19 July 2014

Tempted by Literature

Every once in awhile I get tempted to read something that's not a mystery. Non-fiction often works for me. Romance never has. Comedy is good. And there are times when I am tempted to read Literature. I guess I think I should read Literature once in awhile. After all, I'm an Educated person. On rare occasions, I am rewarded. More often I'm befuddled, disappointed, and/or bewildered.

Malie Meloy reviewed Evie Wyld's second novel, All the Birds, Singing in The New York Times. Somethings she wrote there tempted me to read Wyld's book. The review was better than the book.

It was sort of like a recipe that sounded good on paper, but in reality was a great disappointment.

I thought, based on the review, that the book was set on a small island off the coast of England. Turns out that much of the book is set in Australia. And I often couldn't tell where a particular scene was set. I thought the book was a biography of the main character, an independent woman who survived a particularly awful life. Well, it sort of was, but parts of the story were told in reverse chronological order. (There was one point at which three consecutive chapters were set in times earlier than their predecessors.) For someone like me who appreciates story telling, this was a disaster.

Somewhere in the confusing story, the main character did move from shearing sheep in Australia to raising sheep on a British isle. I have no clue about where in the story this happened. Wyld made a big deal out of the mysterious and deadly attacks on sheep by something. Was it brutal nature, delinquent teenagers, delusions, or something evil and ethereal? I never found out. The main character has horrific scars on her back, which she refers to several times. I have no clue about what happened to create them or what they meant to the main character.

Evie Wyld
I went back and read Meloy's review. She described things from the book that I can't remember. I guess I was just too befuddled, disappointed, and/or bewildered to catch on to the Literary illusions in Wyld's Literature. I did like the review better than the book, but it's only a little essay. I do like to read whole books. I do like to read books that effectively tell stories. I do like to read books where characters are introduced or who introduce themselves in whatever ways they are able to understand themselves. That didn't happen for me here. Maybe I was lured in by the photograph of the read-headed author.

Nothing explains to me why the reviews are all positive and why Wyld has won awards for her writing.

Have you read All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld? What did you think of it or what did you understand? Write. Tell this little bit of the world what you thought.



16 July 2014

Have I read this before?

One of the books I picked up at the Hospital Auxiliary book sale was Margaret Coel's Wife of Moon.

I have read several of Coel's mysteries set the fictional St. Francis mission in northern Wyoming. I began reading them about the time Tony Hillerman was writing less and Coel helped fill the void of a writer who created and maintained interesting characters, who brought beauty to a rather unwelcoming environment, and who told a good story. To me, it helped that many of Coel's characters were Arapahos on the Wind River Reservation and that she appreciated cultural differences. (It also helped that a friend of mine, who grew up on the res, could identify some of real life models for Coel's characters.)

The main recurring characters are a priest at the mission and an Arapaho woman who left the reservation for law school and returned to practice there. The barriers between the two make them "obvious" partners in solving crimes and protecting the innocent. In at least one novel, things swung perilously close to romance novel, but only one time.

At some point in reading the book, I wondered if I'd read it before. When I looked at the copyright date, I found the book was 10 years old.(It's old enough that you can download the book.) I didn't recall any scenes or plot twists, but I have read many of Coel's books. If I read it and wrote about it a decade ago, I'd have written about it in my first attempt at a blog about my reading. Years after we changed ISPs, our old one erased all our old web presence, so I can't go back and find out if I wrote about reading Wife of Moon.

Arapaho tipi
Never mind. This is a good story, well told. It's fictionally tied to a 1907 visit to Edward S. Curtis, the photographer famed for staging and photographing Native Americans before what he thought was their ultimate fate: dissolving into European culture. During a fictional reenactment, a chief's daughter, the wife of a white landowner is killed.
Wyoming by

The descendant of that land owner, a successful businessman and politician in 2004, is thinking about running for president. Is he part Arapaho? Did the land inherited by his grandfather from his Arapaho wife really belong to the tribe? Now the curator of an exhibit of Curtis' photos at the mission has disappeared. An Arapaho woman is murdered. An angry Jackson, Wyoming millionaire shows up threatening anyone he can corner. The Arapaho lawyer is trying to defend a client who has disappeared on a vision quest. The mission priest is trying to find out what is going on and protect his flock. Genealogy becomes important in answering questions. And are there really some of Curtis' glass negatives still around on the res?

Oh, and campaign staffers for the potential candidate appear to smooth over bumps in the PR campaign they're running.

It's a good story, well told.

Have you read Wife of Moon? What did you think of it? Write. Tell this little bit of the world what you think.


02 July 2014

Another old favorite

Paretsky and friend
Somewhere back in the ancient '80s, I first read a novel by Sara Paretsky. She made a big splash in the mystery writing world because her main character was an active, effective woman. Not that there hadn't been women detectives in fiction before. Think Nora Charles or Cherry Ames or Nancy Drew. But, Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski was neither the partner to a man nor a girl detective.

I found the character a wonderful contrast to the male/macho detectives I'd been reading. Plus, Warshawski lived in Chicago, not in New York or LA.

But Warshawski gradually evolved into the kind of hard charging, "damn the torpedoes," kind of macho detective that had persuaded me to stop reading most other mysteries (especially Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone).

I saw Paretsky's Breakdown on the bargain table at the bookstore. I hesitated. But the bargain was so good. I gave in and bought it. I'm glad I did.

Paretsky is still a very good story teller. Her characters are still recognizable and believable, even if there are references to vampires. Warshawski didn't do anything stupid, although she had a near death experience near the end of the story. Well, there has to be a climax. And the final scene in a television studio nearly earns an improbability award.

Nothing memorable here, but I'll live with it. It'll go on the pile for next spring's community used book sale.

Have you read Breakdown? Have you read other recent Paretsky novels? Write, and tell this little bit of the world what you thought of it/them.



01 July 2014

How old a favorite?

I first read a book by Walter Mosley when a newly elected President Clinton was photographed carrying a copy. How long ago was that? 1993? Holy cow! 21 years ago? Just 21 years? It's in that ambiguous time period that seems a lifetime ago, but a fairly recent lifetime. I had been teaching for 25 years by then. But where have the last 20 years gone?
Mosley

While I have liked most of Mosley's books, my favorite is still Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned. I wrote about it in 2002 and reprinted that five years later.

At the community used book sale, I picked up a 2011 novel by Mosley, When the Thrill is Gone. It's another story about the life and world of Leonard McGill.

Following in the footsteps of many hard-boiled writers of hard-boiled detective novels, Mosley offers a tour of a very complicated and dangerous world. It's not quite the alternate universe of post-WWII Los Angeles that he used to write about, but it's very alternate to the my small town Minnesota world.

The characters are alternately attractive, repulsive, obvious, and enigmatic. The story moved along and never left me behind. I might well offer Mosley an improbability award, but there are too many parts of his world that I cannot evaluate. At times it was like reading science fiction.*

I liked reading When the Thrill is Gone. If I find another of Mosley's books at the used book sale or on the discount shelf, I will pick it up. (Right now, my problem is that I have five books stacked up on my bedside table, and one more I haven't written about yet -- another favorite from 20 years ago.)

*Rumor has it that Mosely has plans for a science fiction series to begin this year.

Have you read When the Thrill is Gone? Write. Tell this little bit of the world what you thought of it. Or write about anything you've read. I can always use new ideas. And so can you.


30 June 2014

Paying the price

There's a downside to spending a lot of time in a bookstore. Thankfully, the bookstore I'm spending time is is Barnes and Noble. They have a decent coffee shop and good quiche (which makes a great breakfast). Try to find those things at Amazon.com.

The downside is dealing with the temptation to spend money and the fact of having spent money.

I do try to limit myself to the bargain shelves, but I still spend money on things more than coffee and quiche.

Most recently, I bought Ian Rankin's The Impossible Dead. I expected the book to be another in his series about a maladjusted dectective, DI John Rebus. It wasn't.

The Impossible Dead is about Scottish cop Malcolm Fox. Fox leads an internal investigation team, which means he's automatically suspect by other police officers. Fox is charged to investigate the colleagues of a discredited detective who are suspected of covering up for their less than stellar colleague. Hardly anyone is friendly to the visiting cops' cop.

Then there's a murder committed with a gun that was recorded as having been destroyed 30 years earlier. And there are more links to troubled times in Scotland's past, when nationalists were active and more violent than the present day advocates of independence. (You do know there's a referendum on Scottish independence in September 2014, don't you?)
Rankin

There's also a 30-year-old murder that seems to need sorting out. And important people who may have been involved in a murder or the non-destruction of a murder weapon.

Oh, and DI Fox has a personal life too. His father is in a memory care facility and his unemployed sister is angry that he doesn't help out more with their father. And, yes, he has to deal with those people as well as the cops he works with.

It was a good and easy task to read through Rankin's prose and plot. It was good not to have to read about Rankin's maladjusted "star."

Have you read The Impossible Dead? What did you think about it? Write. Tell this little bit of the world what you thought.


16 June 2014

Primary basketball season is over. School's out. Guess who has time to read.

None of that is quite true. Dale Stahl, a former colleague and newly named department chair is involved as a coach in basketball pretty much year round. And he e-mailed me back in mid-May (about the time his AP Econ class was pretty much over). Plus, it seems he read these books sometime earlier.

And I'm trying to figure out why I didn't get to his note sooner. Sorry, Dale. I have no excuses. Tell us more about Dead Lions.

Here's what he wrote:
Herron
Found a new author I absolutely love - Mick Herron.

He has two books set in London amidst the intrigue of the British MI5 secret service. Slow Horses and Dead Lions.

The basics plot element is that the "slow horses" are agents who have made some monumental mistake that has put them on a career path of being slowly but surely drummed out of the secret service.
Far from Regent's Park, the center of power, they are assigned to lowly tasks at the slightly decrepit and depressing Slough House. The leader of the slow horses is the overweight and seemingly burned out Jackson Lamb — a veteran of the cold war and a man with many secrets who still has his finger on the pulse of things, so to speak.

The books are phenomenal, Great intricate plots, twists, suspense without gratuitous violence, old fashioned page turners. I can see them as films and I certainly hope Herron adds a third book to the list!


15 June 2014

Which way now, Huck?

I was delighted with John Straley's Cold Storage Alaska. Even though I got a Lake Wobegon-like story instead of the mystery I expected, Straley got me interested in his characters and kept me entertained.

In the afterward to that book, I learned that there was a prequel of sorts that was published several years before Cold Storage Alaska. I found that prequel at Barnes and Noble and snapped it up. It's called The Big Both Ways.

Annabelle was the matriarch of the community in Cold Storage, Alaska that Straley wrote about. In The Big Both Ways, Annabelle is a young adolescent on the run with her aunt, Ellie Hobbs, who is involved in radical politics, the Wobblies, organized crime, and the cops. After disposing of an inconvenient body, the two of them are joined by Slippery (Slip) Wilson, a logger who quit his job after seeing his best friend die in an awful accident. All three are headed for Alaska, new starts, and ways to make a living.

The book is the story of how this unlikely trio got from the forests of central Washington to a tiny town on the inside passage of southern Alaska. And it's the story of a Seattle cop who kept trying to follow them. (But when he finds them, he only wants to know what really happened. Then he quits his cop job and becomes part of the Cold Storage community, known by Annabelle as Uncle George.)

But this novel is not really a mystery. Somebody wrote that it was a Jack London like story. I don't think so. I think it's an early 20th century, west coast version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The river isn't the Mississippi, but it's the inside passage. And it doesn't flow south all the time. It flows south and north, depending on the tides ("big both ways").

The adventurers aren't seeking freedom for Jim, but they are seeking freedom for themselves by getting lost in unfamiliar country. They're being chased by George the detective, by some union thugs who are out to capture a traitor, and by some gangsters who want money they believe Ellie Hobbs has made off with.

The little trio row their hearts out in a skiff, catch rides with questionable characters in big boats, evade Canadian customs, fight the tides, get shot at, and poach a farmer's lamb.

Like the story of Huck and Jim, it's difficult to imagine exactly how they survived and made it through the travails of travel. But I was really glad they did. I was cheering for them from the second third of the book.

Once again, I liked the characters and was entertained by their adventures. I certainly hope John Straley writes more stories like these. Mysteries would be okay too, but modeling stories after Garrison Keillor, Mark Twain, or Jack London works pretty well.

Have you read The Big Both Ways? Write and tell this little bit of the world what you thought of it.