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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Kindle Quest Report #1

Ah, the Kindle Quest.... I was hinting madly pre-holidays that a Kindle or other e-reader would be a good gift, but a landslide off Mount To-Be-Read (hereinafter referred to as 'Mt TBR') put paid to my argument that I had NOTHING to read over the winter and was completely dependent on the library's willingness to line me up books via internet holds, the indie bookstore's willingness to order any books I emailed or phoned them about, and my spouse's willingness to stop by the library and/or bookstore one or more times a week.  All those good reasons wiped out in a mini-avalanche of new and second-hand paperbacks and hardcovers collected over the past 10 years (since we moved into this house). Sigh. No e-reader under my tree, in my stocking, or wrapped in birthday paper a scant two weeks later.

 I made a deal with myself: if I read or otherwise appropriately dispose of 100 'dead-tree' books from Mt. TBR by next December, I'll buy myself an e-reader, whichever one by then includes the most features that I think I'll actually use and the fewest useless ones.

'Dispose of' in this context means 'to make disposition for', whether that includes reading and finishing and finding a place for the book in the permanent collection, or finishing and passing along to a friend, relation, seniors' centre or used-bookstore, or starting, not finishing, and passing along.

It's mid-January and I'm up to 8 books. If I can keep up this pace, I might make the end-posts. But it's easy to sit around indoors in winter, hanging by the fire with a teapot and a lap-cat, reading for hours or days. We'll see what happens when the weather warms up.

To keep me honest, here's my current list:

1. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins.  4.5 out of 5. Brisk, competent writing, clarity of the adolescent character's psychology and voice, and a dystopian world constructed in the fewest possible words yet more vivid than many of the worlds in bloated SF/Fantasy series. Well worth the buzz.

2. Court of the Air - Peter S. Beagle. 3.5 of 5. Competent writing and good imagery in this early example of urban fantasy. Seems a bit dated now, especially in regards to the young people's sexual practices, but demonstrates some serious thought about the lives of the gods that is often lacking in modern urban fantasy of the Cuisinart sub-genre (toss in some vampires and werewolves, a few forgotten gods behaving badly, whirl up with some hot chilis and a mango, and call it the latest in paranormal romance/mystery/YA smoothi.... er, novels)

3. A Cast-off Coven - Juliette Blackwell. DNF, despite being a new, autographed copy of a paranormal mystery, with a really cute cover. This is the second in the Lily Ivory series and there's a lot I would like to like: vintage clothing, ghosts, hot men and good friends. But although I finished the first book it didn't completely engage me and the second even less so. Life is short, so this book went to my daughter for a second opinion and may pass through several hands before it finds a loving home.

4. The Blue Hackle - Lillian Stewart Carl. 3. This traditional mystery was won in a draw and gratefully accepted just before the self-imposed Kindle-Quest deadline for new entries. This is the final book in the Jean Fairbairn series and the first to cross my path. Lovely Scottish setting, fully human secondary characters, nobody too perfect or too stupid to live. As the finale, it was surely wrapping up threads and relationships from earlier in the series but I did not find any gaps in the story although some curiosity about previous episodes.

5. The Forever War - Joe Haldeman. 4.95 out of 5. A SF classic that is breathtaking in its crisp writing, sure characterization, and headlong rush through time and space. And that's all before factoring in the serious science elements. It may end up being my single most enjoyed book of 2011.

6. And On The Surface Die - Lou Allin. 3. This traditional mystery features RCMP Corporal Holly Martin on the southwest corner of Vancouver Island.  Canada's Caribbean is home to glorious natural beauty and a wide mix of natural inhabitants but this book examines  less welcomed incomers too: lumber companies, real estate developers, meth dealers and the hapless victims of all of them. Great sense of place.

7. Murder on a Girls' Night Out - Anne George. 2.5 out of 5.  I can see why this series was popular: eccentric middle-aged women and their family members getting into trouble by poking around where they don't belong. It was a light, fun, cosy read but nothing made it stand out for me at this point in my reading life.

8. Captain Bolton's Corpse -    J.G. Jeffreys.  2.5. Mildly entertaining older novel of a crusty London investigator crawling through 18th-century port sewers both actual and metaphorical. The deliberately dated language and dialects took a bit of getting used to. Kind of a 'Moonfleet' for adults.

Averaging one book every two days would put me over the 100-book line by late summer, but it won't last. For one thing, there are new books coming into the house all the time, via the library and book stores and review copies and prize draws. Some of those are like Godiva chocolates: you simply HAVE to devour them while they're fresh. So it will be a challenge.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Finally Finding the Attenbury Emeralds

It's been a while since I had leisure to post anything here, and now I'm cheating a bit by copying part of a reviewlet on The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh that I originally sent to that quintessence of classical mystery lists, DorothyL.

'The Attenbury Emeralds' by Jill Paton Walsh got opened last night. It was open way, wa-ay too late.
This is novel is an interesting read on several levels. The writing rarely rises to the elegant prose of the original Sayers but Lord Peter does occasionally talk some irresistable piffle. The characters of Lord Peter and Bunter are much as they were, and the references to snippets of the original history are much appreciated. In Lady Diana's shenanigans we have a plausible 'first contact' between Lord Peter and Dian de Momery's ilk. The telling of tales within a tale is also from the Sayers canon although she used it in short fiction, not (that I recall offhand) in a novel.
The inevitable comparisons out of the way, what really kept me reading was the unfolding history of the titular jewels. This is no simple story of jewel theft and recovery, but a series of crimes and other problems that, over decades (from Peter as a young man to Peter with a teenaged son) all involve the same main stone.
Having arrived - well past page 50 - at the present day in story-time, I was desolated to discover my bedtime was already long past and I had to close the book for the night.  The next night I picked up, stayed up way too late, and came to an event unlookedfor, so potentially devastating to the characters that I gently closed the book. I stayed away from it for several days until I had digested the immense changes that would result.

These characters, especially Lord Peter and Harriet but also the Duchess and Bunter, have been with me since my teens. Much as I admire Jill Paton Walsh's feat in continuing one of the most famed love stories in detective fiction, I hope she resists any pressure to write another book with them. I am ready to walk away and leave them to lead their own lives, secure in the knowledge that they are in a good place together despite all that has gone before. 

Herewith, in closing, a book trailer in which the author discusses the how and why of writing The Attenbury Emeralds (but does not answer my concern above).