October Reading Retrospective

The kittens are 4 months old today (well, late last night), so I’ve stuck in a couple of photos of the keepers.

Many nights this month I was too tired for print and listened to my iPod while playing mahjong on it. I head TBR-disease, too. Too many books to read can make it hard for me to pick up any one. I returned some to the library unread because they were just making me anxious.

General Fiction

Amor Towles, Rules of Civility (my thoughts here) It was a winner.

Romance

Stephanie Laurens, Impetuous Innocent (audio) I would have DNF’d this in print. It was very silly. But I’m way more tolerant when listening and enjoyed Polly Lee’s narration.

Cathy Maxwell, His Christmas Pleasure (audio) I’m a sucker for a Marriage of Convenience historical (the stakes are so high), so I was willing to forgive a lot. The set-up is my favorite for MOC: the hero and heroine aren’t forced into it by scandal but make a mutually advantageous bargain. Even better, the bargain doesn’t work out as planned (her father cuts off access to her inheritance, the estate he’s promised is a wreck) and now these two strangers have to pull together. That’s where this fell apart. They do an awful lot with the few hundred pounds they get pawning her jewels (Persian carpets? really?), there’s a Big Misunderstanding and a stupid ultimatum, and it’s all wrapped up too neatly and quickly. Confirms my general dislike of holiday-themed romances, which like many holiday treats are awfully treacly.

Jinx (must look like Dad, but with Mama's white markings)

Jayne Castle, Canyons of the Night (audio) These Harmony books are crack to me. Or some more soothing drug. They’re all kind of similar, and yet I love them (audio helps; she gets great narrators like Tanya Eby and Joyce Bean). The dust bunnies are a great invention. This wasn’t among the best, but I still enjoyed it.

Jo Beverley, An Arranged Marriage (audio) I got this and Unsuitable Bride in the Audible sale. I liked it a lot. Marriage of Convenience again! And boy does this couple have a lot to overcome. At times I felt sort of distanced from the characters, and the whole set-up and style is rather artificial, but I didn’t mind. Maybe the right word isn’t so much artificial as alien: the dialogue and characters’ feelings didn’t seem “natural,” and that made this seem more convincingly historical. Because people in the past didn’t talk just like us, or think about love and marriage in the same ways we do. One thing that really struck me is how much longer it seemed than most historical romances published today (it was first published in 1991). At the moment when a 2011 novel would be wrapping everything up with a slam-bang rescue scene, I was only two-thirds in and Beverley had several more screws to turn. My main problem is that I now have to find a copy of Forbidden.

Gayle Buck, Mutual Consent (e-book) More Marriage of Convenience (hmm, also from 1991), and again I loved that the hero and heroine made a deal and then the marriage became something more. This is one of the Traditional Regencies republished by Belgrave House, and I got the recommendation from a Twitter discussion. There were some things I found overdone (the evil father and mistress) but I loved the interactions between the main characters, who actually talked through the problems they had and worked things out like sensible adults. No wonder it turned into a love match!

Mystery

I was looking for books with “unusual” settings and had really good luck with the mysteries I chose. The Hart and Plakcy books came from Sunita’s VacuousMinx post on LGBT Bouchercon events.

Elly Griffiths, The Crossing Places (audio) This had a really interesting and well-realized setting (Norfolk salt marshes, with a shout-out to The Woman in White) and an archaeologist heroine. The heroine, Ruth, is great: smart, confident when it comes to her work, and fat (though not as unashamed of that as I’d like). The policeman, too, was a nicely-developed, complex character. I loved the archaeology stuff and eerie atmosphere. I didn’t love the missing little girls mystery plot, and I find scenes in the missing child’s POV really tired by now. But I’ll definitely read more in this series.

Feather (looks like Mama, softest fur ever)

Neil Plakcy, Mahu This is a Hawaiian-set mystery with a gay cop protagonist. The crime at the center of the story forces Kimo to come out to himself and then to everyone else. I found Kimo a really likeable character, and his coming-out story was well done. Plakcy shows how a touristy area like Waikiki is a small town to those who live there: Kimo is surrounded by family and friends, including those he’s had since childhood, and that makes the publicity of his coming out very difficult. The mystery aspect of the story was on the light and predictable side, but the characters and setting were so real I didn’t mind. I’m already half-way through the sequel (and finding the mystery better developed).

Ellen Hart, Hallowed Murder  Set in Minneapolis with a lesbian heroine who owns a restaurant; the mystery revolves around her former sorority. This had a lot of first-novel problems (like a constantly shifting point of view) but was interesting enough that I might try another. It was published in 1989, the year I finished my degree at a women’s college where being an out lesbian was no big deal, so I found the attitudes of many of the characters to Jane’s and others’ lesbianism . . . interesting. It reminded me that most places weren’t, and still aren’t, like my college. Also what a huge deal safe sex and AIDS activism were then, even for those of use who weren’t at much risk. Silence=death. How could all that have slipped so far to the back of my mind?

Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night (audio) I have read this many times before (and yet I don’t own a copy; must remedy that). I love it for the mystery, the academic setting, and the at-long-last culmination of Peter and Harriet’s romance. Every time I read this, I’m tempted by the idea that the life of the mind might be preferable to the life of the heart, and then grateful that I live in a time when I always took it for granted I could have both.

Louise Penny, Still Life (audio) I enjoyed this Quebec-set mystery quite a bit but did find the town unbelievably quaint and full of “characters.” Also, I’m tired of “a Crazy among us” plots. Really, you wouldn’t notice someone close to you had a murderous side? Maybe, but I felt there was a lot of stretching of realism here. Gamache is a pretty good character, but I was most interested in the young female detective on her first case who totally screws up (is she meant to be on the autism spectrum? she’s smart but misses all social cues and can’t work in a team). I will try more and I hope she comes back.

James Church, Hidden Moon (audio) Enjoyed this, and as with the first Inspector O found the hard-boiled style really good for capturing weirdness of life in a totalitarian state.

Mysteries and older romances were definitely my winners for the month. I’m hoping to have more energy for reading in November, especially as I’ve tackled Hilary Mantel’s dauntingly large (but so far very readable) Wolf Hall.

 

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8 Responses to October Reading Retrospective

  1. Mmmm, Gaudy Night. *happy place*

    Have you read The Woman in White? I started The Moonstone but have not been able to finish it…wrong mood I guess.

    • lizmc2 says:

      I’ve read Woman in White and Moonstone, but I am a Victorianist by training with an interest in mystery/detective fiction. I find the former a bit easier to get into.

    • Merrian says:

      There is a great TV series of the Woman in White. I don’t know if it is on DVD though becuase it is the one from the early 1980’s I am thinking of, not the later 1990’s version. I think it is interesting that the WinW is about the cycle of abuse in families and the consequences over generations.

      • lizmc2 says:

        I think that Victorian sensation novels, like Gothics, often explore violence and injustice within families. (This idea isn’t unique to me; I think it was Claudia Johnson’s essay on Northanger Abbey that first introduced me to the domestic politics of the Gothic).

  2. Merrian says:

    Reading your October book list made me realise I am in a place where I am deliberately reading crappy stories that only ever rate around 3 out of 5 on my meter so that I don’t have to think or engage with the stories. I have many better things in my TBR and a couple of NonFic I really want to start but just have not the headspace to give them the attention they deserve and I don’t won’t to spoil them or waste the experience of reading them when I can’t be present for them.

    • lizmc2 says:

      Yes, I do that too. I have a ton of TBR books that I couldn’t wait to read, except that apparently I could. I bought them the moment they came out and . . . haven’t read them months later. It’s hard to say exactly what odd psychology is at work. I’ve always had a mild TBR/compulsive book-buying problem, but it’s been made exponentially worse by a) e-reading and b) discovery of romance review blogs. There are too many books in the world, but way too many romances.

  3. Merrian says:

    I have a TBR management strategy of putting things in a wish list table first rather than buying them instantly – it has worked to an extent because it means I will wait until I have several from a particular publisher before I buy – but then I end up with 3 or more books rather than 1 so maybe it isn’t a strategy after all….

  4. Rohan says:

    I’ve had that Elly Griffiths novel for ages and keep meaning to read it–your comments will spur me on.

    I thought Wolf Hall was amazing, and a complete surprise as historical fiction.

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