Recent Reading: Speed Dating Edition

I haven’t have much time or energy for reading lately, let alone blogging. And I’m in one of those moods/emotional states where romance isn’t working for me. So here is a list, with minimal commentary (ETA: as usual, I’m not as minimal as I meant to be), of what I have been, am, and might soon be reading; I’d love to discuss in the comments. Links go various places, like author websites and newspaper reviews, because why am I linking to Goodreads when I quit them?

Read:

Suleikha SnyderSpice and Smoke. I enjoyed this pair of linked novellas more than I expected–gorgeous movie stars and rather angsty, soapy-sounding plots aren’t really my thing. But I didn’t find the angst over the top, and the Bollywood setting, rather than being super glamorous, reminded me of things I enjoy in historicals: these are people who have to behave a certain way in public, a way that often conflicts with their private desires. And I liked the theme-and-variations of the three relationships, which made me think as well as feel. Will read more. Sunita and Janine did an interesting joint review. My grade would be on the high end of their range (a B-).

Ben Aaronovitch, Broken Homes (Peter Grant #4). I think this is out next month in the US; my library ordered the UK edition and it finally came in. I need more friends to read it because I don’t know what I think! I was as always fascinated by the urban parts of Aaronovitch’s urban fantasy, which this time revolves around a post-war council tower-block, built with utopian ideals but disastrous to live in (I’m from Chicago originally, and we had our own examples). It seemed the characters were frustratingly stalled, though–but then there was a big twist at the end that I felt was pretty conventional, think I disliked, but that might push the characters in interesting directions. I can’t say more. Want to be spoiled or read it already? Check out this review from Liz Bourke. She pretty much captures my feelings about the twist.

Zadie Smith, “The Embassy of Cambodia” This is a short story originally published in The New Yorker, and now available as a small (about 4×6″) hardback. For $12. I don’t think this is the way to revitalize the short story (isn’t this the kind of thing digital publication is made for?). But I am grateful to my library for investing in it, because I have been a Smith fan since White Teeth, and I really enjoyed this story, a rather quiet slice of Willesden life which nevertheless opens giant questions about globalization, migration, who is part of a community of sympathy and attention, and more. I plan to read it again before I return it. Review from The Independent gives a better sense of what it’s about. 

Also, I’m in the middle of Bee Ridgway’s River of No Return. I set it aside because several library holds came in. If you haven’t read Pamela’s great review at Badass Romance, check it out (I’m not quite so enamored, but I am finding the book really interesting and look forward to getting back to it).

Reading now: Tina WhittleThe Dangerous Edge of Things. I think someone mentioned her in a discussion of voice. I am in a mystery mood, and am enjoying the rather quirky voice of this one. Looks like there may be a romance thread, too–certainly there’s a romance-type male character.

Listened:

Kerry Greenwood, Earthly Delights (Corinna Chapman #1, read by Louise Siversen) I enjoyed the first of Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher mysteries, but was daunted by how long the series is. So I picked this, from a shorter series, up in an Audible sale. This series is set in contemporary Melbourne. I loved Corinna (she’s fat and I thought that was portrayed pretty well); her bakery, Earthly Delights; the teen-aged former addict she makes her apprentice; and the eccentric cast of characters at her Classically-themed apartment building. Then there’s Daniel, both a typical hot-dark-and-mysterious love interest and something more interesting. There are gothic/vaguely paranormal elements, but you don’t have to believe any woo-woo actually happens. Enjoyed the heck out of this; have the second cued up on my iPod.

Jane Austen, Emma (read by Juliet Stevenson) I think I am going to burn through a bunch of 19th-century classics–maybe even some I haven’t yet read–thanks to Stevenson. She has made me experience novels I have read many times in new ways. I think I was emotionally primed to be gut-punched by Emma’s mortification at Box Hill, but Stevenson’s narration was part of it. She made Mr. Knightley’s proposal seem far more romantic, his love for Emma more believable, than I ever found it before, too. Superb. I hear she does a great North and South, for any Richard Armitage fans who haven’t yet experienced the original novel.

Jayne Ann Krentz, River Road (read by Amanda Leigh Cobb–new to me, and I wasn’t a huge fan; all the characters sound like young women) Many readers were looking forward to Krentz’s first straight contemporary (no paranormal elements) in ages. I found it mediocre, which is pretty much how I feel about most of her recent books, though I have an inexplicable fondness for them. I actually prefer the paranormals (for me the best of her recent books is Copper Beach): I think the rather goofy psychic talents allow me to suspend disbelief and just go along for the ride. With this one, I was tripped up by the implausibilities in the suspense plot. Also, in a plot I’ve seen in several Krentz books, it starts with a prologue in which the teenaged hero rescues teenaged heroine from a threatening guy; 13 years later, she comes back to town because of an inheritance, and romance + a suspense plot linked to the past ensue. So I expected it to be set now, but in the 13 years ago part, teens had cell phones and were posting blackmail sex videos online, and while this might be vaguely possible then, it felt more like 2014. That threw me. I did enjoy spotting Krentz’s favorite plot elements/words/phrases (sleek, energy, atmosphere), and because their presence amused rather than annoyed me and I didn’t really care that this book felt self-derivative, I understood better people who happily read Stephanie Laurens’ umpteenth Cynster novel.

Michael Connelly, The Gods of Guilt (Mickey Haller #5, read with rather clench-teethed drama by Peter Giles) Connelly works a groove I can burn out on, but I was in just the right mood to enjoy the courtroom theatrics.

What I’ve Got From the Library and May Read Next:

Or I could return them, because I’m trying not to make reading feel like yet another obligation.

Stella Gibbons, The Matchmaker (because of the pretty cover and Cold Comfort Farm)

Sherman Alexie, Blasphemy (because I loved Absolutely True Diary; this is a story collection I’ll likely dip into selectively)

Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (because after James Church’s mysteries and Adam Johnson’s Orphan Master’s Son, I wanted to learn more about North Korea)

Katherine Angel, Unmastered: A Book on Desire, Most Difficult to Tell (because it was on Roxane Gay’s top 10 books of 2013 list, and even though I am really tired of Romanceland discussions of female desire, sex and power; maybe I’m hoping for a new perspective. I’d be grossed out that a “discard when returned” notice is taped to a book on this subject if there weren’t a visible coffee stain on it).

Will Schwalbe, The End of Your Life Book Club (on audio) (this could be “inspiring” in a hateable way, but I’m curious).

 

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9 Responses to Recent Reading: Speed Dating Edition

  1. Looking forward to your thoughts on Unmastered – it was very close to making my top non-fiction of the year also. This interview with her is so interesting. And I LOVE that Stella Gibbons cover – I must read more of her stuff.

    • Ana, thanks so much for linking to that interview! That was fascinating. Now I want to read Unmastered, and now I want to go back and rewrite all my books to be more honest about sex.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        I really like her resistance to conclusions/generalizations in that interview–as if “women” are universally some way. Because I often find those problematic, even when women are talking amongst ourselves about these things. And I’ve been guilty of them, too.

  2. Jennifer says:

    I was bit disappointed by the twist at the end of the Broken Homes but generally enjoyed the book. I recommended the series to my husband who grew up in one of those tower blocks in London and he can’t stop raving about them. Maybe one reason is that the setting is so familiar to him. I know that is one of the reasons I like Kerry Greenwood’s books , as have lived in Melbourne all my life (and have coffee most week days in the street Earthly Delights is set on). I am really glad Kerry’s books are being read so widely.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I’ve only been to London once, years ago, but it’s familiar literary territory to me, and I LOVE the way Aaronovitch deals with its history, geography, society, etc.–the urban setting is so important. This is a long-standing interest for me (my dissertation was on Victorian representations of the city). And I always enjoy that aspect of the books even if something else is frustrating. In some ways he reminds me of Dickens, actually.

      I didn’t know Earthly Delights was set on a real street. It’s fun to read about a place you know well (if the book gets it right).

      • willaful says:

        Vice versa is also fun. Visiting the Seattle of Megan Lindholm’s Wizard of the Pigeons was practically a religious experience for me and my husband.

  3. I totally agree about River Road. I was really looking forward to it, since Krentz was once an auto-buy for me, declined to a never-read, but then I got an ARC of River Road and went “well, okay, since it’s free…” The idea of the cell phones and the whole “scene” that was supposed to be set in 2001 was utterly out of place for the time. And if I heard one more time about how the hero was “a born protector,” I was going to scream!

    I did like the occasional humorous notes, which is something I’ve always enjoyed in Krentz’s work.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I know people never want their favorite romance authors to leave the genre. I also know that some authors have a “core story” and plot/character/etc. elements they return to over and over again. And I don’t believe that’s all bad. But there are some authors where I really feel doing something totally different might be necessary for reinvigorating them.

      Sometimes I wonder if genre writing, at least certain kinds, is sustainable as a longterm career without the writing getting really stale. In romance, the pace of the output and the expectation that the author be a “brand” seems like a recipe for this. (I’m also reminded of Evangeline Holland talking about how romance is the last “pulp” genre). Is there any romance author 20 years into her career who readers think is still as good as ever, or better?

      When I think of the road ahead for some of the great new authors I love, and look at the pace they’re writing at, I feel kind of depressed.

      It’s not unlike my own work. When you’ve been in the classroom for 20 years, as I have, you do have to keep reinventing what you do so you’re not droning on from yellowed notes. It’s a challenge, but unlike a lot of romance authors (at least, that’s my impression) I am *encouraged* to do this reinventing of myself and my work.

      • For the most part, I think Suz Brockmann has done a fairly good job of maintaining over the years. When she tried to do a futuristic thing, it was a disaster (IMHO) because her forte is not in world-building. And there are some mystery authors who do it, too–year after year–but the fact is that most of them don’t write at the kind of pace authors are being encouraged to write at today.

        I *know* that I personally have a sort of “core story” that appeared both in my crime stories and is now in my romances. I try to get away from it, and sometimes I think I do, but then it pokes through in some weird way. I enjoy the exploration of different genres and cannot imagine writing the same thing time after time, so I sympathize with those who do it to keep things “fresh”. In fact, that’s one thing that made me turn away from cozy-writing. I love to read some cozy mysteries, but I couldn’t imagine spending the next 20 years writing the same characters, which is what a successful cozy career looks like.

        I can manage a book every nine months. Maybe even a book every six if the idea is working and my daily life isn’t too crazed. But these people who do one every eight weeks? That’s just…no. And yes, I know authors did this for years for Harlequin, etc. In fact, that’s where one of my favorite mystery authors, Nancy Martin, got her start. I think it’s great training, but I don’t think you do your best writing at that pace.

        I think as a teacher (though I didn’t do it for as long as you have), each classroom is slightly different; you’re forced in some ways to remake the work each time you teach it because the students will react differently. To quote Martha Stewart, “it’s a good thing.”

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