Reading List

I’m about to enter a spell where my main reading will be student research papers–the end of term marking often leaves me with little energy for fun reading. But I squeezed in another book first, so I thought I’d squeeze in another blog post.

My favorite book podcasts are those where a couple of people chat about what they just read/are reading/may read next (current favorites: The Readers, Book Cougars, and Reading Envy). I don’t even care if I get ideas for books to try–I’m just nosy about what books people choose and why and how they feel about them. So that inspired today’s post.

Just Read: 

The Human Flies by Hans Olav Lahlum, translated from Norwegian by Kari Dickson

I heard about this mystery spying on a Twitter conversation. It’s billed as Christie-esque, and I can see that. It’s a locked room mystery with a contained cast of suspects, the residents of an Oslo apartment building where a former WWII Resistance leader is murdered, and it’s strength is more in the twisty plotting than the characterization. This is a doubly historical mystery: the main plot takes place in April, 1968, but it’s set in motion by events dating back to the war. The title refers to “people who at some point in their lives have experienced something so painful and traumatic that they never get over it. They become human flies and spend the rest of their life circling round what happened.”

That formulation comes from Patricia, a brilliant 18-year-old who acts as a kind of Holmes to Inspector Kolbjørn Kristiansen (K2 to his colleagues). Or maybe she’s Nero Wolfe to his Archie Goodwin. Patricia uses a wheelchair following an accident and almost never leaves the house. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this; I enjoyed seeing her puncture the ambitious K2’s self-satisfaction, but on the other hand . . . her disability has made her a recluse (this is true for another of the book’s characters as well). That might be a comment on the differences between 1968 and today, or it might be shallow characterizations. These characters did feel kind of cardboard, but then so does Poirot, more a collection of traits than a fully formed personality.

I found this slow to start, but I was completely sucked in by the end. In a way, every mystery is an excavation of the past–how did we get to the scene of the crime? as the plot moves forward in solving the crime, it also moves backward to discover what led up to it. This plotting has always fascinated me, and I enjoyed the way it was foregrounded here by the dual time frame. I will definitely read more of the series, and I’ll be curious to see if and how the detective characters develop. (I think this series is not available in the US but you can order it from Book Depository. My library had it).

Reading Now:

Odes, by Sharon Olds

Trying to get back to reading more poetry. I misread the title of the first poem, “Ode to the Hymen.” Not seeing “the,” I expected a poem about marriage. Boy was I surprised! I might not have been if I’d read the jacket copy, which says Olds “addresses . . . many aspects of love and gender and sexual politics in a collection that is centered on the body and its structures and pleasures.” I’m loving this. Who knew a tampon could be made beautiful?

Lolly Willowes, by Sylvia Townsend Warner

I’ve checked this out of the library twice before, but third time seems to be the charm that leads to actual reading. This 1926 novel is a good follow-up to Enchanted Islands because it’s also about a middle-aged woman breaking free of conventions. One third in, I’ve just reached Lolly/Laura’s breakaway from her proper family, and I’m looking forward to seeing what she does. I’m closing in on 50 at the end of this year, so perhaps it’s no surprise this kind of character is so appealing to me now.

Wicked Autumn, by G. M. Malliet, read by Michael Page

A British village mystery with an MI-5 agent-turned-Anglican-vicar as detective seems just up my alley. In fact the setting seems entirely implausible for a more or less current day story–I doubt villages these days are full of women hot to marry the vicar, even if he is a former spy. And would he really have a daily? But my mindless Netflix show lately has been Midsomer Murders, which is nearly as implausible, so I figured I could swallow it. Taken as a fantasy setting, it’s pretty fun so far.

Up Next: (maybe…)

Populism: A Very Short Introduction, by Cas Mudde and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser

I didn’t mean to read two short books on populism so close together, but such are the vagaries of library holds.

Mystery in White, by J. Jefferson Farjeon

A Christmas mystery isn’t exactly seasonal, but this caught my eye at the library and classic/classic-style crime has been hitting the spot lately, so what the heck.

I’ve been feeling the pull to read a romance, and I’ve bought a few lately that friends recommended on Twitter (though lord knows I didn’t need to); I just haven’t decided which one to choose. My giant romance TBR may, in fact, be part of why I’ve been reading so little of it. It’s overwhelming.


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18 Responses to Reading List

  1. Allison says:

    I have seen some recs for the MI5 vicar (or 6). Sampled a while ago but didn’t pull the trigger. May try again, because I need a good mystery.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      It’s pretty cozy and the characters are Types, but when that is what you want, it works. Will let you know how I feel when I finish.

  2. willaful says:

    I’ve been planning to reread Lolly Willowes, which was much discussed in How to Be a Heroine. I think I was too young to appreciate it the first time round.

  3. rosario001 says:

    Thanks for the podcast recommendations; the ones where people talk about what they’re reading are my favourites. I’m going to check out Reading Envy and The Book Cougars (I gave up on The Readers after the constant moaning about ebooks and ‘real books’ got a bit too annoying).

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Maybe I came in on The Readers later than the ebook moaning, because I haven’t really heard that. Part of my love for Book Cougars is my nostalgia for their Midwestern (US) accents, but I also really admire all the adventures they go on–to author talks and other events–when I barely stir from the house except by necessity. Sometimes digs at romance are a risk with non-romance reading podcasts, but Jenny from Reading Envy did give it a try.

  4. Er, umm..maybe you will have better luck with the Farjeon than I did. I read it several months ago and was disappointed. I really liked the twisty mystery, but found the characters rather wooden. However, I can recommend John Bude’s Inspector Meredith books, also being reprinted in the British Library Crime Classics series (as is the Farjeon). I found ‘The Lake District Murders’ to be great fun.
    My husband and I have enjoyed Malliet’s Max Tudor books. (I can totally agree with the similarity to ‘Midsomer Murders’ in both mood and plausibility)

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I think I read one of those John Bude books, and my library is getting those, too. I’ll give one a try! Wooden characters are a risk with Golden Age mysteries not from the best known authors, I find.

      • I picked up the Farjeon book because I recognized the name–he’s a brother of Eleanor Farjeon, whose books I read as a young teen. Anyway, the whole family was talented and their works (music, books, plays) were very, very popular in their time.

  5. Sunita says:

    Midsomer Murders has been my guilty pleasure since it ran ages ago back on A&E. TheHusband has a much lower tolerance for it, so I watch it when I’m home sick or on my own. I may even have some mp4 files ripped from my handful of DVDs for emergencies. But reading the Kindle sample of the Malliet made me realize that what works so well for me is the acting. Neil Dudgeon is finding his feet, but John Nettles will always be the real Barnaby for me. And the guest actors, especially in the early years; It was so much fun to see theatrical legends like Anna Massey pop up. They all seemed to be having a good time (although I get the feeling working conditions were not always the best for the regulars).

    I tried the Malliet Kindle sample but the wall-to-wall cliches and overwriting were too much for me. I can imagine it working better in audio, though, because it may come across better if it’s performed.

    Speaking of Anna Massey, one of the commenters at DA recommended her narration of Rebecca and I’m really enjoying it. I’m still in the early stages, but she does all the voices differently and so well (no surprise, I suppose).

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Yes, early MM (which is where I am) has great guest actors. The narrator for the Malliet is very classically-trained-actor sounding, and that does help. I definitely use MM as escapist watching when I’m tired (so there will be a post-day-of-marking binge coming up), and the Malliet works on the same level. (And I’m grateful for both! That’s not really a criticism). The characters are very much Types, and dated ones too (e.g. the Retired Major).

    • For a fun time, track down John Nettles earlier series–Bergerac. We quite enjoyed the first few years of that while we lived in Australia, but we lost track of it when we moved back to Maryland.

      • Sunita says:

        I love him as Bergerac! In fact, I had to avoid writing Jim Bergerac instead of his real name (which I tend to forget).

        Bergerac, Taggart, Lovejoy; all those one-name detective shows were great.

  6. My giant romance TBR may, in fact, be part of why I’ve been reading so little of it. It’s overwhelming.

    I have a similar problem with cookbooks. I buy practically vegan cookbook that goes on sale, and cook less than ever.

  7. Oh, I hope you pick a wonderful romance! If you really can’t choose, maybe pick your top five choices and let us vote because I LOVE CHOOSING ROMANCE NOVELS.

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