D. is all business, no mushiness, no sentiment. Tessa loves her daughter very much, but it’s not mushy for her either. They’re both strong women, and I was fine with the maternal angles in this case.

This was a murder mystery that had everything I ask for, including wild plot twists (I was so caught off guard! repeatedly!) and surprises, and a wild build-up of action and violence to the finish. And yea, okay, some of the final crescendo of action and gore was a bit unrealistic but come on, I don’t read this kind of book because it’s realistic in its minutia. It was well within my ability to comfortably suspend disbelief.

All the thumbs are up. I shall be seeking out more Lisa Gardner. Well done!

book beginnings on Friday: options

Thanks to Katy at A Few More Pages for hosting this meme. To participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you’re reading. Then, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. (You might also consider visiting the original post where you can link to your own book beginning.)

I’m breaking the rules again. I’m not sure what I’m going to read next. I will hopefully finish both Main Street and Dethroning the King this weekend (and will likely not post at all over the weekend, which is my usual habit). But I did want to share a few books that have recently been published that I’m interested in reading. Perhaps you can help me choose!

First of all, Heather Gudenkauf’s These Things Hidden begins:

I stand when I see Devin Kineally walking toward me, dressed as usual in her lawyer-gray suit, her high heels clicking against the tiled floor. I take a big breath and pick up my small bag filled with my few possessions.

To me, this indicates that the narrator has seen this Kineally woman before, knows her “usual” suit color, and is not feeling so hot about the action to come. I have read the blurbs (and a review or two) of this book and am excited about what sounds like a thrilling and intriguing, um, thriller.

And then there’s Lisa Gardner’s Love You More. From the Prologue:

Who do you love? It’s a question anyone should be able to answer. A question that defines a life, creates a future, guides most minutes of one’s days. Simple, elegant, encompassing.

This is a bit general and philosophical for my tastes, and not such a grabber, for me at least, but chapter one does me better:

Sergeant Detective D.D. Warren prided herself on her excellent investigative skills. Having served over a dozen years with the Boston PD, she believed working a homicide scene wasn’t simply a matter of walking the walk or talking the talk, but rather of total sensory immersion.

Now that will grab me. I like a good detective and a good crime scene; this is my favorite kind of light reading. I’ve read some about this book, too – I’ve never read Lisa Gardner before, but this one sounds wonderful, and I can’t wait to get into it. Although again I’m noticing a sort of emotional theme of maternity, parenting, mother-child bonding, family, etc. I’ve mentioned this before and it bothers me somewhat. I wonder if this is a recent theme in publishing? Or just the ones I’m stumbling across? Any thoughts?

Anywho, sorry, got distracted. Either of these books appeal to me for a next read – or it could always be something off my TBR bookcase at home. :) Do you have a vote? What shall I tackle next? (Perhaps the next one of these two to be returned to my library, hmm…)

catching up: Niffenegger weekend

Hello there. Sorry I’m slow to cover my weekend’s reading for you. Here I am now!

This was a fun weekend because the Husband did a marathon mountain bike race while I watched and supported for a change. He did much better than he had hoped, and seemed to do it pretty easily too, so I’m very proud. I had a good time watching a number of friends do very well, in fact.

I also managed to finish Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife and then Her Fearful Symmetry (finished today at lunch), so it’s been a Niffenegger-heavy weekend. I didn’t intend to read two of hers in row, but was already reading and enjoying Time Traveler when a library patron brought me her personal (autographed) copy of Symmetry, to borrow – thereby making me feel like I should read it next…

So first things first. The Time Traveler’s Wife was very enjoyable! I felt like it had a little lighter feel to it earlier in the book, then gets a little more thoughtful, dark, contemplative, and frightening later in the book. This is actually appropriate, for Clare’s point of view, since she takes her time-traveling husband lightly when she’s younger, only realizing risks & dangers as she grows older. When she is an adult and understands all the implications, things become very frightening indeed. I found all the emotions and reactions pretty human, and was very absorbed in the characters. I also found the novel’s implied questions, about fate, sequence, causality, responsibility, forgiveness, and other issues of humanity, to be compelling. The time-travel construct worked well for me. I was impressed by a beautiful, romantic story with believable characters. I was also impressed with some of the emotional scenes Niffenegger managed to “paint” for us, like the dream sequences on pages 373-4.

And, I found myself crying. Again! Something strange must be happening to me. At least I can say it’s NOT my biological clock :) because I continue to be just a little impatient with all the maternal stuff in several books I’ve been reading over the last several months: The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger; Still Missing, Chevy Stevens; Look Again, Lisa Scottoline; I’d Know You Anywhere, Laura Lippman; My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult – just off the top of my head. I’m a bit fed-up with motherhood and maternity as themes, and have decided to purposefully avoid (in the near future at least) Emma Donoghue’s Room, which I’ve been interested in for months now, because it sits pretty squarely on those themes.

I give this one a strong rating and am glad I finally picked it up.

With some hesitation, then, I picked up Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry as my next read. I hesitated because I rarely read the same author, or even theme or style or subject matter, back-to-back. I don’t even think I can remember reading back-to-back in a series. I guess I just feel like my brain likes a break, a palate-cleanser if you will. So with slight trepidation I began the next book; and I think I was right to be a bit nervous, because the first book ends with a death and a partner mourning, and the second book begins with a death and a partner mourning, and really never gets much happier than that. No, they’re not serial, just continue a similar tone.

Plot synopsis: Twins Valentina and Julia do not know their mother’s twin sister Elspeth until they inherit Elspeth’s London flat. There are two conditions: they must inhabit the flat for a year before they can sell; and their parents cannot set foot in it. Upon arriving in London, these ethereal, deeply attached young girls meet their interesting neighbors: Martin is an endearing but very sick obsessive-compulsive; and Robert was Elspeth’s lover, and is having quite a bit of trouble “letting go” her memory. They also get to know their mysterious aunt.

The melancholic, obsessive grief that starts this book doesn’t really let up. Perhaps I simply wasn’t in the mood to be made to feel this way, but I didn’t *love* this book as much as I did Time Traveler. I think it was almost every bit as well-crafted, and the emotions (while disturbing) still rang true; but it was just a bit too creepy. I won’t go any further for fear of spoiling, but this was a creepy book. To be fair, I had trouble putting it down; I think it was well done. But it didn’t feel as good. I think The Time Traveler’s Wife accomplished a feat: it took me through a range of emotions and life stages and, if it didn’t tie things up in a happy cozy way, at least it tied things up in a way that felt very complete. Her Fearful Symmetry, on the other hand, explored dark emotions rather deeply without a great deal of light. The paranormal aspects in the first book were a quirky vehicle through which to experience emotions and relationships and ask interesting questions. The latter read more like a ghost story (more and more so as the story develops), with an ending that was a little Poe-like in its creepiness.

I preferred the first, obviously, although if you were a bit more open to the ghost-story aspect, you might like the second better than I did. I believe even objectively, though, the first was a greater achievement. Or maybe I just shouldn’t overindulge in Niffenegger, hm?

I’ve heard a fair amount about her recent graphic novel, The Night Bookmobile, as well. Librarians and libraries and books play an important role in Niffenegger’s work in general (Henry from The Time Traveler’s Wife is a librarian; Elspeth from Her Fearful Symmetry is a bookseller), and the starring role in this latest. But the consensus amongst the library groups I hear from seems to be that her treatment of the librarian in The Night Bookmobile is downright and absolutely creepy. They don’t seem to like it. Again, maybe we just need to be looking for a ghost story? Or is there really something “wrong” with these stories? Presumably there are readers out there who love them. Any thoughts?

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens

I started this book last Thursday and read it all the way through before bed, with the Husband very tolerant and occasionally (as necessary) sympathetic as I cried on the couch.

I had read the various reviews and blurbs (see amazon and the dust jacket, etc.) and thus grasped the concept: Annie is abducted and held captive for a YEAR before her escape, and we meet her in therapy as she tries to put her life back together. But I still wasn’t quite prepared for the graphic and disturbing descriptions of what she went through. That probably makes me naive; what, did I think it was going to be a cozy? (No.) But it was definitely on the dark side. I cried over what she went through; but I also cried over her attempts to recover, particularly her failed reunions with her well-meaning but bumbling boyfriend.

I read some not-so-favorable reviews of this book – luckily, after I had read it and formed my own opinions! But I do give Still Missing a strong review. It may not be terribly “serious” or literary, but since when is that all we look forward to? I found it moving – lots of tears – and I was still thinking and talking about it days later. While the story is fictional, we live in a world with lots of bad, and I bet this very thing has happened, and I bet the psychology is not far off. It certainly got to me.

I was surprised at how similar it ended up feeling to my understanding of Emma Donoghue’s Room, and I may decide not to read that one next for this reason! Although I’m also interested in the comparison. Hm. Time to go browsing. Check in tomorrow and see what I come up with…

I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman, and Running the Books by Avi Steinberg

I had some trouble selecting a new book to read over the weekend, and ended up taking home Avi Steinberg’s Running the Books: the adventures of an accidental prison librarian. But before I could get to it, while putting new books up on my new books display, I came across Laura Lippman’s I’d Know You Anywhere, and got involved in it!

I’d Know You Anywhere is about a woman with a pretty good life: husband, two kids, nice house, generally serene, other than her daughter’s beginning to be a teenager. Then she gets a letter from the man, on death row, who abducted, raped, and held her for six weeks when she was 15. Her life is disrupted by corresponding with him, which she feels powerless to avoid. Years of carefully constructed anonymity are threatened.

It was a fun book. I read it almost straight through; it was gripping and interesting; the characters felt like real people. I found a certain theme of family and motherhood, that’s a little new and different to me in the mystery/thriller genre; this was present in Lisa Scottoline’s Look Again as well. I’m not as excited or sentimental about motherhood as some, so this theme could potentially get a bit tiring for me, but in both of these examples the authors have pulled it off. Barely. I’d Know You Anywhere is fast-paced and realistic and raises some interesting questions about victim’s rights and the death penalty, but remains an easy read (it could be a thinker only if you choose it to be). I was glad to spend my time on it.

Then yesterday I got around to Avi Steinberg’s Running the Books. It’s biographical; he’s telling his own story: former Orthodox Jew, then Harvard student, then underachieving freelance obituary writer, finally turned prison librarian. (Whew.) I haven’t gotten very far in, but I’m walking a tightrope: enjoying his clever writing style while worrying that he’s getting a bit pretentious. There’s not much question that there are some interesting stories here, but so far they’re unrelated anecdotes. Let me say this book shows potential to be fascinating and amusing, or tiresome. Jury’s out.

I’m also housing a big, fat Sharon Kay Penman paperback called When Christ and His Saints Slept, and I enjoyed The Reckoning by the same author so much that I’m excited, and hope not to be disappointed since my expectations are so high! So that’s in the queue. Also, I fly to Belgium in just 3 days for a short vacation and will need ratty paperbacks that I can leave behind on the trip. (Not sure Penman’s qualifies for this job.) There’s always more to read…

Enjoy your holidays and please do let me know what you find!

discovering something new in “pop fiction”

Happy Friday, gentle reader.

I don’t often find myself reading recently released pop fiction. I’ve never read anything by Nicholas Sparks; I’ve never read Eat, Pray, Love (ok, that’s not fiction, but you get the drift); I haven’t tackled Stieg Larsson’s trilogy yet; and until this week I had not read any Jodi Picoult. (Side story: I so enjoyed Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin that I began to be interested in Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes which is on the same subject; but Shriver’s book came out ~4 years before and they looked so similar I worried that Picoult was not being perhaps entirely original!) However, after reading my friend Amy‘s blog post about Handle with Care, I became interested in My Sister’s Keeper, which is discussed in that post. (Sorry if this story is a little convoluted.) Because I trust and respect Amy even though she reads and writes sci fi :) I picked up My Sister’s Keeper and started it this week. So.

My usual reading routine is to keep (at least) one book going at work, which I read on lunch breaks, and almost always bring home to finish over the weekend (if I don’t, it’s not a very good book). I simultaneously have one (or more likely several) books going at home. My Sister’s Keeper has been doing so well, though, that I took it home with me last night – on a Thursday – to read at the park before a trail work session. That’s a good sign.

I spent a couple dozen pages being a little, mm, irritated I suppose, by the conversational and youthful style. The story is told from varying viewpoints, a chapter at a time in first person from a variety of characters; but we start pretty heavy on Anna, the thirteen-year-old protagonist. I think perhaps her voice was authentic for her age, and maybe that’s what bothered me a little. I pushed through my grumpiness, though, and I think I’ll take full credit for that grumpiness; I just needed an adjustment period. I like this book! The moral issues at stake are pretty interesting, and while I’m not extremely torn – I’m pretty clear on what I think “should” be – I definitely appreciate what Picoult is doing to illustrate the complexity of the question.

Quick plot synopsis: Anna was genetically engineered and conceived specifically to match older sister Kate’s needs for a tissue donor. Kate has a very complex and aggressive cancer. By the time we meet Anna (13), Kate (16) has lived a decade beyond expectations. Parents Sara and Brian (such prosaic names!) have always just drawn from Anna when Kate has needs; but now, in the face of kidney donation, Anna hires a lawyer and sues her parents for medical emancipation. If she wins, her sister dies. You can see the complexity there. No plot spoilers for now because I’m not done reading yet :) although I did read Amy’s spoilers! (It’s okay, I don’t care, a good book should stand up after spoilers.)

My reaction to the dilemma is entirely on Anna’s side. Kate will die with or without a kidney transplant; Anna has much more to gain or lose in this question, and it’s high time someone took her rights into account. Here’s a kicker: read all the synopses you like of this book, and tell me, how many mention the third (eldest) sibling, Jesse? He doesn’t count at all; and Anna only counts as a body-parts donor. Sara is heard to say “stop acting like a five-year-old” to a five-year-old; she guilt trips her other two children, even at very young ages, that at least they’re not in Kate’s shoes; she rejects many pleas for normalcy because everything has to be about Kate. She accuses Jesse of injecting drugs when in fact his track marks are from donating plasma to his little sister; Sara’s so busy martyring the world that she wasn’t aware of his donations. I don’t think there’s much question here of what’s right or wrong; but for a thirteen-year-old girl to make the decision for her sister to die is pretty heavy stuff. It’s heavy for the mother, too, but I can’t believe she doesn’t have a little more concern for her other daughter.

So even though I find myself a little disgusted with one character, I like what Picoult’s doing. All of the characters are very believable; to not like a character is certainly not to not like a book or a writer’s work.

Sorry I waited so long to give this one a try! I’ll have to be a bit more open-minded in the future.

Just to keep you up to date, I’m working on Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie at home (thanks to an RA classmate for the recommendation), and yes I will read Stieg Larsson’s trilogy one of these days, but what’s the rush? I’ll wait til there aren’t lines of people waiting for them and buy them off the used rack in a year or two. :)

Enjoy your weekend! I know I will, with so many good books in the world. Ahhh.

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?


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